On November 15, 2002, my first Friday night of active duty in the IDF, we found ourselves in the midst of one of the largest terrorist attacks of the Second Intifada, which became known as the “Hebron Ambush” or “Sabbath Massacre.” On the eve of Shabbat, three Palestinian terrorists opened fire on IDF soldiers, accompanying Jewish worshipers making their way to the Cave of The Patriarchs, from Kiryat Arba, on a path that connects the two areas called, “Tzir Hamitpalilim,” or the “The Worshipers Route.”
Armed with endless ammunition, the terrorists hid in bunkers and homes on an adjoining hill that overlooked the walkway. The initial casualties where heavy, and the first army responders were hit hard. Jeep after jeep that arrived at the scene, came under heavy fire, and some of the soldiers were shot, as they left their vehicles. Our platoon commander was one of the first to arrive and he was shot in his leg. He was rushed away to hospital and that was the last time we saw him, although thankfully, he survived the attack. Many others did not and the attack continued for almost four hours.
The gunfire echoed throughout the entire Hebron region and could be heard as far away as Jerusalem. Twelve people, including three high ranking officers, five border policeman (including the Hebron Chief of Operations) and three members of the Kiryat Arba Emergency Response Team, lost their lives that night. Some of the soldiers were from the same platoon as mine and were located in a base approximately 500 meters from ours. They were closer to the event and therefore responded first. In addition, Colonal Dror Weinberg z”l, the commander of the IDF Hebron Brigade, was also killed as he engaged the terrorists in a fateful battle. Eventually one of our commanders shot one of the terrorists, the second was also shot and the third escaped but was eventually tracked down and shot by a Druze commander from a border police unit.
I later went to a lecture on the event by army investigator and lecturer Gershon Bar Kochba. He researched the event in detail and told us of many incredible miracles that happened that night. He told us that following the incident, a civilian from Kiryat Arba was awarded the highest IDF honor for bravery in combat, as a result of him driving multiple times in the line of fire to rescue the wounded. He is the only Israeli civilian ever to receive the award. Gershon described him as “a walking miracle.”
The other event he spoke about was of a high-ranking US military doctor, who happened to be on a fact-finding mission to Israel and was spending Friday night at an Israeli doctor in Efrat, about a half hour drive from Hebron. When the Israeli doctor received a call to respond to the event, the US doctor asked if he could come along. The Israeli relented and moments later, the two found themselves in the heat of the battle and began treating the wounded. The US doctor, with many years of active-duty experience, performed a complex surgery in the field and saved an Israeli soldier’s life.