This morning, four Israelis were murdered during morning prayers at their synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem, when two Palestinians reportedly attacked the worshipers with knives, axes and guns. At least eight others were wounded in the assault, many seriously, including local police who engaged the assailants in a gun fight and ultimately dispatched them. The attackers have been identified as cousins Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal, residents of East Jerusalem.
Yosef Pasternak, who was at the synagogue during the assault, told Israel Radio that “I saw people lying on the floor, blood everywhere. People were trying to fight with [the attackers] but they didn’t have much of a chance.” Another witness recalled how “two people came out with their faces half missing, looking like they’d been attacked with knives.” A medical volunteer at the scene told Bloomberg that the attackers cut off the arm of a worshiper who was wearing tefillin (phylacteries), a ritual object worn by Jews during morning prayers.
Among the victims was American-born Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, a longtime rosh yeshiva at Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Jerusalem. Twersky was the son of the late Rabbi Dr. Isadore Twersky, the Talner Rebbe and founder of the Harvard Center for Jewish Studies, and Dr. Atara Soloveitchik. He was the grandson of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, American Modern Orthodoxy’s founding father.
The brutal attack drew widespread international condemnation. “Murdering worshippers at prayer in a synagogue is an act of pure, unadulterated evil,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said in a statement. “While terrorist organizations like Hamas, true to form, are already praising these murders, anyone else who places a claim to responsible leadership must clearly condemn this outrage and any acts of incitement that can inspire events like these.” Diplomats and world leaders from the United Kingdom to Australia labeled the attack “barbaric” and “horrific.” Former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, at the Vatican for an interfaith colloquium on marriage, led the assembled faith leaders in prayer for the victims.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also condemned the attack, though his Fatah party’s official Facebook page celebrated it. British TV reported that local mosques in Gaza used their loudspeakers to broadcast congratulations, while Reuters and the Jerusalem Post reported that “Gazan revelers in Rafah handed out sweets and brandished axes and posters of the said perpetrators in praise of the deadly attack.”
UPDATE: After Tablet reported on Fatah’s Facebook page celebrating the attack, the post was taken down. But prior posts in which the “operation” is praised and its perpetrators labeled “martyrs” are archived here.