Danger from the east

This week's copycat bulldozer attack prompts heightened debate over how best to prevent violence hatched in the capital.

2nd bulldozer attack 224 (photo credit: ZAKA)
2nd bulldozer attack 224
(photo credit: ZAKA)
An hour and a half after an Arab construction worker from east Jerusalem rammed a bulldozer into four cars at the corner of Keren Hayesod and King David streets, wounding 15, crowds milled around the area - where the bulldozer still stood - shouting questions at policemen and trying to figure out what had happened. Following the third terror attack by an east Jerusalem resident in the past five months, residents of west Jerusalem may still feel relatively safe, but they definitely want the government to increase security measures in the Arab part of the city. On Tuesday afternoon, Ghassan Abu Tir, from Umm Tuba, drove a bulldozer into four cars and tried to overturn a bus in an attempt to copy an attack on Jaffa Road at the beginning of July. That attack, carried out by Sur Bahir resident Husam Taysir Dwayat, left three dead and 45 wounded. On March 8, Ala Abu Dhaim of Jebl Mukaber opened fire in the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, killing eight students and wounding 15. Last week, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced that six Arabs - including four residents of east Jerusalem - were arrested for trying to set up an al-Qaida cell and target President Bush here. The spate of attacks by east Jerusalemites has led to calls for tougher security measures, including the destruction of terrorists' homes. Still, security officials and residents who work in the downtown area who were questioned on Tuesday afternoon said they did not feel threatened. "It's impossible to make generalizations," says former police chief Mickey Levy. "We have experienced three attacks in which the perpetrator was from east Jerusalem, but you can't hold east Jerusalem collectively guilty." He adds that extreme measures could foster ill will among a largely complacent east Jerusalem population. "This attack demands a new kind of thinking," he says. "It's possible that we need to increase intelligence. I don't want to advocate any extreme measures against the Arab population in east Jerusalem because most of it maintains peace and quiet." Shay, the owner of Café Joe, a restaurant just meters away from the latest attack, agrees with Levy that concerns over this string of attacks should not be inflated, but calls on the police to take tougher measures regarding the terrorists. "I can't criticize the police, but we need to do more general activities," he says. "We should destroy the terrorists' houses. We want quiet, and this will deter others." While many have called for destruction of the terrorists' houses, none has been destroyed so far. Levy attributes this to the character of the current government, which he says has created a "contemplative democracy" instead of an active one. "[House demolition] would explain what happens to terrorists when they don't follow the rules," he says. "When you think of what will happen to your family [after an attack], you think twice. But we are a contemplative democracy. I want to live in a democracy, but I want to live in an active democracy. Nothing happens here; the politicians just go back and forth." Yet Levy qualifies that he does not want the terrorists' families to suffer because of the attacks. "It's moral to destroy the terrorist's house because he caused other homes to be destroyed," he says. "But if he lives in a complex, we should only destroy his rooms. That is completely moral. I don't want to hurt innocent people." Residents of east Jerusalem, as opposed to Palestinians living in the West Bank, pose a complex situation because they receive the city's social services and hold Jerusalem resident cards that allow them access to anywhere in the country. While this may enable terrorists to reach their targets more easily, Levy says that it works to Israel's advantage because it creates goodwill in the area. "If you ask east Jerusalemites behind closed doors if they want to live with us or with the Palestinians, they will unequivocally tell you that they want to live with us," he says. "It's not because they're Zionist, but because they get advantages, like health care, and because of the ability to go from place to place. They get everything everyone else gets." Gilad Galili, an employee at Pery Rent-a-Car, near the site of Tuesday's attack, says that he wants the city to stay united and suggests giving east Jerusalemites a different type of identification card, which would make employers aware of where they live. "We can't take the [Arabs] out of Jerusalem, we can't leave and we can't live together," says Galili. "We need new solutions because this isn't working. We need to designate them with a different color [ID card]." Vice Premier Haim Ramon brought up a more radical proposal recently that advocated treating east Jerusalem as part of the Palestinian Authority and revoking the permanent residency status of the residents."One of the main reasons that the attack was carried out with such ease was because there are Palestinian villages that for some reason are called Jerusalem - Jebl Mukaber and Sur Bahir. They need to be treated as we treat Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin and Nablus," Ramon told Army Radio after the first bulldozer attack. The dovish politician from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's ruling Kadima Party, said that the fact that the terrorists who carried out that attack and the Mercaz Harav shooting came from Jerusalem only underscored the fact that these areas should be on the Palestinian side of the security barrier. "If the security barrier were west of the two villages, which we all call Jerusalem, it would have been a lot harder to carry out these kinds of attacks," he said. In contrast, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu has long warned that any pullout from Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem will only bring Hamas to the doorstep of the capital. "Whenever Israel withdraws, Hamas enters," he said at a recent address. At a meeting of the Jerusalem Municipality's economic forum last week, Ramon was heckled after reiterating his proposal for an Israeli pullout from Arab neighborhoods. "Your government has done nothing for Jerusalem," shouted city councilor Meir Turgeman. "When in your life have you ever been to Har Homa?" Ramon agreed that he did not have the "security" background to deal with security-related issues that such a pullout would create. After Tuesday's attack, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski indicated that the recent violence has threatened the employment of east Jerusalemites. "We should reconsider the employment of these people," he told Channel 10. "We see how, after the Shin Bet and the Mossad do wonderful work and throw terror out the door, it comes back through the window. [In the hands of terrorists], construction tools become opportunities for attacks." But Public Security Minister Avi Dichter did not believe the recent attacks constituted a new wave of violence. "I have no doubt that this terrorist and the previous ones this year do not represent the residents of east Jerusalem," he said. "The overwhelming majority are regular people who work in various places in the city - unfortunately a small portion of them take part in terror attacks." Shortly before the attack, Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin warned the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that it was difficult to prevent terror attacks from east Jerusalem. "We need less manpower to make an arrest in a refugee camp in Jenin than we do to launch a similar operation in Shuafat," he said. Diskin believes the government must renew the policy of demolishing or sealing terrorists' homes, arguing that without such a policy, there is little to deter Jerusalem residents from carrying out attacks. "If you don't begin to do so, Jerusalem will quickly become a serious problem," he said. While these past three attacks have been independent initiatives of the terrorists without any connection to larger terror organizations such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad, Levy does not rule out the possibility of such an organization taking root in east Jerusalem. "There's no way to totally get rid of these isolated incidents," he said. "I have no doubt that we haven't stopped terror as long as we are at war with the Arabs. I don't see peace in the near future." With contributions from Etgar Lefkovits and Rebecca Anna Stoil.