The Dolphinarium Discotheque Massacre

The abandoned ruins of the Dolphinarium in 2012.
The abandoned ruins of the Dolphinarium in 2012.

The Dolphinarium discotheque massacre was a Hamas terrorism attack on 1 June 2001 in which an Islamic terrorist blew himself up outside of a nightclub in Tel Aviv, Israel, killing 21 Israeli teenagers and 4 adults. The majority of the victims were teenage girls, whose families had made aliyah to Tel Aviv from the former Soviet Union.

The attack

Suicide bomber Saeed Hotari was standing in line on a Friday night in front of the Dolphinarium, when the area was packed with youngsters (most of them from Russian-speaking families) waiting for admission. Survivors of the attack later described how the young Palestinian bomber appeared to taunt his victims before the explosion, wandering among them dressed in a disguse that led his victims to mistake him for an orthodox Jew from Asia. Before detonating his bomb, he banged a drum packed with explosives and ball bearings, while tauting his victims with the words in Hebrew: “Something’s going to happen”. At 23:27, he detonated his explosive device. It was the second attack in five months on the same target. Witnesses claimed that body parts lay all over the area, and that bodies were piled one above another on the sidewalk before being collected. Many civilians in the vicinity of the bombing rushed to assist emergency services.

The site of the abandoned Dolphinarium in 2012.
The site of the abandoned Dolphinarium in 2012.

– Fatalities

One Israeli soldier and 20 civilians, the majority teenage girls whose parents had made aliyah to Israel from the former Soviet Union, were murdered in the attack:

  • Maria Tagiltseva, 14, of Netanya

  • Raisa Nimrovsky, 15, of Netanya

  • Ana Kazachkova, 15, of Holon

  • Katherine Kastaniyada-Talkir, 15, of Ramat Gan

  • Irina Nepomnyashchi, 16, of Bat Yam

  • Mariana Medvedenko, 16, of Tel-Aviv

  • Yulia Nelimov, 16, of Tel Aviv

  • Liana Saakyan, 16, of Ramat Gan

  • Marina Berkovizki, 17, of Tel Aviv

  • Simona Rodin, 18, of Holon

  • Aleksei Lupalu, 16, of Ukraine

  • Yelena Nelimov, 18, of Tel Aviv

  • Irena Usdachi, 18, of Holon

  • Ilya Gutman, 19, of Bat Yam

  • Roman Dezanshvili, 21, of Bat Yam

  • Pvt. Diez (Dani) Normanov, 21, of Tel Aviv

  • Ori Shahar, 32, of Ramat Gan

  • Yael-Yulia Sklianik, 15, of Holon – died of her injuries on 2 June 2001

  • Sergei Panchenko, 20, Ukraine – died of his injuries on 2 June 2001

  • Jan Bloom, 25, of Ramat Gan – died of his injuries on 3 June 2001

  • Yevgeniya Dorfman, 15, of Bat-Yam – died of her injuries on 19 June 2001

Perpetrators

Both Islamic Jihad and a group calling itself “Hezbollah-Palestine” originally claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing, only to later retract the claims. Later on it was revealed that the attack was carried out by Saeed Hotari, age 22, a militant linked to the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas.

Official reactions

– Involved parties

Israel:

  • Israeli officials called the attack a “massacre”.

Palestinian territories:

  • President of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat condemned the attack and called for a cease-fire.

– Supranational

  • United Nations – U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that he “condemns this indiscriminate terrorist attack in the strongest possible terms.” and that the attack “underlines the urgency of breaking the cycle of violence”.

– International

  • Kuwait – The Kuwaiti Foreign Minister and acting Premier Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah stated that he does not support Palestinian suicide bombings against civilians.

  • United States – U.S. president George W. Bush stated that he condemns the attack in the strongest terms and that “There is no justification for senseless attacks against innocent civilians.”

Aftermath

After the attack many in the Israeli public demanded a harsh military retaliation; nevertheless, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to not take any immediate retaliatory actions. US and other governments applied heavy diplomatic pressure on Israel to refrain from action. Nevertheless, the attack was later on noted as one of the reasons cited by the Israeli government for building the Israeli West Bank barrier.

Dolphinarim Massacre memorial on the Tel Aviv dolphinarium site.
Dolphinarim Massacre memorial on the Tel Aviv dolphinarium site.

In Ramallah dozens of Palestinians celebrated in the streets and fired in the air as a sign of celebration. The bomber, Saeed Hotari, was praised as a martyr by his father. President George W. Bush demanded that Yasser Arafat condemn the terrorist act. The next day, Israeli-Arabs barricaded themselves in the mosque opposite the Dolphinarium site and threw objects at the police.

Inscription on the back of the dolphinarium massacre memorial.
Inscription on the back of the dolphinarium massacre memorial.

According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, an Israeli-based organization with close ties to the IDF, among the materials seized by the IDF in the course of Operation Defensive Shield were two documents issued by the Martyrs’ Families and Injured Care Establishment, which is under the authority of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Social Affairs. The documents detail the transfer of $US2,000 to the father of the suicide bomber, who was living in Jordan at that time (18 June 2001). According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the transfer was made despite the suicide bomber’s Hamas affiliation, despite the father’s public support of the suicide bombing attack, and despite Arafat’s public condemnation of the bombing.

The Dolphinarium site

Immediately as a result of the bombing, the Dolphinarium discotheque has remained as an abandoned ruin on the Tel Aviv beachfront, covered with graffiti – and has remained as such as of 2016. For years, family members of the victims have unsuccessfully campaigned to permanently preserve the ruined building as a monument to the attack, however, the site is currently up for sale to property developers. Memorial services to the victims of the attack are held every year at the site by friends and family of the victims.

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