The Passover Massacre

Park Hotel in Netanya. Photo taken in 2012.
Park Hotel in Netanya. Photo taken in 2012.

The Passover massacre was a suicide bombing carried out by Hamas at the Park Hotel in Netanya, Israel on 27 March 2002, during a Passover seder. Thirty civilians were killed in the attack and 140 were injured. It was the deadliest attack against Israelis during the Second Intifada.

The attack

During the Jewish holiday of Passover in 2002, Park Hotel in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya held its traditional annual Passover seder for its 250 guests, in the hotel dining room located at the ground floor of the hotel. During this holiday many hotel guests were elderly Jews who didn’t have family and relatives in Israel.

In the evening of 27 March 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber, Abdel-Basset Odeh (or Abd Al-Baset Odeh), disguised as a woman approached the hotel carrying a suitcase which contained powerful explosives. The suicide bomber managed to pass the security guard at the entrance to a hotel, then he walked through the lobby passing the reception desk and entered the hotel’s crowded dining room. At 19:30 pm (GMT+2) the suicide bomber detonated the explosive device he was carrying. The force of the explosion instantly killed 28 civilians and injured about 140 people, of whom 20 were injured severely. Two of the injured later died from their wounds. Some of the victims were Holocaust survivors. Most of the victims were senior citizens (70 and over). The oldest victim was 90 and the youngest was 20 years old. A number of married couples were killed, as well as a father together with his daughter. One of the victims was a Jewish tourist from Sweden who was visiting Israel for Passover.

The plot for the Passover massacre included the use of cyanide; 4 kg of cyanide had been bought and prepared for a chemical attack.

Tarak Zidan had been recruited to Hamas, and during 1997 he researched the use of chlorine and other nerve agents to be used in terror attacks. In 2002, 4 kg of chlorine had been bought and packed for the attack. For an unknown reason it was not used and passed to Abbas al-Sayyid instead.

Victims

Families

  • Shula Abramovitch, 63, of Holon

  • David Anichovitch, 70, of Netanya

  • Alter Britvich, 88, of Netanya

  • Frieda Britvich, 86, of Netanya

  • Andre Fried, 47, of Netanya

  • Idit Fried, 47, of Netanya

  • Dvora Karim, 73, of Netanya

  • Michael Karim, 78, of Netanya

  • Eliezer Korman, 74, of Ramat HaSharon

  • Yehudit Korman, 70, of Ramat HaSharon

  • St.-Sgt. Sivan Vider, 20, of Bekaot

  • Ze’ev Vider, 50, of Bekaot

  • Ernest Weiss, 80, of Petah Tikva

  • Eva Weiss, 75, of Petah Tikva

  • Anna Yakobovitch, 78, of Holon

  • George Yakobovitch, 76, of Holon

Additional victims

  • Sgt.-Maj. Avraham Beckerman, 25, of Ashdod

  • Shimon Ben-Aroya, 42, of Netanya

  • Miriam Gutenzgan, 82, Ramat Gan

  • Amiram Hamami, 44, of Netanya

  • Perla Hermele, 79, of Stockholm, Sweden

  • Marianne Myriam Lehmann Zaoui, 77, of Netanya

  • Lola Levkovitch, 70, of Jerusalem

  • Sarah Levy-Hoffman, 89, of Tel Aviv

  • Furuk Na’imi, 62, of Netanya

  • Eliahu Nakash, 85, of Tel Aviv

  • Chanah Rogan, 90, of Netanya

  • Irit Rashel, 45, of Moshav Herev La’et

  • Clara Rosenberger, 77, of Jerusalem

  • Yulia Talmi, 87, of Tel Aviv

The perpetrators

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. The bomber was identified as Abdel-Basset Odeh, a 25-year-old from the nearby West Bank city of Tulkarm. Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi said that “As long as there is occupation, there will be a resistance” and denied that the attack was timed to coincide with the peace initiative of the Saudi Arabian government at the Beirut Summit, an initiative rejected by Hamas.

Official reactions

– Involved parties

Israel:

  • Israeli government spokesman Gideon Meir related to the attack saying “what we had tonight was a Passover massacre” and added “There is no limit to Palestinian barbarism.”

Palestinian territories:

  • Palestinian National Authority: Palestinian Authority officials “strongly condemned” the attack.

  • During a television broadcast on the Palestinian TV channel, the Palestinians leader Yasser Arafat praised the Palestinian people for the current popular uprising against Israel, but stressed that “We are against killing civilians on both sides”.

– Supranational

  • United Nations: Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General stated that he condemned suicide bombings against Israeli civilians as morally repugnant.

– International

  • United States: President of the United States George W. Bush condemned the attack and called on Yasser Arafat to do everything in his power to stop what he called “terrorist killing”.

Aftermath

In his response to the Saudi initiative adopted at the Beirut Summit, Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel Shimon Peres noted that “… the details of every peace plan must be discussed directly between Israel and the Palestinians, and to make this possible, the Palestinian Authority must put an end to terror, the horrifying expression of which we witnessed just last night in Netanya.”

Passover massacre memorial – Ramat Hasharon.
Passover massacre memorial – Ramat Hasharon.

– Israeli retaliation

The attack was perceived in Israel as the high point of a bloody month in which more than 135 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed in terror attacks.

Following the Passover massacre attack the Israeli government declared a state of emergency, ordered the immediate recruitment of 20,000 reservists in an emergency call-up, and in the following day launched the large-scale counter-terrorism operation Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank which took place between 29 March and 10 May.

Qeis Adwan, head of the suicide bombing network responsible for the massacre, was killed by IDF forces on 5 April 2002 during Operation Defensive Shield, after the IDF and the Yamam caught him in Tubas, some 70 kilometers north of Jerusalem. An armored IDF Caterpillar D9 bulldozer toppled the house where he was hiding, after he was given a chance to surrender and refused.

Muhannad Taher, believed to be the maker of the explosive device, was killed in clashes with Shayetet 13 fighters in June 2003.

– Arrests

In May 2002, Israeli forces arrested the mastermind behind the attack, Abbas al-Sayed. On 22 September 2005, al-Sayed was convicted of the Passover attack and also of ordering the May 2001 bombing of a Netanya mall. He received 35 life sentences for each murder victim and additional time for those who were wounded. On 26 March 2008 Hamas commander Omar Jabar, who was suspected of organizing the Passover massacre bombing, was arrested in Tulkarem.

In September 2009, Muhammad Harwish, a senior Hamas militant and one of the planners of the bombing, was arrested by the Border Police’s elite Yamam counter-terror squad in his home village along with an aide, Adnan Samara.

– Palestinian glorification of the bomber

In 2003, the Palestinian Authority sponsored a soccer tournament, Tulkarm Shahids Memorial Soccer Championship Tournament of the Shahid Abd Al-Baset Odeh, describing the perpetrator as a “shahid” (“martyr”).

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