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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,June 1999, pages 87-88

Middle East History—It Happened in June

Jewish Terrorists Try to Assassinate Three Palestinian Mayors

By Donald Neff

It was 19 years ago, on June 2, 1980, that Jewish terrorists tried to kill three Palestinian mayors of West Bank cities. The cars of Karim Khalaf of Ramallah and Bassam Shakaa of Nablus were blown up by bombs hidden on them. Khalaf lost a foot and Shakaa both legs. A third bomb planted in the car of El Bireh Mayor Ibrahim Tawil was discovered before it could go off. The terrorists wreaked havoc among the Palestinian community for the next four years before they were arrested.1

A study of Jewish terrorism between 1980 and 1984 showed 30 incidents in 1980, 48 in 1981, 69 in 1982, 119 in 1983, and 118 in 1984. The number of Palestinians killed in the incidents was 23, with 191 injured.2

The violence between Jews and Palestinians had been building for the past month. On May 2, Palestinian terrorists killed six Jewish settlers and wounded seven in a grenade attack in Hebron in response to the Israeli government’s decision to allow Jewish settlements in the all-Arab city.3 In retaliation for the killings, Israel imposed an around-the-clock curfew on the whole city of Hebron for 16 days, demolished three homes and several shops in the vicinity of the attack and closed the Jordan River bridges to the town’s exports. At night during the curfew, Jewish settlers rampaged through Hebron, setting fires, throwing stones, smashing windows in cars and homes. By the end of the curfew more than 150 car and home windows had been shattered.4

Moreover, Israel summarily deported three prominent Palestinians. The mayors of Hebron and Halhul, Fahd Qawasmeh and Muhammad Milhem, and Hebron’s chief cadi (religious judge), Sheikh Rajab Tamimi, were taken from their homes by Israeli troops and told they were going to a meeting with the defense minister in Tel Aviv. Instead, black bags were thrown over their heads and they were flown to the Lebanese border and dumped out, expelled from their homeland without charges or trial.5

The day after the massacre of six settlers, a small group of settlers in the Hebron area reacted by forming a Jewish Makhteret—underground—to strike fear in local Arabs. The group became known popularly as TNT—Terror against Terror. Its leader was Menachem Livni, commander of a reserve battalion of combat engineers and a follower of Gush Emunim head Moshe Levinger. Livni later recalled: “I met with Rabbi Moshe Levinger, and I expressed my view that for this kind of task pure people should be selected, people who are deeply religious, people who would never sin, people who haven’t got the slightest inclination for violence.” Observed Robert Friedman, an expert on Israeli extremism: The Makhteret “would become the most violent anti-Arab terrorist organization since the birth of Israel.”6 TNT made its first big operation in the bombing operations against the three Palestinian mayors, which took place at the end of the month-long mourning period for the six settlers slain on May 2.

The terrorists wreaked havoc among the Palestinian community for the next four years.

Another of its high-profile attacks came on July 26, 1983, when masked gunmen invaded the Islamic College in Hebron and killed three Palestinian students and wounded 33 other students and teachers. The attack followed the July 7 killing of a Jewish religious student in Hebron. Gush Emunim leader Levinger, referring to the slaughter of the Palestinians, declared: “Whoever did this has sanctified God’s name in public.”7

TNT’s most spectacular scheme was to try to blow up the two holiest Muslim shrines in Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosques on the Haram al-Sharif, called by Jews the Temple Mount. Al Aqsa is the third most holy shrine in Islam. Had they succeeded it would have caused fury throughout the Islamic world leading to unknown consequences. TNT was motived by the fact that the Haram al-Sharif stands atop the Western Wall, the last remnant of the Second Temple and the most revered site of Judaism. The terrorists asserted that until the Islamic shrines were destroyed the Third Temple could not be built to mark the modern era of the Jewish empire.

On Jan. 27, 1984, Israeli police revealed a group of Jews had smuggled 22 pounds of explosives and 18 hand grenades of Israeli army issue onto the Haram al-Sharif in an attempt to blow up the two mosques. The terrorists were discovered by a Muslim guard and fled before they could be arrested.8

The mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Saad al-Din Alaroi, said two terrorists had been discovered on the ancient platform of the Haram al-Sharif and many others at the eastern base of the mount. He said six bags of explosives and hand grenades were found on the platform and many other bags found at the foot of the wall. Yehoshua Caspi, commander of Israel’s southern police district, said the army-issue hand grenades pointed to Jews as the perpetrators. Since Dec. 13, 13 similar hand grenades had been used as booby traps at mosques and churches in Palestinian villages. Three Palestinians, a Greek Orthodox nun, a Muslim imam and a Muslim worshipper, had been wounded in explosions.

