Beyond Images  
NO SANCTUARIES: Palestinian attacks on the Jewish religious heritage
London - published Wednesday 21 August 2002, updated 8 September 2003

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There have been over 18,000 violent attacks on Israeli targets since September 2000.

Many have been carried out against sites which are holy to the Jewish people, or have taken place on communal religious occasions.

These attacks are an assault on the heritage of the Jewish people and have stunned Israelis - religious and non-religious. This Briefing describes some of them.

Repeated stonings of Jewish worshippers at The Western Wall in Jerusalem

  • The Western Wall in Jerusalem is Judaism's most holy place. It is the only surviving wall of the second temple, which was destroyed by the Romans 2000 years ago. Jews the world over face in the direction of the Western Wall when they pray.

  • The Temple Mount complex, which is sacred to Muslims and the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, directly overlooks the Western Wall plaza some 20 meters below.

  • On 29 September 2000, a crowd of Arab youths, incited by a Muslim cleric, stoned Jewish worshippers praying at the Western Wall. The worshippers were evacuated.

  • This attack took place on the eve of the Jewish New Year, and was described by Palestinian spokesmen as being a "response" to the visit the previous day of Ariel Sharon to the Al Aqsa mosque.

  • Ariel Sharon’s visit to Al Aqsa – whatever view you take of its political wisdom – took place without violence.

  • The Palestinian stoning of the Western Wall the next day was the first act of calculated violence of the Palestinian intifada, to which Israeli security personnel reacted fiercely.

  • Since then, Jews praying at the Western Wall have been evacuated on numerous occasions due to stoning attacks by Arab youths. Ironically, one stoning took place on the Jewish day of national mourning (known as 'Tisha Be'av') in August 2001, when Jews commemorate the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem.

  • These attacks on the Western Wall are an attack on fundamental Jewish rights, and a flagrant abuse by Palestinian extremists of the Islamic sanctity of the Temple Mount area.

The burning of Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, October 2000

  • Joseph, a son of the patriarch Jacob, lived approximately 3700 years ago. His burial place is in the town of Nablus (whose biblical name is Shechem).

  • In October 2000 Joseph's Tomb was attacked and burnt out by a Palestinian crowd.

  • There was a tragic aftermath. A Rabbi (Rabbi Hillel Lieberman) who was watching the burning of the tomb from a nearby hillside, was shot dead by Palestinian gunmen. His funeral cortege was later shot at and stoned by Palestinians

Armed attacks on Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs

  • The Jewish matriarch Rachel is buried outside Bethlehem. Her tomb ('Rachel's Tomb') is about 3750 years old, and a pivotal place of prayer for Jewish women.

  • The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the other matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried in the Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs in Hebron (the 'Machpela Cave'). This tomb is even older than Rachel's Tomb.

  • For thousands of years, Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs have been places of pilgrimage and prayer for Jews, the most significant spiritual locations in Judaism apart from Jerusalem.

  • Since October 2000 Palestinian gunmen have initiated several gun battles around these holy sites. Soldiers guarding them have been killed.
  • In October 2001, on the Jewish festival of Tabernacles (known as Succot), Jewish women at prayer at the Cave of the Patriarchs were shot at. Several women were injured.

  • The final territorial sovereignty of these holy sites needs to be addressed in political negotiations. This questions cannot be resolved by Palestinian violence against Jews who are fulfilling spiritual beliefs in a non-violent way which have been part of Jewish tradition for thousands of years.

Suicide bomb attack on bus leaving The Western Wall

  • Bus Number 2 transports thousands of Jewish worshippers every week to and from the Western Wall, including many devout Jews from the country's ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods and cities.

  • On 19 August 2003 a Hamas suicide bomber boarded a crowded Number 2 bus and detonated his bomb, packed with ball-bearings, as the bus was passing through Jerusalem's Beit Yisrael neighbourhood.

  • 22 passengers were killed, including 6 children, a mother of 13 children, fathers of 9,7,5,5 and 4 children, and many other members of large families. 134 people were injured, many seriously.

  • Rescue workers described the attack as perhaps the most gruesome in 3 years of the Palestinian intifada.

