On Wednesday evening, Abdel Rahman al-Shaludi, 21, drove his vehicle at high speed into a crowd of Israelis on a light rail platform at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, wounding eight people. 3-month-old Israeli-American Chaya Zissel Braun died hours later, and Karen Yemima Muscara, an Ecuadorian woman in her twenties, died from her injuries last night.
As al-Shaludi attempted to run away, he was shot by an Israeli security guard. In a video, the guard stood over the mortally wounded al-Shaludi, pointed a gun in his face at point-blank range and taunted, “Do you want it?”
That night, Mohammad Mahmoud of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association was prevented by the army from visiting al-Shaludi in the hospital. He died hours later. As a result of the army banning visitors to the hospital as al-Shaludi lay dying, Israel prevented any psychological evaluation or statements that could reveal the nature of the incident. This move ensured that nothing would surface that could derail the impending media frenzy.
Immediately, Israeli media branded the incident a terrorist attack and declared al-Shaludi was a Hamas operative with a history of terrorism. Yet according to prior Israeli investigations and statements from his family, he was not affiliated with Hamas. Al-Shaludi had spent 14 months in Israeli prisons for stone-throwing — not exactly an act of a mastermind terrorist. He was released in December of 2013, arrested again in February and held for 20 days by Israeli interrogators.
“They kept on harassing him and summoning him for questioning over and over again and they tried to enlist him into working for them, but he repeatedly refused,” his mother told Ma’an News. “They threatened him, saying he would never find work or be able to continue his education or have a normal life,” she added.
According to the al-Shaludi family, he was brutally tortured in prison and suffered severe trauma as a result. Only hours before the incident, his mother had taken him to “a doctor who advised him to see a therapist after days of exhibiting signs of mental exhaustion.”
Over the years, al-Shaludi’s East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan had come under attack by Israeli authorities and settlers. Just three days before the incident, fanatical Israeli settlers moved into homes in the middle of the night, doubling their presence in the neighborhood.
For the Israeli public, the possibility that the incident resulted from severe psychological trauma from torture in Israeli gulags, as well as attacks on al-Shaludi’s neighborhood is inconceivable. Admission of this possibility could implicate Israel’s brutal security apparatus in the death of baby Chaya. Besides, insanity is only applicable to whitewash the crimes of Jewish Israelis like Yosef Chaim Ben David, the settler who, with two teenagers, beat Mohammed Abu Khdeir with a wrench before forcing the Palestinian teenager to drink gasoline and burning him alive as revenge for the deaths of the three Israeli teenagers this summer.
The immediate branding of the incident as a Hamas terrorist operation alleviated any potential responsibility from public consciousness. As the news of a terrorist attack spread, the Israeli public demanded the Netanyahu government punish East Jerusalem Palestinians. An op-ed appeared in Ha’aretz that called for an increased police presence in Jerusalem, signaling consensus from left to right.
Israel’s campaign of escalation and collective punishment began. While visiting the grieving family of Chaya Zissel Braun, Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich announced that he would seal or demolish the Silwan home of the bereaved al-Shaludi family. Two days later, in an act of provocation, Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel, announced that he planned to moved into Silwan. This morning, Netanyahu announced that 1,000 new homes would be constructed in East Jerusalem, a move that increases pressure on Palestinians.
The day after the incident, Netanyahu convened with Aharonovich, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Shin Bet Head Yoram Cohen, and police officials ordering 1,000 more police and troops from the border police, instructing them to “exercise Israeli sovereignty” over the occupied territory.
The police carried out Netanyahu’s orders with brute force. As a crowd of 150 Israelis gathered at the site of the incident, calling for expulsions of Palestinians, and chanting “death to Arabs” and “revenge,” soldiers, police and settlers mounted attacks on neighborhoods throughout East Jerusalem. In Silwan, soldiers ransacked the al-Shaludi home and arrested family members including Abdel Rahman’s 15-year-old brother Izzedin. Settlers threw stones at homes, cars and property and attacked several Palestinians. Fatimah Rajabi, 11, and her four-year old cousin Wael were shot in the face while in their home by Israeli soldiers firing rubber coated bullets.
In an attempt to expand martial law that Palestinians live under in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem police officials are considering legislation that would hold parents liable for the acts of children.
As the Israeli government ramped up its attacks on Jerusalem, it simultaneously recruited Western governments to internationally legitimize the assault. “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem,” US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a released statement. The United Kingdom and France followed suit and released statements condemning the apparent attack. Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor called on the UN Security Council to condemn the incident as a “terrorist” attack.
This episode illustrates how anti-Arab racism in Israeli society — what Israeli President Reuben Rivlin recently called “sick” — makes it susceptible to manipulation of facts in order to advance the far right’s agenda. Though the secular elite in Tel Aviv may appear to be ambivalent to the religious settler movement’s aspirations to completely Judaize Jerusalem, they practically support it in the name of security measures and counter-terrorism.
Under the pretext of restoring quiet, the Netanyahu government is escalating Israel’s war on Palestinians in Jerusalem. Led by Moshe Feiglin, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset who has called for genocide of Palestinians, extremist settlers escorted by armed police have increasingly been visiting the courtyard surrounding the al-Aqsa mosque — a site of huge importance in Islam. Police have attacked Palestinian worshippers on a near daily basis, and in a move that could ignite an intifada, Israeli lawmakers will soon vote on partitioning the mosque. As Netanyahu incites Israelis and ramps up attacks on Palestinians neighborhoods, the future of Jerusalem is anything but quiet.