Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Arab Slayings Divide Jewish Opinion, Return Intifada to Earlier Heights

May 22, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The slaying of seven Palestinians by a lone Jewish gunman Sunday near Rishon le-Zion has not only reignited the full fury of the intifada but seems to have polarized Israelis along political and ideological lines.

And the violence that erupted after the killings appeared Monday to have spread to Amman, Jordan. A Palestinian shouting he was avenging the “martyrs of Gaza and Rishon” took his anger out on the most unlikely victims of revenge, two busloads of mostly French tourists.

In that attack, one was killed and seven wounded, according to reports from Amman. The assailant in that attack, identified as Ahmed Badwan, was described as a former resident of the village of Beit Natif in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Israeli police identified the confessed killer of the Palestinian workers as Ami Popper, 21, a dishonorably discharged former Israel Defense Force soldier described as mentally deranged.

The Rehovot magistrate, David Moyalem, ordered him held in custody for 15 days while police investigate the crime. The judge referred Popper to the district psychologist for psychiatric evaluation, in order to determine whether he should be imprisoned pending his hearing and whether he is fit to stand trial.

The judge also ordered the police to protect his family against possible reprisals.

Popper’s deed has, to all appearances, rekindled the intense flame of the intifada’s first months. The shooting near Rishon le-Zion, which also wounded 10 Palestinians, triggered furious rioting in the Gaza Strip, home of most of the victims, despite a total curfew.

Violence also spread to the West Bank. As of Sunday night, six Arabs had been killed in clashes with Israeli security forces, according to IDF figures, and over 600 reportedly were injured.

The IDF reported 12 soldiers hurt in stonings and gasoline bomb attacks.

Radio sidewalk interviews and phone-in programs pointed to a deep split in Israeli society exacerbated by the tragedy at Rishon le-Zion.

Respondents identifying themselves as right-wing and nationalist deplored the bloodshed but emphasized it was the doing of a “lone, mentally disturbed man.”


They pointed out that similar seemingly senseless mass killings have occured in the United States and other countries, but “the country is not to blame.”

Israelis calling themselves liberal or left-wing pointed to Israel’s polarized society. They blamed popular demands for harsher measures to suppress the intifada, the lack of progress toward a political solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the light sentences given Jewish settlers in the territories who have shot Arabs.

They recalled that only last week, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, a militant settler leader from Hebron, was escorted to prison with a hero’s send-off from his followers.

Levinger, charged with firing indiscriminately into a crowd of Arabs after his car was stoned, managed throught a plea bargain to reduce his murder charge to a charge of negligent homicide. He will serve only five months of a one-year sentence.

Popper, meanwhile, reportedly has given police several motives for his shooting spree.

Arrested at his girlfriend’s home in Rishon le-Zion shortly after the dawn attack, he allegedly told police he shot the Arab workers because the woman rejected his advances.

He also claimed to have been sexually molested by an Arab at age 13 and had been hunting for his attacker ever since.

After speeding to his girlfriend’s house in a car stolen from one of his victims, Popper allegedly told her and her family he had done “something horrible.”

The woman’s father telephoned the police, who came quickly and arrested him.

The woman was identified as Hagit Mizrachi, a 19-year-old member of the air force. Police were said to be considering charges against her for not reporting Popper’s threats to commit suicide or “do something which would put him away for a long time” if she left him.


According to the police, Popper served in the IDF’s armored corps for 18 months, during four of which he was absent without leave. He spent another four months in military prisons for disciplinary infractions and was eventually dishonorably discharged.

In Washington, the State Department said Monday that it deplores “this senseless tragedy, and we extend our deepest condolences to the families of everyone touched by this incident.”

But the department’s deputy spokesman, Richard Boucher, also noted pointedly that “in the absence of a peace process, the potential for this kind of senseless violence and spiraling responses afterwards goes up.”

Boucher said the United States is “disturbed by the number of casualties inflicted by the Israeli army” in response to the rioting after the attack. “We have repeatedly called upon the government of Israel to exercise restraint in these situations,” he said.

(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)

Recommended from JTA