US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Monday sent a condolence letter to the family of an Israeli who was killed last week in a West Bank drive-by shooting terror attack.
“On behalf of the United States, I offer our nation’s condolences upon the tragic murder of your husband, and father, Rabbi Raziel Shevach,” Friedman wrote.
Shevach was shot dead while driving down a highway near his home in the Havat Gilad outpost last Tuesday night. He was survived by his wife and six children.
Friedman said that he had received “countless communications extolling the virtues of this very special man.”
“As an emergency first responder, a mohel [circumciser] and a revered teacher, Rav [rabbi] Shevach clearly was an extraordinary person more concerned with others than himself,” the envoy wrote. “He epitomized the hard working, dedicated individuals who have built and sustained the State of Israel.”
Friedman said he wanted to personally deliver his message to the family during the week-long mourning period at the West Bank outpost but was not able to pay a visit due scheduling constraints.
The ambassador indicated that he still hopes to see the family in the future.
“Please accept this letter in the interim until we are able to meet in person,” he wrote.
Following the deadly terrorist attack, Friedman had sharply criticized the Palestinian Authority, blaming it for the failure to reach peace with Israel.
“An Israeli father of six was killed last night in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists. Hamas praises the killers and PA laws will provide them financial rewards,” Friedman said in a statement last Wednesday posted to Twitter in response to the killing.
“Look no further to why there is no peace. Praying for the bereaved Shevach family,” he added, echoing accusations leveled by Israeli officials in the wake of the terror attack.
In response to the tweet, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing Friedman of a “prejudiced and selective attitude” toward the conflict.
It pointed to Friedman’s silence over what Palestinians say was the killing by Israeli forces of a disabled Palestinian man during recent protests and clashes on the Gaza Strip border and other killings as evidence of his bias.
“Friedman’s remarks and positions further complicated the road towards the peace process and the resumption of negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, specifically after President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem.” the ministry said.
Since Shevach’s murder, settler leaders and right-wing lawmakers have called on the government to legalize Havat Gilad. On Sunday Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman submitted a proposal to the cabinet that would start the process of legalizing the outpost.
Last Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Defense Ministry to officially hook up Havat Gilad to the electricity grid. The outpost, southeast of Nablus, currently receives electricity through a makeshift connection to the power grid.
Unlike previous US envoys, Friedman was known as a strong supporter of Israeli settlements before he took the job, serving as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that supports the large West Bank settlement near Ramallah.
That support has continued since his appointment as ambassador. In September, Friedman said that settlements “are part of Israel.”
In November, he canceled an appearance at a memorial ceremony for slain American teen Ezra Schwartz in the wake of a media report that it would be taking place at an illegal West Bank outpost.
Earlier this month, Friedman paid a condolence visit at the home of Likud MK Yehudah Glick in the settlement of Otniel, following the death of his wife.
The PA, which has expressed a refusal to engage in peace talks with Israel unless the Trump administration walks back the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, has issued no statement on Shevach’s killing.
Trump’s December 6 announcement that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
However, the move enraged the Palestinians who said they will no longer engage with the Trump administration’s push for fresh peace talks.
Two weeks ago, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported that Friedman had asked the US State Department to stop calling Israel’s presence in the West Bank an “occupation” in official documents. He reportedly recommended using the term “West Bank territory” instead of the “occupied territories.”
The State Department rejected the request, according to the report, but agreed to take up the subject again in the future. A State Department official later called the report “twisted and misleading” when asked for comment.