Visiting South African rabbis witness Jerusalem attack

S. Africa Chief Rabbi: We were all lying down on the floor, and someone told us to crawl to a safer room.

bulldozer 2 police 224 (photo credit: Channel 10)
bulldozer 2 police 224
(photo credit: Channel 10)
As Jerusalem's King David Street was transformed in a matter of seconds into a terror scene Tuesday afternoon, 45 rabbis from South Africa were having lunch in the dining room of the nearby King Solomon Hotel, getting ready for a tour of Sderot. "We [were having] lunch when we heard the shooting from outside. Someone shouted, 'Lay down, it's for real!' We all lay down on the floor, taking cover," Rabbi Danny Sackstein from Cape Town told The Jerusalem Post. Sackstein made the comments shortly after a bulldozer attack wounded 15 people. One person was taken to the hospital in serious condition. "From the place I was standing, I could see the caterpillar [bulldozer] going down the street," he said. "I saw a border policeman shooting at the caterpillar, and afterwards it slowed down until it stopped. I couldn't see the person who was sitting inside the tractor, but the window was covered with bullet holes." Sackstein admitted that the entire incident had shaken him despite the fact that as a South African, he was hardly a stranger to violent confrontations. "Eventually I was standing 15 meters away from the scene and only a thin [pane of] glass separated us from the outside," he said. The rabbis were in Jerusalem for the South African Rabbis Annual Conference and to express their support for the people of Israel. "It was all surrealistic," South Africa Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein said. "We were all lying down on the floor, and at some point someone told us to crawl to a safer room with no windows." He said he did not regret the decision to hold the conference in Jerusalem. King David Street is home to several prestigious hotels, including the King David Hotel, which often hosts world leaders - and where US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama was due to stay during his visit. Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen did not comment on whether the US presidential candidate should be concerned by the incident. "The most important thing is that large police forces are deployed in Jerusalem at the moment and that the tractor driver was neutralized efficiently and quickly," he said. "We heard shots [coming] from outside my friend's house, where we were watching a movie," ,Netanel Seterman, 16, from Beit El told the Post. "I went out to the porch and saw the tractor driving down the street and many people running toward the place he was driving to. "We called the police and told them what was going on. A few seconds later, many police patrol vehicles arrived at the scene, but Magen David Adom ambulances took longer to arrive. We went down to the street and helped someone divert the traffic away from the place the tractor was driving. I saw the bus it crashed into and a motorcycle sprawled across the road. I decided not to get closer - I didn't know what to expect and didn't want to disturb the rescue forces," Seterman said. Long after the incident was over, the area was still packed as a curious crowd gathered to peer at a crushed Peugeot, an upside-down Mercedes and a pick-up truck that had crashed into a bus stop as its driver apparently struggled to avoid the rampaging bulldozer. "I arrived at the scene two minutes after the report was received at our telephone service center, and by then the incident was over and the tractor driver had been shot dead," Hatzala rescue services spokesman Yerah Tucker said. "Luckily, this event ended fast, because if the tractor driver hadn't been stopped where he was stopped, he would have entered a busy intersection and caused greater damage." The rescue crews had hesitated to approach the scene and assist the wounded, out of fear that the attacker had not been fully neutralized, he said. "In the former tractor attack incident [on Jerusalem's Jaffa Road on July 2], the driver kept on going and running over cars and people even after he was shot several times," Tucker said. "Without a doubt, tractor attacks seem like a disturbing new problem for us all."