This Week In History: Terror attack on Bus 405

Palestinian terrorist wrenches steering wheel from driver, runs bus down steep ravine killing 16 people and injuring 17.

An Egged bus 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Egged bus 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On July 6 1989, Palestinian terrorist Abed al-Hadi Ghaneim hijacked the No. 405 Egged bus traveling from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and ran it off the edge of a cliff, killing 16 people and injuring 17.
On that day, Islamic Jihad operative Ghaneim boarded the crowded bus and seated himself near the driver. As the bus passed a gorge near the Telz-Stone community, Ghanheim wrenched the steering wheel from the driver's hands, shouting in Arabic.
The prosecution later stated that Ghaneim, a resident of the Nusseirst refugee camp in Gaza, was crying out "Radwaan, Radwaan," the name of a friend of his who had been injured during the First Intifada.
The terrorist waited until the bus picked up speed before swerving it off the road, bursting through the safety barrier and rolling 100 meters down the ravine, at which point many of the passengers were thrown from the bus. Most of those killed in the attack were still trapped in the bus when it burst into flames. "I saw a girl walking out of the bus, and I shouted to her to get away from it fast," Netanel Zubri - who was severely injured in the attack - recalled in an interview with Channel 2 News in 2009.
Students from the nearby Telz-Stone Yeshiva heard the victims’ screams and rushed to the scene to care for the wounded until paramedics arrived. One of the students, Yehuda Meshi Zahav, went on to found the ZAKA lifesaving, rescue and recovery voluntary organization.
Army helicopters quickly arrived on the scene and evacuated the victims to hospital, including the terrorist, who survived.
On October 30 of that year, the Jerusalem District Court sentenced Ghaneim to 16 life sentences, after he admitted to carrying out the attack. According to the prosecution, Ghaneim had been planning the attack since early May. Before sentencing, defense counsel Jonathan Kuttab argued that the attack was a tragic event, triggered by an injury suffered by the defendant's friend, who was paralyzed during the intifada. In addition to the life sentences, Judges Shalom Brenner, Shmuel Finkelman and Dalia Dorner sentenced him to 24 additional terms of 20 years in jail.
However 22 years later, Ghaneim walked out of prison a free man, one of the 1,027 Palestinians released from Israeli prisons in return for former IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who spent five-and-a-half years in Hamas-captivity in Gaza.
While several relatives of terror victims protested the prisoner exchange, singer Ruhama Raz who lost her sister in the bus attack, supported the deal. "There is no price for our soldiers. I say this with great pain, tremendous pain, and perhaps there are families that are angry with me," Raz told Channel 2.  Another victim of the attack Shimon Pehima backed Raz, saying that if the decision was up to him he wouldn't hesitate for a moment.
Terrorists targeted bus line 405 on two separate occasions two months later, but both Israeli security officials and civilians helped thwart the attacks. Just two months later, on September 9, 1989, a 26-year-old man from Ramallah stabbed 405 driver Shlomo Assor in the stomach and chest, shouting "Allahu Akhbar." Assor struggled with the terrorist and succeeded in halting the bus. Passengers overpowered the attacker and held him until police arrived and arrested him. No passengers were hurt. Assor was injured but was treated in an Israeli hospital and survived. The attacker later confessed to police that he had murdered a Jewish man just a few days earlier.
Later that month, on September 17, 1989, Egged inspectors apprehended a West Bank Palestinian seen circling the express bus to Jerusalem and acting suspiciously. He was carrying a large brown plastic bag in which police found a large commando knife wrapped in a shirt. A top Egged official told The Jerusalem Post at the time that new security measures on the line had been introduced since the September 9 attack.
The No. 405 bus attack marked the most deadly attack of the intifada to that date. It has been dubbed as the first Palestinian suicide attack, despite the fact that Ghaneim survived. None of the passengers boarding the bus doubted they would arrive at their destination, nor did they panic when the Arab man got up out of his seat and walked toward the driver. That day marked the start of a new phenomenon, a new face of the intifada, and the creation of a new element of fear and anxiety in Israeli society. But with the subsequent wave of suicide attacks that followed, suspicion and safety concerns surrounding public transport and public spaces became an ingrained element of Israeli society.
Material from Jerusalem Post archives was used in this report