Last week’s fatal stabbing attack in the West Bank settlement of Beit Horon, which left a 23-year-old woman dead and a 58-year-old woman injured, was carried out just a few feet from the local kindergarten — which one week later remains largely unguarded.
Though most reports on the terror attack described it as having taken place outside the settlement’s grocery store, Ibrahim Al’an and Hussein Abu Ghosh began their murderous rampage in the garden outside the school — just 15 minutes after the children had left for the day.
To many in the community, the writing was on the wall for an attack like this. Since the start of the violence in October, and even before, members of the community have been calling for increased security, especially for the area around the kindergarten, where the attack took place.
“We were just waiting for a disaster, and a disaster happened,” one resident, a mother of small children who asked to remain nameless, said.
The fence over which Al’an and Abu Ghosh climbed has been a source of contention within the community before the stabbing attack.
Though the West Bank settlement is well guarded by a Border Police base on one side and by the concrete wall separating Israel from the West Bank on the other, the small fence next to the valley has been Beit Horon’s Achilles’ heel — one that the police were aware of.
Before the start of the school year, a representative from the police noted that the area around the school was at risk, considering its proximity to the Arab village next door, Efi Gilad, a member of the settlement’s representative board, said.
“They said we were not up to standard. It was just a matter of money,” he said.
Despite police noting the potential risk, they did nothing to increase security there. And even after a number of attacks on the adjacent Route 443 highway raised concerns among residents, the police and military refused to increase security in the area, Gilad said.
Palestinian youth in the villages surrounding the highway have thrown rocks and firebombs at passing cars, and in November, an IDF soldier was stabbed to death at a gas station just outside of the settlement.
Even after last week’s attack, and the larger casualty toll that residents shudder to think could have been exacted given the proximity to the kindergarten, Beit Horonites maintain that the government has not done enough to address their security concerns.
‘A fence is not the solution’
The IDF has begun reinforcing the fence that Al’an and Abu Ghosh climbed over to get into Beit Horon, adding an extra few feet of fencing.
Gilad, however, brushed this off as relatively insignificant. “If someone can climb over a 1.5-meter fence, they can climb over a two-meter fence. A fence is not the solution,” he said.
But other than that and a temporary increase in the number of guards, not much else is being done by the government to prevent a future attack, residents say.
“Now I have to think, do I send my daughter to the kindergarten and put her in danger?” the mother said.
The solution, some residents say, is a permanent security guard outside the school.
In light of the stabbing attack, the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, which Beit Horon is a part of, have asked the police to provide one for the school, Doron Cohen, the head of school security for the council, told The Times of Israel.
The council said it had agreed to temporarily provide a private security guard for the school until the police decide whether they will provide protection for the school.
“But what’s going to happen in two, three weeks?” Gilad asked.
On Monday afternoon, while children were still in the building, no guard or soldier was stationed outside.
According to Cohen, the security guard and a patrol vehicle should have been stationed outside the school at the time. On Tuesday, he said, the settlement’s security officer would be outside the building to ensure that the guard would, in fact, be present.
Though Cohen said the council had agreed to the request, he dismissed the requests by Beit Horon parents for additional security as “exaggerated.”
“Hamas shoots rockets at every school in Israel, but does every school have extra protection? No. They have the extra protection in Sderot — and even that was after a few thousand Kassam rockets landed on them,” Cohen said, referring to the southern Israeli city which has borne the brunt of the rocket fire from Gaza.
But even relatively simple measures, which “would cost pennies,” have yet to be taken to safeguard the lives of the community’s children, Efi Gilad argued.
‘They told us, statistically, there’s no need. Well, statistically, we shouldn’t have had a terror attack.’
Though younger children study in Beit Horon, at the community’s nursery and elementary schools, older children are bused to the nearby city of Modiin. At the end of the day they are dropped off some 700 meters (0.4 miles) outside of the settlement on Route 443, next to an Arab village, Gilad said.
In the winter months, by the time they are let out of school and are dropped off, it is already dark out, he added.
Gilad, along with other parents, has been fighting to get this changed for over three years, but even in light of the ongoing violence in the area, the Transportation Ministry and Education Ministry have refused to change the bus route to drop off the Beit Horon students inside the settlement’s gates, he said.
