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Jerusalem attack spurs fraught questions about young soldiers' response

modes of thought

A truck attack killed four Israeli soldiers Sunday. Some argue that the manslaughter conviction last week of an Israeli soldier for fatally shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant may have caused hesitation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing turquoise tie, visits the scene of an attack in East Jerusalem, Jan. 8. A Palestinian rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers, killing four and wounding 15 others in one of the deadliest attacks of a more than yearlong campaign of violence.
Olivier Fetoussi/Associated Press | Caption

A Palestinian attack on Israeli soldiers Sunday broke months of relative calm in Jerusalem and underscored a raw debate about how best to protect the state.

In the Sunday attack, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said was most likely inspired by the self-declared Islamic State, a Palestinian truck driver mowed down a crowd of soldiers who had just arrived for a tour at a popular overlook in East Jerusalem. A video shows many running away as the driver wreaked havoc.

"I do not know why 40 soldiers did not open fire," said Eitan Rond, an armed guide who unloaded his 9-mm pistol, though to little effect. “If I would have taken an M-16 rifle from one of the soldiers it would perhaps have prevented more [casualties].”

The attack comes at a time when the country is in turmoil, just days after Sgt. Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting a wounded – and already incapacitated – Palestinian assailant in Hebron in March 2016. Many right-wing Israelis, who were highly critical of the army for not better supporting a teen acting amid a wave of Palestinian attacks against Israelis, warned that the conviction would undermine the security of Israel by sending a signal to soldiers to back off – and thus incentivizing attackers.

The circumstances of the Hebron attack were much different. But when asked whether the Azaria trial affected the response in Sunday’s truck ramming, Mr. Rond said, “I feel that there was hesitation” – and questioned how many casualties those seconds cost. 

The army denied any such hesitation, however. The evening news featured a young soldier telling of how he took aim and shot right away, and others who said they joined in as soon as they realized it was not a car accident.