Day After Tel Aviv Gunman Shot Dead, Residents of His Hometown Try to Return to Normal

Few attend the mourning tent set up by Nashat Melhem's family; residents of Arara angry at police conduct: 'They turned all of us into suspects.'

The area where the Tel Aviv gunman, Nashat Melhem, was shot, January 9, 2015.
Rami Shllush

The morning after Nashat Melhem, the suspect behind the killing of three people in Tel Aviv one week earlier, was shot dead by police, his family members set up a small mourning tent in Ara, the northern Israeli village where they reside. Few people stopped by the tent, and the family inside refused to speak to reporters, evidently to avoid aggrandizing the event. 

Melhem was identified as the gunman who shot dead two people at a bar in central Tel Aviv on January 1, and later killed a taxi driver while making his escape. Seven other people were wounded in the attack in central Tel Aviv. He had served a prison sentence for assaulting an Israeli soldier and trying to snatch his gun, in revenge for the death of his cousin by police fire. 

Among the densely built houses in the town of Arara, where Melhem was shot dead on Friday afternoon, is the home where he hid while the police was tracking him down. The door of the house was broken down and a chaotic scene awaits inside. Muddied clothes are strewn across the floor. A half-eaten plate of food is left the couch. Among several ashtrays lies a bag embroidered with the Palestinian flag. Many packages of sugar and other groceries fill a back room. According to the neighbor, Melhem couldn't have hidden there without help. 

Police search houses in Arara for suspected terrorist Nashat Melhem, January 8, 2016.
Gil Eliyahu
Nashat Melhem's hideout in Arara.

Police also deduce that Melhem had accomplices who supplied him with food and clothing. "Melhem didn't look like someone who was in hiding for a week without contact with anyone," sources in the police said on Friday.  Police sources say that there wasn't an implicit order to shoot Melhem, but when the gunman saw the officers coming he tried to run and opened fire toward them, leaving them no choice but to shoot him dead. A neighbor described Melhem's attempted escape: He left through the back door and ran a few meters, reaching another neighbor's yard before being shot.

Anger at police

The police believe that Melhem escaped to Israel's north shortly after the attack in Tel Aviv. According to police sources, Melhem was staying in the Wadi Ara region over the past five days, hiding in abandoned houses. He appeared to have been staying in the house outside of which he was shot for two days before being found.  

Like Melhem's relatives, most of the residents have resolved to remain silent. Some of the neighbors said that at a meeting that was convened on Friday, local council members decided that a low profile must be kept, instead seeking to focus on moving forward and restoring normalcy. While it is as yet unknown when Melhem is to be buried, the residents were certain that the funeral will be as quiet and modest as possible. A relative supposes that Melhem will be interred in a cemetery near Wadi al-Kasab, not far from the grave of his cousin who was killed in 2007 by a policeman.

But the residents' silence couldn't mask their anger at the police's conduct. "They turned all of us into suspects," one said. Major security forces were deployed in Arara on Friday morning, with officers from the anti-terror unit searching residents' homes. One of the neighbors said that they broke the lock on his door while he wasn't home, and left the place dirty. Another resident expressed ire toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, he says, slandered the village

The house where the Tel Aviv shooter, Nashat Melhem, was was hiding, according to neighbors, December 9, 2016.
Rami Shllush

The residents continue to maintain no Islamic State activity took place in the village. "There is no such thing here," one of the neighbors says.

Another mourning tent was erected by residents at the entrance to the Jerusalem neighborhood of A-Ram on Saturday morning. This was a private initiative by some of the residents there. "With great sadness the Youth Intifada Coalition announces the fall of the hero Nasaht Melhem, a martyr for Palestine," said a sign at the entrance to the tent, and a passage from the Koran next to it.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said on Saturday that Melhem was not included in their list of "Palestinian martyrs," because he was a resident of Israel who lived inside the Green Line.

A mourning tent for Melhem erected in the Jerusalem neighborhood of A-Ram, January 9, 2016.
Jack Khoury