A peaceful Friday night dinner was underway, filled with the joys of family and children, when a 19-year-old terrorist armed with a knife burst into a home in Halamish, Samaria, and brutally murdered three members of an Israeli family. Yosef Salomon and two of his adult children, Chaya and Elad, were killed in the attack while they were at home celebrating the birth of a new grandchild. The Palestinian terrorist’s stabbing rampage only ended when he was shot and injured by an Israeli soldier who lived next door and heard the victims’ cries. Miraculously, Elad’s wife, Michal, had the presence of mind to get her children out of harm’s way, and to call for help. Elad sacrificed his life by confronting the attacker in order to buy time for his wife and children to reach safety. Michal and Elad had been raising five beautiful children, including twin babies, when this savage act of violence tore their family apart.
I would weep for this story under any circumstances, but it pains me on a deeper level because Michal is my cousin. She and I have been close my entire life. My cousin is now a widow, facing the struggle of raising five children alone.
In the days and weeks after the attack, I heard some reactions in the United States that troubled me deeply. Some said the attack was a response to the recent Temple Mount crisis, viewing it as part of an ongoing cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Others believed the terrorist was just a single individual, a “lone wolf”, who should not be used to tar the peace-seeking Palestinian society.
I would like to address these unsettling claims.
The idea that the latest Temple Mount crisis is the reason that the murders occurred is absurd. That crisis was sparked when Israel installed metal detectors in response to a deadly jihadist attack carried out by three Israeli-Arab gunmen, who shot dead Israeli-Druze police officers guarding the holy site. The resulting tension may have triggered the attack in Halamish, but it wasn’t the reason for it. The fact of the matter is that incitement to murder Jews has been a feature in Palestinian culture for decades. Only someone raised from birth in a society that glorifies the killing of Jews could see the Temple Mount events as justification to enter a suburban home and slaughter unarmed civilians.
The Palestinian Authority has been engaged in active incitement to violence for years. It simply followed that pattern again by inflaming tensions around the Jerusalem holy site, and then using such tension as an excuse to promote violence. The Palestinian Authority also rewards this type of violence on an ongoing basis by paying financial incentives to terrorists that survive the attacks they launch, or to their relatives if the terrorists are killed in the course of their “mission.” This is not the conduct of a peace-seeking entity. It is complete hypocrisy to claim to want peace, while at the same time financially incentivizing acts of terrorism.
The Halamish murders are also a reflection of a wider pattern, and that is the decades-long myth generated by Palestinian Arab leaders that Jews are plotting to take over and destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. For Michal and I, this lie affected our family’s previous generations as well. Our great grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, narrowly avoided the 1929 Hebron massacre of Jews, which was sparked by false allegations of a Jewish plot to take over the Temple Mount. More than 60 Jews were murdered by their Arab neighbors as a result. Our great grandfather was scheduled to be in Hebron that day to celebrate a wedding, but fortuitously remained in Jerusalem to attend his grandson’s circumcision ceremony. His sister, her husband, and their married daughter, husband, and child were not so lucky. All five were stabbed to death in the course of the massacre.
The fact that such incitement and violence dates back to the 1920s is evidence that it has nothing whatsoever to do with claims of Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Now, almost 90 years later, comparable incitement under a similar pretext led to the murder of Michal’s husband and his family members. Once again, a gathering to celebrate life was snuffed out by an attacker inspired by a culture extolling death.
Contrary to false claims of Jews seeking to destroy or limit Arab access to holy sites on the Temple Mount, Israel has upheld full freedom of worship for Muslims since unifying Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel actually restricts access to Jews on the site, and has left day to day control of the Temple Mount to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf. The idea that installing metal detectors and cameras – commonplace security measures in public places throughout the world, including at religious sites such as the Western Wall, the Vatican, and Mecca – is offensive to Muslims, is little more than a hypocritical lie being cynically used to fuel murderous incitement.
We here in America should not deceive ourselves into believing that this only impacts “others”. The fact that my and Michal’s great grandfather was a U.S. citizen would have afforded him no protection in Hebron (and in fact eight Americans were among the fatalities of that 1929 massacre). Similarly, the terror inflicted on my cousin was not prevented by virtue of her father, my uncle, being a natural born U.S citizen. Sadly, this reality was imposed on the family of Taylor Force, a West Point graduate and former U.S. field artillery officer who served tours of duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2016, Mr. Force was stabbed to death in Tel Aviv (well within the pre-1967 lines) during his visit with a Vanderbilt University tour group. Mr. Force’s murderer was killed in the course of committing his terror attack, so in reward the Palestinian Authority is now paying a stipend to the murderer’s family.
Elad Salomon was a devoted husband and father, whose gentle demeanor makes it all the more incomprehensible that anyone would take his life in such an act of mindless violence. The killer was no “lone wolf” acting with inexplicable irrationality. Rather, he was acting as a member of a “people’s army” inspired with malevolent intent and acting in predictable response to intentional incitement. He will be paid generously by the Palestinian Authority for his heinous crime, as will his family, with our tax dollars. It is therefore no wonder that the attacker’s mother publicly proclaimed her pride in what her son had done.
The current effort in the US Senate to pass the Taylor Force Act would stop American economic aid to the Palestinian Authority so long as it continues to reward terrorism. Despite the political complexities involved in harming the Palestinian Authority financially, it is simply unacceptable that payments to terrorists are being made with American tax dollars, including those from me and from my uncle. The focus on this legislation has called attention to the Palestinian Authority’s hypocrisy. We should support this effort in the memory of Elad Salomon, Taylor Force and the countless other victims of inspired terrorism in Israel and throughout the world. Even more importantly, we must act in order to prevent further acts of terrorism and needless suffering. Passage into law of the Taylor Force Act would be a good step towards that goal.