'There is no evidence that this was terrorism'

In Sur Bahir, the attacker's acquaintances are flabbergasted.

Dwayat 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
Dwayat 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
In the southeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Bahir on Thursday, neighbors and relatives of the assailant, Husam Taysir Dwayat were convinced that his bulldozer rampage the day before was the result of temporary insanity, and not a planned terrorist attack against Jews. After police arrived earlier Thursday and ordered the dismantling of a mourning tent in the courtyard of Dwayat's parent's home people sat across the street in the shade staring blankly at the cameramen and reporters bustling about on the otherwise quiet street. Some neighbors cast doubt on the validity of Wednesday's news reports, saying they didn't fit with the character of the man they knew. "He worked on that tractor for seven years," said Hassan, a neighbor of Dwayat's who said he knew him well. "Two days before the incident, he went and renewed his tractor license. Why would he do that if he was planning on killing everybody?" Another neighbor wondered if Dwayat had acted maliciously at all. "There was a police officer in the cabin with him," he said. "What was he doing there? It doesn't make sense." Other residents remembered Dwayat as a quiet, friendly man, stressing that he simply worked hard and wanted to make a living. "He was a good man," one neighbor said. "We hardly saw him. He would go from his house to work, and back to his house again." Another neighbor, Muhammad, told The Jerusalem Post that Dwayat had various legal problems, and that police had bothered him so much it may have driven him to commit Wednesday's attack. "He had all sorts of cases with the police," Muhammad said. "He was involved with drugs and there was a lot of pressure on him. Also, he had a Jewish girlfriend and they had a child together, which a lot of people, both Arabs and Jews, didn't like. I think he just lost control, it was too much for him to handle. As far as politics go, I know he wasn't involved with any terrorist group. This is a peaceful area here and everyone in the neighborhood was saddened by the news yesterday. Not just because he was killed, but because he killed innocent people." The off-duty soldier who shot Dwayat, however, told reporters on Wednesday that he had yelled out "Allahu Akbar" as his death appeared imminent. But as he sat in the living room of a home next to Dwayat's, Shimon Kikush, a lawyer for the family, told reporters that the construction worker and father of two was a man who had lost his mind - "a murderer, not a terrorist." "We're not talking about a guy who went to the mosque all the time," Kikush said. "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." But the aftermath of Wednesday's attack left little room for understanding. It was the second attack in just under four months at the hands of a resident of east Jerusalem and both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have joined the chorus of those calling for the destruction of Dwayat's home. Kikush argued that Dwayat's actions bore no resemblance to the previous attack by an east Jerusalem resident - March's shooting at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in which eight students were killed - saying that the shooting attack at the yeshiva specifically targeted Jews for political purposes. Wednesday's attack, Kikush said, was a random murder spree born from anger, with no political goals or affiliation with terrorist groups. "The attack in the yeshiva was an attack in a specifically Jewish place," he said. "Here we're talking about the center of Jerusalem, and Arab residents could have been there as well. He could have killed anyone. There is no evidence that this was terrorism." Some people said the fact that they are considered residents of Israel and not citizens - a situation they say causes them to feel as though they live in between the Palestinian Authority and Israel - may have added to the strain on Dwayat. "We have no father and we have no mother," said one man inside the home with Kikush. "We want to have Israeli citizenship, but it's always denied. Nobody wants to go back 50 years, but it causes a lot of hardships, the government doesn't help us." A cousin of Dwayat's who stood outside the family's home told the Post that the family were proponents of peace with Israel, and that they wanted full Israeli citizenship. Still, he said, Israel was forcing them over to the other side. "[I hope] they won't demolish the house," he said, "but if they do it will push more people to the Palestinian side." The Interior Ministry said it had no policy of denying citizenship requests by east Jerusalem residents, but that each case was reviewed separately. In recent years, residents had been slow to request citizenship after Hamas warned its supporters not to do so, ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said. So far in 2008, only 200 east Jerusalem residents have filed such requests, she said. At the entrance to the neighborhood, next to a supermarket called Meeting Place of Peace, a man named Riad worked on a car. "I can't believe what he did," Riad said of Wednesday's attack. "It's going to cause us a lot of problems. People in the village are afraid that the government is going to take away our benefits. Tell me," he said, pausing for moment from his work under the hood, "Who wants to have wars? Nobody. At the end of the day, nobody wants trouble." Police detained at least one of Dwayat's relatives for questioning on Thursday. Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.