Op-Ed: Trial by Lynching in Israel
Jared IsraelJared Israel is the Editor of the Emperor's New Clothes website, dedicated to analyzing patterns of lies by the media and political figures.
Mr. Natan-Zada and his wife are quoted in the media worldwide, saying their son was dangerously unstable and that they tried to warn the army to take his gun away before he or his extremist friends killed Arabs, but to no avail. But Mr. Natan-Zada insists that he and his wife told the media the exact opposite.
Based on my discussion with Mr. Natan-Zada, and a study of media accounts of the Shfaram bus events, as archived in the media search engine, Lexis-Nexis, two things seem clear. First, except for one solid fact, we do not know what happened on that bus. Second, the one solid fact is that for an hour, while Eden Natan-Zada was in police custody, with his hands tied, he was beaten to death by a raging mob. And that lynching - condemned neither by the media nor the Israeli government - lasted about an hour.
Mr. Natan-Zada Sets The Record Straight
I read Mr. Natan-Zada the headline and part of an article from the August 6th London Times. The headline was: "Israeli killer was recruited to terror over the internet." 
And the article claimed:
"The parents and neighbours of the gunman told how, within two years, Eden Natan-Zada turned from a bright and studious schoolboy into an ultra-religious zealot implacably opposed to Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate Jews from Gaza."
Just for the record, opposing the Gaza "disengagement" doesn't make one a "religious zealot" or an ultra-right extremist. I am a secular Jew, on the Left. I am opposed to making Gaza judenfrei and giving Egypt military control of that area. Moreover, being a religious Jew is not an indicator for violence. It is an indicator for study. ("Ultra"-religious Jews study, constantly.)
Commenting that a Times reporter had indeed interviewed him, Mr. Natan-Zada said:
"The Times twisted what I said. Eden was a non-violent fellow. He was educated not to hate Arabs, not to hate anybody else, and he was educated to modesty. The headline is incorrect.... There were some friends from the neighborhood, and it was they who invited him to [the settlement in Samaria or the West Bank, known as] Tapuah. There was no recruitment. He was not in Tapuah because of fanaticism, but for religious reasons and because of the wide open spaces. He wanted to establish a home there, and he asked for money from us so he could buy a herd of goats. He wanted to be religious. Everyone has the right to live their life as they see fit, and this has nothing to do with extremism or zealotry."
I asked Mr. Natan-Zada about the claim, broadcast by the media, that, as Associated Press wrote:
"Natan-Zada's father told the Associated Press he had asked the army to find his son, saying he was concerned his son's weapons would fall into the hands of fanatics in Tapuah." 
Or as Agence France Press reported:
"'We told everyone he's AWOL, that he could do something with his gun. We begged them to take away his gun,' Debbie Zada told the Haaretz daily." 
Mr. Natan-Zada replied:
"Do you see how the media twists everything around? We were concerned because we didn't hear from him for a month and a half. After all, he was AWOL. We were concerned that he was out there in Judea-Samaria [the 'West Bank' - J.I.]. We were concerned that the gun might fall into enemy hands or something might happen to him, from Arabs that wanted to take the gun from a soldier. That's what we told the army and the media."
Now of course, no single person's word can be accepted as proof without an investigation. But whether or not one accepts Mr. Natan-Zada's opinion of his son, this is what he said. To me, to the Times, to Associated Press. And yet in the 40 accounts that I read, Natan-Zada and his wife are quoted saying exactly the opposite. This is propaganda, not news. We don't know what really happened on that bus. We do know that the media lied in order to convict Eden Natan-Zada. And of course, he was lynched, so he could not speak in his own defense.
Much of the media claimed that Eden planned the alleged murders for political reasons:
"A right-wing extremist who deserted the army with his gun killed four Israeli Arabs in an apparent attempt to provoke riots that would scuttle the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and from four settlements in the northern West Bank." 
Here's Mr. Natan-Zada's answer, unreported by the media:
"We don't know what happened. It could be that he was provoked.... Eden was not like the Arab terrorists that are pumped up to go do something like this and educated to it. The day of the event, he left Tapuah. We are 100% sure that that [i.e., shooting people] was not what he intended to do. There are many possible explanations of why he ended up in an Arab city. He could have fallen asleep on the bus and ended up in the wrong place.... He told the family that he was staying with in Tapuah that he was going to central Israel to return the [IDF-issued] weapon. Then he was going to southern Israel to a demonstration about Gush Katif. He had a girlfriend whom he wanted to marry. And he invited his family to come to Tapuah for Shabbat [the next day]. So there was no way that he planned to do such a thing."
