Knife Intifada, East Jerusalem side: daily frustrations push normal people over the edge

Published December 15th, 2015 - 03:21 GMT
Jabal Mukabber is a  lower-middle class East Jerusalem neighborhood. (Al Bawaba)
Jabal Mukabber is a lower-middle class East Jerusalem neighborhood. (Al Bawaba)

On a sunny October day, Mohammad Khalil Eliyan sips a coffee in his family’s mourning tent in Jerusalem, which has been set up so they can receive guests. A week earlier, Eliyan had heard on the news that his 22-year-old son had shot a dozen people on a bus in West Jerusalem. Three died.

“He was convinced that it was the right thing to do,” says Eliyan, who is a lawyer in Jabal Mukabber, the lower-middle class East Jerusalem neighborhood where he tried to give his son a good life before police killed him during the attack.

“My son was a talented man. He had a good social status. He was educated, and he had money. Why would someone with all those qualities do what he did?” Eliyan asks. “The one and only thing responsible for my son’s actions is the daily misconduct carried out by the Israelis,” he says. “He saw hurtful things on TV: kids being killed, women being slaughtered, Al Aqsa Mosque being violated. He couldn’t take it anymore.”

Mohammad Khalil Eliyan, the father of Bahaa Eliyan, the 22-year-old graphic designer who allegedly killed three people on a Jerusalem bus in October. (Al Bawaba)

The “knife intifada” that’s gripped Jerusalem and the West Bank since September has claimed the lives of 23 Israelis and over 100 Palestinians, according to official sources. Israeli police have said the majority of the alleged Palestinian attackers have no criminal records. Most are so-called “lone wolves,” meaning they act independently of militant groups.  

What they have in common is disgust for the Israeli occupation and a frustration with the lack of a peace process: In the fall of 2015, an independent Palestine seems farther away than ever.

“Look For What Was Behind My Martyrdom”

Less than a year ago, young Bahaa Eliyan -- a youth activist and graphic designer who owned a small printing house in Jerusalem -- posted the following remark on his Facebook page, according to Al Jazeera Arabic: "Don't look for what I wrote before my martyrdom, look for what was behind my martyrdom."

His father says he was a successful young artist who was pushed over the edge by the daily humiliations wrought by the Israeli occupation. “As a believer, it was too much for him,” a grim Eliyan told Al Bawaba.

Most Palestinians who have stabbed, shot or rammed Israelis with their cars in the past couple months have said much the same thing. Many cite Jewish encroachment on Al Aqsa Mosque -- which is the holiest site in Islam outside of Saudi Arabia -- as their motivation for assaulting Israeli soldiers, policeman and civilians. Though Israel has said it doesn’t plan to change the status quo at the mosque, which has historically been run by the Islamic Waqf, a Muslim council governed by Jordan, there’s been an increase in visits by right-wing Jewish groups in recent years, which gives Palestinians the impression that Israel is seeking to take control of the compound.

Other Palestinian attackers have complained about the ongoing occupation of their land. The Oslo Accords said Israel would pull out of most of the West Bank by the year 2000.

Over 100 Palestinians have allegedly attacked Jews with knives, cars or guns since early September. Most of them have been young: very few, in fact, older than 23 -- meaning they came of age in time to watch the Oslo Accords fall apart.   

Without progress towards an independent Palestinian state since the Accords, which were signed in 1995, young Palestinians don’t see themselves as a part of a political solution, said Ziad Abu Zayyad, the founder of he Middle East Post, a publishing platform for writers and activists.

“The Oslo Accords promised a better future, but didn’t bring one,” Zayyad told Al Bawaba.

They Have Hate In Their Hearts

The family of Muataz Awisat, a teenager shot dead last month after allegedly trying to stab an Israeli Border Police officer in Jerusalem, say the same thing. “If he did it, it was because he was motivated by seeing Jewish settlers building houses on our land, and cutting down our olive trees, and storming the Al Aqsa Mosque,” says his uncle, Mohammad Eliyan, who is Mohammad Khalil Eliyan’s cousin.

