OTNIEL, West Bank — Natan Meir sat on the couch, his teenage daughter curled beside him, wrapped in a blanket, though the day was warm. He said the nights were the most difficult. He and his six children, each with their memories. They cannot sleep.
Meir pointed toward the kitchen, a few steps away. This is where his wife, Dafna, died on the floor. She fought hard, he explained. She was a tiny woman. She was stabbed to death in January by a 15-year-old Palestinian who sneaked into the Jewish settlement from a village a mile away.
Alongside the Israeli ambassador, Meir went to the United Nations in April to tell his story. He delivered a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling for “endless patience and endless love.” He said peace with the Palestinians could take “hundreds of years.”
He said no one at the Security Council would look him in the eye.
“Politics is bullshit ,” Meir said.
Meir is a Jewish settler living deep in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on land the Palestinians want for a state. He knows the international community does not like where he lives. He said he took solace from the fact that he is friends with some Arab neighbors.
He said one came and offered to kill his wife’s assailant.
One came and just wept.
“We will have peace when we have it in our hearts,” Meir said.
He wore a loaded pistol on his right hip as he said this.
News coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tracks well the day-to-day violence, but after the funerals, the families recede to their corners to carry on with their lives.
This is a small window; this is what carrying on looks like.
In the Palestinian village a mile away lives Badir Adais, the father of the teen who killed Dafna Meir.
Adais sat in his driveway, drawing deeply on a cigarette, looking out at his garden. There were yellow roses in May bloom. Someone was watering the flowers, though his home is slated for demolition by the Israeli army, an act designed to deter future attacks, but one that Palestinians denounce as collective punishment.
“Do you want me to say that I am sorry for what happened?” Adais said. “This is a tragedy for all of us.”
Asked how he would explain his son Mourad’s decision to take a knife from his mother’s kitchen, cross the valley and attack someone else’s mother, Adais shook his head. He could not.
“He did not come from that kind of family,” Adais said. “He wasn’t a violent boy.”
When Meir heard this later, he said calmly, “I believe him.”
Meir said, “The whole thing took 20 seconds, no more. He ran into the kitchen, they fought. He stabbed my wife. She struggled to keep the knife inside her, so he couldn’t use it against the children.”
Meir said, “He didn’t act with confidence, with training. He came in a cowardly way. He was afraid. The minute he saw my daughter and heard her scream, he ran away.”
He said his wife was stabbed three times in the body, once in the head. Meir said, “I apologize for the raw details.”
For the past eight months, young Palestinians from the West Bank — mostly men, but some women, too — have been attacking Israeli soldiers and civilians with knives, guns, cars and bombs.
The killings have been incredibly intimate — face-to-face at a time when modern warfare is increasingly prosecuted at great distances, by smart bombs and remotely piloted drones.
In all, some 30 Israelis have died in the wave of violence, along with two American visitors. Almost 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces — most during attacks or attempted attacks, others in violent demonstrations.
The killings have slowed since March, but they continue.
On May 23, a 17-year-old girl, Sawsan Mansur, was shot dead by Israeli forces at a checkpoint north of Jerusalem after she approached soldiers with a knife, according to police.
The motivation for the spasm of violence has been debated but remains obscure.
Palestinian officials blame the almost 50-year occupation — the frustration and humiliation of checkpoints, land seizures, raids, military tribunals and the building of the Jewish settlements, communities like Otniel that the international community describes as illegal, though Israel disputes this. Revenge is another motive; funerals beget funerals, the Palestinians say. Some young attackers may also seek a “pure” death at Israeli hands — “suicide by martyrdom.”
Many Israelis say that Arabs just want to kill Jews, that the violence is ancient, decoupled from politics. Israeli politicians blame Palestinian incitement. Israeli intelligence analysts say the assailants are “lone wolves” whose motives are varied — driven by personal problems, Palestinian nationalism and hopelessness.
What caused Mourad Adais to cross the valley to Otniel?
His father said that Mourad was “young and dumb,” that he “must have flipped out” watching the video clips aired over and over on news channels showing Israeli soldiers shooting young Palestinians holding knives at checkpoints.
In his living room in Otniel, Meir pointed toward the metal railing along the stairwell, at the woodwork, the cabinets, tiles.
“Arabs built this house,” he said. Most of the Jewish settlements have been built by Palestinian laborers, who need the work and the better wages offered by the settlers.
Meir worked as a security coordinator at the settlement for several years. “I checked hundreds of Palestinians every day. I treated them very well,” he said.
He said he made friends with his Palestinian neighbors. One friend is distantly related to the killer’s family.
Did this man come to visit after his wife’s death? “He did. He said, ‘I am ashamed.’ I told him, ‘You are a good person, he was a bad person. Why are you ashamed?’ ’’
What did they talk about? “He said a few words, but mostly he cried. Me and him sitting here, we just cried.”
Meir has not spoken much in public. His wife’s death was one of the most shocking for Israelis — because Dafna Meir was a mother of six killed in her kitchen in a well-defended Jewish settlement deep in the West Bank.
Her funeral was attended by thousands, including political leaders.
Meir said that his wife loved their house. It lies at the edge of Otniel, on a pretty hilltop with views of olive groves, ancient terraces, fields of grape and cherry, and little Palestinian villages. It looks like a place out of a travel magazine if you airbrushed away the military bases and the armed guards at the gate.
“We moved here right after we were married. We stood outside looking at it. It was smaller then, almost a cabin. This was 19 years ago. She said to me, ‘This is the first time in my life I have a home.’ ”
He explained: “Dafna came from nowhere, a really broken family, violent, and since she was 8 years old, she lived in children’s homes, orphanages, a kibbutz for kids. She was very alone.”
He works as a psychotherapist treating men with addiction to pornography. She counseled women in fertility issues — how to get pregnant, and how not to.
They raised four children, then adopted two brothers, one with special needs. He witnessed the attack, along with the couple’s 17-year-old daughter, Renana.
The father of Dafna Meir’s killer works in construction; he had been to the Otniel settlement only once, briefly, to do a job.
For the past 20 years, Badir Adais has had a permit to work in Israel, but he said his son had never been to Israel, never set foot in a settlement until the day of the killing, had probably never spoken more than a few words to a Jew in his entire life.
Adais said that his family is not political, that his children have not been arrested for throwing stones at soldiers. They do not have Internet in the house; his son did not own a smartphone. “We live far from the world,” Adais said.
A day after Meir was killed, the Israeli army and border police came to the family house. The commander asked Adais if he knew why the army was there. He said no.
Adais said the officer, who spoke fluent Arabic, snatched his work permit. “He handcuffed Mourad. He said your son did this and this and this at the settlement. The commander said, ‘I will make you a beggar. I will destroy your house. I will send you to Gaza.’ ”
Mourad turned 16 in prison. His lawyer told Adais that his son signed a confession. He will get life in prison.
“I saw him at the court two weeks ago. I told him, you have to forget about us, don’t worry about us. You have to face what is happening. Forget us, forget the house. You are inside, we are outside. I told my son, ‘You will spend your life in prison, prepare yourself.’ ”
At Dafna Meir’s funeral, her daughter Renana, racked by tears, apologized to her mother for not being able to save her.
Today, Renana prepares for her final exams and graduation from high school. “I am trying to get used to a new life, learning how to build my life without my mother. I am learning to be by myself.”
Sufian Taha in Yatta, West Bank, contributed to this report.