“They told us, statistically, there’s no need,” Gilad said. “Well, statistically, we shouldn’t have had a terror attack, but what can you do when the statistics don’t work, and we do have a terror attack?”
A few more soldiers, for a little while
In the meantime, the IDF has provided the settlement with a temporary increase of reserve soldiers at its front gate. But according to Gilad, this is more a mollification than an actual security solution.
“They agreed to bring in some additional reservists for two weeks. But it’s sort of like, ‘Take it and shut your mouth,” Gilad said. “And eventually everyone will forget — until the next time.”
‘For the state to say to me that since you are the one being stabbed, you need to provide the security, is just not right.’
In addition to the temporary army reinforcements, the settlement itself has also stepped up its own pre-existing security measures, with residents who have military experience serving in the community’s emergency response team.
“We have some 25 reserve soldiers, including two lieutenant colonels, that are our emergency response team. They keep all their equipment at home. They were the first people on the scene. They directed the army since the knew the area,” he said.
Though this may be admirable, Gilad argued, protecting the settlement should not be the responsibility of the residents but of the government.
“For the state to say to me that since you are the one being stabbed, you need to provide the security, is just not right. We think the government of Israel should be the one giving this to us,” Gilad said.
“And as a tax-paying Israeli citizen, I think I deserve it,” he added.
‘A series of miracles’
Though Beit Horon sits on the West Bank side of the Green Line, it is located on the Israeli side of the separation fence, which residents say makes them an afterthought in decisions about increasing security — the thought being that since they are within Israeli territory they are at less of a risk than those settlements outside the border fence.
To residents, this attack disproved that theory.
The pair of assailants entered the settlement just before five o’clock on Monday afternoon armed with knives and pipe bombs. Just a half hour earlier, the nursery school was still full of children.
“If they had gotten there 15-20 minutes earlier, things would have been different,” said Gilad of the settlement’s leadership committee. “You don’t even want to imagine what could have been. There were 70 kids in that building.”
Gilad believes that the kindergarten was the terrorist’s intended target, but they were perhaps delayed by mud or slippery rocks on their way into the settlement, he said.
“I don’t believe it was a coincidence that they arrived when they did,” Gilad said. “Maybe it was because of the mud that they were 15 minutes late.”
To break into the community, the terrorists hiked up a valley, crawled through a storm drain that is opened in the winter months to allow run-off from the nearby Modiin River, and then climbed over the fence, according to Yehudit Tayar, a Beit Horon resident, paramedic and spokesperson for the Yesha Council, the representative body of the West Bank and Jordan Valley settlements.
Al’an and Abu Ghosh were armed with multiple weapons, and they had to have done some intelligence gathering ahead of time in order to know the storm drain would be open or their attack would have failed.
The terror attack was “very well prepared,” Tayar added.
The attack terrified the generally quiet and peaceful community, which has never before had an attack within its territory, residents said.
The 23-year-old victim, Shlomit Krigman, who was killed in the attack, was the leader of the local Bnei Akiva youth movement. She was well-known and well-liked, described as “a smiling, quiet flower who brightened up her surroundings,” and her death has noticeably shaken the small community.
But in reflecting on the attack, many also realized that the assault could have been much worse.
If the attackers had arrived 15 minutes earlier, if their pipe bombs had actually detonated, if grocery store owner Mordechai Shalem hadn’t been able to keep the terrorists out of his shop, or even if the weather had been nicer, dozens of children could also have been killed.
The attack occurred on the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, a celebration of the trees. If there hadn’t been a forecast for snow that day, the children from the nursery school would have been in a garden outside the building exactly next to where Al’an and Abu Ghosh entered, planting saplings to celebrate the “New Year for the Trees,” as the holiday is known in Hebrew.
Luckily, the forecast called for snow so the event was postponed, and the children had all left the area by the time the terrorists entered the settlement.
Only a “series of miracles” prevented a larger tragedy, Gilad said.
But Beit Horon parents say a “miracle” is not enough.
“We’re demanding that they guard our children. Just watch over our kids — that’s the most basic thing,” the mother from Beit Horon said.
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