Monday’s terror attack by an excavator driver wielding his vehicle to wreak havoc in Jerusalem was the latest in a long string of incidents in which large construction machines were used against the capital’s denizens.
The attack killed one man, Avraham Walz, 29, and injured six people at the end of Shmuel Hanavi Street, near the Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem, as the driver ran over pedestrians and knocked over a nearly empty bus.
A police officer and Israel Prison Service official ran up to the tractor and fired a volley of shots at the terrorist, identified as Muhammed Naif el-Ja’abis, 23, as he sat in the cabin, and killed him, according to police.
For Jerusalem residents, the attack marked the return of an all-too-familiar terror method.
Monday’s incident, caught on a series of mobile-phone videos, was reminiscent of a similar attack in downtown Jerusalem six years earlier, when a bulldozer driver rampaged down Jaffa Road before being shot by a bystander with a gun who hopped onto the cab.
The phenomenon of using bulldozers to carry out terror attacks started with a July 2008 incident, the deadliest of the bunch.
On July 2, 2008, the driver went on a five-minute rampage down Jaffa Road, smashing two buses, a number of cars, and pedestrians.
The driver was later identified as Hussam Taysir Duwait, an East Jerusalem resident of Sur Baher.
Duwait killed three people and injured over 50. The victims, all residents of Jerusalem, were Elizabeth (Lili) Goren-Friedman, 54; Jean Relevy, 68; and Batsheva Unterman, 33, whose infant daughter was pulled from her car just before the bulldozer crushed it.
Just a few weeks later, on July 22, the driver of a backhoe next to the King David Hotel rammed into three cars and a bus, injuring 24 people.
The terrorist, 22-year-old Ghassan Abu Teir from East Jerusalem, was killed by a Border Police officer and a passerby. The event took place very close to the hotel where then-presidential candidate Barack Obama was due to stay during a visit to the Middle East and happened just seven hours before Obama landed in Israel.
On September 22, 2008, a 19-year-old Hamas member from East Jerusalem’s Jabel Mukaber neighborhood named Qassem Mughrabi drove his BMW into a group of soldiers standing next to Tzahal Square next the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. Soldiers shot the driver within seconds, according to a police spokesman. He injured 19 soldiers.
On March 5, 2009, less than two months after the end of Operation Cast Lead, a construction worker drove his tractor into a police cruiser next to the Malha Mall. Two police officers were injured lightly, and other police officers killed the driver immediately. Police identified the driver as Marei al-Radeideh, a construction worker in his mid-20s who lived with his family in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina.
Four years later, al-Radeideh’s brother Younis al-Radeideh rammed a tractor into the gate of an army base north of Jerusalem on October 17, 2013. One soldier was lightly injured. Soldiers immediately shot and killed Younis.
After Monday’s attack, relatives of Ja’abis said he had lost control of the tractor and it was not a terror incident. However, police indicated it was a deliberate terror attack.
Channel 2 reported that Ja’abis, from Jabel Mukaber, took part in a demonstration in 2009 with about 30 other tractor drivers who were worried the tractor terror attacks put their jobs at risk. “We’re scared that, if God forbid, something happens, they will think that we’re trying to carry out a terror attack — and then they will kill us without asking any questions,” Ja’abis told Channel 2 Online at the demonstration in 2009.
“We are against these attacks, these tractors are our livelihoods, they are the way we put food on the table for our children,” he said. “We want the public to know that not every tractor worker is a terrorist. We hope that the Israel public will understand that we’re OK and that we’re working just like everyone else and not looking for problems.”