Israelis weigh Jerusalem vulnerabilities in wake of bulldozer attack

For Palestinians in areas of Jerusalem seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the attack reinforces their precarious status in-between their countrymen in the West Bank and Israel.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Israeli lawyer Shimon Kokush (l.) and Taysar Duwiyat (c.), the father of Hussam Duwiyat, whose bulldozer rampage in central Jersualem Wednesday killed three, confer on a statement of regret and condolence outside the family house.
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The day after Hussam Duwiyat plowed through a central Jerusalem street with a tractor, a squad of M-16-toting paramilitary police briefly barricaded the door of his family home in the Palestinian neighborhood of Zur Baher. Some Israeli ministers want it demolished altogether.

Mr. Duwiyat, whose rampage left three Israelis dead before he was shot to death, was the second Palestinian from East Jerusalem in four months to embark on a killing spree, exacerbating Jewish fears of the city's 240,000 Palestinian residents who are perceived as threat from within because they enjoy most of the same freedoms as Israeli citizens.

"We're vulnerable. What the terrorist act proved is not even a wall can keep us safe. We can't wall off neighborhoods that are in east Jerusalem unless we're ready cede control over the city," said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow with the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at Jerusalem's Shalem Center. "There's the realization that there is an inability to protect ourselves in the most minimal way. At times, we are going to witness outbreaks of madness on our streets."

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For Palestinians in the areas of Jerusalem seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the attacks reinforce their precarious status in-between their countrymen in the West Bank and Israel. As residents of Jerusalem, they live alongside Israelis and are eligible for similar social benefits, but most have not taken up citizenship as an act of solidarity with their brethren in the territories under Israeli military occupation.

Outrage over Duwiyat's action inspired calls by Israeli politicians to pass laws allowing the government to punish the families of perpetrators of terrorist attacks. In addition to home demolition, some have suggested withholding the social benefits due to attackers and their families.

"They should reconsider and act rationally, rather than make people suffer for the acts of other individuals," says Mohamed Dejani, a political science professor at Al Quds University. "This is going to feed into Palestinian perception that Israel is trying to evacuate East Jerusalem" of Arab residents.

Proponents justified the proposals as a necessary deterrent that will give potential attackers pause.

"We need to act with a much stronger hand," said Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of the parliament opposition in an interview with Israel Radio. Netanyahu accused Palestinian schools and mosques in East Jerusalem of incitement to violence. We need to change the laws to allow us to operate against terrorists, who will know that their families will pay a price. We have no choice."

Just before noon on Wednesday, Duwiyat used a bulldozer to mow down about a half-dozen cars and overturn a bus on a third-of-a-mile stretch of Jerusalem's Jaffa Road.

In early March, a resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber slipped past the guards at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva religious academy and embarked on a shooting spree that killed eight. The family later opened up a mourning tent adorned with posters praising the attack, something which disturbed many Israeli Jews.

In both cases, police said that the attackers appeared to act independently of any Palestinian underground, unnerving Israelis who recognize that stopping a lone attacker is just about impossible. Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon called for Israel to sever Zur Baher and Jabel Mukaber from Jerusalem with a security barrier and revoke the residency status of the two villages.

"They need to be treated as we treat Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, and Nablus," Ramon told Army Radio.

Back at the Duwiyat household, relatives said they were surprised at the news of the tractor rampage. The 30-year-old father of two was employed at a nearby construction site and was not known to be active in Palestinian political groups. Police said he had been previously convicted on criminal charges.

Staring blankly at a ring of camera crews, Taysar Duwiyat wearily called his son's tractor a road accident.

"The village is in shock from this incident," said Zoheir Hamdan, a village elder Zur Baher. "They want to destroy the home? What can we do? Everyone with a head on his shoulders believes that this is a country of laws. If they want to give a demoltion order for a week, there's always the courts.''

Family attorney Shimon Kokush insisted the attack was a temporary act of insanity and that Duwiyat would not have been convicted as a terrorist in court if he had not been killed.

"We don't need collective punishment. Leaders who are getting hostile in the media is just political grandstanding. I hope this wave will pass. Most of the public are good people, normal, working people. The Arabs of Israel deserve equal rights like everyone."

As the police left the house Thursday morning, Duwiyat relatives obeyed orders to take down a black tarp shading the front courtyard, which resembled the same kind of mourning tent that Israeli politicians now want banned in the case of terrorist attacks.

After watching the security officers lead his relatives away from the village for questioning Osama Duwiyat, a cousin of the attacker, shrugged.

"We are suffering because of the war between the Israelis and the Palestinians," he said. `We are caught in the middle between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We live next to Israelis – look at their houses over there. This is our state, and we are not going to give up on it."

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