Heemeyer Rides Again

This is a human interest story. It could have happened anywhere, but it happened in Jerusalem. Yes, we have Jews and Arabs here, but this is a story about men and women. It would make a good subject for a film, or for a novel, as it includes romantic love, beautiful young lovers separated by prejudice, severe and unjust punishment meted out in the name of law and order – and untimely death.

A few days ago, a young Jerusalemite got aboard his Caterpillar tractor, ran amok on the main street, hitting buses and cars and was finally shot dead by a vigilante. Why did it happen? For the same reason an American, Marvin Heemeyer, did his deed. When a man is pushed too far, too hard, he snaps. One weeps, another one commits suicide, and yet another one takes a gun and shoots everybody in sight – or rolls his bulldozer over cars and people.

Marvin Heemeyer was a Colorado welder who, on June 4, 2004, drove his bulldozer through the town hall, the office of the hostile local newspaper that editorialized against him, the home of a judge and others. He was pushed too hard: the municipality had blocked his access road, his livelihood had been ruined, his simple requests were being refused. The young Jerusalemite, Hosam Dwayyat was pushed much harder.

Hosam was born in Jerusalem after the Jewish takeover, and grew up in a village on the outskirts of the city. Sur Bahr, his village on the edge of the desert with its shepherds and sheep, is not a bad place: it is walking distance from both the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Houses are nice, spacey and covered with white limestone, surrounded by small gardens.

Hosam, like all the youth of Sur Bahr lived in the twilight zone between Jews and Palestinians. He spoke Hebrew and Arabic, had Israeli and Palestinian friends, went to discos and concerts, could go to Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem like an ordinary human being, like you and me. However, on his way he would frequently be stopped, searched, ordered to present his documents, detained, beaten and released: Israeli security police, Border Guards, do this regularly in order to remind an Arab that he is an Arab. For this reason, the dwellers of East Jerusalem hesitate to venture westward, much like you’d hesitate to visit a violent South Bronx.

But Hosam was young, and youth does not surrender easily. Some eight years ago, and he was 24, he had met a young Russian girl Marina who was 19, and they fell in love. He was her first love, and she did not hide her happiness.

The Russians are a breed apart in the social mosaic of Israel. Though nominally “Jewish”, they have kept their Russian identity, and their own ways. They were not infected with Jewish chauvinism in the cradle. For Russians, Jewishness is a private thing, not a public identity. In the internationalist Soviet Union and in its successor states, boys and girls fall in love with or befriend a person without regard to his or her ethnic and religious origin, and it does not cause a ripple, let alone a storm. Upon arrival to Israel, these good-natured young people are classified by rather arrogant Israelis as “Johnnys-come-lately”. They are snubbed and socially rejected. They have little contact with youth of good social standing, while the children of poor Oriental Jewish suburbs are too foreign for them. The Russians do not share the ideals of other Israeli Jewish communities, i.e. military valour and the amassing of wealth.

The Palestinians, especially those brought up in the bigger cities of Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa-Tel Aviv and Ramallah, are closer to the Russians than are members of other communities: they are smarter, behave like gentlemen, and do not look down on Russians. They intermarry, or have romantic connections with them, quite often. Among my immediate friends, a young Russian girl married a boy from Batir, and now she lives in that village near Jerusalem with her new family. Another one had a Palestinian boyfriend for two years, before breaking up for personal reasons.

Hosam and Marina went steady; they lived together for a while in Tel Aviv. “Hosam liked Israelis”, Marina told the newspaper this week. But their love was crushed upon the rocks of apartheid.

Liaisons between nominal “Jews” and goys cause much alarm or outright hatred in official Israel. A few days ago, the largest Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, informed its readers that “the Kiryat Gat municipality has decided to act against … female teenagers falling in love with young Bedouins and they … presented a 10-minute film titled Sleeping with the Enemy”. In June, the Israeli army removed an Israeli girl named Melissa, 23, who married a local man named Muhammad Hamameh, 25, from the village of Husan. There is a vigilante organisation called Yad Leakhim that fights intermarriages and conversions to Christianity or Islam, and they are busy interfering with interracial happiness.