How to Cover Up a Lynching
Much of the media reported that Eden Natan-Zada was killed in an immediate response to his alleged shooting - or even to stop his shooting. Here's the Boston Globe:
"An angry mob beat the shooter to death when he stopped to change clips in his gun." 
This supports the claim made by Arab leaders that the mob lynched Eden in self-defense.
As far as I have found, only the newspaper Haaretz reported that footage broadcast by Israeli Channel 10 showed that Eden Natan-Zada was murdered by the mob while in police custody. (I have watched a streaming video of this footage, and it appears that the lynching took about an hour.)
"Video footage aired by Channel 10 news on Sunday night showed that police officers disarmed and cuffed Jewish terrorist Eden Natan-Zada before he was lynched to death by an angry mob." 
How The Murderous Rampage Was Stopped
The media backed their categorical assertions of guilt with eyewitness accounts. It is perhaps worth mentioning that these are mutually contradictory.
I will limit myself to four examples. According to one Associated Press dispatch:
"'There was a woman sitting nearby who began screaming and begged him not to do anything to her, and at that moment I jumped on him and grabbed his gun,' Janhwi[, a passenger on the bus,] said. 'He shot about three bullets, and I pulled him back. We rolled back to the back of the bus and I held him down. Then I called on people through the window to help me.'" 
So, Eden kept shooting after this passenger grabbed his gun. Wouldn't the gun burn this fellow's hands? Nevertheless, the brave passenger pinned Eden down. No mention of Eden running out of bullets.
According to another Associated Press dispatch, it was a woman (The one mentioned above? Another?) who disarmed Eden. She did burn her hand, though Eden was no longer firing:
"Trembling, Shaaban came face-to-face with the barrel of Eden Natan-Zada's army-issued gun. He fired at her head, she said Sunday, but the ammunition clip was empty. Shaaban grabbed the barrel of his weapon, wrestled it out of his hands - burning her own in the process - and ran off the bus to safety." 
Haaretz tells us that yet a third person - an unnamed member of the "security forces" riding behind the bus - stopped Eden:
"A member of the security forces who was driving behind the bus in his car, said: 'I cocked my rifle and started running. I reached the back door, entered the bus with two others, and saw the terrorist aim his rifle at the head of a young woman, while he was trying to change magazines. We jumped on him. I held my rifle to his head, and told him to drop the gun.'" 
So, the security force guy was able to park, grab his rifle, cock it, run to the bus, get the back door open, jump on, and reach Eden in the (one would think) seconds it takes to empty an automatic rifle.
According to the Channel 10 report, which I watched, a security official (the same one?) stopped Eden by pointing a pistol at him from outside the bus.
So, four contradictory stories. Was Eden quadruply guilty?
How The Shooting Started
Space prevents me from listing all the ways the shooting started. Here are two:
Haaretz says Eden started firing without warning:
"Another passenger, Khail Janahawi, recalled that at 5:35 P.M., the driver asked the soldier to come to the front of the bus, but he ignored the request. 'When we reached Shfaram's Druze neighborhood, the soldier rose and walked to the front door, as though he wanted to get off. The door opened, and then he turned around and started shooting,' Salame said." 
Agence France Presse says Eden started firing after an argument about disengagement (AFP calls it a "row"):
"The 19-year-old religiously observant Jew, dressed in army fatigues, unleashed a volley of fire inside a bus in the northern Galilee town of Shfaram in an argument over the pullout, police said." 
NBC news reported that "Eden Natan Zada, was a 19-year-old extreme right-wing settler." 
In fact, Eden grew up in his parents' home in Rishon Letzion, a regular Israeli city. (Not a settlement in the territories.)
The Washington Post combined the settler lie with a categorical assertion of guilt, all in one politically useful headline, which read: "Jewish Settler Kills Four Israeli Arabs In Attack on Bus."
Even those media outlets that did not claim Eden was a "settler" reported he had been staying at Tapuah because it was a den of extremism. But according to Haaretz:
"Most of the residents of Kfar Tapuah are unconnected with Kahane supporters [i.e., Kach], who number about 10 percent of its population. The residents are mainly people of Yemenite descent, a group of converted Peruvians and a few Habad Hasidim." 
