'He is still our family member'

On the surface, everything is normal in Jebl Mukaber. But to the more perceptive observer, the neighborhood bears the mark of last week's attack

An IDF jeep stands at the entrance to Jebl Mukaber, a neighborhood in east Jerusalem. It's been parked here for almost seven days - since last Thursday when sounds of shootings exploded inside Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. A few reporters wander around the block with cameras and microphones, looking for an unusual picture or a bold statement. But Jebl Mukaber disappoints them - when you drive along its quiet streets there is nothing to attest to the horror that shook Jerusalem a week earlier. There is not a single picture of Ala a-Din Abu Dhaim, a 25-year-old terrorist who shot to death eight young Israelis and wounded many others, no green Hamas flags or yellow Hizbullah cloths. A few women run errands and children hurry home from school. On the surface everything is normal, just like Abu Dhaim was, according to his family. Only an Arabic reader would notice one or two Hamas writings on the walls (most of the writings were erased and freshly painted) and Koranic verses that call for vengeance. And only after making a few rounds does one feel that life in Jebl Mukaber is anything but ordinary or normal. Bearded men with rosary beads enter the house of the Abu Dhaim family - the stream of mourners still hasn't dried up. A large mourning tent with dozens of pictures of the terrorist is situated in the backyard of his father's house. The family elders sit on the mats, while younger men read newspapers - Hebrew and Arabic - in another corner. Almost 90 percent of Jebl Mukaber residents hold Israeli residency cards, and many speak Hebrew well. Dozens of journalists have been here during the last few days, and everybody in the tent knows the procedure. The reporter is offered coffee and then immediately taken to the mukhtar - the family elder - who was designated by the clan to talk to the press. He is eager to read the statement that says that "Shaheed Ala a-Din didn't show any suspicious behavior. He was engaged and about to be married this summer and everything that happened was a complete surprise for the family." The old man repeats that he, just like everyone else, was surprised about what happened, but of course, everything is in God's hands. He denies that Ala a-Din or any member of the Abu Dhaim family belongs to or supports Hamas. As for the Hamas and Hizbullah flags that were hanging in the neighborhood immediately after the terrorist attack, he claims these were brought by other people "who came from outside." He neither denounces the killing, nor does he praise it, but argues that the family is entitled to hold a mourning tent for Ala a-Din. "He is still our family member. Where do you want us to sit for him - on the sun?" he asks. Well-phrased, smooth sentences leave the mukhtar's mouth while the rosary beads slide in his hands. The rest of the family is instructed not to talk to the press, although many would like to. One of the members of the clan approaches me on my way out. "We never had any problems with our neighbors here, and we don't want to have any problems now. We just want to bury him and forget about everything," explains Nader (not his real name) who says that he learned about the shootings while watching Channel 2 news. While answering a question about the significance of what happened, Nader will neither condemn nor praise the attack - like the mukhtar, he says he doesn't understand much about politics. I ask him why Abu Dhaim did what he did - opened fire on innocent school boys. "Who knows, maybe it's Allah's will that he will die like this," says Nader reluctantly and disappears inside the house. Muhammad, the owner of a small supermarket on the edge of the neighborhood also says that he was very surprised and scared by what happened, especially since he also works in Bikur Holim Hospital in the center of Jerusalem. "Abu Dhaim was just one person and I'm afraid that now all of us here will pay the price for what happened," he says. On Tuesday, Tali Fahima, who was in prison for helping the head of the Aksa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin, visited the tent. "I was with the family, and I have no doubt that the Israeli security forces are mainly just exacerbating [the situation] and causing civilians to be killed, like the yeshiva students, because of the years-long policy of occupation," Fahima told Israel Radio. While some in Jebl Mukaber wish to forget about everything and move on, just a two-minute drive away some high school students stand holding handwritten signs. "Don't give a tent to terrorism" and "You, who killed - inherited," the signs read. The protesters, most of them the same age as the Mercaz Harav students who were killed in the terrorist attack, knew some of the victims. They can't and won't forget what happened to their friends and peers. One of the organizers, Moshe Jacobs, 16, says that originally they wanted to build a tent of their own where they could study Torah as a form of protest against the mourning tent in Jebl Mukaber; however their request was denied by the police. "We got permission to stand here with the signs and this is what we will do," he says. He adds that he is appalled by the fact that while Jordanian authorities didn't allow Abu Dhaim's family to establish a mourning tent in Amman, they were allowed to erect one in Jerusalem. "We demand that this mourning tent be destroyed because it will boost the growth of Islamic fundamentalism here, in the heart of Israel. This is a complete disgrace," a teenager says. An old woman passes by the small demonstration. "Good for you guys," she says with tears in her eyes. Livna Kohen has lived in nearby Armon Hanatziv for more than 15 years and says she was completely shocked by the attack. "I could never believe that just around the corner live hundreds of Hamas sympathizers. Come on, it's not Gaza or Jenin, it's Jerusalem we are talking about!" she says. "I guess Gaza is closer to home than we thought... no one there denounces this horrible killing! I'm afraid things will never go back to normal now." Back in Jebl Mukaber things go on as usual. The relatives of Abu Dhaim sip strong, black coffee and wait for the news indifferently. Their tent is still standing.