Attacker was among group of day workers entering Israel
A Palestinian gunman opened fire on a group of Israeli security officers who were checking day laborers arriving to work in the upscale community of Har Adar, northwest of Jerusalem, early Tuesday morning. A border policeman and two civilian security guards, one of them an Arab citizen of Israel, died at the scene. The attack occurred at the back gate of the settlement, where workers often congregate before entering to work in Har Adar and other nearby communities.
“Police and emergency units are at the scene,” Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told The Media Line. “All we know is that the assailant is from Beit Sourik, a nearby Palestinian village and he was shot and killed at the scene.”
Israeli press reports said that one of the Israeli men killed had been wounded in a Palestinian knife attack last year in the same area. All three men were in their twenties. Among the first responders were Arab citizens of Israel from the nearby village of Abu Ghosh.
Police said that the assailant, 37 and the father of four, had a permit to enter Jewish settlements to work. He aroused suspicion when he approached the gate while still on the Palestinian side. When arrest procedures were initiated, the gunman drew a pistol and opened fire. In addition to the three killed, a fourth man was taken to an Israeli hospital in serious condition. In a statement, the Israeli Security Authority (ISA) said the man, Nimr Mahmoud Ahmed Jama, had personal problems.
“The preliminary investigation indicates that he had significant personal and family problems, including those regarding family violence. His wife fled to Jordan several weeks ago and left him with their children,” the statement said.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the cabinet that there would be immediate consequences.
“While we are still investigating the event and its implications, we can say some things with certainty even now. One – the home of the terrorist will be demolished. Two – the IDF has already cordoned off the village. Three – all work permits for members of the terrorist’s extended family are hereby revoked,” Netanyahu said. “This murderous attack is the result of – inter alia – systematic incitement by the Palestinian Authority and other elements and I expect Abu Mazen to condemn it and not attempt to justify it. The security forces will continue to take action against incitement and terrorism as they have been doing night and day and we, of course, will finish the investigation of the incident and will discuss together the next steps.”
The Islamist Hamas movement welcomed the attack but did not claim responsibility.
“The Jerusalem attack is a new chapter in the Al-Quds intifada,” Hamas said in a statement, referring to last summer’s violent demonstrations after Israel installed metal detectors at the entrance to a Jerusalem holy site. “It underlines the fact any attempts to Judaize (the city) have failed on the ground. Jerusalem is Arab-Muslim. Its residents and youth will spare no effort to redeem it with their spirit and blood.” The metal detectors were later removed.
Israeli officials condemned the attack.
“In such difficult moments, our hearts go out to the families of those murdered, and we pray for recovery of those injured,” Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement. “Such a brutal terror attack once again shows the daily frontline on which our security forces stand, charged today with the most important mission – the safeguarding and defense of the citizens of Israel. We will continue to confront terror, and will reach all its perpetrators and supporters.”
It was not clear if police and security forces were the assailant’s intended target of if he planned to attack civilian Israelis living in the settlement. The attack took place near the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank. Palestinians with work permits are allowed to cross into Israel.
“The security fence did the job,” Nitzan Nuriel, the former director of the counterterrorism bureau in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office told The Media Line. “During the crossing the guards recognized the terrorist and understood that he may do something bad, and started checking him, and then he opened fire. We paid a heavy price but what if that terrorist had come into Har Adar and killed many civilians?”
Har Adar is an affluent community located just over the “green line”, the 1967 border between Israel and the West Bank, which Palestinians say must be part of a future Palestinian state. Many Israelis see it as a bedroom community for those who work in Jerusalem.
Tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers work in Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank, and the attack is expected to renew calls to end their employment. Nuriel said that would be a mistake.
“It’s better for us that they have jobs and can bring some money back home,” he said. “In the long run, I hope we let as many Palestinians get permits to work in the settlements and in Israel.”
He said police and security forces must continue to be on alert. Security analysts say these “long-wolf attacks” are almost impossible to stop, and can spur copy-cat attacks.
The attack came as US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt is due to arrive in the region for another round of peace talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.