Charlie Shapiro’s death from cancer in Cape Town on Tuesday was hardly noticed beyond his family and friends. Few in South Africa knew that Shapiro, when he was 34, shot one of four terrorists from the Palestine Liberation Front when they attacked Nahariya in the early hours of the morning on April 22, 1979.
Among them was the notorious Samir Kuntar.
The terrorists, who had sped over water from south Lebanon in a motorized rubber dinghy, and at at 2:30 a.m. entered an apartment house on 61 Jabotinsky Street where Shapiro was sleeping.
In an interview with the writer in Israel last year, Shapiro related: “I was awakened by gunfire in the building.”
He grabbed his firearm and was ready and aiming when the terrorist, Abdel Majeed Asslan, kicked open the door. “I shot him clean in the chest and then, as he lay there on his back screaming for his comrades, I finished him off between the eyes.”
Looking down the corridor, Shapiro saw Danny Haran and his four-year-old daughter, Einat, and in front of them, a young terrorist with curly hair, who, he would later learn, was Kuntar.
“I heard Danny say, ‘Take me but leave my daughter.’ As I took aim at Kuntar’s back and began squeezing the trigger, I saw a Kalashnikov barrel come into view from the side and I had to make an instant decision. I thought if I killed Kuntar, this other terrorist would instinctively start firing and kill Danny and his daughter and so I pulled back.”
When Shapiro again poked his head to see what was happening, a grenade exploded, “and the blast blinded me temporarily in one eye and shrapnel bloodied my face.”
Although still ready to engage the terrorists, Shapiro never received another opportunity to catch Kuntar in his gun-sights.
Kuntar proceeded to go on a murderous rampage that culminated in his capture that evening and conviction a year later for one of the most brutal terrorist attacks in Israel’s history. After spending nearly three decades in prison, Kuntar was released on July 16, 2008, as part of an Israel-Hezbollah prisoner exchange.
While Israelis painfully remember how Kuntar shot Danny at close range on the beach, in front of his daughter, then held his head under the water to make sure he was dead, and then killed Einat by smashing her skull against the rocks, in much of the Muslim world, he was lionized.
In 2008, Syria’s President Bashar Assad presented him with the nation’s highest medal, and in 2009, Kuntar was similarly honored by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In the aftermath of this horror, Shapiro was frequently written about in the Israeli press and was honored each year on the anniversary of the attack for his quick thinking and bravery. However, when he returned to his native South Africa, his name was deleted from the story, “under strict instructions,” because “the Israeli government felt that it could not protect me if there was a reprisal in South Africa.”
While the threat remained real, Shapiro felt last year that with the passage of time and with Kuntar free, and possibly because he had terminal cancer, that it was time to share his experience publicly.
The most amazing epilogue to this story is that Charlie’s brother, Bobby Shapiro, who lives at Moshav Ben-Ami, near Nahariya, only a year before the terror attack in 1979, was a passenger on the Egged bus attacked by terrorists in what became known as the Coastal Road Massacre in Herzliya, where 35 Israeli civilians lost their lives. Like his brother Charlie, Bobby too survived the terrorist attack and through his brave actions, saved the life of a fellow passenger.
“This poor man was lying on the ground outside the burning bus holding his stomach and bleeding badly. I did not know what got into me. I got up and ran to him, picked him up and darting through the smoke and gunfire, hurried for cover.”
The man, Simcha Galon, survived, but not his seven-year-old daughter.
In an age of terrorism, it’s good to know there are civilians like the Shapiro brothers.
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