Jewish Terrorists Convicted

Twenty-five Jews were later arrested in the Haram al-Sharif incident and other anti-Arab terrorist acts, including the 1983 killing in Hebron of three Palestinian students.9 Three settlers were convicted of murder on July 10, 1985, and the others of lesser violent crimes after a controversial 13-month trial. It was reportedly the first time Israeli Jews had been convicted of terror.10

The murderers were Menachem Livni, 41; Shaul Nir, 34; and Uzi Sharabaf, 28. All were highly regarded, well-educated, very religious, and Livni had a distinguished military record. President Chaim Herzog later commuted their life sentences three separate times, and a parole committee freed them on Dec. 26, 1990. On their release they were greeted as heroes by fellow settlers.11

Two other men—Dan Beeri, 41, and Yosef Tzuria, 26—were convicted in the attempted bombing of the Haram al-Sharif and also had their three-year sentences commuted by Herzog in December 1985. Most of the others also received commutations.12

Though TNT had been effectively broken up as an organization, its radical goals have not disappeared. As recently as March 18, 1999, an Israeli man was banished from Jerusalem after police suspected he was planning to blow up the mosques on the Haram al-Sharif. Police told the Jerusalem Magistrates court they had reason to fear that Herzl Mazuz, 44, planned to destroy the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque. Police said Mazuz was not a member of the various religious and nationalist groups dedicated to the destruction of the mosques. He was apparently a loner acting out his own personal fervor to rebuild the Jews’ Third Temple.13


Aronson, Geoffrey, Creating Facts: Israel, Palestinians and the West Bank, Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987.

Chomsky, Noam, The Fateful Triangle, Boston: South End Press, 1983.

*Friedman, Robert I., Zealots for Zion: Inside Israel’s West Bank Settlement Movement, New York, Random House, 1992.

*Halsell, Grace, Prophecy and Politics: Militant Evangelists on the Road to Nuclear War, Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill & Company, 1986.

Karp, Yehudit, The Karp Report: Investigation of Suspicions Against Israelis in Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem: Israeli Government, 1984.

Nakhleh, Issa, Encyclopedia of the Palestine Problem (2 vols), New York: Intercontinental Books, 1991.

Shipler, David K., Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, New York: Times Books, 1986.

Sprinzak, Ehud, The Ascendance of Israel’s Radical Right, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

*Available from the AET Book Club.


  1. Aronson, Creating Facts, pp. 207-10; Robert I. Friedman, Village Voice, 11/12/85, Zealots for Zion, pp. 26-7; Shipler, Arab and Jew, p. 105. Also see Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle, pp. 56-7; Halsell, Prophecy and Politics, p. 108; Sprinzak, The Ascendancy of Israel’s Radical Right, pp. 91-93. For details of Jewish terrorist acts between 1980 and 1984, see Nakhleh, Encyclopedia of the Palestine Problem, pp. 705-34.
  2. Nakhleh, Encyclopedia of the Palestine Problem, p. 709. Also see Halsell, Prophecy and Politics, pp. 108-10, for a report on the attitudes of the Jewish terrorists.
  3. Aronson, Creating Facts, pp. 199-200; Friedman, Zealots for Zion, p. 23. New York Times, 3/24/80.
  4. Christian Science Monitor , 5/30/80; Karp, The Karp Report, pp. 36-38.
  5. Aronson, Creating Facts, p. 201; Friedman, Zealots for Zion, p. 23. Also see Shipler, Arab and Jew, pp. 104-05. Text of the mayors’ comments after deportation and of other Palestinian mayors is in the Journal of Palestine Studies, “Special Document,” Summer 1980, pp. 197-203.
  6. Friedman, Zealots for Zion, p. 23. Also see Sprinzak, The Ascendancy of Israel’s Radical Right, p. 94.
  7. Friedman, Zealots for Zion, p. 29.
  8. David K. Shipler, New York Times, 1/30/84; Friedman, Zealots for Zion, pp. 30-32; Sprinzak, The Ascendancy of Israel’s Radical Right, pp. 94-96. Also see Halsell, Prophecy and Politics, and her article, “Shrine Under Siege,” The Link, August/September 1984, reprinted in The Link May/June 1992.
  9. Text of charges against the suspects is in Journal of Palestine Studies, “Documents and Source Material,” Summer 1984, pp. 211-3. Also see Friedman, Zealots for Zion, p. 32.
  10. New York Times, 7/11/85.
  11. Associated Press, New York Times, 12/27/90.
  12. New York Times, 7/23/85; Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, 12/8/85. Also see Stephen J. Sosebee, “Seeds of a Massacre: Israeli Violations at Haram al-Sharif,” American-Arab Affairs, No. 36, Spring 1991, pp. 111-12.
  13. Associated Press, 3/18/99.

Donald Neff is the author of Fifty Years of Israel. It, along with his Fallen Pillars and his Warriors trilogy on U.S.-Mideast relations, are available through the AET Book Club.