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Jerusalem synagogue reopens with calls for community building, not revenge

'We need to make sure that this is a stronger, healthier, better place to live,' said one of the synagogue's neighbours.
Inside the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue, a day after an attack killed four rabbis and a police officer (MEE/Oren Ziv)

Religious Jews returned to pray at the Jerusalem synagogue that was the scene of a "slaughter" on Tuesday, as Israeli leaders came under pressure over security measures in the city.

Worshippers attended prayers and classes at Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in West Jerusalem, where four rabbis and one police officer were killed on Tuesday as two attackers armed with knives, an axe and a firearm stormed the house of worship.

Worshippers, who belong to the conservative Haredi sect and usually have little contact with the outside world, told MEE that, despite the shock of Tuesday’s killings in their community, they are keen to move past the tragedy.

“When I woke up yesterday, hearing the noise…there was disbelief,” David Herscovich, who lives near to the synagogue, told MEE.

“[I thought] it must be a mistake, my ears aren’t hearing right.

“There was shock… Three slaughterers…tried to kill as many people as possible.”

An Israeli man stops to take a picture of bullet damage at the synagogue (MEE / Oren Ziv)
Now, Herscovich said, the focus for the close-knit community is on moving forward, as the dust settles throughout Israel.

“We need to see how we can look out for the families of these 24 orphans, these four widows in one street," he said. "We need to make sure that this is a stronger, healthier, better place to live, so that these things won’t happen to us.”

Netanyahu talks tough on ‘terror’

As Israelis reeled from Tuesday’s attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to take immediate action to halt such violence, which he said was carried out by “human animals".

Netanyahu, after meeting with his security cabinet, promised both offensive and defensive actions, including an expanded policy of house demolitions and “increased security on the streets of Jerusalem".

The apartment belonging to the family of Abdel Rahman al-Shaludi, said to have carried out a “terrorist attack” in Jerusalem on 22 October when he hit a group of pedestrians and killed a three-month old baby, was demolished in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Flats belonging to the family’s neighbours were also raided. Shaludi’s uncle told MEE that money had been taken from his apartment during the search.

Netanyahu pledged to destroy the homes of the culprits behind Tuesday’s attack, as well as those involved in previous attacks that have rocked Jerusalem during recent weeks.

An Islamic Jihad leader, Youssef al-Hussaina, warned on Wednesday that policies like house demolition and relaxing gun controls are "tantamount to a green light for the continuation of assaults".

The policy of house demolitions has long attracted criticism. Amnesty International said on Tuesday that such actions are against international law.

In a statement, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions said on Wednesday that destroying the homes of suspects “sows despair and senseless violence".


A Palestinian flag hangs out of the destroyed apartment in Silwan (MEE / Oren Ziv)

As well as garnering opposition from rights groups, the demolition policy has attracted criticism among Israeli citizens.

Yoan Ari Dudkevitch, a witness to Tuesday’s killings in West Jerusalem, told MEE contributor Oren Ziv that he does not believe destroying homes is an effective strategy.

“These actions are more to help show that the government is taking action – they are not really helping the Israeli public to feel safer," Dudkevitch said.

Liat, a mother of three living in Jerusalem who declined to give her last name, feared that the Israeli government’s security measures could further stoke the flames in the city.

“I am totally unsatisfied with the government’s reaction – they are inciting greater fire in the area," she said. "They should do whatever they can to calm the situation down.”

'Calm' on the streets

Despite Netanyahu's promise that security would be stepped up in Jerusalem and a call from the Jerusalem police for civilians to take up arms as part of the city's Civil Guard, there was relative calm on the streets on Wednesday.

Andrea DiCenzo, MEE's contributor who was out walking the streets of the city on Wednesday, said that West Jerusalem "is quieter than normal today - it seems as if the dust is settling.

"In East Jerusalem, people are out shopping - there are clashes, but there are clashes every day in the city at this point."

DiCenzo also reported that police presence had not been noticeably stepped up.

"There is a heavy police presence - but it is no more than it was last Wednesday," she said.

However, there were reports that, although additional police officers had not been deployed, Israeli authorities had stepped up aerial surveillance tactics.

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