Yeshiva counselor who killed terrorists lives to tell the tale
Elyakim Kovatch, a 10th-grade counselor at the Mekor Haim yeshiva in Kfar Etzion, says he does not remember the sound of shots from his gun, which killed the two terrorists who broke into the institution Thursday evening. "In my memory, the incident is like a silent movie," he said Friday.
Kovatch described the attack, which came after six counselors gathered at 9:30 P.M. for a meeting in the small room of the yeshiva's library, along with the principal of the boarding school, Shmueli Greenberg.
"About three quarters of an hour later, two figures entered the room. They looked like security guards. In the first few seconds they didn't look suspicious to us. Greenberg even managed to greet them with 'Good evening,' and then they came closer, to a distance of about two meters, pulled out knives and a handgun, and in Arabic-accented Hebrew said: 'Everyone stand back in a line.'
"At this stage, I still thought this was a joke. Only when I saw the counselor Rafael Singer draw a weapon, I got that it's real. The two terrorists jumped on Singer and stabbed him in the chest. I moved a little backward. It was all a matter of seconds. I loaded a clip in the gun, waited for there to be some distance between Singer and the terrorists, and shot one of them, who was wrestling with him," Kovatch said.
"The terrorist flew toward the door and was still twitching and trying to get up. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Shmueli fighting with the other terrorist. He grabbed the terrorist's hand, which was holding a gun. The terrorist tried to get loose. Again I got some distance between us and shot him too."
Another counselor in the room, Asa, said they did not realize immediately that the men were militants. "It took us several seconds to come to our senses and then some of the counselors jumped on them," he said.
When it was all over, the two terrorists "lay sprawled on the floor, bleeding, with knives in their hands," Kovatch added. "We didn't wait any longer. We fled outside - both the wounded and also those who were unhurt."
Kovatch, 24, from Jerusalem, began working at Mekor Haim a year ago. He is a graduate of the capital's Hakotel hesder yeshiva, and served as a combat soldier in the paratroops.
"In recent months the yeshiva's security director trained us for just these sorts of scenarios - abduction attempts, terrorist takeovers of buildings, and so on. These training sessions, the last of which took place two days before the terrorist incursion, helped us to handle it," Kovatch said. But, he said, "when the real thing happens, nothing is like what you worked on."
Kovatch played down his role. "The real miracle was that someone from above directed the terrorists to the library, where there were people trained to operate weapons, and not to the area nearby, where there were many pupils. Without the courage of Singer, Greenberg and the other counselors, we would not have finished the incident in this manner. It was everyone's heroism and initiative," he said.
After the event and on Friday morning the atmosphere at the yeshiva was festive. Pupils kept shaking their counselors' hands and thanking them. The yeshiva head, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, was welcomed with singing and dancing when he came there a few hours after the attack. Steinsaltz said he was proud that the counselors "did what had to be done with great wisdom and courage."