On Wednesday the 2nd of July, a “Palestinian from East Jerusalem deliberately plowed a bulldozer he was driving into a passenger bus on Jaffa Street in the capital shortly after noon, killing three people and wounding dozens more […] the bulldozer left a nearby construction site, drove against the direction of traffic on Jaffa Street, hitting the Egged bus, which turned over, along with other vehicles and pedestrians along the way.” (1)
The driver of the bulldozer was then shot by the police and died at the scene.
Israel immediate reaction was to say that this was a terrorist attack and started looking for which terrorist organization the driver was “working”. The Israeli media duly followed and the word terrorist was used in every single report issued by the Israeli press during the following hours.
The battle was won.
Reactions started to pour down on TV, newspapers and websites from “experts”, politicians, commentators and the public. Once more this terrorist attack proved that the Palestinians were monsters, blood thirsty animals and only wanted Israel ’s destruction. This also showed to the world that Israeli Jews had to fear attacks from the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank but also from ungrateful Palestinians living in Israel itself (usually called Israeli Arabs by the Israeli Jews).
Olmert and “his” government promised to respond “swiftly and harshly to break this pattern”. The family home of the terrorist would have to be demolished (by the same type of Bulldozer that ran over buses, people and cars on Jaffa St) the mourners tent taken down and the National Insurance Institute stipends of the family revoked. (2)(3)
Before going ahead with all this, the attorney general will first have to prove that the driver was a terrorist but this should not pose any major problem (it would be harder to prove this under international law, but this seems not to apply to Israel). The government said he was a terrorist, the media said he was a terrorist, George W Bush said he was a terrorist and the public said he was a terrorist. Who can argue with this?
A few hours later the police issued a statement saying that it feared violence towards Arabs as a result of this attack (4). The words were carefully chosen and the statement insisted on “as a result of this attack”. Once more Israeli attacks were only a response to Palestinian violence, a defensive move. Could people have lost their memory in the heat of the moment? Attacks by Israeli civilians against Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza or living in Israel have happened many times before and most of them were unprovoked.
To mention only 2 of the most recent events:
-In May dozens of Jewish teens were caught on CCTV camera outside a Jerusalem mall carrying out a brutal attack against 2 Israeli Arabs. (5)
-On the 8th of June, 4 masked settlers seriously beat a Palestinian farmer and its family with clubs. (6)
Even so, it is that simple for Israel . The country found its solution to the Palestinian problem a long time ago. They are all terrorists. Yell this word loud enough and everything you do will be considered retaliation. You are not responsible. You are only reacting, defending yourself. You are the victim. This P.R battle, this war of words cannot be lost by Israel. Without this, Israel’s finished. It is as important as having the 4th army in the world and more than 200 nuclear warheads. This media battle, constantly won by Israel, shows time after time to the world that Israel is trying to do good but that it faces relentless attacks by anti Semitic terrorists and faces extinction if the world does not help her.
What is interesting is that the word “terrorist” is only used when describing Palestinians or Israeli Arabs attacks. For example:
-Baruch Goldstein an Israeli physician who killed 29 Palestinians and injured 150 others in the “Cave of the patriarch massacre” in Hebron the 25/02/94 was never called a terrorist, his house never razed and his family never had any of its benefits revoked. On the contrary, militant Jews now organize parties at his grave site celebrating the anniversary of the massacre.(7)
-Yigal Amir, a right wing radical, who killed Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995, was called an assassin but never a terrorist. In prison he is now allowed to receive conjugal visits and his wife got pregnant and gave birth when he was in jail.(8)
The United States Department of Defense defines terrorism as: “the calculated use of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”
This definition clearly applies for those two cases. Why not using the word then?
What happened this Wednesday also reminded me of Shawn Nelson, who in May 1995 “stole a 63-ton Military tank from a National Guard armoury in California and used it to rampage through neighbourhoods, flattening utility poles, fire hydrants and cars before being shot by police” (9)
Mr Nelson, an unemployed man in his thirties who had served in the army was never called a terrorist. He was described by his neighbours as someone whose life had been crumbling, his home being in foreclosure and his utilities shut off. He also had a history of medical problems. This was the desperate act of a desperate man.
It turns out that the life of the driver of the bulldozer was also crumbling. His name was Husam Tayseer Dwayat. He was also in his thirties. His neighbours said that he was a drug addict, a petty criminal and that he had recently spent a year and a half in prison because “he got into trouble” with a Jewish girl.(10) This girl, who had spent 6 years with Mr Dwayat said that he had no problem with Jews and that he even used to call her to make sure that her family and herself were ok when a suicide bombing or a terrorist attack occurred.
Husam Tayseer Dwayat was not unemployed. He worked for a construction company (which, some people said, owned him a large amount of money in back pay (11)) involved in the construction of the Jerusalem light railway system which will soon connect West Jerusalem to settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Many Palestinians and people around the globe consider this project as a mean to expand Israeli control, illegal under international law. Was Husam Tayseer Dwayat one of them?
He was not part of Fatah, Hamas, the Al Aqsa brigades or any known Palestinian or Arab“terrorist” organization.
Husam Tayseer Dwayat was a sick man with nothing to loose and nothing to look forward to who committed an atrocious and inexcusable act.
There are many Palestinians like him all over the West Bank, Gaza and Israel itself. Starving Palestinians living in the open air prison of Gaza, encaged Palestinians who have to go through multiples checkpoints to go to work, school or see their family and face daily humiliations in the hands of the IDF in the West Bank or Palestinians living as second class citizens in Israel itself. Those Palestinians, mostly in their twenties and thirties have been denied everything. They’ve heard the story of their grandparents who were kicked off their villages during the Nakba in 1948. They’ve heard the story of their parents who have never been able to return to their villages (when they were not completely erased from the map) and go back to a normal life.
And there is their story. They’ve lost friends during the first and second intifada. They’ve seen their houses destroyed by Israel, sometimes more than once (around 18000 houses destroyed by Israel). They’ve been to prison. They’ve studied to try to better themselves and get a good job but this has not been possible for most of them .All the good jobs are in Israel or abroad and they cannot get a permit or a visa. They went to work on construction sites or as cleaners in Israeli campuses, institutions and hospitals, but even this, since the second intifada has been barred to them. Israel now uses cheap labour from Africa or from the East to do those jobs.
The Palestinians have been denied everything. They even have been denied the right to complain, to be heard and understood.
They are not considered as equals. They are not “people” anymore. Their voices do not count.
What the Israelis have to understand is that this can not go on forever. They have to understand that they live side by side with another people and that those people are like them. They’ve got feelings, aspirations and want to be able, like them, to look forward to a brighter future for their kids. It is also their country and they will not disappear. The Israelis need to go against their government and start meeting Palestinians again. This is pretty much impossible nowadays. Even if they live a few miles or blocks away from one another, they do not meet. It is forbidden. There is us and them. They are “the others”.
The day the Israelis understand that the Palestinians are people like themselves and that what is good for one people is good for both. The day the Israelis look beyond their government propaganda and start to learn about the history of “the others”.
The day they realise that it is down to them, the people, to make things change.
This day, not only a major battle would have been won, but the peace process will finally be able to start.
PS: While I was finalising this article, Ehud Barak ordered the demolition of Husam Tayseer Dwayat house(12) and Vice Premier Ramon asked for parts of East Jerusalem to be completely cut off from Israel itself to become Palestinian villages (13). Has Ramon realised that this is what the Palestinians want? Give East Jerusalem to the future Palestinian state and a lot of problem will be solved.