The Other Victims

In the past 33 months, Arab citizens of Israel have been among those killed in terrorist attacks. The cruel irony of this does not escape the victims' families, but for the their community's leadership and the Palestinian Authority, this is a sensitive subject that is best left undiscussed

Hassahn Tuataha loved the sea. Every evening, after the children were asleep, he would take his narghile and go down to the beach, to the hut of his friend Sami. His brother, Hasan, would join him. They were always together. Usually another friend would join them, sometimes two. As he does every evening, Sami, a fisherman, makes coffee in the traditional finjan on an open fire on the beach of Jisr al-Zarqa, a village on the coast north of Hadera. During the day, Sami sits here and prepares fishing nets. In the evening, though, this is their private male stomping ground, their place of quiet. They sit on the water's edge, silently, watching the water lap the shore, drinking coffee. There's not much need for talk; they're soul mates.

Hassahn's wife, Aeda, didn't make a big thing out of his absences. She was used to them. Afterward, he would come home like new and she would greet him with a smile. They both worked hard. She ran a day-care center and cared for their three young children: Asraa, Ahmed and Amin. Hassahn, 41, would get up early, travel to Hadera, where he repaired engines, and in the afternoon go to Afula, to study to be an electronics technician. Not an easy life.

When Jisr al-Zarqa makes the headlines, it's usually not in a positive context. It's a poverty-stricken, neglected, crime-ridden village of nearly 10,000 inhabitants. At the start of the current intifada, Bachor Jann from Rishon Letzion was killed there while driving on the highway from Haifa to Tel Aviv. Like every Arab community, this village, too, endured years of severe discrimination. Still, there are people here, as everywhere, who prefer to ignore politics, to live their lives and enjoy what they have: houses they built with their own hands, a lovely view, a family, work, studies, friends.

Hassahn Tuataha was one of those people, a modest man who was happy with his lot. He was religious and regularly prayed and maintained an ongoing dialogue with Allah. He was also a strong man, a first-rate athlete. He practiced karate and was a soccer player, and he was the leader and coach of the adult team that plays in the Islamic League. He also worked in the local community center as a coach for young people. In sports competitions in the village, held at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, it was only natural for Hassahn Tuataha to be the referee and to award the cup to the winning side.

In normal times, he would take the children after work to visit his brother Hasan in the garden. Their younger brother, Hussein, would also come. They would sit and enjoy the children. Especially Hassahn. He sat in the yard, Hasan says, with children of all ages draped over him, "riding him, one on his knee and another on the other knee, and on his back and on his neck, and he just loved it. And whenever he came, he would pamper them, give them popsicles and ice cream and candy. They were crazy about him."

They would then send the children to do their homework, eat and shower. The men would sit a while longer and then go home to eat, too. And then - the high point of the day - to Sami's hut. "Hassahn always said that what kept him going was the sea and the hour or two at Sami's," says his brother, Hasan. "It cleaned his head. Of everything: work, studies, traveling back and forth, television, politics, of the crazy life in this country."

These days, Hasan Tuataha comes to Sami alone. Sami embraces him by the sea. For 10 minutes they remain locked in the embrace, silent. "It hurts," Sami says, tears streaming down his face. "Part of my body has been cut off."

"He would come here to rest," Sami Jarban says. "Here, everyone relaxes. You get strength to work another day. We sit here, without wives, without children, without noise, and he was like my brother. More than a brother. The three of us - me, Hassahn and Hasan - are brothers. They are blood brothers. I am not part of the blood, but I am part of the soul."

On Sunday, May 18, Hassahn Tuataha came down to the beach for the last time. The men sat as usual, smoked, said little. The next day Hassahn was killed in the terrorist attack at the mall in Afula. His name was added to the list of Israel's Arab citizens who have been murdered by Palestinian terrorism. Bad luck of a special kind is needed to get on to that death list, which consists of no more than 1 or 2 percent of all the Israelis who have been murdered in the intifada. Hassahn Tuataha had that extraordinary bad luck.

Sharing a terrible fate

What does an Israeli Arab woman feel about the fact that her husband was murdered in a terrorist attack perpetrated by a Palestinian woman who blew herself up at the entrance to a shopping mall? What is the experience of an Arab in Israel whose beloved brother was killed in a suicide bombing? How does the family cope with this unexpected loss and bereavement? Where do they channel their rage and frustration? Where do they direct their outcry of grief?

