Only after Yonatan Azriaev grabbed the terrorist’s arms and threw him against a wall of soft drinks did he think he was about to die.
Azriaev, a member of the Breslov chasidic sect, had been handing out religious pamphlets in the open-air market in Petach Tikvah when he stepped inside a shop at around 4 p.m. last Tuesday, hoping to give one to the cashier. Then he felt sharp blows to his back and shoulders.
Feeling like he was being punched, Azriaev said he figured he was being attacked by someone who hated religious people. But then the shop owner started yelling, “It’s a terrorist! It’s a terrorist!”
Realizing he had been stabbed, Azriaev said, he followed his instincts. He swiveled around, grabbed the attacker by the arms, swung him in a circle — “like you would with a kid,” he explained — and threw him against the wall. The attacker fell to the floor, and Azriaev realized that he — Azriaev, that is — was bleeding from the neck.
“I thought that was it, I wouldn’t live,” Azriaev said in a bedside interview from the hospital where he is recovering from his injuries. “I saw he was fighting with someone else. When I saw that, I said, ‘I won’t live.’ So, I said, he shouldn’t kill more people.”
After slamming the attacker against the wall, Azriaev’s memory went blank. He doesn’t remember what happened next. Some of the details remain unclear, but the story that has emerged sounds like something from an action movie.
Azriaev, still bleeding from his wound, pulled the knife from his neck and stabbed his attacker, reportedly a Palestinian, who died a few minutes later. According to one report, Azriaev initially fled the store before returning to confront the attacker, but Israeli police were unable to confirm that, saying only that some part of the incident occurred inside the shop and some part outside.
The next thing Azriaev remembers is leaving the store and paramedics rushing to help him.
When he returns home, Azriaev said, he plans to resume his mission in life: distributing the pamphlets.
“I thought, if there was one thing that could save me, it would just be that I would keep handing out these pamphlets,” he said. “That’s why God would save me.”
A burly man with a calm face engulfed by a bushy black-and-white beard, Azriaev, 35, has spent the past 16 years studying religious texts. He lives with his wife and five children in Yavniel, a 4,000-person agricultural village near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. He served in a noncombat position in the Israeli army. He doesn’t exercise.
Azriaev joined the Breslov sect at 19, after reading one of its pamphlets. Until he was stabbed, he has spent his mornings studying Torah and afternoons traveling around Israel distributing the glossy, palm-sized booklets with chasidic texts to passersby. Last Tuesday, he was distributing one titled “You will succeed.”