Palestinian kills three in Israel Knife attack spawns anti-Arab violence

October 22, 1990|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian man working in West Jerusalem stabbed to death three Israelis yesterday, including a female soldier and a policeman, touching off anti-Arab violence that caused police to stop Palestinians from entering the city for fear they would be attacked by enraged Israelis.

After the stabbings, residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood where the violence occurred shouted "Death to the Arabs," chased Palestinian construction workers and threw stones at Palestinians' cars. Authorities deployed an extra 2,000 police in an attempt to maintain order.

Members of the government tried to blame the stabbings on a United Nations Security Council resolution that condemned Israel for an incident earlier this month in which police shot to death 20 Palestinians on the Temple Mount. A spokesman for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said that the U.N. resolution had encouraged violence against Jews.

Arrested for the stabbings was a 19-year-old Palestinian identified by police as Omar Abu Sirhan, a plasterer from the West Bank village of Abadiya, near Bethlehem.

Witnesses said he was arrested as he lay wounded on the ground next to the body of the off-duty policeman who was one of his victims.

Authorities refrained from saying whether the assailant had acted alone or as part of a group. Anonymous callers contacted news agencies and made contradictory claims of responsibility on behalf of two Palestinian groups, Islamic Jihad and Force 17, an arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

A caller for what was called the Al Aqsa faction of Islamic Jihad was quoted as saying that the stabbings would be "the first in a chain of actions."

Word of the stabbings spread through the city like a shock wave, sending hundreds of Israelis to the scene and hundreds of Palestinians home to the West Bank to escape possible attacks.

Israelis quickly assumed that the violence came in revenge for the killings on the Temple Mount. "We expected that some event of this kind would happen," said Ayre Bibi, police commander of Jerusalem. "That's why we had reinforced our forces."

After the Temple Mount shootings, the underground Moslem fundamentalist group Hamas distributed leaflets calling on Palestinians to kill "any Jew or settler."

Whatever the exact cause of the stabbings, it came as part of a rapidly accelerating cycle of attacks and counterattacks between Palestinians and Israelis, with each side blaming the other.

Teddy Kollek, the city's mayor and an advocate of coexistence, acknowledged that the attacks were tearing the city apart.

"It's clear that this is a very difficult case and will put neighborhoods in the whole of the city to a test of restraint," Mr. Kollek said, as police issued warnings that they would arrest Israelis who attacked Palestinians. "We must try to maintain behavior which will not bring about an attack on innocent people."

Others echoed the warning that mass violence was becoming the municipal norm. "People are being stabbed or killed or kidnapped on both sides like life is worth nothing," said Dedi Zucker, a left-wing member of the Knesset (parliament). "I'm afraid the amount of desperation, of frustration on both sides, would lead us to more and more blood."

Politicians on the right demanded that the government enforce the death penalty against "terrorists," that the family of the assailant be deported and that their home be destroyed. They also demanded that orders for police be changed to allow them in some circumstances to shoot to kill without warning shots.

"I think when a policeman or soldier is attacked by a killer, somebody coming at him with a knife, he should kill him immediately," said Police Minister Ronnie Milo.

The latest violence occurred in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Bakaa, an area with a mix of apartments, expensive private houses and small shops just off the the main road to Bethlehem.

As recounted by witnesses, a Palestinian working on a construction project was one of several people in an alley at about 7:15 a.m. Police say that an 18-year-old female soldier, identified later as Iris Azulai, was walking there unarmed, about 10 yards from her parents' house.

According to police, the Palestinian shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) and used a 15-inch knife to stab the soldier. A physician who tried to resuscitate her said she was stabbed three times in the chest.

With residents coming out of their homes, the attacker walked or ran about 150 yards to the intersection with a street. There, a 45-year-old man had time to call for help before he was killed. He was identified as Eli Alteretz, the owner of a plant nursery on Bakaa's main street.

More people came out and gave chase. In trying to escape, the attacker slashed a 13-year-old boy.

One of the people to join the chase was an off-duty policeman. According to witnesses, the policeman fired one shot in the air and then shot the attacker twice in the legs.

The two men then began a desperate wrestling match that led to the policeman's being killed and the attacker's being pinned by the policeman's body. The policeman was identified as Charlie Shalush, 28.

When police arrived, they found the attacker surrounded by an enraged crowd and managed to take him into custody only after fighting their way through the onlookers.

For the next several hours, members of the crowd took out their anger on anyone who did not seem to share it. They smashed the windows of a truck with West Bank license plates, threatened to attack the home of a left-wing political activist and manhandled several reporters.

With police looking on, they marched to the street that carries heavy traffic between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where they threw stones at a half-dozen cars with the blue license tags issued only to Palestinians.

Police urged people to stop but refrained from making any arrests. They later arrested one Israeli carrying a gasoline bomb.

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