Aeda Tuataha isn't yet capable of talking about it. Her brother-in-law, Hasan, 48, married and the father of four, the principal of an elementary school in Jisr al-Zarqa, says quietly, "What should I tell you, that I am starting to develop a hatred for the Palestinian people? That would not be true. That I now think that all the Palestinians are despicable murderers? No. I know there are all types. In the meantime, the pain is greater than any anger. Certain things keep going through my mind. The question that cuts through my heart is: How is it possible to come and murder innocent people, just like that, without any thought about what will happen to their families? It's such a barbaric deed that the mind can't take it in. I am in a state of shock. And I was in shock before this, too, when Jewish friends of mine from Hadera were killed in terrorist attacks. I have lost two friends to terrorist attacks."

What is the thought that keeps going through your mind?

Hasan: "The thought that we, the Palestinians of 1948, share a terrible fate: war, distress and death. It's an old thought that now takes on new and far deeper meaning."

Share with who - with the Palestinians in the territories?

"No, by `we' I mean me and you - the Jewish Israelis. We have a common fate. They kill Jews and they kill us. I feel that I am an Israeli, I identify 100 percent with the state."

And don't you identify with your people, with the Palestinians?

"In certain things I do identify, of course. But I can't identify with people who organize terrorist attacks or with the perpetrators. Not before my brother was killed and not after. I understand a state that says: If someone kicks you, kick him back. They have broken all the rules. It was the duty of the Palestinian leadership to put a stop to it."

Do you consider the Palestinian leadership responsible for your brother's death?

"I don't know. The attacks don't discriminate between Jew and Muslim, right or left. And when people are killed on the other side, innocent people also die."

Did anyone from the Palestinian Authority contact you to express condolences, or to say something about the "unfortunate accident" that happened to your brother, or perhaps to offer compensation?

"No. And I didn't have any such expectations, either. The thought never crossed my mind. And in effect, there is no compensation for my brother's death."

Did Shawki Khatib, the chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, or anyone else from the committee, call you to offer help of one kind or another?

"No, I didn't hear from them. That's something that is lacking. The family is being looked after like any family that is a victim of hostilities, in terms of the National Insurance Institute and things like that. But still, there is a difference - we are an Arab family. I will give you an example. I got a call from the Organization of Victims of Terrorism. That was nice of them, I have nothing against that, they left a phone number and didn't discriminate. But when I asked who I was speaking to, it turned out to be a settler in the territories. That is part of the existential absurdity of our life here.

"So the attention of an elected Arab body, such as the monitoring committee, is important to us. If we received psychological support, reinforcement, encouragement - that is worth more than any monetary compensation. They are there because of us, but when disaster strikes, they're not with us. Two Arab Knesset members visited during the mourning period: Ahmed Tibi [Hadash] and Jamal Zahalka [Balad]. We didn't hear a word from the other Arab MKs. We got condolence telegrams from the president, from cabinet ministers and from a few MKs. That's all."

Do you agree with Arabs who condemn the terrorist attacks, but blame Israel for creating the background that produces the suicide bombers?

"I don't accept that. With all my understanding for their great distress, no moral and sane person can accept the idea of suicide bombings. I feel angry inside. I can't focus it yet, because I am preoccupied with my beloved brother who is gone. But when I think for a moment about the crazy girl who did it - what went through her head? What did they cram into her head? What's the connection between what she did and religion? I read that she was from the Al-Aqsa [Martyrs'] Brigades. As though Al-Aqsa belongs to her or to her father. She is protecting Al-Aqsa by murdering innocent women and children? And they call her a shaheed [martyr]?

"They are not shaheeds, they are murderers. A shaheed dies in war, heroically, because he has no choice. A shaheed is not some brainwashed youngster who kills an innocent, totally random person. I am not religious, but I am enough of a believer and have enough education to know that there is not one verse in the Koran that will justify anything like that."

What do you think can induce a young woman to do something like that?

Hasan Tuataha: "I don't know. I don't want to think about her and I'm not capable of thinking about her. I can't understand it and none of the explanations I have heard is convincing. It is beyond me. I read studies, articles. It's not religion. The oppression? I don't accept that. There are examples in history of worse situations, but people did not lose their humanity and did not murder innocent people. The oppression in Iraq was worse. You know what - the economic and social situation here in Jisr al-Zarqa is a lot worse than in some parts of the territories. But do murderers spring up here because of that?

