Family members of one of the victims of Thursday night’s terror attack in Elad have pleaded with the public to ease up on criticism of their murdered loved one, particularly on social media, for having unwittingly driven the terrorists to the scene of the attack.
Security officials have said the Palestinian terrorists who carried out the deadly knife and axe attack were driven by Oren Ben Yiftah, a 35-year-old driver from Lod, from the West Bank security barrier, where they are believed to have sneaked into Israel, to Elad.
Upon arriving, according to a statement from a security agency on condition of anonymity, the two attacked Ben Yiftah, killing him. From there, they headed up Ibn Gvirol street where they killed Elad residents Yonatan Havakuk and Boaz Gol. All three victims were fathers in their 30s or 40s who left behind a combined 16 children.
In a post to Ben Yiftah’s Facebook page, the family said it was horrified by the hate directed at him for driving As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i, 19, and Subhi Emad Subhi Abu Shqeir, 20, to the community.
“People of Israel, have pity on us during this trying time,” they wrote. “Let us grieve in these days of mourning without concerning ourselves with the need to defend from despicable attacks.”
They added: “How much hatred can come out when people’s fingers run freely on the keyboard.
“We are appalled by the discourse on social media and in the media in a vile attempt to tie our beloved son Oren to the despicable attack he himself was a victim of.”
They said that Ben Yiftah “worked as an honest, innocent driver. Just as a taxi driver doesn’t check who gets on the taxi, Oren was not required to check permits for work or entry.”
Additionally, they said, “From what we know Oren bravely struggled with the vile murderers who attacked him… with an axe and a knife.”
The two killers remained at large Saturday night despite a massive manhunt for them. Police believe they are still inside Israel.
According to Hebrew-language media reports, Ben Yiftah did not know the pair were in Israel illegally. He had transported them at least 10 times in the past to work in the ultra-Orthodox city, and was unaware of their attack plans.
On Saturday, Channel 12 news reported that the two killers telephoned Ben Yiftah on Thursday and told him they needed a ride to Elad for work. They said they were doing urgent renovations at the synagogue on Yehuda Hanassi Street in Elad. When they got very near to the synagogue, they attacked him with an axe and a knife, the report said. He fought back, but they overcame him and killed him.
Though technically illegal, a number of Israeli drivers work transporting Palestinian day laborers who sneak in from the West Bank to job sites around the country.
Authorities believe al-Rifa’i and Abu Shqeir had worked in Elad before and were familiar with the area.
The suspects had no history of terror activity or affiliation with terror groups, Army Radio reported.
Breaches in the West Bank security barrier used by workers have been utilized by terrorists responsible for a number of attacks inside Israel in recent weeks, leading to vows from defense officials that the gaps will be repaired and the wall better guarded. Several of the attackers have originated in the northern West Bank, leading the army to concentrate efforts near there.
On Friday, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai ordered law enforcement to begin a nationwide operation against Palestinians who illegally enter Israel from the West Bank, and those who assist them.
Several Palestinians in the country illegally were arrested Friday, police said. Also detained was the father of Abu Shqeir, also named Emad Subhi Abu Shqeir, who was apprehended by Israeli officers while working inside Israel, the Palestinian Prisoners Information Office reported.
The arrests came as police and military deployed widely across Israel and the West Bank to find the two terror suspects, both from the village Rumana outside Jenin in the northern West Bank.
Authorities said the attackers fled in a vehicle, but have concentrated their search around Elad, apparently believing that the two did not cross back into the West Bank.
Elad, a town of some 50,000 mostly ultra-Orthodox residents east of Tel Aviv, sits three kilometers (two miles) from the Green Line dividing Israel and the West Bank.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.