Some say soldiers’ hesitation to shoot, fear of legal repercussions, cost lives
[Jerusalem] A Palestinian attacker driving a Mercedes truck rammed into a group of Israeli soldiers who had just gotten off a bus in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv on Sunday. The assailant drove deliberately into the group, and then backed up again over the victims, killing one male and three female soldiers. All of the soldiers were recruits in the Israeli army’s prestigious officer’s training course.
It was the worst terrorist attack in Jerusalem in several months and raised the level of tension in the city. Israeli officials said the attacker was Fadi Al-Qanabir, a released prisoner from Jebel Al-Mukaber, a Palestinian neighborhood of east Jerusalem next to the Jewish neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv.
Several soldiers and civilians in the area opened fire on the attacker, killing him. Israel Radio said the truck’s license plates were stolen.
“The place looked like a battlefield,” Moti Bukchin, the spokesman for ZAKA, a network of voluntary emergency response teams told The Media Line. Two of the dead were caught under the truck, and there were bodies everywhere.”
Another ZAKA volunteer, Jerusalem Operations Commander Meir Akar, described the difficult scene.
“A crane from the firefighters helped us lift the front part of truck so that we could free those trapped underneath. Tragically, they were no longer alive,” he told The Media Line. “A team from the forensics department of the Israel Police and ZAKA carried out the initial identification of the dead. ZAKA then removed the bodies of the four victims and the terrorist. Another ZAKA team remains at the scene to clear the significant amount of blood and remains to bring them to burial.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat spoke to the media and the Israeli public minutes after the attack. “To our dismay, there is no limit to the cruelty of the terrorists who are willing to use any means possible to murder Jews and to damage the life routine of Israel’s capital.”
Barkat went on to send a unifying message to Israelis: “Those who incite and fan the flames and those who support terror must pay a heavy price. I call on the residents of Jerusalem and the country at large to be alert and despite this hard terror attack to carry on in your daily routines, and do not let terror win.”
Speaking under heavy guard at the scene of the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that “all signs point to the attacker being an Islamic State supporter.” Linking the deadly incident to similar vehicle rammings in Europe, Netanyahu said, “We know that we have here a series of attacks, and there could be a link between them, from France to Berlin, and now Jerusalem.”
The attack came just days after a military court convicted Israeli soldier Elor Azaria of manslaughter for shooting and killing a Palestinian prisoner in Hebron who had been wounded and bound after he tried to stab an Israeli soldier ten months ago. Azaria is set to be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in the next few weeks.
His conviction set off a storm in Israel, with some claiming that Israeli soldiers will be afraid to shoot to kill terrorists in the future, worried that they will be tried.
According to Israeli tour guide Eitan Rond who was with the group of soldiers who were attacked, that scenario played out in Sunday’s incident. He told reporters that some of the soldiers hesitated to open fire, and surmised that the hesitation was perhaps because of the Azaria verdict. “I’m a tour guide, I was supposed to be guiding groups of youths. We didn’t even manage to say hello before it all happened. I don’t understand why 40 soldiers who were there did not shoot,” Rond told reporters.
“It’s not pleasant to say, but there could have been a lot fewer wounded,” he said, adding that he fired 12 bullets at the driver, emptying his clip, but even then “he was not neutralized.”
“After I decided to open fire at him, several soldiers also opened fire. He took a breath and carried on running people over,” he said.
“Lives could have been saved,” he said.