16 years ago today (August 9, 2001), a suicide bomber holding a guitar which contained a bomb, blew himself up inside a crowded Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem. 15 civilians were killed, including 7 children and a pregnant woman. Over 130 people were injured.
Ahlam Tamimi, who was charged as an accomplice, scouted for a target before leading Izz al-Din Shuheil al-Masri, the suicide bomber, to the Sbarro restaurant.
They arrived just before 2:00 pm, when the restaurant was filled with customers, “dozens of women, children and babies”, and pedestrian traffic outside was at its peak. Tamimi departed before Al-Masri, thought to be carrying a rigged guitar case or wearing an explosive belt containing explosives, nails, nuts and bolts, detonated his bomb.
The dead included 13 Israelis, one pregnant American, Shoshana Greenberg, and one Brazilian, all of them civilians. Additionally, 130 were injured. Chana Nachenberg remains hospitalized, in a permanent vegetative state, fourteen years after the attack.She was 31 years old at the time of the bombing. Her daughter, who was not yet 3 years old at the time, was one of the few in the restaurant who came through the disaster unscathed.
Yocheved Shoshan, age 10, was killed, and her 15-year-old sister Miriam was severely injured with 60 nails lodged in her body, a hole in her right thigh, third degree burns on 40 percent of her body, and a ruptured spleen. According to the testimony of their mother, Esther Shoshan:
“I was upstairs with one of my daughters. We had wanted to sit downstairs where it’s roomy, near the windows, but it was too crowded. Two of my daughters had gone to park the car. Two others, Miriam and Yocheved, went down to the lower level to get our food.
Then there was an enormous blast. The place went dark. People started screaming: ‘Pigua! Pigua!’ [Terror attack! Terror attack!] But at first I didn’t believe it. People shouted: ‘Get out! There may be another blast.’ Finally, we ran downstairs. There was a terrible stench. I saw body parts everywhere – here a limb, there a head. The bodies were bloated. There was water everywhere; I have no idea where it came from. I searched for my children.
My two daughters who had gone to the car-park arrived seconds later. The older one came inside and found Miriam and Yocheved. They were on fire. She managed to put out the flames but was then rushed away by rescue workers. I couldn’t leave. I was torn. The rescue workers kept dragging me to the door. I’d start to go, then run back screaming, ‘My girls, my girls!’ I wanted to help them.”
Mordechai and Tzira Schijveschuurder, both children of Holocaust survivors were killed along with three of their children.
Two other daughters, Leah, 11, and Chaya, 8, were critically injured.The family was Dutch. During the Holocaust, Tzira’s parents were in Bergen Belsen and Theresienstadt. Mordechai’s parents successfully hid from the Nazis.
According to the testimony of little Chaya Schijveschuurder on the same day of the attack:
“The last time I saw my brother Avraham Yitzhak, he was lying on a stretcher in an ambulance. He had a bandage on his face. He was four years old. Now our parents are not alive either. But soon Moshiach (the Messiah) will come and all the people that have died, and all the people killed in wars and terror attacks, will come back to life….
We were hungry, so Mommy said we could go to a restaurant to eat. In that restaurant, you have to pay first and only afterwards you sit down to eat. When we were at the cash register, we suddenly heard an explosion. I ran out as fast as I could. I didn’t look at anything. I just ran out. A medic, I don’t know his name, took me to an ambulance and that is where I saw Avraham Yitzhak for the last time.
I said to him, ‘Avraham Yitzhak.’ But he didn’t say anything. After that they took me on a stretcher to the hospital, and I had to have an operation to remove the screws that entered my liver and leg. I saw a sign on the door that said ‘Operating Room’ and started to cry. After that I didn’t see anything.
In my house, they are sitting ‘shiva’ right now. My brothers came here with their torn shirts. I asked them ‘Why are your shirts torn?’ but they didn’t want to tell me that my parents were dead. My brothers were not with us in the restaurant. They found me first. After that, they found out that my sister and my brother were dead.
My little sister was always happy. I remember her so well. She used to laugh all day long. On the day of the terror attack she was very happy. Daddy went to the bank, and we went into the restaurant and asked if we could order first and pay later, after Daddy came. They said no – so we went to wait for him at the bank. When he came out, we returned to the restaurant, and that’s when the explosion occurred. I loved that restaurant very much. It had very, very good pizza.”
Chaviv Avrahami, who saw the scene of the attack after the bombing, recounted: “I heard a tremendous explosion, and I was thrown up a metre into the air. I knew immediately that it was a bomb attack, and a catastrophic one. There were people – babies – thrown through the window and covered with blood. The whole street was covered with blood and bodies: the dead and the dying.” Naor Shara, a soldier who witnessed the attack, said, “The worst thing I saw, which I think will haunt me all my life, is a baby that was sitting in a stroller outside a shop and was dead. After the explosion, the baby’s mother came out of the store and started screaming hysterically.”