“All of these things create hate in the hearts of young people,” said Eliyan, 67, shushing a group of neighborhood kids who are ogling at your correspondent. “Us older men can advise them against acting violently. But they’re acting from their emotions, not from their minds.”

Awisat, 16, who was also from Jabal Mukabber, was a shy boy who liked reading and tinkering with electronics around the house, according to Arabic media reports. “He was a quiet kid, always alone,” his uncle said.

Mohammad Eliyan, the uncle of Muataz Awisat, a 16-year-old Palestinian who was fatally shot after allegedly trying to stab an Israeli Border Policeman. (Al Bawaba)

A number of the alleged perpetrators of recent attacks on Israelis have hailed from Jabal Mukabber. It’s not hard to see why the neighborhood might be an incubator of rage against the Israeli state. The neighborhood sits on a hill with a clear view of the Al Aqsa Mosque, where neighborhood residents are often barred from visiting because of security restrictions.

Jabal Mukabber also overlooks Jerusalem’s Old City, where the Muslim Quarter -- along with nearby Palestinian neighborhoods like Silwan, Ras Al Amud and Sheikh Jarrah -- have been steadily “Judaized” over the past two decades, a process by which Arabs are forced out of their homes through lawsuits, evictions and other bureaucratic methods. This is usually done with the tacit consent or outright support of the Israeli government.

And in the early 2000’s, during the Second Intifada, Israel built a 30-foot barrier through the middle of Jabal Mukabber. The divider -- which is part concrete wall and part electrified fence -- cut off friends and family members from one another, in a manner redolent of the notorious but long-demolished Berlin Wall which once divided erstwhile neighbors from the same community.

At first glance, Jabal Mukabber seems a peaceful place. Many homes here are spacious and have fig trees in their front yards and views of the Dome of the Rock in the back. Construction is a major industry here, and one sees gleaming Chevy pickup trucks and SUVs winding their way through the neighborhood’s steep streets.

A street in Jabal Mukabber. (Al Bawaba)

Yet beneath the surface, tension simmers. Strict zoning laws force most families to build illegally; later, their homes are sometimes bulldozed by Israeli authorities as punishment. Spotty municipal services mean children play in streets dirtied by trash and sewage. Meanwhile, modern Jewish neighborhoods with clean streets and better schools are just a stone’s throw away.

A World Apart: The Jerusalem Vanguard

During the Second Intifada (2000-2005), East Jerusalem took a backseat role in instigating violence, leaving most of the fighting to their West Bank compatriots, said Eran Tzidkiyahu, a Jerusalem resident and research fellow at the Forum For Regional Thinking, a Middle East-focused think tank founded in 2014.

But after the Second Intifada ended and the West Bank had largely quieted down, East Jerusalemites initiated a surge of attacks, Tzidkiyahu said, and residents of Jabal Mukabber were at the forefront. Since then, some of Jerusalem’s most deadly assaults -- like the 2008 Mercaz HaRav shooting and the 2014 Har Nof Synagogue massacre -- have been perpetrated by residents of the neighborhood.

Similarly, during the “Knife Intifada” that’s shaken Israel over the past few months, East Jerusalem residents have played an outsized role. Of the 94 Palestinians who have killed or tried to kill Jews since Sept. 11, twenty-three have come from East Jerusalem, more than the number who have come from Area A or Area B of the West Bank, according to data analyst Nehemia Gershuni-Aylho. (Twenty-eight attackers have come from Area C over the same period, says Gershuni-Aylho’s data.)

Before leaving home for the last time, 22-year-old Bahaa Eliyan reportedly asked his mother to fix the buttons on his shirt, telling her he was “going to a wedding.”

Today, posters showing his face framed by the Dome Of The Rock are plastered around Jabal Mukabber hailing him as a “champion” and praising his “heroic operation.”

For his father, in the end, it’s not hard to believe his son would massacre innocent people. “I can understand what he did,” he said. “He took revenge on Israel on behalf of all Jerusalemites.”

Posters in Jabal Mukabber praise Bahaa Eliyan (right) and other Palestinians who allegedly killed Israelis. (Al Bawaba)


By Hunter Stuart

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