Rabbi Yaakov Idels, the spokesman for the community of Har Bracha in Samaria, had watched Hillel Menachem Yaniv, age 21, and Yagel Ya’acov Yaniv grow up.
On Sunday, the brothers, ages 21 and 19, were murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack while driving on Route 60 through the Arab village of Huwara on their way to a Torah lesson.
Established in 1983, Har Bracha is small and close-knit with about 3,000 residents. Deeply religious, Har Brakha is named after one of the mountains that are mentioned in the Torah on which half of Israel ascended in order to pronounce blessings (Deuteronomy 27:11-13).
“The two boys were good friends with my children,” Rabbi Idels told Israel365 News. “It was a huge blow to the community. But the community is very strong and this is especially true of the young people. They organized themselves to respond, to mourn their friends. It pains me to say this but this was not the first time the young people have had to cope with losing loved ones in this manner.”
For most of the half-million Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, the threat of terrorism is a part of their daily routine. In 2022, Israel registered some 5,000 attacks perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists, who murdered 31 people and injured 415, official government’s data shows.
“I don’t think that the people in the US understand the complicated reality of living in Samaria,” Rabbi Idels said. “When you get in your car for the simplest reason, in your mind is the thought that you may be attacked by Palestinians for no reason at all. We have no choice but to pass through enemy territory that sits right outside our front gate.”
“There are times that are considered heightened alert but like any family anywhere in the world, our daily life is important to us,” he added. “We struggle with this.”
Jewish Israelis are frequently attacked on Road 60 as it is the only route from many Israeli towns in Samaria to Jerusalem. After the 1995 Oslo accords, 38% of Huwwara land was classified as Area B, and the remaining 62% as Area C designated for settlement by Israelis. The Palestinian Authority was obligated by the accords to ensure free passage.
“Unfortunately, we have anger towards the Arabs and even hatred,” Rabbi Idels said. ‘There is no choice. We are in the midst of a prolonged war and it would be immoral to deny that. There are times when it is more active and apparent but it is always there. The Arabs have never agreed to live in peace, to coexist without trying to harm us. They are very clear about this.”
After the attack that killed the brothers, dozens of Israelis responded by entering Huwara and rioting, burning cars and houses, and throwing stones at vehicles. One Arab was killed in the clashes. Much international criticism ensued with the riot being equated with the terrorist attack.
Rabbi Idels did not support such actions.
“I understand the response and the emotions behind it,” Rabbi Idels said. “It would be inhuman to respond to murder with apathy. But there is a great danger in people taking the matter into their own hands. The response has to produce useful results and not act simply as a release of anger.”
“As a community, we do not support these actions,” he emphasized.
Rabbi Idels firmly believes that the solution to the situation that will bring immediate peace to the region is quite simple.
“Israel needs to establish sovereignty over Judea and Samaria,” he said. “This is an unequivocal and clear statement that makes clear how all sides can move forward. The Palestinians have been fed a lie that the Jews will someday be leaving. That is not the case. As soon as they realize that they will have to live with us, they will act differently.”
“Israel is a country with laws,” the rabbi emphasized. “By saying that Israel does not exist in Samaria, the Arabs believe that the laws do not apply and that they can murder with impunity. The PA pays them for this. The Arabs need to understand that there is a country that has laws.”
But for Rabbi Idels and most of his neighbors, living in Samaria is far more than a nationalist imperative.
“We are in a process of geula (redemption),” he said. “Sometimes, that includes tribulations. But that is why we are here. It is the covenant. To leave would be to deny the Torah.”
For Seth Mandell, terrorism is a reality he has learned to live with. Mandel moved his family to Efrat in 1996 and soon after settled in Tekoa in Gush Etzion (Judea). His son, Koby, was murdered by Palestinians in 2001 when he went on a hike near the town.
Mandel described Tekoa as similar to SIlver Springs, Maryland where he lived in the US.
“When we first arrived, Tekoa was an intimate community but it has really grown since we moved here, thanks to a new road that makes us essentially a suburb of Jerusalem,” Mandel said. “Except for a few attempts to infiltrate the security fence, there has never been an attack inside the town. The threat is only really felt on the roads. There’s nothing you can do about it but that is when you try to be more careful.”
“Some roads are more dangerous and some periods of time are more dangerous,” Mandel said. “You do the best you can but we have to live our lives.”
Most of the recent terrorism has been focused in Samaria and Jerusalem and Mandel admitted that while Tekoa is surrounded by Arab villages which are unsympathetic to Jews living in the region, he feels safe when he is close to home.
“Samaria somehow seems scarier to me,” Mandel admitted. “There have been periods that were dangerous in Gush Etzion but maybe I have gotten used to it.”
“We drive past the Arab villages but are not permitted to enter,” Mandel said.”There are big signs warning us not to enter the Arab villages, that it is dangerous for Jews to enter Arab villages. But during the day, there are Arabs inside Tekoa, working in construction. They are our neighbors but not really. There is a relationship but it has clear limits and is one-sided.”
Mandel explained that the road to Jerusalem is considered safe however other roads in the area are considerably less so.
“We live here for lifestyle reasons and accept the political situation for what it is without obsessing about it,” Mandel said. “My wife is less sanguine about it but my kids grew up here and have accepted it.”