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(Jerusalem) – There can be no justification for the unlawful attack on a West Jerusalem synagogue on the morning of November 18, 2014. The attack killed five civilians and wounded at least six others. The Israeli response to this attack should be limited to those responsible and adhere to the rule of law. 

The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement, the group identified the attackers as Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal, cousins from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal Mukabar, and said they carried out the attack on its behalf. 

“Palestinian leaders who believe attacks on Israeli civilians are justified by ‘revenge’ are deeply mistaken – nothing justifies this terrible attack on Jews praying in a synagogue,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Israel should also realize that responding with excessive force or arbitrary actions, as it has done in other cases, only fuels the cycle of abuses.”

Israeli news reports quoting witnesses stated that two men armed with a gun and butcher knives attacked worshipers in an orthodox Jewish synagogue, Kehilat Bnei Torah, in the Har Nof neighborhood at around 7 a.m. and were killed by security forces. The Israeli foreign ministry identified the victims as Rabbis Aryeh Kupinsky, 43, Kalman Levine, 55, Moshe Twersky, 59, and Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, 68. The attackers shot and fatally wounded Zidan Saif, 30, an Israeli police officer who responded to the attack.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the killings. A Hamas spokesperson said the attack was a “response to the execution” of Yusef al-Ramuni, a Palestinian bus driver who was found hanged in his bus in Jerusalem on November 17. Israel said al-Ramuni’s death was a suicide but a Palestinian forensic pathologist who attended the autopsy said physical evidence raised suspicions that he had been murdered. “Hamas calls for the continuation of revenge operations and stresses that the Israeli occupation bears responsibility for tension in Jerusalem,” the spokesperson said. 

Violations by a party to a conflict never justify violations by another party.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israeli security forces would respond to the attack “with a heavy hand.” Netanyahu called for Israeli forces to demolish the family homes of the attackers, as he had also done for Palestinians who carried out a series of unrelated attacks since mid-October. 

In response to protests by Palestinian citizens of Israel after police fatally shot a 22-year-old man in the Israeli town of Kufr Kana on November 8, Netanyahu said, “I will direct the interior minister to consider stripping the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel.” 

On the afternoon of November 18, Israeli forces arrested 10 relatives of the two men who allegedly carried out the attack, according to Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner’s rights group.

Israel should not respond to attacks on its citizens using methods that constitute collective punishment or violate due process rights, Human Rights Watch said. 

The synagogue killings follow a series of apparently individual attacks by Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank and citizens of Israel that had killed five Israelis since late October. A soldier in Tel Aviv and a settler in the West Bank were stabbed to death on November 10. A man rammed his car into pedestrians in Jerusalem on November 5, killing a border police officer; and a similar attack in Jerusalem on October 22 killed a baby girl and fatally wounded a woman. On October 29, a Palestinian man shot and wounded a well-known activist who called for Jewish religious control over the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount. Israeli forces later killed several suspected attackers.

Since mid-October, Israeli forces have severely restricted freedom of movement in some Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and limited access to the Haram al-Sharif for Muslim worshippers, in addition to the existing limited access for non-Muslims.

Israel has also used what appears to be excessive or unnecessary force in response to Palestinian protests, wounding 454 Palestinians from October 28 to November 10, mostly in East Jerusalem, according to UN data. In East Jerusalem, Israeli forces fired at a car on November 14, fracturing the skull of a 10-year-old girl, Palestinian media reported. On November 13, Israeli forces fired a sponge-tipped bullet that blinded an 11-year-old boy in one eye. 

Israeli settlers have also carried out a series of attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank. On November 12, arsonists burned a mosque in the West Bank Palestinian town of al-Mughayer, near the settlement of Shilo north of Ramallah. There have been no claims of responsibility and no arrests.

“To reduce tensions in Jerusalem and elsewhere, international leaders should increase pressure on all parties to ensure accountability for crimes,” Whitson said. “The awful killings of worshipers at a synagogue should serve as an urgent reminder of the need to address the increasing violence impartially and protect all residents in Jerusalem.”

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