Israeli Gunman Kills 4 in Bus Shooting
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
A Jewish settler wearing an Israeli army uniform shot dead two men and two women on a bus at an Arab town in northern Israel today. The gunman was killed by residents of the town, who stormed the bus after the shooting. The gunman had recently moved to a Jewish settlement on the West Bank. He had left his army unit after refusing to take part in Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. NPR's Linda Gradstein joins us from Jerusalem.
And, Linda, what more have you been able to learn about this gunman?
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
Well, he was 19 years old and he was a follower of Kach, which was an extremist movement that was outlawed in Israel. It was led by an American-born rabbi, Meir Kahane, who was killed in New York, and Kach believes in exiling Arabs, both from Israel and from the West Bank and Gaza. According to Israel Television, he had recently moved to Tapuach, which is a settlement known for its extremism on the West Bank near Nablus. However, the Council of Jewish Settlers said that he did not live in a settlement, so there's still something that's not quite clear.
What is known is that he got on the bus in the northern city of Haifa, and when the bus reached the Arab town of Shfaram, he opened fire. Apparently, he continued firing for several minutes, killing four people and wounding 12 others.
NORRIS: And do you know if the gunman had made clear any explicit political motivations behind what he did today?
GRADSTEIN: It's not clear what his motivations were. He had recently spoken to his family and he had said that, according to Israel Television, he had invited them to come visit him in the Jewish settlement. According to reports, his family had also informed the army where he was after he deserted, so that--and they said it was the army's fault for not coming and taking his gun away. So it's not clear.
However, he did apparently leave his army unit over the issue of the pullback. And Israeli officials had said that they were concerned that extremist Jews trying to stop the Gaza pullback could attack Palestinians or Arabs, hoping to then provoke a Palestinian response, which could spiral out of control and then lead to a delay or perhaps even stopping the withdrawal because Israel has said that it will not withdraw from Gaza under Palestinian fire.
NORRIS: What has been the Israeli government reaction to this shooting?
GRADSTEIN: Well, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came out with a very strong statement. Sharon called the attack, quote, "a reprehensible act by a bloodthirsty terrorist who sought to harm innocent Israeli citizens." Israeli politicians across the spectrum condemned it.
NORRIS: Linda, what are people there saying about what effects this might have on relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel?
GRADSTEIN: Well, 20 percent of Israel's population are Arabs who are Israeli citizens. There have been tensions between Israel's Jews and Arabs, especially almost five years ago at the beginning of the intifada. There was a demonstration by Israeli Arabs in support of the intifada, and Israeli police opened with live ammunition, killing, I think, 13 Israeli Arabs. And since then, tensions have kind of been simmering. And there is a possibility that this kind of an attack could exacerbate these tensions.
The Israeli police are on high alert afterwards, and the Israeli Arab community declared a protest strike tomorrow and warned police not to open fire if there are demonstrations. Israel's president, Moshe Katsav, also called the mayor of Shfaram, the town where this attack happened, and asked him to try to help calm tensions.
NORRIS: NPR's Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem. Linda, thanks very much.
GRADSTEIN: Thank you, Melissa.
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