Jeff Jacoby

Last weekend in Itamar, an Israeli settlement in the Samarian hills, terrorists infiltrated the home of Udi and Ruth Fogel and perpetrated a massacre of the innocents.

The killers started with Yoav, the Fogels' 11-year-old, and Elad, his 4-year-old brother. Yoav's throat was slit -- as he was reading in bed, one report said -- and Elad was stabbed twice in the heart. Then the attackers murdered Ruth, knifing her as she came out of the bathroom. In the next room they killed Ruth's sleeping husband, Udi, and their infant daughter, Hadas. Apparently they didn't notice the last bedroom, where the two other boys, Ro'i, 8, and Yishai, 2, were asleep. It wasn't until half past midnight, when 12-year-old Tamar came home from a Friday night youth group, that the horrific slaughter was discovered. Much of the house was drenched in blood, and the 2-year-old was shaking his parents' bodies, crying for them to wake up.

What explains such unspeakable evil? What sort of human being deliberately butchers a sleeping baby, or plunges a knife into a toddler's heart?

As news of the massacre in Itamar spread, young men in Gaza distributed candy and pastries in celebration. The Al-Qassam Brigades, a branch of Hamas, argued that the murder of Israeli settlers was permitted by international law. A day later it changed its tune, insisted that "harming children is not part of Hamas's policy," and suggested instead that the massacre might have been committed by Jews. The Palestinian "foreign minister," Riyad al-Malki, also voiced doubt that the killers could have been Palestinian. "The slaughter of people like this by Palestinians," he claimed, "is unprecedented." Actually, the precedents abound.

The atrocity in Itamar recalls the 2002 terror attack at Kibbutz Metzer that left five victims dead, including a mother and her two little boys. It brings to mind the murder of Tali Hatuel and her four daughters, who were shot at point-blank range as they drove from Gaza to Ashkelon in 2004. It is reminiscent of the bloodbath in a Jerusalem yeshiva three years ago, in which eight young students were gunned down. Unprecedented? If only.

The civilized mind struggles to make sense of such savagery.


Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.