A London Guardian article began with this sentence: "The soldier responsible for murdering four Israeli Arabs on a bus in Shfaram had close links to the banned extremist organisation Kach, which has long been linked to attacks on Arabs."
The rest of the article discusses Kach. I'm no expert on Kach, but I can read, and the Guardian provides zero evidence that a) Eden was connected to Kach, or b) that he was a killer. So, guilt and motive, both by assertion. (I asked Eden's dad whether he had any connection with Kach, and Mr. Natan-Zada said, "No, no way whatsoever.")
Take the media's deliberate misreporting of what Eden Natan-Zada's family said. Add the false accounts of how he died, plus the false descriptions of who he was, plus the bizarrely contradictory eye witness accounts, all "proving" his guilt. Keep in mind that neither the media, nor Mr. Ariel Sharon, ever condemned the horrific lynching. (Sharon's official statement didn't even mention it.) Put it all in context of the political situation: that the Israeli government, apparently under orders from the US State Department, is doing everything to smear and suppress the big Israeli movement opposed to "disengagement" from Gaza. Consider that Mr. Sharon called Eden a "bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist", thus crowning himself criminal judge and jury. (And again, Mr. Sharon did not see fit to even mention the only "bloodthirsty terror" that definitely occurred - the hour-long murder of Eden, which left his body mangled and bloody.) Put this all together and what do we get?
We get a worldwide effort to use the bus tragedy to create a public impression that those opposed to disengagement are racist terrorists, at least as bad as Arab "militants". That lynch law is reasonable in the face of "bloodthirsty" Jews. We get the recreation of the blood libel that fouled Europe for a thousand years, and the Middle East as well. According to the blood libel, Jews have a belief-driven thirst for blood. These stories were spread by propaganda campaigns that lacked the technical prowess of today's media. They were used to justify the lynching of Jews, and the destruction of Jewish communities.
I pray we do not forget history, lest we suffer because of it.
[*] This audio recording of the interview includes the interpreter's translations of Mr. Natan-Zada's responses, which were offered in Hebrew.
 "Israeli killer was recruited to terror over the internet", The Times (London), August 6, 2005, Saturday, Overseas news; 40, 575 words, Stephen Farrell in Rishon Le Zion.
 "Israeli Arab town mourns victims of extremist shooting, Sharon tries to soothe tensions", The Associated Press, August 5, 2005, Friday, BC cycle, International News, 769 words, By KRISTEN STEVENS, Associated Press Writer, SHFARAM, Israel
 "Israel braces for Arab backlash after soldier's deadly rampage", Agence France Presse -- English, August 5, 2005 Friday, 8:10 AM GMT, 709 words, SHFARAM, Israel Aug 5
 "'Terrorist provocation' fails, so far," UPI, August 5, 2005 Friday, 4:47 PM EST, 1044 words, JOSHUA BRILLIANT, TEL AVIV, Israel, Aug. 5
 "4 VICTIMS OF JEWISH EXTREMIST ATTACK BURIED ISRAEL SAYS PULLOUT TO GO FORWARD DESPITE SHOOTINGS BY DESERTER", the Boston Globe, August 6, 2005, Saturday, THIRD EDITION, Pg. A6, 893 words, By Dan Ephron Globe Correspondent
 "Police brace for possible riots by Israeli Arabs after four killed by Jewish extremist", The Associated Press, August 5, 2005, Friday, BC cycle, International News, 1063 words, By KRISTEN STEVENS, Associated Press Writer, SHFARAM, Israel
 "Arab shooting victim recalls moments of terror during Jewish gunman's bus rampage", Associated Press Worldstream, August 7, 2005 Sunday, INTERNATIONAL NEWS, 509 words, RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI; Associated Press Writer, JERUSALEM
 "Israel soldier lynched after killing four in Gaza pullout row", Agence France Presse -- English, August 4, 2005 Thursday, 7:15 PM GMT, 741 words, SHFARAM, Israel Aug 4
 "Israeli army deserter opens fire on bus, killing four Arabs", NBC News Transcripts, SHOW: NBC Nightly News 6:30 AM EST NBC, August 4, 2005 Thursday, 288 words