On Thursday, August 4, a young man in an Israeli army uniform opened fire on
the passengers of a civilian bus in the Arab town of Shfaram a city of
35,000 Muslims, Christians and Druze in the Galilee.
Four were killed, including the bus driver, Michel Bahus, 56, and passenger
Nader Hayak, 55, both Christians. Two sisters, Muslims from the Turki
family named Hazar, 23, and Dina, 21, were also killed. At least 12 other
passengers were wounded. The terrorist was tackled as he attempted to
reload his weapon when his clip ran out of bullets and later killed by an
The gunman, Eden Natan-Zada, 19, was a newly religious man, an IDF deserter
from Rishon Letzion who recently moved to the extremist West Bank settlement
of Tapuach. He was an activist in the outlawed extreme-right Kach movement,
and he went AWOL a month ago to protest the disengagement plan. He was one
of nearly 400,000 Israeli settlers living illegally on Palestinian land in
the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Natan-Zada boarded the Egged bus No. 165 at the central Haifa bus station
bound for Shfaram. He wore the skullcap, beard and sidelocks of an
ultra-Orthodox Jew and an orange ribbon symbolizing opposition to the
withdrawal. He carried an M-16. As the bus neared Shfaram, the bus driver,
Michel Bahus, asked Natan-Zada whether he was sure about his destination,
but he did not reply.
When the bus entered the western neighborhood of Shfaram, known as “the
Druze neighborhood,” Natan-Zada opened fire on the driver, killing him
instantly. The bus rolled for about twenty yards until it hit a parked car
and ground to a halt. Natan-Zada continued shooting inside the bus, which
was carrying about 20 passengers. He emptied an entire magazine, and when
he tried reloading a new one, the passengers jumped him.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the attack “a sinful act by a
bloodthirsty terrorist.” But Palestinians remain unconvinced of his
sincerity, considering that similar actions that have taken place countless
times in the West Bank and Gaza, as soldiers and settlers have targeted
Palestinian civilians, and Israel has consistently failed to take sufficient
action to rein in these extremists.
In fact, Israeli policy rewards the settlers’ behavior by capturing their
illegal settlements to Israel by constructing the Apartheid Wall in the West
Other incidents of Jewish extremists attacking Palestinians include a 1990
shooting where an Israeli opened fire at a bus stop where Palestinians
gathered for job placements, killing seven. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an
American-born settler, entered the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank
city of Hebron and opened fire on Muslim worshippers, killing 29.
In October 2000, riots erupted in the north of the country as the Second
Intifada was breaking out. Israelis killed 13 Arab civilians in a show of
excessive violence that added fuel to deep-seated feelings of discrimination
among Israeli Arabs.
Moreover, since September 2000, more than 3,700 Palestinians have been
killed by Israeli soldiers, settlers, and civilians, the majority of whom
were non-combatants and more than 700 of whom were children 17 and under. B
’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and the UN among others have condemned Israel’s
atmosphere of impunity that encourages such indiscriminate violence.
Arab citizens of Israel make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population of
6.9 million. Though they are full citizens, they have suffered from
discrimination by their Jewish-dominated government. Many of their towns
and villages lack basic infrastructure, and Arab localities usually top of
Israel’s unemployment lists.
Arab-Israelis are the indigenous people who remained inside Israel despite
the mass expulsions that accompanied the establishment of Israel in 1948.
A Jewish Terrorist – all the signs were there
The settlement of Tapuach where Natan-Zada lived, located just south of
Nablus, is one of the more extreme settlements, dominated by followers of
U.S.-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated expelling Palestinians from
Israel and the West Bank.
The Israeli army said Natan-Zada had a “problematic background.” He was
believed to be a member of the outlawed extremist Kach party. He also had
ties with the Revava movement, which tried to bring 10,000 Jews to the Al
Aqsa Compound (Temple Mount) for a protest rally on April 10. Newly
religious Natan-Zada had already been arrested twice for going AWOL.
