Paramedic Haim Gartner – one of the first on the scene – described what he saw. “We go inside. We see people are just lying down with this Jewish … tallit [prayer shawl] covered with blood. Part of them I’m wasn’t sure if they were shot or just cut up, I mean stabbed,” Gartner recalled. “You … run from person to person to check who’s alive, who’s not alive … every face you see you hope it’s not your brother, or your brother-in- law, or father-in-law, or parents cause you know we live in this neighborhood.”
Jerusalem Municipality Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld gave the gruesome report: “Two terrorists Palestinians from east Jerusalem entered inside the synagogue. They were armed with knives, axes and a pistol. The synagogue was packed at the time with people praying in peace and quiet and as a result of this terror attack where shots were fired and innocent people were sadly attacked. Four Israelis were pronounced dead at the scene.” Amateur video captured the final shootout with police. They shot and killed the terrorists.
Rosenfeld said the entire attack took seven minutes.
Seven minutes to wrack a community, shake a city, and stir the world. Har Nof, a quiet, religious Jerusalem neighborhood was the scene of the assault. Har Nof means “mountain of the view” and overlooks a panoramic vista on the outskirts of the city. In the early morning hours, grief and shock greeted its residents along with the autumn sun. The attack took place about 7 a.m. We arrived later to report on Jerusalem’s worst terror attack in six years. Dozens of police scoured the area. Hundreds of residents surrounded the slopes beside the synagogue. A helicopter whirred overhead. Reporters faced their cameras and told the story in French, Chinese, English, and of course Hebrew.
David – a local – painted a picture of what he calls home. “They came into a quiet neighborhood. It’s not in east Jerusalem or occupied territories or any of that lexicon. They came in here to people who were praying and killed them while they’re praying in cold blood, people who were going to come home to take the kids to school. The kids are sitting home or actually walking around over here wondering where their fathers are,” he told us. Another local – Avi – watched us finish our “stand up.” With tears he offered to give us pictures from inside the synagogue. The pictures revealed the full extent of the carnage.
Men draped in the prayer shawls sprawled on the floor, blood spattered around them: Fathers who never came home; husbands who never said goodbye; friends who never gave one last hug. They died in their beloved, but blood-soaked synagogue and never went home. According to Jewish custom, they were buried by sundown. Three of the four were Americans, one British. The four came early in the morning to pray at the “Bnei Torah,” the Sons of the Torah synagogue. Psalm 74 reflected the butchery that morning.
“The enemy has damaged everything in the sanctuary. Your enemies roar in the midst of Your meeting place; they set up their banners for signs. They seem like men who lift up axes among the thick trees. And now they break down its carved work, all at once, with axes and hammers. They have set fire to Your sanctuary; they have defiled the dwelling place of Your name to the ground. They said in their hearts, ‘Let us destroy them altogether.’” (Psalm 74: 4-8)
Hamas echoed that destruction and quickly called the murders a “heroic act.” Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank gave out sweets to celebrate. Abu Ali, father of one of the attackers, called it “a religious war.” Hamas called for more “revenge attacks.” Yossi Klein Halevi ended his powerful commentary with this conclusion:
“In an era of moral madness, in which much of the world judges Israel more harshly than it judges Hamas, this must be said: Nothing Israel does or doesn’t do is responsible for provoking young Palestinians to hack to death Jews in prayer. The provocation is Jewish prayer itself, the right of the Jewish people to live in its land. “One image from the synagogue massacre will haunt Jews for a long time to come. According to a medic on the scene, terrorists severed an arm wrapped in the straps of tefillin, the phylacteries in which religious Jews recite their morning prayers. “That terrible image has reinforced the prevailing sense within Israeli society that the war against the State of Israel is only the latest phase of an old war against the Jews.”