A thundering explosion struck Jerusalem's center Friday morning, July 4, 1975, at 10:00. It turned out that an explosive device hidden within a refrigerator exploded in Jerusalem's Zion Square. The attack resulted in 14 fatalities and 62 casualties. The findings at the site and interviews of passersby enabled security officials to form the following intelligence picture:
The device was placed in an "Amcor 10" type of refrigerator which was transported by a blue "Volkswagen" double cab truck, carrying a license plate with the Hebrew letter Shin, meaning that the truck belonged to Nablus, the Judea and Samaria area. Two individuals sat within the vehicle: a driver and a porter. The truck parked at the Russian Compound. The two individuals unloaded the refrigerator off the truck and loaded it on a transport cart. The porter headed with the cart to Heleni HaMalka (Helena the Queen) Street and Zion Square, while the driver remained in the vehicle. The porter found it difficult to lift the cart with the refrigerator on the sidewalk and at that moment an Israeli passerby offered to help him! The porter leaned the refrigerator against a wall and walked away. Minutes later, the refrigerator exploded. Fatah claimed responsibility for the attack.
There are witnesses but no distinct license plate number
Out of the multiple testimony gathered, two witnesses especially attracted the attention of security forces. One of the witnesses was an Israeli driver who had driven his car behind the perpetrators' truck for quite a long distance after failing to by-pass him. Another witness was an 11 year old boy. Both could not recall the number of the license plate, even after they went through hypnosis. Despite the hypnosis, the only numbers which did appear in their memory were that of military vehicles.
With the help of witnesses, the perpetrator's facial profile was produced and disseminated to all Israeli border stations. Hundreds of people who resembled the perpetrator even slightly were detained and interviewed. Every piece of information was closely inspected; including people who called to report their Arab employees did not show up to work. Yet, no results were achieved.
Even details which could have been used as a lead did not make a breakthrough. Amcor 10 type refrigerators were very common in households. The vehicle description (without the license plate number) matched circa 600 vehicles around the Judea and Samaria area; about 100 of them were located in the area of Nablus. Their owners were summoned to arrive with their vehicles at the Israeli Civil Administration offices, but neither one of them was arrested.
The police officer looked for drugs and discovered a car bomb instead
In March 1976, eight months after the attack, a police officer from Silwan in East Jerusalem identified a suspicious vehicle, standing on the sides of the road between Silwan and Old Jerusalem. The officer suspected it may be a vehicle destined to transfer drugs. He asked the driver to open the trunk and was surprised to discover it contained an explosive device, electrical chords, and a gas tank, in other words, this was a car bomb. The driver was arrested and interrogated. He framed a cell of eight activists who were then arrested. One of the cell activists was a waiter who worked at Prima Kings Hotel in Jerusalem and knew one of ISA's interrogators in the case in the context of his work.
The waiter confessed in his interrogation framing the cell and its activity; he then provided another unrelated piece of information which was as follows: "A while ago I was in Amman; I entered a barber's shop to get a haircut, and while I was sitting in the chair, a Pontiac had passed the street. The barber said: 'That was the refrigerator hero'". The waiter stated he did not get a look of the person who was driving the car, but the barber said he was from Turmusaya located in the Ramallah area. The attempts to trace the said driver, resident of Turmusaya failed. Even the probe of this piece of information came to a dead end.
A POC for Syria-based HQ
In June 1976, three months afterwards, a Fatah cell from az-Zawia in the area of Tul Karem was arrested. The cell members who were suspected of implementing attacks were interrogated and admitted the allegations; they turned in weapons, and even provided information of a second cell, which in turn framed a third cell. In total, 20 activists were exposed. The intelligence obtained during interrogations enabled security officials to learn about an Arab American national from Ramallah, originally from Turmusaya, who served as Person of Contact (POC) for Syria-based Fatah HQ. However, at the time, the man was abroad.
In September 1976, a man named Ahmad Ibrahim jbara aka Abu Sukar arrived in Israel and was arrested. He denied having any connection with terrorism. He claimed that he was a man who had traveled a lot, a cars dealer, who enjoyed the pleasures that life had to offer: women and dollars, and there was no way he would miss all of that for terrorism. Jbara who was wise and cautious, did not break in his interrogation and disclosed nothing. Thereof, when the interrogators asked him why his passport contained a Syrian entry stamp while missing a Syrian exit stamp, Jbara replied: "What do you want from me? Ask the Syrians…".
In the course of an intensive investigation conducted by the interrogators, the interrogation of az-Zawia infrastructure activists managed to connect Jbara with terrorism – all the detainees confessed that Jbara recruited them. Yet Jbara kept his version of the story by saying: "Yes, it was I who recruited them, but that is all. I have nothing to do with it…I am not in charge of them, I only recruited… a Fatah spotter…". Still there was no lead with regard to the refrigerator bomb.
Finally, Jbara confessed his part in the attack. According to him, he was recruited to Fatah in 1974; maintained contact with the Damascus-based HQ and received assignments i.e. recruiting operatives for terror actions, emptying DLBs, and transferring weapons. Jbara also confessed that he took part in planning a car bomb attack in Tel Aviv which was discovered before its initiation. Jbara concocted the refrigerator bomb plot with Bassam Tbila, a Nablus resident who was the cell's explosives expert and had been trained in Syria in assembling and placing IEDs. The idea was then passed on to the HQ abroad for approval. As the HQ's approved the action, it also requested the attack be carried out in early July.
Ahmad Ibrahim jbara aka Abu Sukar Bassam Tbila
The refrigerator bomb was prepared at Bassam Tbila's cart factory in Nablus. Jbara patrolled Jerusalem beforehand in order to find a suitable place to attack, whereas Tbila was the one who had carried out the attack. On the day of the attack, Tbila and another operative transferred the refrigerator to Jerusalem, where he unloaded it using the transport cart and placed it at Zion Square. Jbara on the other hand left for Jordan on the day of the attack early morning heading to Syria to report the attack to the HQ.
The perpetrator who fled abroad and did not return
Upon receiving the confession, ISA men, accompanied by IDF, headed to Bassam Tbila's house in Nablus to take him into custody. But Tbila had left two days earlier for Jordan, after he had realized that Jbara was most likely under arrest. A search of Tbila's house revealed two IEDs, activating devices, and improvised explosives that were intended to produce IEDs.
Furthermore, the interrogations also revealed that Tbila tried to repeat the refrigerator bomb plot by using an "explosive wagon" in 1976 which contained local filled pastries but was uncovered before it exploded. Tbila's associates also confessed that the owner of the blue double cab Volkswagen did appear at the Israeli Civil Administration offices, nevertheless he and his vehicle were not identified by witnesses.
Tbila took flight to Damascus serving a few years in Syria as an explosives trainer for Fatah recruits under the command of the Western Sector – Fatah's operations apparatus. In the mid 80s, he moved to Jordan to work as a functionary at Fatah's offices in Amman. Tbila was considered a senior Fatah cadre; hence the PA demanded his return to the PA upon its establishment; however, Israel denied his entry.
Ahmad Jbara aka Abu Sukar was put on trial at the military court in Ramallah in June 1977 - he was sentenced to consecutive life prison and 30 years. He was released in June 2003 after serving 27 years due to the Israeli government's goodwill gesture to the PA before the Aqaba summit. Jbara was regarded as a veteran prisoner and upon his release he was appointed by Arafat as PA advisor for prisoner affairs and even joined the Revolutionary Council – a Fatah leadership institution.
As the case was solved, Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem at the time, wrote a letter of appreciation to ISA in which he had stated that the solving of the case was a great accomplishment.
Enclosed is a copy of the letter (in Hebrew):