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Knife Attack by Arab-Israeli Girls Triggers Questions, Anguish

Teens' Teacher Ella Elbalasti: They Never Showed Any Hatred 0:28

LOD, Israel — Five security guards led two girls, hands and legs shackled, out of Courtroom 29 in this suburb of Tel Aviv. The cousins and best friends were only 13 but the charges against them could hardly be more severe: attempted murder, conspiracy to commit a crime and the possession of a knife.

One of the teens' fathers wiped away tears as they were taken away earlier this month.

Image: Contents of the teenage attackers' schoolbags on the ground
Photos distributed by Israeli police show the contents of the teenage attackers' schoolbags on February 4. Courtesy Israel Police / Courtesy Israel Police

"Our family is a very warm family ... [she] was a quiet and innocent girl," he told NBC News after attending the hearing with a handful of relatives.. "She made a mistake and I have no idea how she came up with this idea. We are not saying she didn't do it, but they need to take into account that she is only a 13-year-old girl."

He and others struggled to understand why girls raised in a city held up as an example of coexistence allegedly joined a wave of attacks on Israelis. They are accused of stabbing an Israeli security guard on Feb. 4. (NBC News is not naming the suspects because they are minors.)

The pair grew up in Ramle, a city some 12 miles southeast of Tel Aviv where 72,000 Muslims and Jews live side-by-side.

"The incident doesn't characterize this city's Arab population," Ramle Mayor Yoel Lavie said in a statement. "We all live in coexistence and will continue to live together."

Relatives of the girl whose dad spoke to NBC News condemned the attack within hours.

"We the family see the city as an example of real coexistence and hope this incident won't change this reality," they wrote in a letter to Lavie.

The cousins' behavior before the attack gave no indications they were being radicalized, Al-Jawarish elementary school principal Noel Abu Amer said.

"I was a teacher here for 33 years and principal for the past 17 years," Abu Amer told NBC News. "I have never seen such an incident in my life — we are all shocked."

Image: Noel Abu Amer
Noel Abu Amer, the principal of Al-Jawarish elementary school in Ramle, Israel. Dave Copeland / NBC News

She added that one of the alleged attackers excelled at reading and writing, the other at science. Both loved sports.

Israeli officials blame the recent spate of attacks on violent propaganda bombarding young people.

"When we interrogate the terrorists the main occurring theme we find is, 'I saw it on television, I read it on the Internet, on Twitter, on Instagram,'" Israel's Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said during a security conference on Feb. 9.

Since the beginning of October, 228 attacks have been committed by Palestinians against Israelis in a wave of violence dubbed the "Intifada of Knives." Around 95 percent of the attackers are young and single, according to a report by the Israel Security Agency, or GSS — and 10 percent are minors aged 16 or younger.

Since mid-September, 32 Israelis have been killed in such attacks, according to emergency services. During the same time, some 163 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire — most said by Israel to be attackers, according to The Associated Press.

Related: Fight Over Viral Video Sums Up Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Many Palestinians and Arab-Israelis are frustrated and angry that years of talks aimed at establishing an independent Palestinian state have foundered, and at what is widely seen as an illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

The pair in Courtroom 29 are now statistics. According to the State Attorney's Office, they talked about the recent wave of violence at least a month before carrying out their own attack.

Their decision was triggered by a Feb. 3 attack by three Palestinians who, according to Israeli investigators, were shot dead after trying to stab security forces near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.

FROM FEB. 3: Gun Attack at Jerusalem's Damascus Gate Leaves at Least 4 Dead 0:37

Hiding kitchen knives in their schoolbags, the duo walked to Ramle's main mall in search of soldiers to stab but found only civilians, officials said. They then went after a security guard who was stationed at the entrance to a bus station next to the mall, they added.

"The security guard at the place asked them to identify themselves," according to a police statement. "The two pulled out knives, stabbed the security man and caused him light injuries in his arms and legs. The two were taken to a police station."

Related: How Israelis Are Dealing With Wave of 'Lone-Wolf' Stabbings

Photos distributed by police show the contents of the girls' schoolbags after the attack: A grape juice box lies next to handwritten Arabic school assignments, and two long kitchen knives used in the attack.

Ella Elbalasti, who taught the pair English, said she was very disturbed by the attack and how it seemed to have come out of the blue. She pointed to an empty seat that belonged to one of the girls in the fourth row of her classroom.

"They were two normal girls and outstanding students," Elbalasti said. "They never showed any hatred at anyone, and that's what bothers us."