'Events like this definitely carry a lasting impact'

After deadly attack by cleaner, some in Har Adar rethink Palestinian hires

Many in dovish settlement say they want to maintain friendly relationship with laborers from nearby villages, but admit some things may need to change after terror shooting

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Palestinian laborers sit outside the Har Adar settlement after they were removed from the area by soldiers following a deadly terror attack at the entrance to the community on September 26, 2017. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
Palestinian laborers sit outside the Har Adar settlement after they were removed from the area by soldiers following a deadly terror attack at the entrance to the community on September 26, 2017. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

HAR ADAR, West Bank — Residents in this leafy settlement outside Jerusalem tried to maintain a sense of normalcy hours after a deadly attack by a Palestinian laborer at an entrance used for workers Tuesday, but many admitted that a “reassessment” regarding the employment of Palestinian workers would need to considered.

“While I’d like to think that the Palestinian who has worked for me for the past 11 years is different, I don’t know if he’ll go crazy just like that one did this morning,” Har Adar resident Mor Ben-David said while waiting to check out at the settlement’s supermarket.

On Tuesday morning, Nimer Mahmoud Ahmad Jamal opened fire on security guards at the rear entrance to the settlement, killing border police officer, Solomon Gavriyah, 20, and two private security guards — Youssef Ottman, 25, of the nearby Arab Israeli community of Abu Ghosh, and Or Arish, 25, of Har Adar. The settlement’s security coordinator, Amit Steinhart, was also injured.

Like many others in the settlement of pricey villas northwest of Jerusalem, Ben-David employs a Palestinian to clean her home. The 39-year-old mother of three admitted to having “mixed emotions” regarding his continued employment.

“On the one hand, he’s like a member of the family,” Ben-David said of her Palestinian cleaner, who’s from the same neighboring village, Bayt Surik, as the killer. Worried for his safety, she declined to share his identity. “I want him to come back tomorrow, but events like this definitely carry a lasting impact.”

Just minutes after the shooting, Ben-David said she received phone calls from friends worried that the terrorist was her cleaner. “People not from here think I’m crazy for hiring him,” she said.

Jamal, who was shot dead by security forces at the scene, was one of hundreds of Palestinians with work permits to enter Har Adar each day. The majority are employed in construction for the local council, but many clean the homes of families in the settlement.

The town of some 4,000 is mostly over the Green Line, though unlike many other settlements, most who live there are not ideologically connected to the West Bank and do not consider themselves settlers. In the 2015 Knesset elections, the dovish Zionist Union party was the clear winner here, taking almost 40 percent of the vote.

The settlement, named for a British radar installation stationed there during the Mandate period, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

From left to right: Solomon Gavriyah, Youssef Ottman and Or Arish, three Israelis killed in a terror attack outside the settlement of Har Adar on September 26, 2017 (Courtesy)

Locals told The Times of Israel that the terrorist had worked in Har Adar for years and that he had recently renewed his permit to work as a cleaner for a family of newcomers.

One of Jamal’s employers in the settlement, Michal Amidror, characterized him as a “completely normal” and “good-natured” man in an interview with Israel Radio hours after the attack.

She said she was shocked to learn “that the man who’s been cleaning our house for the past two and a half years was the terrorist.”

Like in many West Bank settlements, the Palestinians employed within are prohibited from driving inside the gate. At Har Adar, they walk to, park near or are dropped off outside the rear entrance and are picked up by the Israelis who employ them. During the day, the workers are not allowed to leave their work sites and are returned to the settlement’s back fence by their employers at the end of the day.

Anat Knafo, 54, described her family’s relations with the Palestinian workers they had hired over the years as “genuine and humane.”

Har Adar residents sit outside the local supermarket discussing the terror attack that took place at the settlement hours earlier, on September 26, 2017. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

“I knew of all their family celebrations. When the son of one of my workers was sick, we drove him to the hospital,” she said.

But Knafo, who also serves on the settlement’s security committee, clarified that significant changes needed to be made to the “daily routine” of residents from a security standpoint.

She called for a closure of all Palestinian villages in the West Bank until a proper “reassessment” was conducted. “We don’t know if he worked alone,” Knafo added.

“Part of me is thinking that this is the end of the story and there won’t be peace; but at the same time, I also want Muhammad to return,” she said of her Palestinian employee.

When similar attacks had taken place in the past, Knafo said, she sat down with Muhammad in order to gauge his reaction to them. “He has entered these conversations with his head lowered. He recognizes that there’s a problem in his community, but has assured me that he is not influenced [by terrorists] like others have been.”

Nimer Mahmoud Ahmed Jamal, who carried out a terror attack at the Har Adar settlement on September 26, 2017 (Facebook)

Knafo added that she has made a point during these conversations of reminding Muhammad “how lucky he is” to be working for her. “Even though we’re a settlement, we have very good relations with the neighboring Arab villages,” she said.

But other residents weren’t as interested in maintaining those relations. Tali, 45 (who asked not to disclose her last name), said that she was encouraging her neighbors only to hire Jewish workers. “I had a Palestinian worker that I fired two years ago after he stole from me,” she said, admitting that she had been unable to prove the theft.

“They hate us. They incite against us from their schools and mosque loudspeakers and then we provide them work permits? It’s nonsense,” she said, walking out of the supermarket.

“Most people here don’t think the way she does,” said fellow Har Adar resident Motti Gross after Tali was out of earshot “I still wouldn’t think twice before hiring a Palestinian.”

Speaking briefly with The Times of Israel before entering the home of Or Arish’s family, Har Adar local council head Chen Filipovitz refused to specify whether he would instruct residents whom to hire in the settlement. He asserted, however, that they would “do what is necessary.”

Filipovitz said there would be changes to security arrangements at the gate where the attack took place.

Ben-David struck a more conciliatory tone. “At the end of the day, they are hurt more seriously than I am. It’s his village that gets shut down and his livelihood that is put at risk,” she said, referring to her Palestinian employee.

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