SILWAN, East Jerusalem — Three Palestinian men stood Wednesday in the debris of the bombed-out fourth floor apartment of Abdulrahman al-Shaludi, destroyed early that morning by IDF engineering forces in response to the act of terror he had committed a month earlier.
On October 22 Shaludi, 22, rammed his car into a group of Jewish pedestrians at a tram station in central Jerusalem, killing three-month-old baby Chaya Zissel Braun and 22-year-old Karen Mosquera. He was shot on the scene by police and soon died of his wounds.
Shaludi’s uncle Amer described him as a hard-working but emotionally troubled young man. As he spoke, local activist Daoud Siam produced a photo on his mobile phone purporting to show a religious Jew holding up a noose at a right-wing rally. The image, disseminated on Palestinian social media, proved that “settlers” had planned to execute Palestinian Egged bus driver Yusuf al-Ramouni, who was found hanging from a rope in his bus Sunday, Siam said. An Israeli autopsy ruled out foul play in Ramouni’s death, pointing to suicide.
The destruction of Shaloudi’s home was carried out as part of Israel’s revived policy of demolishing the homes of terrorists as soon as possible after the attacks they perpetrated, a remnant of British Mandatory martial law from 1945. The policy was suspended in 2005 when a military commission appointed by then-chief of staff and current Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon found it ineffective, and rights groups decried it as punitive and unjust. But following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers this summer, the measure was reintroduced, and the homes of Hussam Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aysha in Hebron were demolished in August, as well as that of Ziad Awwad who killed Israeli police officer Baruch Mizrachi in April. Demolition warrants — which can be appealed within 48 hours — have been delivered to family members of all recent attackers in Jerusalem.
Economic woes and social frustrations emerge prominently in local residents’ explanations for Shaludi’s murderous act, along with bitterness at Israel’s ostensible plans to take over the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount compound in which it sits. At least that’s what you hear from those who doubt the family’s version, whereby Shaludi lost consciousness at the wheel and accidentally killed the pedestrians.
“A while before the event he was unbelievably stressed,” Amer Shaludi, a 40-year-old cleaner at a west Jerusalem school, told The Times of Israel. “He was dismissed from his job. He would wake up at night shouting ‘No, no.’ His mother took him to the doctor, who said he needs to urgently consult a psychiatrist.”
“The day of the event he came home barefoot from the mosque. His uncle asked him where his shoes were and he said he didn’t know. Then he left with the car. He was completely out of it,” the uncle added.
‘One kilometer below the Western Wall and you’re in a third world country’
But Shaludi also had a problematic security background. The nephew of Hamas explosives mastermind Mohiyedine Sharif, who was killed by Israel in 1998, he spent the last two years of his life in and out of Israeli jails for stone-throwing.
He apparently joined Hamas during his time in prison, when according to his mother he resisted attempts by Israel’s Shin Bet security service to recruit him.
Like his uncle Amer and like most Silwan residents, Shaludi worked with Jews, in an archaeological dig, and spoke Hebrew. He watched Israeli television stations. Asked what would have driven the young man to commit such an act of terror, local resident Khaled Zir, 40, said that it was an act of frustration against those perceived to be in control.
“We watch the news and know what the Zionists plan for Al-Aqsa,” said Zir, who spent 12 years in Israeli jails for theft and drug felonies and was recently evicted from his illegal home in Silwan, demolished late October by the army. “Every 10-year-old child here knows clearly what the Zionists want. The Zionist plan is to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the temple.”
Zir said Silwan residents get their information on current events from the internet, not from television which is “controlled by the Zionists who broadcast what they want to show.”
It is the accumulation of religious concerns and mounting frustration over city hall’s discrimination between Jew and Arab that pushes the younger generation in Silwan to extreme acts, said social activist Siam, who works as a taxi driver during the day.
“It’s the Congo here,” he said, pointing to mounds of garbage along Shaludi’s street. “One kilometer below the Western Wall and you’re in a third world country.” Around the corner, where Jewish organizations recently inhabited houses purchased for young families, the streets are paved and clean, he remarked.
Many of Silwan’s homes have municipal destruction orders pending against them. Siam said he has already paid close to NIS 500,000 ($130,000) in fines, and his home could be demolished any day. Arab homes purchased by Jews, he added, have been “whitened” by city hall.
“It’s the despair that made him do it,” he said, referring to Shaludi’s attack. “Despair can make you do worse. Not just kill, but completely destroy.”
Despite acknowledging their religious concerns, Siam claimed that as “simple folk, farmers,” the residents of Silwan have no nationalistic aspirations. They merely want to live in peace and make ends meet, he said.
“We don’t care who rules us, whether it’s a Jew, a Palestinian or a Hindu. That’s the last thing we care about. We want to live with respect and get back what we pay the state. The state takes from us, but humiliates and kills us in return. The responsibility lies with the man who rules me, Bibi Netanyahu, not with Abu Mazen [the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas] who I have nothing to do with.”
But while Siam complained of taxation with no representation, he admitted that social and political pressure from the Palestinian Authority to shun Israel keeps residents away from the ballot box on municipal election day.
Asked how the next “Shaloudi” could be prevented, Zir was hardly introspective. He said the only way would be for “settlers to stay away from us, leave Al-Aqsa alone, and stick to their own places of worship, as we do.”