U.S. tourist killed in knife attack in Israel, where survey illuminates deep divides

An American tourist was stabbed to death in one of three attacks reportedly carried out by Palestinians across Israel on Tuesday — the same day a survey was released showing almost half of Jewish Israelis support expelling Arab citizens of Israel.

The man was identified as a Vanderbilt University graduate student on a school trip to Tel Aviv.

The attack took place Tuesday evening in the port of Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, where both Jews and Palestinians live. At least 10 people were injured and the suspected attacker was shot dead by police.

Police described the attacker as a 21-year-old from the West Bank refugee camp in Kalkilya.

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Wolfson Medical Center in Tel Aviv, where the stricken American was taken, described him as a 29-year-old man, according to the Ynet news site. The report said the same hospital was treating his wife, who was severely injured in the attack.

Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos issued a statement saying the victim was Taylor Force, a student in the Owen Graduate School of Management at the university in Nashville, Tenn.

"Taylor embarked on this trip to expand his understanding of global entrepreneurship and also to share his insights and knowledge with start-ups in Israel," Zeppos said. "He exemplified the spirit of discovery, learning and service that is the hallmark of our wonderful Owen community. This horrific act of violence has robbed our Vanderbilt family of a young hopeful life and all of the bright promise that he held for bettering our greater world."

He said all other Vanderbilt students, faculty and staff on the trip were unharmed.

Just over an hour before the attack, three Israelis were wounded in two separate attacks, occurring within minutes of each other, in Jerusalem and Petah Tikvah. One Palestinian suspect was shot to death.

The Israel army announced Tuesday night that it was sealing off the West Bank villages of Zawiya and Auja, the hometowns of two of the attackers, preventing anyone from leaving or entering. Israeli forces were also deployed to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, where one of the attackers lived, as violence broke out there.

The attacks took place at a low point in Israeli-Palestinian relations, and on the day that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel for talks with leaders on both sides. They also coincided with the release of a survey by the Pew Research Center that dramatically illustrated the divisions in Israel between Arabs and Jews, and between religious and secular Jews.

The survey by the Washington-based think tank found that almost half of Israeli Jews backed the transfer or expulsion of Palestinians to other countries. The number of religious Jews who supported expulsion was higher, with 69% of ultra-Orthodox Jews supporting it.

The number of Palestinian citizens of Israel, known as Arab Israelis, who still had faith in a peaceful two-state solution had dropped, with 74% believing it possible in 2013, and only 50% in 2015. Only 43% of Jewish respondents believed the two sides could agree on a viable two-state solution — the goal of international peacemaking efforts.

According to the survey, Arab Israelis don’t think Israel can be both a democracy and a Jewish state, with 63% of Muslims and 72% of Arab Christians saying the two are incompatible.

Most Israeli Jews, by contrast, believe it is possible for Israel to be a democratic, Jewish state — although there are sharp divisions between religious and secular Jews about what that means. Roughly 90% of secular Jews say democratic principles should prevail over religious law, while the same percentage of ultra-Orthodox Jews say precisely the opposite.

The survey included face-to-face interviews with 5,600 people and had various margins of sampling error, depending on the size of the subgroup.

Its findings pointed to the challenges facing the United States as it continues to look for a solution to the intractable bloodshed in the region — and struggles to maintain civil relations with Israel.

Biden’s arrival Tuesday came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to decline an invitation to meet with President Obama. The cancellation of Netanyahu’s expected visit to Washington, originally scheduled for later this month, came as a surprise to U.S. officials, who issued a terse statement expressing annoyance over the change of plans.

“We were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit,” the White House statement said.

Netanyahu’s office later denied that he had surprised the White House and said he called off the trip to avoid becoming entangled in the heated politics of the U.S. presidential election. Many Democrats accused Netanyahu of meddling in U.S. affairs last year when he lobbied against the nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of international powers led by the United States.

Most of the discussion between Biden and Israeli leaders is expected to center on Israeli hopes that the United States will increase funding of a new, 10-year military aid package from the current $3 billion a year. Israel is seeking an additional $1 billion a year; the Obama administration is reported to be offering an additional $500 million a year.

There is little hope that Biden’s visit will lead to any efforts to reinvigorate the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. The violence Tuesday made it one of the bloodiest days in a five-month wave that has left 33 Israelis and nearly 200 Palestinians dead.

In the attack involving the American, police said the man stabbed three people near the Jaffa port, ran toward Tel Aviv stabbing another three people, then stabbed four more farther along the beachfront promenade, not far from a now-shuttered nightclub where a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 25 people in 2001.

Seven of the people injured in the attack were being treated in Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, one of them in critical condition, three in moderate condition and two suffering from light wounds. The hospital said one of the victims was a pregnant woman and another was an Arab Israeli.

Israeli police said two police personnel were wounded, one critically, in a shooting attack near the Damascus Gate, which leads into the Old City of Jerusalem. The Palestinian suspect was shot dead. Another Israeli was wounded in a stabbing attack in Petah Tikvah.

Shuttleworth is a special correspondent.

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UPDATES

3:02 p.m.: This article has been updated with the Vanderbilt statement on the slain student.

1:47 p.m.: This article has been updated with staff reporting, new developments, survey results.

This article was originally posted at 11:03 a.m.

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