10 Apr 2023

Maia and Rina Dee: Father mourns at funeral of sisters killed in West Bank

11:10 am on 10 April 2023
Mourners react during the funeral of British-Israeli sisters Rina and Maya Dee at the Kfar Etzion settlement cemetery in the occupied West Bank, on April 9, 2023. - On April 7, two British-Israeli sisters were killed, and their mother seriously wounded in a West Bank shooting attack, and Israel's army said it had launched a manhunt for the perpetrators. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Mourners react during the funeral of British-Israeli sisters Rina and Maia Dee at the Kfar Etzion settlement cemetery in the occupied West Bank. Photo: AFP / Menahem Kahana

By Lucy Williamson and Marita Moloney

The father of two British-Israeli sisters killed in a shooting in the occupied West Bank embraced their bodies while mourners sang songs of grief at their funeral on Sunday.

Maia and Rina Dee, 20 and 15, were killed on Friday when suspected Palestinian gunmen opened fire on them in their car in the Jordan Valley.

Their mother, Leah, is in a critical condition following surgery.

The attack came amid soaring Israeli-Palestinian tensions and violence.

The low rhythmic songs swelled and swayed with the crowd, who were packed beneath the white rafters in the prayer hall at a cemetery in the settlement of Kfar Etzion.

Many at the funeral were teenagers - some from the school Rina went to. At the front, by a low podium, the family gathered, talking together and holding each other for long moments in silence.

The bodies were brought out, one covered in black cloth, one in blue - a Star of David embroidered on each, in gold and silver.

They were embraced by their father, Rabbi Leo Dee, originally from Radlett in the UK. He then sat back, his face contorted in pain, his hands reaching out to touch his remaining three children.

Rabbi Dee also spoke, questioning how he would explain to the girls' mother what had happened to their "two precious gifts" when she wakes up.

He told those assembled that "today the Jewish people have proven we are one".

"A simple, quiet family is devastated," he said.

"The whole country hurts."

Israel's national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, was among the mourners.

The family live in Efrat, having moved from London nine years ago.

The car carrying the two sisters and their mother crashed after coming under fire. They were then fired on again at close range, Israeli media reported.

Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported that 22 bullet casings were found, apparently from a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

The victims were travelling in one of three cars on their way to Tiberias in the Galilee for a family holiday.

Israeli military personnel blocked roads in the area and said they had "started a pursuit of the terrorists" responsible.

Speaking to the BBC on Saturday evening, Rabbi Dee described his daughters as beautiful, smart and popular. He said he had not been able to sleep since their deaths.

"Every time, I had nightmares and woke up," he said, "but the reality was worse than the nightmare, so I went back to sleep. Recurring nightmares ... that's how it went."

He said Maia, who was volunteering for national service in a high school, was "wonderful, beautiful, had a lot of friends ... she was very keen to do a second year of volunteering".

Rina, he said, was "beautiful, fun, very smart, top grades in every subject, very popular with friends, sporty ... very responsible, she would take responsibility for many things".

"When it came to sweeping out the youth club floor, if other people didn't turn up, she would be there by herself for three hours on a Friday morning, to make sure it was done," he said.

Rabbi Dee heard news of the attack without realising his own family were involved, he said.

He called his wife and daughters, but they did not answer. He then saw a picture online of the car that was attacked.

"And we could just see one of our suitcases in the back seat," he said.

"There was a massive panic and screaming."

He then drove to the scene. He was not allowed access but was handed his daughter's ID card, which confirmed the worst.

Rabbi Dee has said he and his three remaining children "will get through this".

Rabbi Mordechai Ginsbury, from the Hendon United Synagogue in north London, said he spoke briefly with his close friend Rabbi Dee before the funerals.

"Naturally, as are we all, [he was] devastated, shocked at how just in a few moments with an act of absolute evil and madness - insanity - things can change around," he told the BBC.

"The loss of two gorgeous daughters, and his wife now lying critically ill in a hospital in Jerusalem.

"But through the sadness there's still that determination that he has to find any positives one can find, to try and be strong for his remaining children."

Rabbi Ginsbury added that Rabbi Dee felt "supported and embraced by a blanket of warmth and love" from within Israel and from people across the world who had contacted him.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who described the incident as a terror attack, sent his condolences to the family in a tweet naming the sisters on Saturday.

The UK's chief rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, said that "no words can describe the depth of our shock and sadness at the heart-breaking news".

After the two sisters were shot, Israel Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai called on all Israelis with firearms licences to start carrying their weapons.

Also on Friday, an Italian tourist was killed and seven other people were wounded, including three Britons, in a suspected car-ramming attack in Tel Aviv.


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