TEL AVIV — An American tourist, identified as 29-year-old Taylor Force, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist at the port of Jaffa, the third attack within a number of hours on Tuesday.
According to Israeli police, the 22-year-old assailant, Bashar Masalha, was from Qalqilya in the West Bank and was staying in Tel Aviv without the necessary permits. Footage published on the Israeli news site Ynet showed the assailant attempting to flee by foot, weaving through cars parked on the side of a main road and stabbing four people before being shot and killed by police chasing him from behind.
“This terrorist didn’t come from Jaffa, the residents of Jaffa condemn this attack, so I recommend to all people in Jaffa and all over the country to carry on their lives as usual,” said Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
The attack occurred just hours after another shooting attack near the Old City of Jerusalem, on the border of the city that divides the mostly Jewish western section from the mostly Arab eastern part, in which two police officers were killed. Another attack had occurred earlier in the central Israeli town of Petach Tikva, where a Palestinian man stabbed an ultra-Orthodox man. The victim then pulled the knife out of his neck in order to stab and neutralize his assailant.
The Tuesday evening attack took place in the mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood of Jaffa, about a mile from the Peres Center for Peace, where Vice President Joe Biden was meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Biden is on a two-day tour to meet with Israeli and Palestinian authorities, and despite diplomatic tensions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the White House, Biden reportedly was planning to discuss the finalization of a new 10-year defense package.
For the past six months, Israel has been roiling in its latest wave of violence, although the nation has struggled to define the nature of the violence or the best ways to handle it. These latest attacks have been dubbed the “individual intifada,” or “knife intifada,” by both Israeli and Palestinian news networks, and the perpetrators, many of them young, range widely in background, although in the early days of the attacks, the assailants often hailed from impoverished parts of Arab East Jerusalem. Many of the attackers have used knives, cars, screwdrivers, or other items as unconventional items with which to attack civilians and soldiers both in Israel and the occupied West Bank. Analysts say the attackers have been mobilized by Facebook and social media rather than by organized political parties.
“We are in the midst of a war against ISIS-style Muslim extremist terror,” said Intelligence Minister Israel Katz in an interview Tuesday night on Channel 2. He added that he would soon commit to advancing a bill for the expulsion of terrorists’ families from the country, a demand echoed by many in Israel’s right-wing community as a necessary step toward deterring future attacks.
“We are in an emergency situation,” Katz said. “There are murderers here who are motivated by hatred and we cannot allow Jews to continue to get harmed. There is an intifada of incitement. We must restore deterrence, so I must ask all the holier than thou who scold us to understand our current reality.”
Israel, for its part, has struggled to manage the uptick in violence, especially in the impoverished areas of East Jerusalem, where it has revived the controversial practice of demolishing the homes of terrorists’ families as a punitive measure intended to send a message to the community.
The current surge of violence has its roots in rumors that circulated widely in Arabic social media around September that claimed Israelis were planning to take over the Temple Mount, a sacred site to both Muslims and Jews.
But where Jerusalem has long been a flashpoint, the violence has particularly sensitive implications in the Jaffa area, just south of Tel Aviv, and one of the rare experiments in Jewish-Arab coexistence.
Emily Young, a 26-year-old producer originally from New York who arrived at the scene and helped one Russian tourist who was stabbed above his eyebrow and in the back, said the event “escalates the level of confusion.”
“It’s kind of shocking to see a terrorist whose goal is to torment the country go to an area where the victims are not going to be Jewish, per se—many of them were actually tourists,” she said.