Why a 17-year-old Palestinian Went Out to Stab Jews

The question actually is why so few Palestinians do the same amid the century of injustice and dispossession and years more to come

The scene of the stabbing attack that killed one and injured two people, July 26, 2018.
Emil Salman

Teenager Mohammed Tarek Dar Yusef Abu Ayush from the village of Kobar was well aware of what likely lay in store for his parents, family and village. The revenge actions by the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet security service and settlers for last year’s murder of the Salomon family by someone from his village didn’t deter him.

A year later he chose to commit his own act of blind vengeance with no defined target, for no clear reason. He wasn’t deterred by the chance that he would be killed or wounded, or arrested and forced to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

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Every year thousands of Israeli teens, just a little older than Mohmmed Tarek, take up arms and are given license to maim, kill, steal land, destroy fields and otherwise harass millions of his people – license from the government, society, the rabbis and their parents who not so long ago did the same thing.

They’re full of motivation and a sense of power and teenage megalomania, especially when armed and having been brought up to think of themselves as superior and elite. They invade a community whose language is foreign to them, protecting the colonialist Jewish regime and ensuring its sustainability.

How many times did Mohammed Tarek see them, how many times did he stand there silently quaking at the sight of their rifles taking aim? How many times did he try to conceal his fear and anger?

Yotam Ovadia's funeral, July 27, 2018.
Emil Salman

The question isn’t why he took a knife and went out to stab Jews to death. The question is why so few Palestinians choose to do the same. No, it’s not because the Shin Bet foils so many plots and the IDF takes deterrent action. The Israeli superiority complex is always quick to cite such convenient explanations.

The answer is that the vast majority of Palestinians don’t choose vengeance and don’t take up knives to stab settlers, civilians and soldiers – and thus commit suicide. The vast majority choose to refrain from attacking, knowing that desperate lone actions are of no use. But the vast majority recognize and identify with what’s behind such attacks – an outcry against a century of injustice and dispossession and years more of the same to come.

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Mohammed Tarek’s unique biographical and emotional circumstances, which we don’t know and may never know, might have had some influence on the path this 17-year-old chose. But they’re just a minor addition to his farewell Facebook post in which his anger and despair is focused on the Palestinian Authority for trying to silence resistance in Gaza and Jerusalem.

This is anger he could put into words (cowards, traitors, sellers of land). He didn’t have the vocabulary to find the appropriate terms for the Jews’ rule over the Palestinians.

Wordless and boundless fury, despair, awareness of his own weakness, and teenage megalomania came bursting out in the stabbing attack in which he murdered Yotam Ovadia. Mohammed Tarek was born, lived and died amid the daily subjugations of our foreign rule. In death, he bequeathed the continuity of suffering to those around him.

There’s no point going into all the details of what this rule is like, especially to those who are part of it. Every aspect seems trivial to us, random and fleeting, and never equivalent to the taking of a Jew’s life.

Another late-night raid by masked soldiers into a home filled with frightened children, an artists’ village in Gaza destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, a kindergarten prefab building confiscated by soldiers, another law authorizing land theft, another lost day in the detention camp that is Gaza, a boy whose leg had to be amputated after he was shot by a soldier, a boy whose feet are shackled as he gazes at the military court judge and doesn’t understand what he’s saying, the funeral of a boy who was holding a stone and got shot in the abdomen.

Another tree uprooted by settlers and another new settlement neighborhood eating into a village’s lands and further isolating it, the condescending attitude of the Civil Administration clerks and the degrading lines at the Interior Ministry, a settler-judge on the Supreme Court who approves the razing of villages, not being allowed to accompany a relative for medical care or attend funerals, heavy fines, another statement by the IDF spokesman that the soldiers followed correct procedure, another family evicted from their Jerusalem home by God-fearing Jews.

We only bother to know a minute fraction of the things we’re responsible for, and even then that quickly gives way to more crowing about our success in science and music, and about what an enlightened nation we are.

The vocabulary at our disposal is insufficient to fully describe this regime, all the more so to those who don’t live it themselves and who make it possible: arrogant, evil, contemptuous, destructive, underhanded, sly, fixated on an objective, erasing, expelling and seizing control of every last bit of the Palestinian present and future. All the above and still an overall description remains elusive.

The adjectives put up a buffer between the reality that’s hard to describe and the perpetrators of this reality – we Israelis who are always so certain of the righteousness of our deeds. Like every Palestinian from birth to death, Mohammed Tarek was suffocating under the elusive yet growing burden of the situation described above, tormented by these adjectives even without uttering them.