An American man on a study program in Israel opened fire in the Leonardo Club hotel in Eilat on Friday morning, killing a hotel employee and leaving three tourists suffering from shock. Security forces, including the IDF’s Counterterrorism Unit, killed the shooter after he fired on them in a siege on the hotel kitchen, where he had been holed up.
William Hershkovitz, 23, from New York, was in Israel on a Jewish Agency program, and was working in the hotel as part of that program. He had been dismissed on Thursday — reportedly over disciplinary issues — and came back to the hotel on Friday morning. The Jewish Agency promised to check its procedures for accepting applicants to such programs.
US officials said they were in touch with Hershkovitz’s family, and sent condolences to all the victims of the incident.
Police said the shooting was the result of a work-related dispute. Israel Radio reported that Hershkovitz had been arguing with the hotel’s sous-chef, Abed Armando Shukhallah, and that he grabbed the gun of a security guard who arrived to break up the fight. He then fired four shots at Shukhallah, who was 33 years old, killing him.
Police were investigating the precise nature of the work dispute. They were also examining how he had managed to grab the security guard’s gun.
Guests of the hotel — which is fully booked for the ongoing Sukkot holiday — were told to stay in their rooms while police conducted negotiations with the shooter. But the siege ended in gunfire, reportedly after Hershkovitz opened fire on security forces. At around 11 a.m. local time, guests were cleared to walk around the hotel.
Hershkovitz was participating in a program that brings Jews to Israel for work and study, said Ofer Gutman, head of the Oranim program, which is sponsored jointly by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency.
He had arrived in Israel about two months ago on the Oranim program, combining Hebrew study, travel and work in an Eilat hotel along with a university course on hotel management, Gutman said. On Tuesday, the hotel and the program decided, together with the man, to terminate his work at the hotel, and his last day at work was Thursday. The Oranim staff was planning to reassign him to another workplace, Gutman said.
Gutman did not say why it had been decided to end Hershkovitz’s work at the hotel, but said participants sometimes transfer to other workplaces based on their personal preferences.
A fellow member of the program who shared a room with Hershkovitz said he was violent, that the New Yorker woke up in the middle of the night “and punched the walls,” and that he had reported his behavior to officials, Channel 2 said.
Oranim program participant Stas Abramovich, 27, said a number of people had complained about Hershkovitz to the program coordinator.
“There was something strange in his smile, but I never saw him as aggressive,” Abramovich said.
Another participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was afraid of repercussions from the program, said Hershkovitz had issued death threats to other members, but program coordinators ignored repeated complaints.
“He would talk to himself, share dreams that he’d had about random killings and mutilations that he did, he would have statements against Arabs or Nazis or terrorist type movements,” the participant added.
The head of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, expressed his deep sorrow in response to the shooting. In a statement, Sharansky said he had appointed a panel to examine how the American had been accepted to the Oranim program.
“He was a normal guy,” Gutman told The Associated Press. “There was nothing that indicated what would happen in the end.”
Gutman spoke by telephone before boarding a flight to Eilat, where he hoped to calm the gunman’s fellow program participants. “It’s terrible what happened,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.