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Security officer tells of life-or-death struggle with knife-wielding Gazan

‘I understood that there is a terrorist with me in the car,’ recalls Andrea Dustov of moment a Palestinian lunged at his head with a blade

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Screen capture from video of community security officer Andrei Dustov describing how he fought hand to hand with a knife-wielding terrorist from the Gaza Strip, May 31, 2021. (Channel 12 News)
Screen capture from video of community security officer Andrei Dustov describing how he fought hand to hand with a knife-wielding terrorist from the Gaza Strip, May 31, 2021. (Channel 12 News)

A security officer who prevented a terror attack from the Gaza Strip by taking on a knife-wielding terrorist described Monday how he fought hand to hand with the intruder even though he himself was not carrying a weapon.

Andrei Dustov was lightly injured in his hand during the incident late Sunday night. The Palestinian man was later shot and injured.

“It was a miracle that the terrorist didn’t get into the community and start to stab residents,” Dustov told Channel 12 news, with his hand heavily bandaged from a gash he sustained during the fight.

Many Israeli communities in areas with security concerns maintain a team of armed guards known as community security officers.

Dustov, a community security officer working in the border area, said that a message had gone out to local officers that there was a suspicious man wandering along the main road of Hevel Shalom, an Israeli region opposite the southern Gaza Strip.

“I was the closest to him so I went out in that direction,” he said. Dustov was not armed as his gun was taken from him last year following a complaint lodged against him with the Police Internal Investigations Department when he was serving as a volunteer policeman, which he has done for the past 11 years.

When he arrived at the location he saw a man who looked suspicious, so he activated the strobe lights on the roof of his vehicle and drove up to the man, stopping beside him to ask him where he was coming from.

“He mumbled, made out as though he couldn’t hear,” Dustov said. “He was very stressed, his eyes were darting around.”

“I said to myself that something isn’t right here,” he continued and recalled that he opened the door to the vehicle and told the man to climb inside.

“Come, get in, I’ll check you out,” he said he told the man.

“He put half his body in and suddenly I saw the knife,” Dustov said. “He lunged at me, toward my head. I understood that there is a terrorist with me in the car. He started to really scream, I grabbed for his hand and he hurt my hand with the knife and cut it.”

A life or death struggle began between the two men in the confines of the vehicle.

“He tried to get loose to stab me. I saw the knife in front of my eyes. His hand got away a bit and he hurt me a little in the stomach. I gave him some punches, grabbed him and I knew that if he got away from me he will simply finish me off.”

Dustov said he grabbed the man’s hands and managed to deliver a few punches and then began kicking him until he fell out of the car.

Even though he had no pistol, Dustov was concerned that the man would be a danger to two other civilian cars in the area, so he approached the terrorist, who tried to run away.

Israeli security forces search the area where a Palestinian man is suspected of having entered southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on May 30, 2021. (Hamal Darom)

The terrorist headed in the director of Moshav Yated, and just then another civilian security officer from a neighboring community arrived along with some IDF soldiers.

“I shouted at them, ‘A terrorist, a terrorist with a knife.’ They opened fire at him and the security officer neutralized him,” Dustov said.

Nir Shorman, head of the community security officers union, said that were it not for Dustov’s actions, the incident could have ended with civilian deaths. He recalled a 2011 terror attack in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, when five members of a family, including three children, were murdered by a Palestinian intruder.

“The vigilance of the community security officer saved lives here and prevented a large-scale incident,” he told Maariv.

He said the quick response by community security officers to the infiltration was what made the difference between “a successful end to the incident or a bereaved family and fighting with Gaza.”

The Israel Defense Forces said early Monday that it was investigating the case, specifically how the man entered Israel from Gaza without being stopped.

Though Palestinians regularly attempt to cross into Israel from Gaza, it is highly uncommon for them to make it so far into Israeli territory without being seen and detained by Israeli troops.

According to the Kan broadcaster, the suspect was believed to have entered the area from near the Kerem Shalom Crossing. He reportedly had identifying documents indicating he was from the area of Rafah in southern Gaza.

Dustov’s gun license was revoked following an incident in which he allegedly pulled out his gun during a confrontation with local Bedouin.

“It is unreal, simply unreal,” Dustov complained about his circumstance of continuing his job for the past year without a gun.

Just a week ago he had warned that he could not do his job without a gun and filed a petition to get his gun back, noting that during the recent conflict with the Gaza Strip he was called up for reserve duty in the army and handed a weapon. Following the ceasefire, the gun was taken away.

The incident came as much of southern Israel remained on edge, less than 10 days after a round of intense fighting between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group drew to a close.

Thirteen people in Israel, all but one of them civilians, were killed, as southern Israel was pummeled by rockets. Over 250 people were reported killed in Gaza by the Hamas-run health ministry during the 11 days of fighting. Israel maintains that most of those killed were terror combatants and that some Palestinians were killed by errant Hamas rockets, not Israeli airstrikes.

While Israel has a high-tech series of fences and walls guarding its frontier with Gaza, both above- and belowground, a number of gaps remain in the steel fencing surrounding the Strip. In times of low visibility, these gaps have been used by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to illegally enter Israeli territory, often with hopes of fleeing the beleaguered enclave. Attacks on Israeli civilians by those infiltrating from Gaza are rare.

Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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