Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Lone Gunman Surrenders to Authorities in Johannesburg

April 30, 1975
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

David Protter, a 24-year-old mentally disturbed South African Jew who was discharged from the Israeli army three years ago as unfit for service, surrendered to authorities in Johannesburg early this morning, 19 hours after he seized hostages at the offices of the Israeli Consulate General there and went on a shooting rampage that resulted in the deaths of four persons and the wounding of 82.

The last of the hostages, who numbered about 20 and included three children and several women were released at about 5 a.m. Johannesburg time, shortly before Protter emerged from the building and gave himself up.

The fatalities included two Consulate employes Giora Raviv, 26, an Israeli security officer and Edwin Molcho, a South African employe, who may have been shot by Protter or killed in an exchange of fire with South African police; and two pedestrians mowed down in the streets when Protter opened fire shortly after 1 p.m. yesterday from a fifth floor window of the Consulate.


Protter, who, ironically, was employed by the Consulate as an assistant security officer whose duties included searching visitors for possible concealed weapons, was credited with inventing the story that the Consulate had been seized by three Lebanese and three Japanese terrorists. That story was telephoned to police yesterday morning, either by Protter himself or by a hostage at gunpoint. It resulted in police and combat troops converging on the building on Fox Street in downtown Johannes burg, at which point Protter sprayed the streets below with machinegun fire.

The tragic and bizarre episode which had the world agog pinned down large forces of South African troops and police; sent the Israeli Cabinet into emergency session yesterday; threatened to cut short the state visit of Israeli Foreign Minister Yigal Allon to France; and drew a declaration from South African Prime Minister John Vorster, broadcast nationally last night, that he would never negotiate with terrorists under any circumstances–a position heartily endorsed by Israeli officials in Jerusalem.


This morning, Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin sent a message of thanks to Vorster for the “resoluteness, understanding, concern and helpfulness which you and your government showed throughout the long hours of suspense and tragedy.” There were immediate demands for an investigation in Israel of the entire incident and especially how a person with Protter’s record of mental illness was employed as a security guard at an Israeli Consulate.

It was revealed today that Israeli and South African authorities had learned, hours before Protter surrendered, that the hostages were being held by one man–not six terrorists. But both governments agreed to withhold that information in the interests of the safety of the hostages.

The Israeli government issued a statement this morning, apologizing in effect, to the news media for keeping them in the dark. The statement said that when it was established that there was only one armed person at the Consulate, “the question of the safety of the hostages was at stake and the Israeli government. In accord with the South African authorities, agreed to keep the secret until the end of the drama.”


The revelation that the Consulate offices were seized by one of its employes explained the mystery of how armed gunmen managed to gain entrance to the premises heavily protected by armed guards and electronic detection devices. According to the story that unfolded in Johannesburg today, Protter entered the building either on Sunday when it was closed, or early Monday morning and began taking hostages at gunpoint as employes reported for work.

He reportedly told them he was staging a security drill and herded them, under the muzzle of a machinegun, into a steel-sided, bullet-proof room through which visitors to the Consulate must pass for security reasons before entering the office area. Between 20-30 persons were thus rounded up, handcuffed and wired with hand grenades and explosives. It still remained unexplained how a single person, albeit heavily armed , managed to accomplish this when so greatly outnumbered by his prisoners.

One explanation was that the presence of children of Consulate employes–school was out yesterday–inhibited resistance. The children, all unhurt, were identified as Yaron Chovar, 14, son of Consul Shlomo Chovar; Offer Manor, 12-year-old son of Abie Manor, Consul for tourism; and Rafi Chelouche, 14, son of Mrs, Yechida Chelouche, a secretary in the visa section. The hostages also included the Consul General, Aryeh Bustan, who, according to yesterday’s reports, was not in the building at the time his office was seized.


The authorities first learned that the consular offices were being held by one man after Protter was persuaded to admit a doctor to tend the two wounded hostages who later succumbed. Protter, communicating with police by walkie-talkie radio, demanded that the doctor strip to his underclothes to ensure that he was not carrying weapons.

A South African army physician, Dr. H. Gotlieb who complied with that condition, was permitted to enter the offices and to leave, after which he informed the authorities of the true circumstances, Mrs, Nurit Raviv, wife of the slain security officer, was the first hostage released yesterday afternoon, Mrs, Raviv is pregnant and has one daughter.

Protter’s demands were not immediately made known. But the incident took a strange twist late yesterday when it was reported that the alleged “terrorists” were demanding a large helicopter to carry them and their hostages to the airport and an E1 A1 airliner to fly them to Tel Aviv. It was believed at first that they hoped to bargain with Israeli officials for the release of terrorists imprisoned in Israel.

The Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Yitzhak Unna, whose appearance was demanded by Protter, flew to the scene from Cape Town on instructions from Jerusalem and negotiated with Protter. As it turned out, the demented security guard was demanding an audience with Rabin to “advise” him how to handle Israeli political affairs.


As the hostages were being released at intervals in Johannesburg, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in Tel Aviv began to gather information on Protter’s background. According to official records, he first came to Israel from South Africa in 1966, at the age of 16, on a Jewish Agency study program. But he was unable to adjust and was dismissed from the program the following year. While on a bus to Lod Airport he stabbed himself with a scout knife. He was hospitalized and eventually returned to South Africa.

He turned up in Israel again in 1970 and two years later joined the army. But he was discharged within three months for mental reasons and a psychiatric team found him unfit even for reserve duties. Shortly afterwards, Protter was arrested for impersonating an Israeli paratroop captain. He persisted in his impersonation and was re-arrested several times and served short prison terms before he was finally deported to South Africa. His record was apparently unknown to the Israeli Consulate in Johannesburg when he was employed as a security assistant.

There were no indications today of what triggered his violent behavior yesterday. Some sources said his actions were premeditated revenge for being ousted from Israel. Others said simply that he went berserk.

Recommended from JTA