First-ever Har Adar terror attack leaves residents reeling

"It’s like someone in the family lost his mind," one resident said.

Residents of Har Adar react to the terror shooting, September 26, 2017. (Tovah Lazaroff)
Bracha Abramitzky was drinking tea and reading the newspaper in the kitchen of her Har Adar home at 7:14 a.m. when she heard loud gunshots.
“The sound was very strong for two minutes and I was sure they would come through the kitchen walls,” Abramitzky recalled.
She knew immediately that it was a terrorist attack even though there has never been one in her normally quiet community of 5,000 people that abuts the Green Line just outside of Jerusalem.
“Nothing like this has ever happened here,” the diminutive, red-haired woman said.
Then, as her husband slept in the next room, Abramitzky heard sirens. From her window she saw ambulances and security vehicles making their way to what is known as the Bidu gate, where the attack that killed three Israelis occurred.
Five days a week some 200 Palestinian laborers, including the Palestinian assailant Nimr Mahmoud Ahmad al-Jamal, 37, enter the West Bank settlement through this gate.
Abramitzky read Ynet on her cellphone to learn details of how Jamal shot and killed two security guards and a border policeman.
Her son, who followed the news from California, called and filled her in on some of the details. Television helped as well.
Itzhak Rabihiya was out walking his dogs when he heard the shots and headed toward the Bidu gate. There he learned that his neighbor Or Arish, 25, was one of the victims.
The conversation was peppered with phone calls. “I am fine,” he told each caller.
Politicians who came to the site spoke about Palestinian incitement, radical Islam and global terrorism.
But for the small community, whose members barely recognize that they live in a settlement, the issue is more of a family affair, because Jamal had worked in Har Adar for years.
“Oh,” gasped Orit Fainshtain when she saw his face on television. “I know him.”
It is a kind of “crisis of faith,” said Fainshtain, who recalled a time before the first intifada when she would stop in Bidu to go food shopping on her way home to Har Adar.
The shooting didn’t scare her exactly, she said, but in its aftermath she had a feeling of pain and discomfort for her community, which prides itself on moderation and coexistence.
Drora Bardizchev, who had employed Jamal in her home, told Channel 10 News she was shocked. She had spent time alone with him in the house, often talking and drinking coffee together.
Bardizchev said she aware that Jamal was under stress in recent months due to a domestic dispute with his estranged wife.
“This is very unusual,” said Deputy Council head Menahem Mor. It made him think of what happens when a man shoots his wife or at a school shooting in the United States, when a pupil who minutes appeared non-threatening, suddenly picks up a gun and shots.
“It is like someone in the family became crazy and lost his mind,” Mor said.
The community, until now, has felt very secure, he added.
Nina Gradshtaen, formerly of New York, thought that Har Adar was one of the safer spots in Israel when she moved there last month with her husband from Jerusalem.
“Out of naiveté or Zionism, I did not mind living a settlement. I did not think that something like this would happen in Har Adar, but that is Israel, you always have to keep your eyes open. What was surprising was that it was someone that people knew,” Gradshtaen said.
She had arranged for a Palestinian electrician to come to her home that morning to fix her oven. He knocked on her door just as her mother-in-law called her husband to see if they were hurt in the attack. Although she was afraid, she opened the door.
The electrician, “was just as scared. He was really shaken up. He said he saw everything. He saw all the bullets flying and the bodies. I felt sorry for him, he sat down. I gave him a cup of water,” she said.
People are now wondering if they should continue to employee Palestinian workers, “It is a personal choice,” Gradshtaen said.
Mor, who was one of the community founders in 1986, said he has employed the same Palestinian man for 30 years.
“He helped me raise my children,” he said.
The community straddles the Israeli Arab town of Abu Gosh and West Bank Palestinian villages, including Bidu and Beit Surik, where Jamal lived.
First there was a British Army camp here. Before the Six Day War, the property was owned by the Jordanian government, he said.
“We did not take a centimeter of land from the Palestinians,” Mor said.
Its residents are more likely to vote for centrist or left-wing parties than rightwing ones, he said. So much so, that as a Likud member, he feels as if he is in the minority, Mor said.
The attack, he said, “was a game-changer for all of us. From today everything will be different.”
The new wariness, though, would not mar the ties between the Har Adar residents and the nearby Palestinians, Mor said, adding: “We will stay in good relations with our neighbors because after 30 years we feel like one family.”