Marina’s parents received hints and odd looks from neighbours. It was explained to them that “it is not done”, that it is “sleeping with enemy”. They conveyed this pressure to their daughter, but strong-willed Marina moved to live with her boyfriend and his family. He wanted to marry her, but Russian girls rarely marry so young, and – like other Western girls – they do not necessarily want to marry their first boyfriend. They still want to flirt with others, while seriously minded sincere young men may well disapprove of it. You do not have to be a Russian and/or Arab to know about this. Moreover, you do not have to be a Moor to be aware that jealousy may cause you to slap the flighty partner, and slap he did. In a moment of anger, Marina complained to the police, and they took away her lover. Marina tried to take her complaint back; at that time she was pregnant and lived with Hosam’s parents. “He slapped me when he had reason to feel jealous”, she said last week. But even her intervention in favour of Hosam in the court did not help – he was sentenced to 20 months of jail.

Jerusalem judges are notoriously anti-Arab; they’d have to be, as they approve of so many unjust acts towards Arabs. Here they saw a chance to break a forbidden liaison of a nominally Jewish girl with a goy, of teaching the Russians and the Palestinians a lesson. But there was another reason, and it was equally relevant. In post-feminist Israel, as in many other Western countries, a woman may not withdraw her complaint against a man. The state provides for the ham-fisted over-protection to women. It is ready to do violence to real women for the sake of “Women’s Rights.” In an unrelated case, Israeli minister Hayim Ramon kissed a soldier girl. She complained, but later withdrew her complaint. Police pursued her all the way to Latin America and forced her to complain, threatening her with charges of making a false accusation. The feminists witch-hunted Ramon all the way to court, and they still refer to him as a “rapist”. So Hosam and Marina could suffer their same fate in any feminist-ridden European country.

Last week Marina, 27, still pretty, slim and blond, bewept Hosam and told a reporter that she was and still is in love with him, her first love and the father of her child she was now bringing up alone. She was angry at the vigilante, a far-right activist who kept shooting at unarmed Hosam. She shed tears for the man Israeli authorities and media had already judged to be an “evil terrorist”. For years, Marina hoped he’d forgive her momentary lapse and come back to her after his release. But he did not return. His family arranged for his marriage, and he tried to reshape his life in the Palestinian milieu after his failure in the Israeli one.

This second try was even worse. Once his family had had much land, but it was confiscated to build nearby Jewish neighbourhood. The remainder of their land was confiscated to build the Wall, a fourteen-feet-tall monster that cut them off from Bethlehem and the desert. On what was left, he built a house for his new family, for his wife and two children.

But a Palestinian may not build a house in Jerusalem, even on his own land, and he can’t ever get a permit. Hosam had been met by Israeli “justice” a second time, with equally disastrous consequences. They ordered him to demolish the house and fined him $50,000. After that, he snapped, took his front-loader tractor and ran amok in the centre of Jerusalem, ramming cars and buses. He was quickly shot dead.

There are some local specifics, and bulldozers as well as killing of an attacker are permanent fixture of the Arab-Israeli conflict: a Jewish bulldozer driver drove his armoured machine over the American peace activist Rachel Corrie who defended a Palestinian home from demolition and was never prosecuted. Another Jewish bulldozer driver shared with the world his experience of razing Jenin: “I had no mercy for anybody. I would erase anyone with the D-9, and I have demolished plenty. For three days, I just destroyed and destroyed. The whole area. I didn’t see, with my own eyes, people dying under the blade of the D-9. But if there were any, I wouldn’t care at all. If you knocked down a house, you buried 40 or 50 people. I had lots of satisfaction in Jenin”. While the Jewish vigilante who killed Hosam was called “hero”, Arabs who killed Jewish murderers in Hebron or in Shafa Amr were prosecuted for murder.

