By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 6, 2005
SHFARAM, Israel, Aug. 5 -- Shortly after noon Friday, two wood coffins bobbed on a dozen backs down an alley toward the crowded apartments of the Turki family. The parade of men and women, most of them cloaked and crying, spilled through the small living room to a plot in the back yard where the bodies of the youngest Turki sisters would pause on their way to a hilltop graveyard.
Across town, in another open-air patio filled with rows of plastic chairs, men and women bowed their heads and prayed for the souls of Nader Hayak and Michel Bahous, born and raised not far from where they were killed.
A day after a young Israeli army deserter, Eden Natan Zada, opened fire with his military-issue M-16 assault rifle inside a bus as it arrived in Shfaram at twilight, townspeople buried his four Israeli Arab victims: two sisters studying to be teachers, a grocer who never married and a bus driver who loved tinkering with Volkswagen Beetles.
The funerals -- one Muslim, one Christian -- followed different religious and emotional scripts. But they shared a bewildering sense of fear and resentment that highlighted the uneasy relationship between Israel's 1.3 million Arab citizens and the Jewish state they live in.
"Why did this have to happen here, especially here in Shfaram, which has always been loyal to the state?" said Yousef Mor, a retired carpenter paying his respects to the Hayak and Bahous families at the Greek Catholic High School where they received hundreds of mourners. "Is this the price for being loyal?"
Amounting to roughly one-fifth of Israel's population, Christian and Muslim Arabs have been viewed by successive Israeli governments as a potential threat to security. The Israeli Arab population is growing quickly, especially in the south, and Israeli security services have expressed fear, particularly during times of strife, that its loyalties might lie with fellow Arabs in the territories Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war.
Although Israel's leaders and much of the news media condemned Zada's killings in terms usually reserved for Palestinian terrorist attacks, many of the Israeli Arabs who came to bury friends and family held the government complicit in the crime. Some said Israel's security services, never slow to move against militant Palestinians accused of plotting against Israel, should have done the same against extremist groups such as the one Zada belonged to, an extreme wing of the settlers movement that favors expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories.
The group, known as Kach, is outlawed by the Israeli government and has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. But its members have rarely been the targets of sustained attention from Israeli security services, even during the run-up to the Gaza evacuation that has prompted some of the group's leaders to call for strident resistance to the move.
"The government knows all of them, they have lists of all of them. We need to see real action to stop these racist attacks," said Mohammed Barakeh, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament who is from Shfaram and attended the funeral services. Noting that passengers on the bus beat Zada to death immediately after the shootings, Barakeh cautioned, "The fact that this criminal has died does not mean his crime has finished."
Led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel's political leadership denounced Zada's attack as an act designed to cause tension between Arabs and Jews in the days before the planned Aug. 15 evacuation of Gaza, known as disengagement. Sharon, who called the shooting here "a reprehensible act by a bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist," ordered the National Insurance Institute on Friday to consider the four people who died and the dozen who were wounded as victims of terrorism. The designation triggers benefits for the victims' families unavailable to those injured or killed in other ways.
Zada, 19, left his army post in June to protest the impending withdrawal from settlements in Gaza. The son of secular Jewish parents from Rishon Letzion, south of Tel Aviv, Zada moved recently to the West Bank settlement of Tapuah. The settlement of 600 people is known as a stronghold of followers of the late Meir Kahane, founder of the Kach movement.
But on Friday the mayor of Rishon Letzion said he would not allow Zada to be buried in the city cemetery, and Tapuah leaders said he was not a resident of the settlement, even though his Israeli identification card said he was. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz ruled out a military burial.
Here in Shfaram, a sidewalk shrine rose at the site of the shooting -- a collection of daisies and roses, shattered glass and the bus's rubber window frames, a yellow shoebox smeared with blood. Rows of votive candles spilled white and yellow wax, which hardened around an assortment of items placed on the concrete throughout the day. People gathered with freshly printed posters proclaiming, "Down With Racism."
"I don't want this to hurt relations between anyone," said Farid Bahous, 58, whose younger brother Michel had driven the Egged bus from Haifa for nearly 25 years before he was killed in the shooting. "We have many Jewish friends."
Michel Bahous, 56, was born in Shfaram and attended school on the same campus where his family received mourners Friday afternoon. Among those who filled plastic chairs in the breezy courtyard were his three teenage sons.
"He loved his family, the people of this place," Farid Bahous said.
It was harder for Nazih Hayak, a 43-year-old pharmacist, to strike the same tone of reconciliation. His brother Nader died in the shooting, leaving behind a small grocery store he owned in the center of town near where the bus stopped and the shooting began.
"When it comes to the other side, they destroy the house of the family," Hayak said, referring to the Israeli policy of demolishing the homes of suicide bombers' families. "In this case, they have to destroy the house of the parents if they really want equality."
Hazar and Dina Turki, 24 and 22 respectively, rode the bus regularly to and from classes in Haifa. Both were studying to be teachers, with Dina training as a special education instructor. Their mother and father, a construction worker, had five daughters. They were the youngest.
As the coffins arrived, dozens of mourners began to cry out, a woman's voice rising above the others.
"They are the beloved of God," it rang out, over and over.