Daily Israel Report

Photo Feature: Heroism and Miracles in Gush Etzion

The attack on a yeshiva in Gush Etzion last week could have ended in a drawn-out hostage crisis or the massacre of dozens of high school students.
By Ezra HaLevi and Josh Shamsi
First Publish: 2/6/2008, 1:20 PM

The attack on a yeshiva in Gush Etzion last week could have ended in a drawn-out hostage crisis or the massacre of dozens of high school students. It didn’t, thanks to bravery and, students say, a miracle.

Everything is back to normal at Yeshivat Mekor Chayim (‘Life Source’), the high school situated at the edge of Kfar Etzion headed by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz. The school has been targeted, wittingly or not, by Arab terrorists twice in recent months.

The Mekor Chaim Yeshiva high school.

The first attack was on two recent graduates, David Rubin and Achikam Amichai, who were hiking at the Hevron-area Telem Stream during a furlough from their elite IDF units when they were ambushed by terrorists. They engaged their killers with their last ounces of strength and saved the life of their hiking companion.

The second attack took place last week and was also wrought with heroism. The second attack ended with the victims going home to their families and the terrorists in body-bags.

Two terrorists, fresh out of jail for stealing guns from IDF soldiers stationed in the nearby community of Bat Ayin, approached Kibbutz Kfar Etzion along a dirt road off of the main Jerusalem-Hevron Highway. They were from Beit Oumar, a village on the way to Hevron known for its support of Hamas and for its hospitality toward Western leftist and anarchist protesters who come on extended visits to Israel to obstruct IDF counter-terror operations.

The terrorists cut the electric fence, and made their way up the hill toward the yeshiva along dirt-paths through the 40-year-old forest.

The terrorists cut through and disarmed the electric fence.
The hole cut in the fence by the terrorists.
The path used by the terrorists up from the orchards toward the school.

Walking those paths, one clearly hears the din of hundreds of students engaging in chavruta (paired) study of Jewish texts in the Beit Midrash (the study hall set aside for Torah discourse and exposition), with its large windows facing outward.

The terrorists could have walked straight into the study hall. They instead turned right and entered the smaller library where the counselors were meeting.
The Beit Midrash (Study Hall) at Mekor Chayim.

Emmanuel, a security guard from nearby Kiryat Arba, says it is impossible to understand why the terrorists would forgo the “soft-target” of the Beit Midrash for the Library, where seven of the yeshiva’s counselors were having a meeting.

The library where the attack occurred.

The terrorists stormed into the library wearing the uniforms of the security company in charge of both security at the yeshiva and the operation of the newly expanded checkpoints placed along the route of the Partition Wall. The night shift security personnel are Druze, moonlighting; by day, they man the new border crossings. The Druze mother tongue is usually Arabic; when the two terrorists held out a gun and knives and said “Get up and stand against the wall” with an Arabic accent, the counselors were at first confused.

The confusion subsided when one of the terrorists stabbed a counselor who had reached for his own pistol. A scuffle ensued and both terrorists were shot dead.

Students in the study hall next door went into crisis mode, barricading the doors and acting in accordance with drills they had practiced in the past.

Rabbi Shuki Zekbach, the school’s principal, says that the entire school will hold a feast of thanksgiving for what he says was an undeniable miracle. The rabbi recalls that following the untimely death of a faculty member and the murder of Rubin and Amichai, the school’s faculty took upon themselves a personal fast day and day of repentance.

Rabbi Shuki Zekbach, the school's principal.

“It was truly miraculous that nobody was killed in this attack,” he says. “It could have ended so much worse.”

Police tape flutters from the trees near the scene of the attack.

Life at Mekor Chayim continued without missing a beat. Students begin classes at 7 AM with morning prayers and classes last until 8:30 or 9:30 at night. Rabbi Zekbach says the guiding philosophy of the school is that high school must not be a place of simply working and preparing for future educational pursuits, but a place of maturation, exploration and specialization. “Students take part in decision-making committees and are also encouraged to take part in extra-curricular activities from drama to music to hiking,” he explains.

"Because With You is the Source of Life"
Students walking between the pre-fab structures that house the various classrooms and facilities.
"Land of Israel and Environmental Studies" classroom at Mekor Chaim.

Emmanuel said he was not surprised that those associated with Mekor Chayim fought their attackers in both instances. “Look, we are standing just meters away from the bunker where the residents of Kfar Etzion were all killed with a grenade in 1948,” he said, pointing up the hill to the Gush Etzion visitors center that was built around the tragic bunker.

The bunker where Kfar Etzion's original residents were slaughtered by Arab attackers.
The Gush Etzion IDF army base can be seen in the distance across the valley from the school.

“These are the sons of those who have returned. Many were born here and they are studying here in a way that fills them with the fire of the Torah and encourages them to use that fire to bring out the wisdom of the Torah in everything from rock climbing to raising goats. These are the mighty future leaders of Israel and no cowardly terrorist can stand up to that.”

"Believe that we can rectify without limits!" reads a mural on one of the dorm rooms.
(Photos: Josh Shamsi, Arutz-7 Photojournalist)