US students attacked at Kinneret beach
Yaakov Lappin , THE JERUSALEM POST
A visit to Israel by five young American Jews turned into a nightmare on Friday evening when they were set upon by a large gang of intoxicated thugs armed with metal poles, rocks and chairs on a Lake Kinneret beach, in a brutal and unprovoked attack.
Isaac, 21, from Los Angeles, who asked that his last name be withheld, spoke to The Jerusalem Post about the harrowing experience, hours before boarding a flight back to the US, where he will undergo another check to ensure that he has not sustained any brain damage.
"I need another post-emergency room CAT scan," he said by phone.
"This is Israel and I'm Jewish. I came here for many reasons. I always thought this is the place where I would be safe. The men who attacked us were also Jews," he said.
After completing a semester at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Isaac had volunteered to teach English to asylum-seekers and migrant workers. Together with another American student and three American Jewish volunteers from programs around the country, the group settled down on the Ein Gev beach, on the eastern shore of the Kinneret, for a weekend break.
"Next to us were 10 young men speaking and singing in Hebrew and playing techno music. They were drinking. My friend and I were swimming in the water, when we looked up and saw that a bunch of guys had approached us. One of them started yelling in Hebrew, saying my friend looked at his girlfriend," Isaac said. "He head-butted my friend in the face, and my friend started to bleed."
The assault was only the first in a series of escalating and severe attacks.
Three men proceeded to set upon Isaac's friend, while another three began attacking Isaac.
"We managed to get to shore. They picked up rocks and wooden chairs. One of them repeatedly smashed the chair on my head, until there was nothing left but a splinter," Isaac said.
At this stage, Isaac managed to flee his attackers. He ran down the beach, where he met an Arab family, made up of old women, children, and two men.
"They told us we were safe, that no one would attack us. We thanked them and walked away. Then the attackers arrived and began assaulting the family," Isaac recounted.
The Arab family was pelted with rocks, while Isaac once again found himself outnumbered and under attack.
"A metal pole was smashed into my back and a rock was dropped on my head. I was covered in blood, and didn't see much after that. My forehead was split open," he said.
A group of kibbutz members on the beach then intervened. "One of them was a doctor and began treating us. Someone called the police."
By this time, both the Arab family and the kibbutz members had congregated around the American youths, and made a heroic effort to capture their attackers by forming a human fence around the parking lot's exit to prevent the gang from escaping.
"The young men who assaulted us jumped in their cars, but all the men and women on the beach got in front of the cars and wouldn't let them leave. The cars reversed away from the people and then shot forward at 40 to 50 kilometers an hour toward the group. Anyone standing there would have been killed," said Isaac. His helpers were forced to jump out of the way.
Having cleared the path for their getaway, the gang then duped the police, who had just arrived on the scene in a number of patrol cars.
The attackers were stopped by officers just outside the beach's parking lot, but told police they had been the ones who were assaulted, adding that they felt their lives to be in danger. The men asked police if they could move away from the scene.
In the ensuing pandemonium, with civilians on the beach still trying to stop the attackers from fleeing, officers recorded the license plate number of their two vehicles before allowing the attackers to drive away, instructing them to pull over further down the road. Needless to say, the attackers sped away.
Police subsequently used the license plate numbers to trace one member of the gang. A 25-year-old suspect from Kiryat Ata was arrested after being identified during a line-up. Police will seek to extend his custody on Tuesday.
Tiberias police chief Dep.-Cmdr. Efi Partuk told the Post that an internal inquiry would be launched to examine the police's initial response, but added that it was easy to see how officers were at first confused by the chaotic scene.
"When officered arrived and saw what looked like people attempting to harm the attackers, the first consideration was safety. They sought to regain control of the scene first, and noted the license plate numbers of the cars," Partuk said. "I believe we cannot judge them [negatively] for their actions."
He added that a team of investigators was working around the clock to arrest additional suspects, and that police were focusing on tracing the attackers' elusive second vehicle.
"This is a severe case, and a senior officer has been assigned to it. We have also sent material to state prosecutors, and a prosecutor has been assigned to this case," Partuk added. "We will succeed in tracing the other suspects."
While recovering in hospital and in intense pain, Isaac had reconsidered plans to lead a birthright-Israel tour around the country after graduating from college, though he now says he will proceed with his plans. "After hearing so many Israelis react with fury to what happened, and with everyone being so incredibly helpful, that's really comforting," he said.
Isaac is suffering from breathing problems due to the rock that was smashed against his collarbone, but he was able to walk a bit on Monday.
He expressed hope that the thugs responsible for his ordeal would be arrested.
"If nothing happens, I don't know how I'll feel safe," he said.