On March 6, 2008, Alaa Abu Dhein, 26, entered the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, a religious school in Jerusalem, Israel. Armed with an AK-47 and several magazines, the Palestinian Dhein reportedly fired as many as 500 to 600 rounds, killing eight students and wounding 1 others. An Israel Defense Force officer, David Shapira, then shot Dhein.
Alaa Abu Dhein was from the Arab neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber in eastern Jerusalem. He reportedly worked as a driver at the yeshiva. Dhein did not leave a letter or other statement of his motive, but his sister, Iman Abu Dhaim, said he had been obsessed with the violence in Gaza. Only days before his attack, 126 Palestinians militants were killed by Israeli forces in multiple days of fighting. That attack had represented the Israeli response to rocket fire from a Palestinian terrorist group on Gaza. Dhein likely selected the yeshiva for his attack because it is identified with the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Before it became clear that Dhein had acted alone, several groups claimed responsibility for the attack. One group calling itself the Galilee Liberators Brigades–The Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh claimed on Hezbollah (television) station Al-Manar that it was responsible for the attack. Group members stated that the assault was intended as retaliation for the assassination of Imad Mughniveh. Another group, Hamas, praised the attack, but did not claim responsibility for it, although the Reuters news agency did receive an anonymous call implicating Hamas.
Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denounced the attack and praised the good work of the yeshiva. Olmert also condemned groups like Hamas for celebrating the attack with parades in Gaza. Thousands in Israel mourned the deaths of those killed.
A major concern in the wake of this event was the possibility that the attack would incite even more retaliatory violence. News reports suggested that some alumni of the yeshiva were planning an attack against a mosque in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, although these threats were found to be baseless. However, Israel’s Education Minister Yuli Tamir was forced to leave early from her condolence visit to the yeshiva when she was kicked in the back, spat at, and verbally attacked by a group of youths demonstrating outside the facility. The next morning, Yuli Tamir threatened to cut off funding for the yeshiva. The yeshiva members also told Ehud Olmert that he was not welcome.
Other groups acknowledged the sorrow of the incident. The Israel Football Association held a moment of silence before the football matches that weekend, although some supporters of the Arab team Bnei Sakhnin booed.
Less than 10 days later, on March 17, hundreds of people attacked Arab homes in Dhein’s former neighborhood. For three hours, the activists chanted, “Revenge, revenge”; vandalized property; and clashed with the police. Despite a heavy police blockade at the entrance to Jebl Mukaber and a massive deployment of security forces in the area, the marchers managed to enter the village, stone residents’ homes, and damage several cars belonging to villagers.
Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, condemned the violence as well. Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the Palestinian National Authority newspaper, put a picture of the gunman on the front of the paper and called him a martyr.
In a poll taken two weeks after Dhein’s assault, 84% of Palestinians supported the attack on the Mercaz Harav yeshiva.
- Frenkel, S. (2008, March 7). Jerusalem buries student massacre victims. Times Online. Retrieved from http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/middleeast/article2603394.ece
- Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2008, March 6). Terror shooting at Mercaz Harav Kook yeshiva in Jerusalem. Retrieved from http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/Terrorism/Palestinian/Pages/Terror-shooting-at-Mercaz-Harav-Yeshiva-in-Jerusalem-6-Mar-2008.aspx