However, putting aside le couleur locale, such a story could happen almost anywhere, in the US or in Europe. Some prejudices are common: A young girl could get cold feet right before marriage. A jealous youngster could slap his flirty girlfriend. Feminist judges could separate a young couple. She could remain alone loving him and bearing his child. City hall could demolish anybody’s house for being built without a permit or in order to build a bypass. A man could become incensed and mete his vengeance on whoever came his way Death Wish style. And here in Israel, as in your country, we are first of all human – men and women. This is an optimistic tragedy: normalcy creeps in through the holes in apartheid.

It is not necessary to view every event through the binary, Jew-Goy, or Jew-Arab perception. This perspective is dearest with people for whom their Jewishness is more important than their humanity. For them, denial of the “tractor terrorist murder of Jews” is “another blood libel against Jewish people”. They force their binary view onto others. Thus, Prime Minister Olmert and the Labour leader Barak immediately sent their police forces to disturb the mourning family, and, equally devoted to the Jewish paradigm, President Bush, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and sundry others condemned the “bloody terrorist”. Even good guy Seth Freedman wrote that “Israelis should be under no illusions as to why we’re being targeted by terrorist killers such as Hosan Dwayyat”. Their counterparts in Hamas, Hezbollah and the mythic Galilee Liberation also claimed responsibility, or “understood” Hosam’s actions as those of resistance. The yellow press of Israel and of Jewish communities abroad invented his criminal past (“the convicted rapist, burglar and drug dealer”), his terrorist call to God and his hatred of Jews.

But this miasma of obsessive hate can’t transform the human tragedy: that of an unhappy man pushed too far, whose broken body was washed by the tears of a Russian Israeli girl named Marina.

PS. Only Gilad Atzmon, Israeli saxophonist and writer of note, wondered “why the Israelis are entirely sure that it was an act of terror. It may as well be that the man was slightly mad, he might have had a phone row with his wife or alternatively a soaring dispute with his Israeli boss that made him flip. I would assume that in order to declare an incident to be an act of terror, a terrorist motivation or a scenario must be established first. Without establishing such a motivation we are doomed to admit that we are dealing here with a criminal case that must be investigated. We should as well refrain from jumping to conclusions.”

He was right here, though, in a moment of despair, he came to the wrong conclusion continuing “However, the Israelis seem to be pretty convinced here. The Israelis are indeed united, and it is good that they are so united because it allows us to see what the Jewish state is all about. Sadly, there is no partner for peace in the Israeli society… Unfortunately, and this is indeed a tragedy, the Palestinians are at the forefront of the most crucial battle for a better world. The Palestinians have been captured in a grave encounter with a psychotic, phantasmic, bloodthirsty self-centric Jewish national identity that knows no mercy.”

Not only native Palestinians, but Israelis too, including nominal Jews, are at odds with this Jewish paradigm, or identity. Just as normal women suffer from their feminist defenders, ordinary Israelis officially classified as “Jews” do not need defence from the binary perception priests. While abroad, every man can choose whether to accept Jewish identity – in Israel we have it forced upon us. Israeli unity is a phantasm as seem from afar; up close, you see men and women with their own preoccupations, and “professional Jews” are even rarer in Israel than elsewhere.

Like Gilad, I doubt that ‘Jews’, i.e. the people who uphold this identity, will agree by their own good will to any fair arrangement with native Palestinians. But unlike Gilad, I consider Israelis, including nominal Jews, to be capable of such an arrangement. For we do not fight Jews, we fight the Jewish identity, and we can win. If the Russians succeeded in making Jewishness a private thing, not an identity, so can we.

As long as there are Israeli girls like Marina and Israeli men like Gilad, there is a chance for peace. Better than a chance – a certainty!

Israel Shamir

Israel Shamir is a critically acclaimed and respected Russian Israeli writer. He has written extensively and translated Joyce and Homer into Russian. He lives in Jaffa, is a Christian, and an outspoken critic of Israel and Zionism.