Israeli authorities say the previously unknown Galilee Freedom Battalion was behind the March 6 attack on West Jerusalem’s Mercaz Harav Jewish seminary, and the gunman was an Arab from Jerusalem. (Ma’an News Agency, March 7) Opening fire with a Kalashnikov rifle in a ground-floor library, the gunman killed at least seven students and wounded nine before he himself was gunned down by an Israeli army officer. (NYT, March 7)
It was the deadliest attack on Israeli civilians in nearly two years and the first inside Jerusalem in four. It occurred at the start of the Hebrew month in which the Purim holiday occurs, and many witnesses initially thought the gunfire was firecrackers in celebration at the 84-year-old seminary, which the New York Times calls “an ideological base for the settler movement.”
The yeshiva is a symbol of the national religious strain of Judaism that provides the backbone of the settler movement. After the 1967 war, the national religious movement was the ideological father of the idea of redemption through reclaiming the land. The yeshiva was founded in 1924 by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, and it is considered an elite institution, with 400 students.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack. In Gaza, Hamas denied responsibility, but said in a text message quoted by the Times: “We bless the operation. It will not be the last.”