Oct. 11 - Hamdan Yazbak has not yet wept for his eldest son Wissam, shot
dead when Jews from a nearby town attacked homes in the Israeli Arab city
Since then, Hamdan and his second son, who returned from his
honeymoon to the news of his brother's death on Sunday, have sat in
stunned silence receiving condolences.
Their visitors, who have included a group of Israeli Jewish writers,
sip Turkish coffee, smoke and debate Wissam's death, which has enraged the
Arab residents of this northern city.
"It doesn't matter who killed him. The guy had planned a life,"
Wissam's cousin Amr said. "I don't think his plan included a bullet fired
by an idiot or a murderer."
Palestinian-Israeli clashes that erupted in the West Bank and Gaza
two weeks ago have spilled over into a rare spree of violence between
Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel itself.
On Sunday, the eve of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, hundreds of
Jews from Upper Nazareth crossed the street that divides it from Nazareth
proper to hurl stones at Arab homes.
Arabs rushed out to confront their attackers, and Israeli security
forces soon arrived to separate them, witnesses said.
Shots rang out. A bullet struck Wissam in the head as he tried to
push his fellow townspeople off the street. A second man, aged 46, was
killed by a bullet in his chest.
Wissam, a road contractor, was due to get engaged next week.
"He had a lot of Jewish friends. We all live in the same country and
in the end we'll have to live together - we have no other choice," Amr
Israeli Arabs are the offspring of a community that stayed behind
when Israel was created in the 1948 war of independence and form nearly a
fifth of the country's population. Most Israeli Arabs speak Hebrew as well
as Arabic and though the majority of Israel's Arab citizens are Muslims,
the population also includes Arab Jews.
During the height of the intifada, the grass-roots resistance by
Palestinians that rocked the occupied territories from 1987 to 1994, most
Israeli Arabs stayed out of the uprising though they have often shown
their sympathy with their brethren beyond Israel's borders.
In ABCNEWS' Nightline town meeting conducted by Ted Koppel (See
related story), Azmi Bishara, an Israeli-Arab parliament member, likened
this empathy to U.S. citizens having sympathy for the people of Central
America. "It's a sympathy for oppressed people," he dismissed when
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert expressed the long-held Israeli anxiety that
their Arab citizens are "Palestinianized."
At the heart of the problem lies the issue of identity, a complex
issue in most modern societies, but one which takes on an almost
cumbersome significance in the Israeli state.
The Identity Issue
"Identity is a very gray area with Israeli Arabs depending on how they
seek to advance themselves or how they see their opportunities for
advancement are blocked," said Jonathan Kessler, executive editor of
Middle East Insight magazine. "You could have an Arab Knesset member but
at the same time be turned down when you seek to live in a Jewish
The Israeli State has often been accused of neglecting Arab interests
and excluding Arabs from the economic and social benefits meted out to
Jews. "Arabs are treated as second-class citizens," said Judith Kipper, a
Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic International Studies. "In
terms of the services provided to them - schools, medical facilities,
budget allocations - there is a history of prejudices and inequalities
experienced in the state."
But inequalities notwithstanding, there have never been reports of
Jew-on-Arab violence - in the civilian populations - until Sunday.
The flashpoint came, Kessler believes, as a reaction to the
destruction of Joseph's Tomb, on Saturday night, which also happened to be
Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. "I would say it was
probably a case of violence being struck at an available target rather
than the preferred target," he said. "The crowd was probably reacting to
the destruction of Joseph's Tomb but the reaction got more generalized."
Experts and officials on both sides believe the memory of the
horrific events late Saturday night pose a hurdle to the very fabric of
coexistence of Israeli society and they darkly warn of civil war between
Jews and Arabs. "Israel has been seen as a Western-style democracy, but it
is becoming a tribal state with tribes fighting each other," said Kipper.
"When Israeli citizens fight other citizens, you have a complete breakdown
of civil society."
The Good Old Way of Life
In Hamdan's humble home in Nazareth though, there are desperate attempts
to put the past two weeks of violence-a violence that has left more than
90 dead and thousands injured-behind them and to recapture the old way of
"Not only one side is guilty in this abyss of blood and both sides
need to examine themselves," said Chaim Gouri, a Jewish poet. "No one
denies that the Arab minority is discriminated against … but we cannot
live with a blood feud."
His words touched off Arab shouts of protest. One man thrust his back
in Gouri's face, lifting his shirt to show what he said were the scars of
20 rubber bullets fired by Israeli forces.
"Murderers! Look what murderers you are!" he screamed.
Hamdan and his son sat stone-faced through the uproar that ensued
until Wissam's uncle thanked his Jewish guests for coming, a gesture which
he said might "move the wheels forward." He called for an investigation
into his nephew's death.
"Why do I have to pay for the idiocy of the politicians on both sides
who exploit bloodshed?" asked Amr. "We all know there's going to be a
Palestinian state next to this one. Barak and Sharon and Arafat know it
too, so why spill all this blood?"
ABCNEWS.com's Leela Jacinto and Reuters contributed to this report.
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