ITAMAR, West Bank – Shocked members of this hard-line Jewish settlement, reeling from a devastating knife attack that killed five members of a family in their sleep, on Monday said the bloodshed only strengthens their resolve to stay put and urged the government to respond with a new wave of West Bank construction.
Friday night's attack has drawn new attention to Itamar, an isolated settlement deep inside the West Bank that has poor relations with its Arab neighbors. A young couple and three of their children, including a 4-year-old boy and his 3-month-old sister, were killed in the grisly attack.
As Israeli forces continued their search for the killers in neighboring Palestinian villages, Itamar residents said they would stand firm. Settlers often refer to themselves as the first line of defense against Arab aggression and say Arab terrorism is trying to drive Jews out of land promised to them in the Bible.
"This is our land and it will always be the Jewish homeland," said Moshe Goldschmidt, the New York-born head of the town council. "The future of Israel lies with its biblical assets. Itamar is the backbone ... No one will break our spirit."
A sign at the entrance to the settlement, referring to past attacks, reads: "26 years, 22 dead — the youth of Itamar will not break."
The issue of Jewish settlements is at the heart of the current impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. The Palestinians say there is no point in talking peace while Israel builds new homes in Jewish communities on land the Palestinians claim for a future state.
In response to the attack, Israel defiantly announced new plans to build up to 500 new homes in settlements located in major blocs next to Israel. Israel expects to keep these blocs, home to the vast majority of Israel's 300,000 West Bank settlers, under any future peace deal.
In contrast, Itamar, an Orthodox Jewish community of some 1,000 residents south of the Palestinian city of Nablus, is not included in most Israeli plans. Itamar's residents are commonly seen by other Israelis as fanatically religious, sometimes violent and dismissive of the state's laws, professing to follow only the law of God.
Residents and settler leaders criticized the government's latest building plan as grossly insufficient. "It is insult to us and an insult to the dead," said David Haivri, a settler leader.
Itamar residents accuse the government of imposing an unofficial slowdown on construction to ease international criticism. They also bristle at occasional government attempts to remove some of the dozens of unauthorized hilltop settlement points.
A banner on a fence in front of Itamar one home declared: "The state destroys towns, the Arabs kill Jews." Many said they feel abandoned.
Construction is the answer, said Nili Afarsimon, a 20-year-old mother of an infant. "If we expand and build, it will tell the Arabs that this is our land, and they will know their place."