On the morning of October 6, when the police blew up the East Jerusalem apartment of Ghassan Abu Jamal – one of the murderers in last November’s terror attack on the Har Nof synagogue – and caused extensive damage to his brothers’ and parents’ apartments, his cousin, Ala’a Abu Jamal, was watching.
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“He tried to tell the police, ‘Why did you have to do that?’” recalled S., a relative. “‘The Supreme Court approved the demolition of Ghassan’s home, but instructed you to avoid damaging the neighboring apartments. Why do you also hurt the parents and the brother’s family?’”
But they didn’t listen. “They just cursed him and beat him in front of his wife and three children,” S. added.
A week later, on October 13, cousin Ala’a, a Bezeq employee, rammed his company car into Yeshayahu Kirshavsky at a Jerusalem bus stop. He then got out of the car and murdered Kirshavsky, 60, with a meat cleaver, before being killed.
“We, I, are still in shock,” said S. “He was a quiet, levelheaded man. He had a steady job – in contrast to Ghassan, who was usually unemployed. I am so worried by how people are carried away to more extremes. If a man like Ala’a did what he did – and I oppose it with all my heart – who knows what else could happen? After they punished the entire family of Ghassan and his cousin Uday over the [synagogue] attack, he knew what to expect: that he would be killed; that they would destroy his home; that the lives of his children and wife would be destroyed. And still he did what he did.”
“What a stupid government,” said S. “Don’t you see now that this doesn’t work, that your method of collective punishment does precisely the opposite?” she asked.
Ghassan’s daughter, Salma, celebrated her fifth birthday about a month ago. She asked for a cake topped with an old picture of her and her father. In the picture, she clings to him adoringly, and he lovingly smiles at her. Much food coloring and whipped cream was needed to cover the rectangular cake.
Since the Supreme Court’s approval to demolish Ghassan’s home, two month ago, his wife Nadia and their three children have been living a floor below with brother Muawiyyah. The High Court of Justice, which rejected a petition by Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual and the human rights group Addameer against punishing the family, also approved deporting her from East Jerusalem to the West Bank, sometime after her daughter’s birthday.
Nadia is a relative of Ghassan – both of them are from the same clan in the Bedouin village of Sawwahra, which was cut in half in 1967: Part of it remained in the West Bank, and another part, known as Jabal Mukkaber, became an East Jerusalem neighborhood.
When the West Bank separation barrier was built in the Noughties, immediate and normal contact was cut off between the two areas, and Nadia only lived in her Jerusalem home thanks to temporary residency permits from the Interior Ministry. After the synagogue attack, her renewal request was rejected.
On the day of her daughter’s birthday, the extended family’s children and their mothers gathered in the small guest room of Muawiyyah to celebrate. But Nadia, dressed in black, was not among them, and preferred to stay in another room.
She could not pretend to be happy, or that the tension and worry about the future were not tearing her apart inside. Her three children grew up surrounded by family in the Jerusalem neighborhood: Nadia cannot cut them off from their natural environment, but likewise she cannot desert them and move to live on her own in the West Bank.
The cake was brought into the room and placed on a small table. After she blew out the candles, with one of her aunts helping her, Salma held a long, sharp knife and pointed it straight at her dead father’s face. She stuck the knife deep into his throat and continued upward, cutting parts of his face, and then her face, into thick slices that were distributed among the children. Then her aunt fled the table and went into a corner of the room, hoping no one would notice her tears.
The children, of course, missed the symbolism of the big knife cutting the father’s body. The knife said what the relatives avoid saying openly: that they are angry at the father, Ghassan, who abandoned them, who didn’t care for them and did what he did. Some prefer not to go into graphic details about the murders, to push away thoughts of the knife that perhaps cut the body of people who were praying.
“Whose heart is more broken than the heart of the father whose son did this?” the father, Mohammed, said to Haaretz. He said similar things a year ago. “May God forgive him,” whispers S.
S. also said last Thursday that cousin Ala’a had accompanied the families of Ghassan and cousin Uday through all the stages of collective punishment decided upon by Israel.
“The interrogations of the relatives, the recurring incursions and visits by the police to their homes, here and there punches, insults, brother Muawiyyah losing his job,” she recounted.
And then came the sealing of Uday’s parents’ home. “Sealing” means pouring concrete into the home and filling all the rooms with a liquid that congeals until it reaches within 50-80 centimeters (20-31 inches) of the ceiling.
The family’s beautiful, modest stone house was built in the 1930s. It will never be fit for habitation again. Now Uday’s parents rent a small apartment nearby, but they continue to pay municipal taxes on the home full of concrete.
The family has experienced other forms of collective punishment not mandated by the Supreme Court. For example, neighbors and acquaintances avoid them, because they know or fear that if they visit the family, the Shin Bet security service will call on them the next day or the police will pay them a night visit, with all that entails – scaring children in the dead of night, a flick here and slap there, shouts and curses, a broken door or furniture.
When Ala’a decided to follow in his cousins’ footsteps, he knew full well he would likely be killed. The thought did not deter him. He also understood the punishments his parents, wife and children would suffer. Perhaps he could have guessed that the punishments would be even harsher, given the current Israeli rage and desire for revenge.
Two other Jabal Mukkaber residents shot and stabbed bus passengers in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood last Tuesday, murdering Haim Haviv, 78, and Alon Gruverg, 51. They not only knew their own deaths were almost certain, but also that their families would pay a heavy price for their deeds.
One of them was Baha Aliyan, who S. did not know but had heard of. He was a social activist, who initiated various activities to improve the quality of life, like establishing libraries in various Palestinian neighborhoods or improving the collective spirit by participating in different Guinness World Records competitions. And S. said the same thing about Baha as she did about Ala’a: “If such a man decides to do what he did, it is only further proof how much the situation has deteriorated, how dangerous the situation has become.”
When his death was announced, a post that Aliyan had uploaded to Facebook on December 12, 2014 – of the 10 commandments of every shahid (martyr) – was widely circulated: “I’ll see you in Heaven,” was the 10th commandment. “I don’t want posters,” was the second, while the first commanded political organizations “not to adopt my sacrificial action and death, because these belong to the homeland, not you.” In other words, don’t pay for the funeral or the mourners’ tent in exchange for waving flags.
The third commandment protects the mother. “Don’t tire my mother with questions just to evoke emotions among television viewers.”
The eighth commandment suffices with people coming to prayer after the funeral. The ninth is that he not become another forgotten number.
He asks in the fourth not to plant hatred in his son. “I would let him discover for himself his homeland and die for his homeland, and not in order to avenge my death.”
In the fifth commandment, Aliyan wrote, “If they want to demolish my home, let them. The stone is no more valuable than the soul that God created.” The sixth commandment tells people not to be sad about his death. “Be sad about what is happening to you after me.” And after that, “Don’t look at what I wrote before my act of sacrifice. Ask what stands behind it.”