After bereaved parents complained that not a single government minister showed up to any of the four funerals for soldiers killed in Sunday’s terror attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered new rules drawn up to avoid a similar situation in the future.
The funerals of Lt. Yael Yekutiel, 20, of Givatayim, Lt. Shir Hajaj, 22, of Ma’ale Adumim, 2nd Lt. Erez Orbach, 20, of Alon Shvut, and 2nd Lt. Shira Tzur, 20, from Haifa, took place in quick succession on Monday. Hundreds attended each of the ceremonies, the first of which began at 11 a.m. and the last at 3 p.m.
The four victims were among a group of IDF officer cadets who were hit by a truck driven at them by Palestinian Fadi al-Qunbar in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem. Two of the soldiers, Orbach and Tzur, were American citizens.
Qunbar, 28, was shot and killed by soldiers and an armed tour guide at the scene.
Netanyahu instructed Cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman to “put together a directive obligating the participation of government members — ministers and their deputies — to attend funerals of soldiers killed during operations or in terror,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Monday.
The prime minister, who was reportedly discontented after hearing reports of parents’ unhappiness, himself visited several wounded soldiers in the hospital on Monday morning, before the funerals, and then held a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset.
MKs and city mayors were present at the funerals, but no government ministers or deputies. Representatives for Orebach’s family told the Hebrew-language Walla news website that Education Minister Naftali Bennett had planned on attending the funeral, held in the West Bank community of Kfar Etzion, but was asked to stay away to keep media attention to a minimum.
The government secretary explained in a statement that currently “minsters are not obligated to attend the funerals of soldiers, each minister acts at his own discretion.”
Herzl Hajaj, Shir’s father, criticized the government for its callous treatment of the families.
“I don’t expect anything,” he said according to the Walla report. “It seems that we weren’t famous enough for it and not attractive enough, if they didn’t think it fitting to come. None of them called either. There were representatives from the army and some members of Knesset. Nothing special — she was just a girl who was run over. Who does that interest?”
“The important thing is that the family of the terrorist is pleased,” he added, referring to media reports that Qunbar’s sister, Shaida, had said she was happy her brother had become a martyr.
Eli Ben-Shem, chairman of Yad Lebanim organization that offers support for bereaved families, threatened to mobilize parents to demonstrate against the government’s attitude that, he claimed, has for a long time been derisory.
“Since the Yad Lebanim organization was established, we bereaved parents have not taken to the streets to protest. This time we won’t hesitate to take to the streets.”
Ben Shem vowed to keep the matter in the public eye.
“In another week they will forget about it, but we have promised that we will not agree to this any more. I call on the government and the speaker of the Knesset to lay down the procedures for the sake of the memory of the fallen, the deceased of Israel’s battles.”
Four of the 16 soldiers injured in the attack remained hospitalized in moderate condition on Monday afternoon. Several others who suffered minor wounds were released overnight.
On Monday, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court released Qunbar’s father Ahmad and sister Shaida after ruling there was not sufficient evidence to keep the two in custody, and released them under restrictive conditions. The two were arrested along with several others hours after the attack.
The remand of five suspects — brothers Hamza, 31, and Muhammad, 28, cousin Muhammad, 30, and two residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, where Qunbar lived — was extended for a further seven days on suspicion that they knew in advance about Qunbar’s plan to carry out the attack and did nothing to prevent it.
Police are considering charges of conspiracy to carry out a terror attack, after they were said to have evidence that Qunbar identified with the Islamic State terrorist group, Channel 2 reported.