The suicide bomber who died in the course of carrying out the attack was later identified to be Izz al-Din Shuheil al-Masri, 22, the son of a successful restaurant owner, and from an affluent land-owning family.
Izz al-Masri was escorted to the restaurant by Ahlam Tamimi, a 20-year-old female university student and part-time journalist, who had disguised herself as a Jewish tourist for the occasion. She later commented that she was not sorry for what she had done and does not recognize Israel’s existence. “Despite the fact that I’m sentenced to 16 life sentences I know that we will become free from Israeli occupation and then I will also be free from the prison,” she said. When she first learned from a journalist who was interviewing her in jail that she had murdered eight children, not just three as she had initially believed, she just smiled broadly and continued with the interview.
Tamimi was released in October 2011 in exchange for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
“Noam Shalit’s pain in no way resembles our pain,” cried out Schijveschuurder, who lost his parents and three of his siblings in the 2001 suicide attack at a Sbarro in Jerusalem.
“Is there a chance I could talk to my father, to my 2-year-old sister? As long as there’s a chance [that the Shalits can see Gilad] maybe the interests of 7 million people should be put before his interests,” Schijveschuurder said.
In an interview which aired on Al-Aqsa TV on 12 July 2012 (as translated by MEMRI), Tamimi described the reaction of other Palestinians immediately after the bombing:
“Afterwards, when I took the bus, the Palestinians around Damascus Gate [in Jerusalem] were all smiling. You could sense that everybody was happy. When I got on the bus, nobody knew that it was me who had led [the suicide bomber to the target]… I was feeling quite strange, because I had left [the bomber] ‘Izz Al-Din behind, but inside the bus, they were all congratulating one another. They didn’t even know one another, yet they were exchanging greetings…While I was sitting on the bus, the driver turned on the radio. But first, let me tell you about the gradual rise in the number of casualties. While I was on the bus and everybody was congratulating one another…“
After hearing an initial report that “three people were killed” in the bombing, Tamimi stated:
“I admit that I was a bit disappointed, because I had hoped for a larger toll. Yet when they said “three dead,” I said: ‘Allah be praised’…Two minutes later, they said on the radio that the number had increased to five. I wanted to hide my smile, but I just couldn’t. Allah be praised, it was great. As the number of dead kept increasing, the passengers were applauding.“
After the suicide bombing, Palestinian university students at the An-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus created an exhibition celebrating the first anniversary of the Second Intifada.
The exhibit’s main attraction was a room-sized re-enactment of the bombing at Sbarro. The installation featured broken furniture splattered with fake blood and human body parts. The entrance to the exhibition was illustrated with a mural depicting the bombing. The exhibit was later shut down by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat after international pressure.
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Six months after the attack, Senator Hillary Clinton listens to Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert’s account of the attack, February 24, 2002 as they leave the renovated Jerusalem Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem.
2011 prisoner exchange
During the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, relatives of the victims of the bombing vehemently protested the release of Ahlam Tamimi, who chose the Sbarro restaurant as a target and drove the bomber to the location.
Arnold and Frimet Roth circulated a petition against Tamimi’s inclusion in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange and also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urging him to exclude her from the list. Frimet Roth said in October, “We feel desperate. We beg Mr. Netanyahu to grant us a few minutes of his time and hear us out. In any sane country with a fair judicial system, even paroled murderers are not released without granting the victims’ loved ones a chance to address the parole board.”
Chaya Schijveschuurder, whose parents and three siblings were killed in the attack, protested with a sign that read, “My parents’ blood screams from the grave!” Her brother, Shvuel, vandalized the Yitzhak Rabin memorial and commented, “My opinions are all right compared to [Chaya’s] and compared to how she feels about the deal. She was badly wounded in the [Sbarro] attack, she feels that releasing the terrorist is as if she were raped and then the rapist went and murdered her parents and is now being released. For her it’s like being raped twice.”
- Zvika Golombek, 26, from Karmiel
- Shoshana Yehudit (Judy) Greenbaum, 31 (5 months pregnant), from Passaic, New Jersey, U.S.
- Tehila Maoz, 18, from Jerusalem
- Frieda Mendelsohn, 62, from Jerusalem
- Michal Raziel, 16, from Jerusalem
- Malka Chana (Malki) Roth, 15, from Jerusalem
- Mordechai Schijveschuurder, 43, from Neria
- Tzira Schijveschuurder, 41, from Neria
- Ra’aya Schijveschuurder, 14, from Neria
- Avraham Yitzhak Schijveschuurder, 4, from Neria
- Hemda Schijveschuurder, 2, from Neria
- Lily Shimashvili, 33, from Jerusalem
- Tamara Shimashvili, 8, from Jerusalem
- Yocheved Shoshan, 10, from Jerusalem
- Giora Balash, 60, from Brazil