  • It is roughly the equivalent of a suicide bombing of pilgrims leaving the Vatican, or worshippers departing from Westminster Abbey in London.

Attacks on Jewish Bar-Mitzvah and Bat-Mitzvah celebrations

  • Among the best-known Jewish family occasions are the "coming-of-age" events - the so-called bar-mitzvah for boys aged 13, and the bat-mitzvah for girls aged 12.

  • Even these have been subject to indiscriminate and ruthless Palestinian attacks.

  • On 17 January 2002, a Palestinian burst into a bat-mitzvah party for a 12 year old girl in a banqueting hall in the Israeli town of Hadera. He opened fire with an M-16 assault rifle, killing 6 people and wounding 35.

  • On 2 March 2002, a suicide bomber attacked a crowd of people who had been attending a bar-mitzvah gathering at the end the Sabbath in the Beit Yisrael religious quarter of Jerusalem, killing 11 people and wounding over 50 (see Beyond Images Briefing 12 - Israeli Families Devastated).

Attacks on students at Jewish talmudic colleges

  • On 8 March 2002 a Palestinian burst into the study hall of a Talmudic and pre-military training college in the settlement of Atzmona in the Gaza Strip and opened fire, killing five 18 year old boys taking part in a late night Biblical study group, and wounding 23 others.

  • On 28 May 2002 a Palestinian shot dead three teenage Jewish boys playing basketball in the courtyard of the Itamar religious college near the West Bank town of Nablus.

  • On 27 December 2002 two Palestinians infiltrated the settlement of Otniel on the Friday night and shot dead four students who were preparing to serve the Sabbath evening meal at Otniel’s college of Torah studies

Sabbath Attacks

  • In March 2002 two elderly men walking to synagogue in Netzarim were stabbed to death by a Palestinian infiltrator.

  • On 27 April 2002 a Palestinian gunman infiltrated the Jewish settlement of Adora on the Sabbath night, shot four residents dead, and wounded several others. Victims included a five year old girl shot dead in her bed.

  • On Friday afternoons, the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem attracts thousands of citizens who stock up with fruit and vegetables, wine, and other last-minute provisions for the Jewish Sabbath.

  • Despite being a frequent target of bomb attacks since the 1990s (including a double suicide bombing by Hamas in 1997 which killed 15), the market remains a popular destination.

  • On 12 April 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber attacked the market two hours before the Jewish Sabbath, killing 6 people and wounding 80.

  • On 8 June 2002, terrorists infiltrated the settlement of Carmei Tzur near Jerusalem on the Sabbath late at night, and shot three Israelis dead, including a husband and his nine-month pregnant wife.

  • On November 15 2002 Palestinian gunmen ambushed guards walking behind a group of Jewish worshippers returning home from the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron following Sabbath evening prayers. The gunmen also shot Israeli army soldiers and Hebron security volunteers who attempted to rescue the Israeli victims. 12 Israelis were killed, and 12 wounded.

The Passover attack in Netanya’s Park Hotel

  • A defining moment in this chronicle of violence against Jewish religious life came on the first night of Passover 2002.

  • The Passover meal is the most widely observed festive occasion of the Jewish year – a moment of togetherness, hope, and prayer for the redemption of the Jewish people.

  • On 27 March a suicide bomber walked into the dining hall of the Park Hotel in Netanya and blew himself up, killing 30 Israelis who had just sat down to take part in the Passover meal.

  • No exact analogies can be drawn, but this is roughly the equivalent of bombing a Christmas lunch, or a Thanksgiving dinner in the United States.

  • The attack caused outrage in Israel, and triggered 'Operation Defensive Shield' - Israel's military operation of April 2002 against Palestinian terror networks.


  • The Israeli people had hoped that, amidst the violence, there were "red lines" which Palestinian extremists would not cross.

  • But this sequence of attacks (and many others) has taught Israelis the bitter lesson that even the most deeply rooted Jewish religious practices are no sanctuary from Palestinian fanaticism.

  • The attacks demonstrate a fundamental contempt for Jewish rights and heritage. Despite this, it is Israel which continues to face accusations that it disregards the religious freedoms of the Palestinian people. The truth is the opposite.