"`Brainwashing,' people said. But who are these young people that are susceptible to this brainwashing? I want someone to explain once and for all: Are they all crazy? Dozens or hundreds of crazy young Palestinians? After all, a sane person will not do it. I can understand getting carried away for a moment. But in the end, a second before the girl pressed the button, where is the instant in which she tells herself: `Stop. I see men, women, small children here. I see human beings like myself here. I won't do it.' Who knows, maybe he even saw her ..."

Hasan Tuahata can't go on.

No follow-up

The first request to Shawki Khatib, the chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, was largely technical: Could he provide a list of the names of the Arab citizens of Israel who were killed in terrorist attacks? Khatib hemmed and hawed, and finally had to admit that he did not have such a list. His office has no documentation concerning attacks in which Arabs were killed or wounded.

They have an explanation: The monitoring committee is not a government apparatus. The state and its institutions are responsible for dealing with the Arab victims, who should get the same treatment as the Jewish victims.

"There is no doubt that dozens of Arabs are among the hundreds of citizens of Israel who were victims of the terrorist attacks in the past few years," Khatib says. "The attacks don't differentiate between Jews and Arabs, and we admit that `equality' exists in the tragic, absurd and terrible situation we are experiencing because of the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the source of which lies in the continuation of the occupation and the policy of Israel's governments."

In the same breath, Khatib complains that the Israeli media "tendentiously do not display a serious and balanced attitude toward the Arab victims."

Is it correct to say that an Arab family that has been bereaved in this way will find it far more difficult than a Jewish family to accept the circumstances of the death?

"Without a doubt that is the situation. But despite all the suffering and grief, these families do not lose direction and do not lose overall sight of the roots of the violent and terrible conflict and of the causes and reasons that are propelling its continuation."

Has the monitoring committee ever discussed this problem? For example, has the committee reminded the Palestinian Authority or any of the organizations that innocent Arabs are also being killed in the terrorist attacks?

The answer is apparently negative, because Khatib prefers to reply to a question that wasn't asked: "We condemn and reject every attack on innocent civilians. We do not differentiate between victims. In June 2002 we approached all the Palestinian factions and bodies in the occupied territories and asked them not to involve Israeli Arab young people in any way in the terrorist attacks inside Israel. Any attempt to stigmatize the Arab citizens with such involvement is part of the policy of incitement and delegitimization against the Arab minority in Israel."

To whom should the bereaved Arab families turn with a demand to take responsibility for the death of their loved ones in suicide bombings?

Khatib: "The main responsibility for the attacks rests with the government of Israel and its policy, the continuation of the occupation and the destruction, the arrests and the assassinations and the humiliation that are directed against the Palestinian people and its legitimate leadership in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Our position is that the victims on both sides are victims of the policy of the government of Israel, which has no desire or inclination to achieve a genuine, just and comprehensive peace."

The nonexistent list

How many Israeli Arabs have been killed in suicide bombings in Israel? The Arab MKs and the families of the victims think the number is about 20. But no official list exists. The police refer me to the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office, but the only list there is of soldiers and other security personnel who have been killed. They refer me to the Defense Ministry, which says the subject is not within its purview and send me to the Prime Minister's Office, where I am told that the subject has nothing to do with them (the prime minister's adviser on Arab affairs, Uri Borovsky, knows nothing about the subject and is unwilling even to hold a background talk about it) and am told to go to the Defense Ministry, or maybe the Shin Bet security service, or maybe the National Insurance Institute - which also turns out not to have such a list.

So the Haaretz archives were enlisted, one terrorist attack after another: Suheil Adwi, 30, from the village of Turan, was killed in March 2002 in the attack in a Haifa restaurant; Nuha Hinawi, a 51-year-old woman from Jaffa, was killed in May 2002 in the attack on a Rishon Letzion club; Aiman Kabaha, 23, from the village of Barta'a, was killed in June 2002 in an attack on a Jerusalem bus; Roni Kamal Ghanim, 28, from the village of Mrar, and Maison Amin Hasan, a 19-year-old woman from the Druze village of Sajur, were killed in August 2002 in the attack on the bus at Meron Junction; Aiman Sharuf, 20, from the Druze village of Isfiya, and Suad Jaber, a 23-year-old woman from the city of Taibeh, were killed in October 2002 in the attack on the bus at Karkur Junction; Kamar Abu-Hamed, a 13-year-old girl from the Druze town of Daliat al-Carmel, was killed in March 2003 in the attack on the No. 37 bus in Haifa; and Hassahn Tuataha, 41, from Jisr al-Zarqa, was killed in May 2003 in the attack at the Afula mall. A total of nine, four of them Druze, two of whom were soldiers.