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J'lem Arabs fear Israeli retaliation

Many residents fear they will be denied privileges they are entitled to as holders of Israeli ID cards.

Isawiya 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerzolimski)
Isawiya 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerzolimski)
Many Arabs in Jerusalem expressed fear over the weekend that Israel would retaliate for last Thursday's shooting attack at Mercaz Harav Yeshiva by denying them privileges they are entitled to as holders of Israeli ID cards. Meanwhile, the family of Ala Abu Dhaim, the 25-year-old resident of Jebl Mukaber who carried out the shooting spree, reacted with mixed feelings to the involvement of their son in the attack. Some of them hailed him as a "hero" and "martyr," while others expressed fear that the attack would give Israel an excuse to impose strict measures against Arab residents of the city. "This attack has caused huge damage to the Arabs in Jerusalem," said Hisham Shkirat, a resident of the neighborhood. "I'm very worried when I hear some people in Israel talk about expelling Arabs from the city in response to the attack." As residents of Jerusalem, the 220,000 Arabs living in and outside the city are entitled to the same privileges as Israeli citizens, with the exception of voting for the Knesset. Since they hold blue Israeli ID cards, the Arabs in the city enjoy freedom of movement and are entitled to social, economic, health and education services provided by the state. Unlike Palestinians living in the West Bank, the Jerusalem Arabs are also entitled to drive cars with yellow Israeli license plates. "I hope Israel does not resort to collective punishment following this attack," said school teacher Majdi Shweiki, who lives in Silwan. "I believe that the majority of the Arabs in Jerusalem would prefer to continue living under Israeli rule." Shweiki said he was nevertheless concerned that some Israelis would exploit the attack to demand a tough policy against the city's Arab residents. "In every society you have a minority of people who act against the interests of their people," he said. "But we must bear in mind that most of the Arabs here are peaceful." Shweiki said young people such as Abu Dhaim were obviously affected by the scenes of dead children and women in the Gaza Strip during the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip last week. "The Arab TV stations, specifically Al-Jazeera, broadcast many pictures from the Gaza Strip that had a negative impact on many people," he said. "I'm sure Abu Dhaim was also affected by the things he watched on TV." An Arab lawyer living in the Bet Hanina neighborhood did not rule out the possibility that Israel would revoke the Israeli ID card from many Arab residents in response to the attack. He warned that such a move would have "serious repercussions" and could drive more people into the open arms of the radicals. "Revoking the ID card is tantamount to deportation from the city," he said. "Once you lose your status as a resident of Jerusalem, you would not be permitted to enter the city or any part of Israel." The lawyer said that an Arab who lost his status as a resident of Jerusalem would also be denied payments from the National Insurance Institute, free health care and education. "These are severe measures that could backfire," he cautioned. "When you deny people their rights, they will resort to violence." In Jebl Mukaber, relatives of Abu Dhaim said they were surprised to hear that he had carried out the attack. "Ala was a quiet man," said his cousin, Omar Abu Dhaim. "He was engaged and was supposed to get married this summer. We had no idea that he was planning something like this." He also denied reports that Abu Dhaim belonged to Hamas or any other group. However, some residents said Abu Dhaim was known for his support for both Hamas and Islamic Jihad. "He was a very religious person," said one neighbor. "But we didn't expect him to carry out such a big attack." On Friday, the police released Abu Dhaim's father, Hisham, and one of his uncles. The two were arrested shortly after the attack. The father used to work as an engineer for the Jerusalem Municipality. Abu Dhaim's fiancée remained in custody over the weekend, as did a number of his relatives and friends. One of Abu Dhaim's cousins, who asked not to be identified, said he was proud of Abu Dhaim, whom he described as a shahid (martyr). "We have nothing to apologize for," he said. "Ala did what he did because of the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. This was a heroic operation that was carried out against radical Jews, some of them members of the Israeli security forces." The Fatah-controlled media has also praised Abu Dhaim as a martyr, describing the attack as a heroic operation. Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, issued a statement in support of the attack. One of the mukhtars (elders) of Jebl Mukaber, who also asked not to be identified, said he was worried by the fact that many residents of his village viewed the attack as an heroic act. He said he and other village leaders phoned Israeli friends over the weekend to condemn the attack and ask that Israel refrain from taking retaliatory measures against the whole village. "Most of the young men here work in Israel," the mukhtar said. "Some of them have already been told not to return to work and this is very worrying. We hope that Israelis will refrain from collective punishment."