July 7, 2008 - 4:37pm

Jerusalem was back in the spotlight this week after three Israelis were killed and more than 50 others injured when 30-year old Hussam Duweiyat plowed into them with a bulldozer on a busy west Jerusalem street.

On July 2, Duweiyat, a construction worker in the city, went on a rampage on Jaffa Street in the western sector of Jerusalem, overturning an Israeli bus filled with passengers, ramming into it again before hitting another bus and several cars. Duweiyat was shot and killed by a nearby policeman.

The attack resulted in the deaths of three Israelis – two men and one woman – in addition to the perpetrator. No Palestinian faction claimed responsibility for the bulldozer rampage and Duweiyat's family insist their son was not affiliated to any political faction whatsoever.

This seemed to be the opinion of others, including Duweiyat's former Jewish girlfriend who is reportedly also the mother of a five-year old son, who said he was a loving person, albeit one with anger management problems. Now married to a Palestinian woman and the father of two, Duweiyat had a police record but with criminal not political charges. It remains a mystery as to why he decided to go on a rampage that afternoon. His family says they had no inkling as to their son's intentions. Israeli intelligence also admitted they had no prior warning of any potential attacks.

This did not stop Israeli authorities, however, of branding Duweiyat a terrorist. Dozens of right-wing Israelis soon gathered at the scene of the attack chanting "Death to the Arabs" and Israeli officials immediately began mulling over the appropriate response. On July 4, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the Israeli army to issue injunctions to demolish the homes of the bulldozer attacker, Hussum Duweiyat and that of Ala' Abu Dheim, the other east Jerusalemite who went on a shooting spree in a Jerusalem yeshiva in March, killing eight students.

Barak's call came a day after Israeli Attorny General Menachem Mazuz announced a day earlier that "razing the homes of terrorists is permissible by law."

The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem called on Barak to rescind his order. In a statement released that day, B'Tselem asked the defense minister "not to sacrifice justice and morality on the alter of revenge."

B'Tselem's plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Not only do Barak and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert plan to demolish these men's homes, they want the social benefits east Jerusalemite's receive from the state cancelled for their family members. Going even further, Vice Premier Haim Ramon proposed on July 3 that east Jerusalem neighborhoods like Sur Baher and Jabal Al Mukkaber be cut off from Jerusalem completely. "One of the main reasons that the attack was carried out yesterday with such ease was because there are Palestinian villages that for some reason are called Jerusalem - Jabel Mukaber and Zur Baher. They need to be treated as we treat Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin and Nablus," Ramon told Army Radio. Cutting these neighborhoods out of the municipality borders and including them in Palestinian areas means Israel would be tipping the demographic scale in favor of Jews in Jerusalem even more than it is today.

Israeli authorities don't actually need an attack to justify demolishing Palestinian homes in Jerusalem. On July 3, the home of Kameel Al Sau was torn down by Israeli bulldozers in Beit Hanina. According to the Israelis, the house, which was home to seven Al Sau family members, did not have the proper building permit.

On July 4, 22 international peace activists were injured during a peaceful demonstration against the separation wall in Bilin and Nilin villages west of Ramallah. Thirty people in total suffered mild to moderate wounds after Israeli soldiers broke up the demonstration with tear gas, rubber bullets and nightsticks.

Further up, in the northern village of Tubas, 17-year old Mohammed Daraghmeh was shot and killed on June 29 by Israeli troops who claimed the boy was about to throw a Molotov Cocktail at their jeep. When paramedics found the body, it was riddled with eight bullets and an uneaten sandwich and spilled coke can were found nearby. No apology was made by the Israeli army for Daraghmeh's death, only an insistence that the soldiers acted within their duties because they believed their lives were being threatened.

Also in the northern West Bank, in the Nablus area, Jewish settlers from the settlement of Yitzhar fired homemade rockets at the village of Burin. No injuries or damage was reported but the villagers say they have been constantly harassed by the nearby settlers, who have burned hundreds of olive trees in the past week and have attacked residents and cars in the village.

Things are touch and go in Gaza, with the ceasefire officially entering its third week. On July 4 Hamas announced it was suspending any talks on the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit because of Israel's continued closure of the border crossings. The announcement was made by Hamas spokesperson Mousa Abu Marzouk in an interview with the London-based Al Hayat newspaper.

Israel has opened and closed the crossings into Gaza throughout the past three weeks in accordance with Palestinian rockets fired into Israeli territory. The latest closure was on July 4 after one rocket fell on an empty field in the Negev desert. No Palestinian faction claimed responsibility for the attack but Israel now says they will reconsider opening the crossings on Sunday, "in accordance with the situation."

The Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt is a different story. Officially closed since the Hamas takeover of the Strip in June 2007, Rafah has been intermittently opened to allow certain cases to cross back and forth. On June 30, the crossing was supposed to be opened for three days – the first two for incoming travelers and the third day for those wanting to the leave Gaza, with priority given to sick patients and students.

Hamas' de facto interior ministry ostensibly had a list of those who were to cross but on July 1 thousands of beleaguered Gazans flocked to the crossing in hopes of making it to the other side. By July 2, chaos had ensued with eager Gazans storming the crossing and trying to make it across. Egyptian security guards and police used water hoses to fend them off and Hamas police eventually restored calm to the area. Six Egyptian policemen were injured when protesters pelted them with stones. By then 150 people had managed to cross into Egypt and by July 4, 558 Gazans were able to return home after being stranded in Egypt.

Hamas spokesperson in Gaza Sami Abu Zuhri said that while the events at Rafah Crossing were "unacceptable" they were the inevitable result of the pressure the Gazans are under because of the continued siege on the Strip and closure of Rafah. He also called on Egypt to reopen the crossing completely to allow Gazans to travel to and from the Strip.

Meanwhile, Hizbullah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah announced on July 2 that the prisoner swap with Israel would be implemented in a week or two. The some-200 bodies of Lebanese and Arabs killed by Israel over the years would be returned along with Samir Kuntar, the longest standing Lebanese prisoner in Israeli jail. The exchange deal, which was carried out with German mediation, was overwhelmingly approved by the Israeli cabinet on June 29 by a vote of 22-25.

On July 4, presidential advisor Nabil Abu Rdeineh announced that Palestinian-Israeli negotiations would resume in the United States in 10 days. The announcement comes just one day after the Israeli press published reports on a possible deal to be signed between President Mahmoud Abbas and Olmert on the border issue. According to the so-called draft agreement, a safe passage would be opened between the West Bank and Gaza Strip along with a land swap between land inside the Green Line and settlement blocs in the West Bank Israel insists on retaining in any final settlement.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017