Ex-defense minister insists he partly blames Israel for terror attack

Moshe Ya’alon says lax government attitude towards Jewish extremists led to deadly 2015 revenge shooting on West Bank highway

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks at a cultural event in Ra'anana on July 15, 2017. (Flash90)
Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks at a cultural event in Ra'anana on July 15, 2017. (Flash90)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon on Thursday maintained his opinion that Israeli authorities are partially to blame for a deadly 2015 Palestinian terror attack in the West Bank because they are not firm enough on preventing Jewish extremists.

Speaking to Army Radio in an interview, Ya’alon said that while reports on his comments at the beginning of the week about the slaying of an Israeli couple in a drive-by shooting by a Hamas terror cell were taken out of context and manipulated, the underlying principle was valid.

The family of the victims said they were outraged by his comments, saying they appeared to justify terror attacks against Israelis.

On Sunday, Radio Galey Israel quoted Ya’alon speaking about the connection between the murder of three members of the Dawabshe family, who were killed in a firebomb attack allegedly by Jewish terrorists in July 2015, and the subsequent killing of Eitam and Naama Henkin in a drive-by shooting several weeks later.

“The blood of the Dawabshe family in Duma and the Henkin couple who were murdered as revenge for Duma are on our hands,” Ya’alon was quoted as saying at an event in the city of Kfar Saba.

Eitam Henkin and Naama Henkin of Neria, who were murdered in a drive-by terror attack near Nablus on Thursday, October 1, 2015. (screen capture: Channel 2)

Ya’alon on Thursday explained to Army Radio that he was in fact describing his own reaction in 2015 just after the attack, when he was defense minister, but also reiterated that Israeli authorities and settler leaders are provoking violence by not reining in Jewish extremists in the West Bank.

“You don’t need to tell me that Hamas would carry out attacks anyway. In this case the cell carried out the attack as revenge for the murder of the Dawabshe family,” Ya’alon told Army Radio.

“In this particular case, there was a concrete connection,” he said.

“The West Bank settlement leaders are not fulfilling their responsibility, whether by turning a bind eye to law breakers or by winking at them,” he added. “They are ignoring the phenomenon of illegal construction, price tag [incidents] and the burning of [Palestinian] trees.”

So-called “price tag” attacks refer to vandalism, graffiti and physical attacks by Jewish extremists usually carried out in response to government activities that they deem damaging to the West Bank settlement enterprise.

“When there is a price tag attack in the West Bank, it is the job of the elected officials to deal with it. As soon as they ignore it — a family is burnt,” Ya’alon said.

Ya’alon revealed that he had spoken with the Henkin family to explain himself after the initial reports earlier this week.

“I regret that the family felt pain,” he told Army Radio. “I gave the family a clarification as soon as I understood that the comments were being manipulated. I don’t shake off responsibility,” he said.

Rabbanit Chana Henkin, founder and dean of Nishmat institute for women, 2014. (Screen capture: YouTube)

On Monday Chana Henkin, mother of Eitam, called on Ya’alon to retract his statements, saying they were dangerous.

“Tomorrow the Palestinians will say, ‘Look, your defense minister admits that you are guilty’,” she told the NRG website.

On October 1, 2015, the Henkins were driving with their four young children — the oldest was 9 years old at the time — on the road between the northern West Bank settlements of Elon Moreh and Itamar when they were ambushed and killed as their car slowed down at an intersection.

Four days later the IDF arrested four members of a cell over the shooting. In June 2016, all four were convicted and sentenced by a military court to two life terms and 30 years in prison each. During the investigation, two other Hamas members were also implicated in organizing the shooting.

That attack came just over two months after two homes in Duma, south of Nablus, were set alight in the July 31, 2015 attack, and the Hebrew words “revenge” and “long live the king messiah” were spray painted on their walls, alongside a Star of David.

In the attack, Ali Dawabsha, 18 months old, was burned to death and father Saad Dawabsha, mother Riham and their son Ahmed, who was 4 at the time, were critically injured. Saad died in August and Riham in September, after treatment in Israeli hospitals. Ahmed, the only surviving member of the family, received months of treatment for severe burns.

The attack sparked a crackdown on Jewish extremists, with Ya’alon leading calls for price tag attacks to be treated as terror.

Ya’alon resigned from politics earlier this year after his ministerial position was given to current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman as part of a coalition building shakeup. He has since been a vociferous critic of the government.

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