Meirav, the 2-year-old, had been strapped into a car seat for safety. But car seats are no protection against bullets, and by the time rescue workers reached the Citroen station wagon, Meirav was dead of multiple gunshot wounds to the head. So was her 7-year-old sister, Roni. And Hadar, the 9-year-old. And Hila, 11. One by one, each had been shot at point-blank range.
In the driver's seat, their mother was dead, too. Tali Hatuel, 34, was a social worker who was often called upon to comfort and assist victims of terrorism. Eight months pregnant with her first boy, she had been driving to Ashkelon on Sunday for an ultrasound exam. Then she and the girls had planned to join her husband, David, at an election precinct to urge voters to oppose the controversial Israeli referendum on unilaterally "disengaging" from the Gaza Strip.
But David never saw his wife and daughters alive again. He buried them Sunday evening, sobbing with grief and surrounded by thousands of mourners in Ashkelon's new cemetery. "You were my flowers," he wept. "I am all alone and there is no one left."
Not long after the slaughter of the Hatuel family, two terror groups -- Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committee -- proudly claimed responsibility in a call to the Associated Press. The Voice of Palestine radio praised the quintuple murder as a "heroic" operation against "five settlers," not bothering to mention that the victims were an unarmed pregnant woman and four children or that their bodies had been riddled with bullets fired at close range.
The savagery of the attack was similarly downplayed by National Public Radio in its broadcast the next morning. Actually, reporter Julie McCarthy did more than minimize the horror of the massacre. She blamed the victims for "provoking" their own murder -- not by anything they did but by their mere "presence" in the disputed territory.
The settlers were rallying to defeat the Gaza pullout referendum, McCarthy reported, "saying Israel was withdrawing under fire. But there was ample evidence yesterday to show that their continued presence in Gaza is provoking bloodshed. Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian gunmen after the men ambushed a mother and her four small daughters outside the Gaza settlement of Gush Katif. The family was shot and killed on their way to the Israeli city of Ashkelon."
In NPR's warped moral calculus, Tali Hatuel and her children are in early graves not because Palestinian culture celebrates the mass murder of Jews but because Jews have no business living among Arabs. If McCarthy had been reporting from Birmingham in September 1963, would she have blamed the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on the provocative "presence" of the four black girls who died in the explosion?
The Hatuels opposed Ariel Sharon's proposed Gaza pullout because they understood that unilaterally surrendering land to Hamas and the PLO could only result in more terror and bloodshed, not less. If the past decade -- the era of the "land for peace" delusion -- has made anything clear, it is that the more Israel concedes to the Palestinians, the worse Palestinian terror becomes. Abandoning Gaza will not make the Arabs more peaceful. It will simply strengthen their conviction that Israelis can be defeated through terrorism and make Gaza a more effective staging-area for attacks on Jews.
The only workable recipe for lasting Middle East peace is the difficult one of remaking Palestinian society from the bottom up.
Notwithstanding the defeat of Sunday's referendum, Sharon says he still intends to go forward with his "disengagement" from Gaza. That presumably will mean the uprooting of some 8,000 Gazan Jews from the homes, farms, and schools they have built over the past quarter-century. The State Department and the UN will cheer the sight of Gaza being ethnically cleansed of its Jewish population -- being rendered "Judenrein," as the Nazis used to say. But having approved Sharon's expulsion of Jews from territory largely occupied by Arabs, what will they say if he then proposes to expel Arabs from places whose majority is Jewish?
Arab-Israeli peace will not be won by dragging people kicking and screaming from their homes. Nor will it be won by giving land and statehood to the gangsters who run Hamas and Fatah.
The only workable recipe for lasting Middle East peace is the difficult one of remaking Palestinian society from the bottom up. Of destroying its poisonous culture of violence, death-worship, and Jew-hatred. Of educating its people for democracy and tolerance. Of replacing its cruel and corrupt rulers with leaders genuinely committed to moderation.
Only when -- only if -- such a transformation takes place will the Palestinians be ready for statehood. To confer sovereignty on them now would be disastrous, a guarantee of violence for years to come. If there is one thing a regime that can call the execution of a mother and her four daughters "heroic" doesn't need, it is a reward.
This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe.