OTNIEL, West Bank — In four months of renewed violence, Palestinian assailants have targeted Israeli soldiers and civilians at bus stops, highway intersections, military checkpoints and the narrow alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Now the attacks are taking place inside Jewish settlements in the West Bank that are protected by armed forces and perimeter fences.
On Monday, a Palestinian teenager squeezed through a hole in a fence and stabbed and wounded a pregnant Israeli woman at a warehouse in the Tekoa settlement south of Jerusalem. The youth was shot at the scene and taken to a hospital.
On Sunday, a Palestinian suspect entered the home of Dafna Meir, 38, in the Jewish settlement of Otniel, south of Hebron. The assailant fatally stabbed Meir, a mother of six, in front of her eldest daughter and then fled on foot.
As large crowds and Israeli cabinet ministers gathered for Meir’s funeral in Jerusalem on Monday, a manhunt was underway in the south Hebron hills, as Israeli troops conducted raids and operated roadblocks in nearby Palestinian villages.
Fearing more attacks, Israeli army commanders, who oversee the 49-year military occupation of the West Bank, ordered all Palestinian workers out of the nearby Gush Etzion settlement block.
Israel has issued permits for 25,000 Palestinians to work in the settlements, where they build houses for the Jewish residents or work in light industries owned by Israelis.
The two attacks inside the perimeters of Jewish settlements represent a frightening escalation for the more than 350,000 residents who live in West Bank settlements .
Two days before she was killed, Meir wrote an article in her community bulletin. “Lately, I have had a lot of objections in light of the security situation, thoughts about what is necessary and what is unnecessary to do, about fears, about my husband and children,” she wrote, according to a translation by the Jerusalem Post. “The situation is not easy and sometimes it feels like Russian Roulette.”
The 200 settlements are considered by most of the world to be in violation of international law, although Israel disputes this. The United States considers the communities “illegitimate” and an impediment to a peace deal with the Palestinians, who want the same land for a future state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the recent wave of attacks — which he described as “an awakening” — has been driven by the frustration and humiliation of occupation.
At Meir’s funeral, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of a pro-settlement political party, blamed official incitement by Palestinian authorities for the surge in violence.
“The Palestinian version of ‘Sesame Street’ teaches children to murder Jews and then, as we see, they go and do it,” Bennett said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that the assailant who killed Meir would be caught.
“Whoever tries to harm us, we will bring him to justice,” the Israeli leader said. He said Israel would “strengthen” the settlements in the aftermath of the attacks.
At Meir’s funeral, her daughter Renana, 17, spoke through tears. “It is difficult for me to imagine that we will never sit together again and drink tea or laugh together again, and that you will not be there when I get married or get drafted or have my children,” she said. “I am so sorry that I could not manage to help you in the hardest moment of your life.”
Meir worked as a nurse at the hospital in Beersheva and also counseled women on fertility issues.
The last deadly Palestinian attack inside a Jewish settlement occurred in 2011, when five members of the Fogel family, including their 3-month-old baby, were stabbed to death in their home in Itamar, south of Nablus.
In four months of violence, Palestinians attackers have killed 25 Israelis using knives, guns and cars. Israelis have killed almost a hundred Palestinians during attacks or attempted attacks; fifty more have been killed in violent clashes as Israel deploys increasingly lethal countermeasures.