Raad Hazem was born on Kaf Tet B’November, 1993 – November 29, the date of the 1947 United Nations vote to partition Mandatory Palestine. He was born into the hope of the Oslo Accords and grew up in the catastrophe of Operation Defensive Shield. He was nine when the Israeli tanks invaded his refugee camp, destroyed its center and killed 56 of its inhabitants. This boy saw in the streets bodies that could not be buried until the army left, tanks that crushed the homes and cars of residents whose lives were wretched and a bulldozer that flattened the camp and “turned it into Teddy Stadium” – the home field of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, whose most vocal supporters are the notoriously anti-Arab La Familia group – as the digger’s driver bragged.
“Raad” means thunder in Arabic. On Thursday evening he sat on a bench on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street for 20 minutes before he stood up and began shooting at people around his age who were enjoying happy hour at Ilka Bar. In the picture that was posted later he looks handsome; in a different picture, in which he clutches two rifles, he appears enraged and frightening. Hazem killed Tomer Morad, a mechanical engineering student; Eytam Magini, a computer science, psychology and neuroscience student; and Barak Lufan, a former Olympic athlete and the head coach of Israel’s national kayak team. All of them, like him, were young men.
It’s hard to imagine better casting for this story. No one can know for sure what went through his head, but we can assume that Hazem wanted to live the lives of his victims. He didn’t have even the smallest chance. He, too, would have wanted to study neuroscience or mechanical engineering, or to coach kayaking. He too would have wanted a happy hour. He would have wanted to serve in the military, like them, maybe even in an elite unit whose members boast about it. But he was born into a reality from which it’s impossible to escape into the worlds of his victims on Dizengoff. He couldn’t even get to Dizengoff the direct way, imprisoned as he was in his refugee camp, prohibited from entering Israel. He probably never saw the sea, and certainly not a kayak. Instead, he saw soldiers invading his camp almost nightly, mistreating and humiliating its residents, and members of his parents’ generation fighting and dying with courage and determination that have become iconic. There is no place as militant, armed and brave as the Jenin refugee camp.
The bench on Dizengoff was removed by security forces after the attack, in order to collect physical evidence of the man who had sat on it, when he was still unknown. But no DNA analysis can tell his story, just as a thousand police officers couldn’t find him when he was on the adjoining street. Police, Border Police, Shin Bet security service, Sayeret Matkal, Shaldag, Yamam, Yasam, Lotar and all the other military forces will never extinguish the fire of this struggle. All of these organizations, which train for years for exactly this moment, whose budgets exceed those of the health and education systems together, are no match for one resolute descendant of refugees in the moment of truth.
It was a mirror image that could have been from a movie. Young people from the same country, sitting across from each other: the so-called stranger on the public bench, tense and agitated, facing locals in a bar on Thursday evening. In the days preceding the terrible night friends of the guys in the bar, soldiers and Border Policemen, killed five young people in his refugee camp, and now he sets out to kill them indiscriminately.
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The people facing him are the characters he would like to be, with the life he would like to live, the freedom and the opportunities he too would like to have. He wants to make his existence known and say: If I don’t have that life, those rights, you who sit in the bar facing me will also never have them. That’s the whole story. On top of it one can build piles of intelligence and weapons, punishment and deterrence, theories about bloodthirstiness and moral judgment, about murder and killing, war plans, operations and fences. In the end, that’s the story. This and no other. Nothing can beat it.