Israeli and world media were aghast last week at a shooting that took place aboard the Egged Haifa-Shfaram bus No. 165. In a region known for acts of terrorism, yet another bus shooting or bombing normally wouldn't come as much surprise. But there was something different about this incident. Instead of the ubiquitous attacks by Arabs against Israelis, this time the roles were reversed.
Lee KaplanThe writer heads Stop the ISM. He is an investigative journalist and contributor to Front Page Magazine, senior intelligence analyst and communications director for the Northeast Intelligence Network, and also heads Defending America for Knowledge and Action (DAFKA). He appears frequently in the US media.
The bus was making its way through the Arab town of Shfaram when a man dressed in an IDF uniform and carrying an M-16 opened fire, killing four and wounding at least thirteen. All of the victims were Israeli-Arabs.
The "Jewish terrorist" at the heart of the firestorm was Eden Natan-Zada, an IDF deserter who refused to take part in missions related to the Gaza Strip Disengagement Plan. Natan-Zada had been arrested twice for going AWOL and in mid-June, when he was supposed to help build the tent town in Re'im for soldiers participating in the disengagement, he wouldn't carry out his orders. Before going AWOL again, he left a letter at his base at Nitzanim saying: "I cannot be part of an organization that expels Jews."
With uniform and rifle still in possession, Natan-Zada ended up at the West Bank settlement of Kfar Tapuah, one of those slated for evacuation. Natan-Zada was known to the police as either a member or supporter of the outlawed Kach movement. Formerly led by the late Meir Kahane of Jewish Defense League fame, Kach, or Kahane Chai, is labeled an extremist organization within Israel. The U.S. State Department designates Kach a terrorist organization, although their effectiveness as such is arguable and any previous acts of "terrorism" practically nil. Their exclusion by law from the Israeli body politic is more an issue of incitement. They are certainly not on par with such active Islamic terrorist groups as Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Jemiah Islamia, Abu Sayef and others. Although three of his friends were arrested on suspicion they knew of the attack beforehand, there has been no evidence so far to suggest that Natan-Zada acted in concert with the Kach movement.
One outgrowth of the incident is that Arabs have at last expressed outrage at a terrorist attack. The Israeli Arab Monitoring Committee has threatened to go on a general strike and are planning to hold a protest rally in Shfaram. The committee also drafted a letter of demands, including the request that all settlers be disarmed, which they plan on presenting to the United Nations and foreign envoys in Israel. Arab member of Knesset Azmi Bishara, who advocates Israel's destruction and has ties to Syria, demanded an inquiry into the army's inclusion of "extremists" such as Natan-Zada. Here in the United States, the Free Muslims Coalition, a group that routinely denounces Islamic terrorism, sent out a message to their e-mail list calling on American Jews to condemn the attack.
Yet, the outrage was by no means one-sided. The Zionist Organization of America issued a statement roundly condemning the act. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz barred Natan-Zada from being buried in a military cemetery. Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Interior Minister Ophir Paz-Pines visited the grieving families to express their condolences. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon immediately denounced Natan-Zada as a "bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist" and Israeli media followed suit.
Terms such as "far right-wing extremist", "radical right-wing West Bank settler", "anti-disengagement activist", "religious right-winger" and, of course, "Jewish terrorist" could be seen all over the media. It seemed the press had finally found an Israeli that embodied all their diabolical accusations against the nation of Israel.
Amidst all the indignation over the attack, the media managed to downplay what happened immediately afterwards. Accounts vary, but all of them end with Natan-Zada being literally beaten to death by the surrounding crowd of Israeli Arabs. According to one account, Natan-Zada was seized by security men who restrained and cuffed him after his ammunition ran out. Another story described Natan-Zada being overpowered by a passenger on the bus as he sought to reload. Others claimed that while driving away with his body, the police were pelted with bottles and stones. One thing is clear: the police either cuffed him and were unable to prevent the crowd from killing him or he was abandoned by the police from the get-go.
The barbaric reaction of the crowd was afforded a sentence or two in some mainstream press outlets, but the fact that Natan-Zada was lynched is mentioned only in passing. Considering the typical applications of "Palestinian justice" (lynchings, public murders, honor killings), this was simply standard procedure to the world press. In fact, when Baruch Goldstein opened fire inside the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, killing 29 Palestinians, he suffered the same fate. After being subdued with a fire extinguisher, the crowd in the mosque proceeded to take the law into their own hands and beat him to death.
But is it really so inconceivable to ask that Arabs behave as civilized people and let the authorities do their job? Apparently so, for Israeli Arab leaders have asked that the Israeli government not investigate Natan-Zada's death or risk sparking riots. One can only imagine the reaction were Israelis to behave the same way after one of the countless terrorist attacks perpetrated against them by Palestinians.
While Natan-Zada's crime cannot be justified, a little perspective is needed. If there were as many Jewish terrorists as they were Islamic terrorists, then a real comparison could be made. But as it is, the vast majority of terrorist acts, both in the Middle East and around the world, are perpetrated by Islamic terrorists. Palestinian society itself is based around terrorist associations, with parents and families proudly exhorting their children to blow themselves up in the name of Allah. Condemnations of terrorism are seldom if ever issued and when they are, few believe them. The Palestinian Authority declares terrorist murderers of Israelis heroes and martyrs, and pays rewards to the families of the killers.
In contrast, Ariel Sharon didn't hesitate to dub Natan-Zada a "Jewish terrorist." After all, it was Israeli citizens who Natan-Zada murdered. Natan-Zada was clearly disturbed and out to kill anyone who looked like an Arab to him. He didn't go hunting for Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorists in some village in the West Bank, but rather struck randomly and senselessly.
Indeed, Natan-Zada's parents, fearing that their son was headed for trouble, had begged the IDF to take away his rifle on more than one occasion, but they reacted too slowly. Israeli society overwhelmingly condemned Natan-Zada's actions, while the media, far from glorifying him as a shahid, or martyr (the typical description of a suicide bomber in the Palestinian press), expressed outrage. The fact that the attack occurred in an area heavily populated by Druze was met with sadness and regret. The Druze are one of the few Arab communities within Israel whose members join the IDF and many have refused to help evict Jews from the territories, much like Natan-Zada. But even if it had been another Israeli Arab community that had been targeted, the reaction from Israeli society would have been the same.
At the heart of the matter are impossible double standards. Israelis are expected to always react with restraint in the face of the constant hatred that's directed towards them from their Arab "neighbors". While one society promotes and glorifies violence, the other is supposed to rise above such behavior.
The Disengagement Plan itself is evidence of this pattern. The Palestinians do absolutely nothing to keep up their end of the bargain, and even increase their attacks and provocations, yet still Israelis continue to offer up "land for peace". But how many years of Israeli capitulation in the face of never-ending Palestinian terrorism can go by before people start losing patience and taking matters into their own hands? It's only human nature to eventually seek an eye for an eye. It's not right, it's not Jewish or Christian, but there must be a breaking point somewhere.
So far, the vast majority of the opposition to the disengagement has been peaceful, but as the case of Eden Natan-Zada makes clear, that may not last forever. You can't simply tear apart a democratic society and expect all the people to follow along meekly. Sooner or later, something's got to give. This time around, it was Eden Natan-Zada.
In the final analysis, this attack wasn't reflective of the Israeli government, or even so much Jew against Palestinian terrorists. It was a murder by one insane Israeli Jew against other innocent Israelis and should not be thought of as anything else.
Cinnamon Stillwell is a columnist for SFGate.com and a contributing writer to the Israel Resource News Agency. Lee Kaplan is a contributing editor to Front Page Magazine.