In mid-June, when he was ordered to take part in building the “tent town” in
Re’im for soldiers participating in the Gaza Strip evacuation, he refused to
carry it out.
Shortly afterward, he defected from the army in what was described as an
“ideologically based” desertion to protest of the disengagement.
Natan-Zada, who was AWOL for more than a month and a half, kept his
Security agencies had warned that Jewish militants could target Palestinians
or Israeli Arabs to stir up conflict to try to stop the removal of Jewish
settlers from occupied Gaza. But Friday’s initial investigation revealed
that the IDF did not pass on to the Shin Bet news of his desertion or his
commander’s warning that Natan-Zada could constitute a threat.
Natan-Zada perfectly fit the profile of a potential Jewish terrorist, and he
serves as a example of how little Israel has consistently done to curb such
Israel Radio quoted Natan-Zada’s mother as saying she contacted the army two
weeks ago to say he was armed, held ultra-rightist views, and could be
dangerous, but that nothing was done.
She told Haaretz, “We told everyone he’s AWOL, that he could do something
with his gun. We begged them to take away his gun. He also asked them to
take his gun. The army destroyed my child. The army destroyed my life.”
“They told us in the army that they would declare him AWOL only 45 days
after he disappeared. I told IDF personnel that I was ready to go to
Tapuach with them, to search house to house for him. The army told me to go
alone,” she said.
Natan-Zada’s father said he did not blame the people of the Tapuach
settlement for leading his son astray but the army for not listening to
Three of Natan-Zada’s teen-aged friends were arrested in Tapuach and charged
with membership in an outlawed organization and conspiring to commit a
However, there are no plans as of yet to bulldoze the young man’s family
home, assassinate Jewish extremist leaders, or impose a full closure on
Extremism fostered by Israeli establishment
This attack was not an isolated incident but was nurtured by a general
culture of anti-Arab racism prevailing in Israel that has grown particularly
intense in the weeks leading up to the disengagement from Gaza. By not
cracking down on political parties, public officials, and groups making
openly racist and inciteful statements, such as advocating population
transfer and attacks against Palestinians, it implicitly tolerated this
culture of racism. The government therefore must assume responsibility for
the growing racist violence.
Even Military chief Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz said he was “definitely worried that
people on the fringes are going too far… There is no doubt that the
unfolding reality, the comments, and the internal debates causes fringe
elements to migrate even more toward the fringes,” Halutz told Israel Radio.
Indeed, Palestinians and Arab-Israelis are openly called “demographic time
bombs” in the Israeli press and on Israeli college campuses, and constant
calls by extremist settlers of “death to the Arabs,” “expel the Arabs,”
“Arabs to the gas chambers,” etc., go consistently unpunished. Such racist
incitement encourages Israeli Jews to think of Arabs, inside and outside of
Israel, as a threat, as enemies.
Mainstream political parties in Israel who have expressed sympathy with the
settlers’ plight, their racist language, and their hostile statements about
Arabs must also take responsibility for this situation.
Israel’s double standards between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel when it
come to controlling protests has also led to feelings of impunity for
violent attacks against Arab citizens. For example, during the October 2000
protests in the Galilee, excessive force was used, and 13 Palestinian Arab
citizens of Israel were killed. Jewish anti-disengagement protestors, on
the other hand, have been treated with sympathy and respect.
Mohammed Barakeh, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament who lives in
Shfaram, told the BBC that Natan-Zada chose to murder Arabs because the
state has long identified them as the “enemy within.”
“It’s not a lone crime. It’s the fruit of official policy against the Arab
population,” he said. “Every day we listen to ministers and politicians who
talk about ‘transfer’ [the forced removal of Arabs], who make racist laws
against the Arab population of Israel. And then you find someone who
translates this into violence.
“Every one of us expected this crime to happen.”
The Palestine Monitor