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Mindless violence or endless cycle: at some point we need to ask why?

By Mustafa Qadri - posted Wednesday, 9 July 2008

What happens to a dream differed?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore -
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over -
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Harlem by Langton Hughes, 1951      

“When I went up the ladder the terrorist was still going berserk. I shot two more bullets and he was neutralised.” Policeman Eli Mizrachi, Jerusalem, July 2, 2008.


“He went crazy and acted in the heat of the moment. Frankly, I'm sorry the police killed him - now we'll never know why he did what he did.” Shimon Kikush, lawyer for the Dwayat family, quoted in The Jerusalem Post, July 3, 2008.

There is a tendency in Israel to decontexualise violence, whether it is violence perpetrated by Palestinians or against them. The bulldozer attack by Husam Dwayat in Jerusalem last Tuesday was undoubtedly a savage, criminal act. Three people were killed while many others were injured. There are reports that one of the victims, a mother in her 30s, narrowly averted her baby’s death by hurling the child away from her car moments before it was crushed by the bulldozer.

Israeli and foreign observers have responded with shock and surprise at this most recent act of Palestinian violence. But should this horrible crime really elicit so much surprise? As needless and criminal as the violence was, it was far from an act in isolation. Sadly, the bulldozer attack was yet another expression of hopelessness by a hapless, traumatised people.

Jerusalem has been relatively free of violence over the past few years but there have been some notable exceptions. Prior to the bulldozer attack, in March of this year, Ala Abu Dhaimon killed eight people when he opened fire at the Mercaz HaRav ultra-orthodox seminary. The attack was described as a wanton act of terror and world leaders, from President Bush to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, were quick to give their condolences.

But as vicious as the attack was it was, sadly, far from wanton. Mercaz HaRav is the seminary of Gush Emunim, a particularly militant and xenophobic Jewish settler movement that is often implicated in attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank. Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish-American doctor who in 1994 murdered 29 people when he opened fire at Hebron’s Abraham Mosque, is one of the group’s most venerated members.

Husam Dwayat, the assailant in the bulldozer attack, was one of the thousands of Jerusalem’s Arab population whose homes are liable to be demolished at any moment to make way for Jewish settlers. On this point Israel has been fairly consistent: it does not wish to share Jerusalem with the Palestinians and has commenced its expansion into Arab East Jerusalem in earnest.


While attention has focused on Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank has continued to cost Palestinian lives and livelihoods. Since the ceasefire commenced on 16 June, Israeli forces have killed two (PDF 268 KB) including a member of Islamic Jihad and injured 29 others. The occupation has permanently depressed the Palestinian economy and joblessness is above 20 per cent.

The tragic irony of this most recent attack in Jerusalem is that Israelis suffered from an instrument of violence that is all too familiar to Palestinians. Added to the irony is the broad political consensus in Israel that the perpetrator’s family home should also be demolished as though this is somehow a novel proposal. Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip commenced in 1967, Israel has demolished 9,000 Palestinian homes.

“What happens to a dream deferred,” asked the famous American poet Langston Hughes in his 1951 poem Harlem. Hughes was writing about Afro-America’s inability to actualise equality in the United States nearly a century after President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation. His message resonates equally well with Palestinians who have had the dream of statehood deferred for several decades.

In Israel Husam Dwayat is almost solely being referred to as “the terrorist”. The term has an intriguing linguistic pedigree. A terrorist has no name, no gender, no history. A terrorist is but a one-dimensional character, the one who terrorises. But what if we unmasked this terrorist, what if we recognised his acts for the crimes that they are? A criminal has the capacity for everything that is human. He can also be a victim or a father. Husam Dwayat was both of these things.

The Dwayat home is now under curfew by Israeli police. Some Israelis have made a pilgrimage of sorts to Sur Bahir, their East Jerusalem neighbourhood, to hurl abuse. Police prevented Palestinians from entering or exiting Sur Bahir for some days after Dwayat’s attack. No doubt before too long bitter enmities will subside somewhat. But when the immediate trauma passes, no doubt wiped from our memories by the next wave of violence, will we seek to discover what possessed a man to cause so much carnage?

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About the Author

Mustafa Qadri is a freelance journalist.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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