Motives in Earthmover Rampage Debated in Jerusalem

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 4, 2008

JERUSALEM, July 3 -- Jean Relevy, a handyman with an intense curiosity about the world, lived for many things: the challenge of wiring a concert hall, the chance to banter over biology and chemistry with friends, the grandchild he planned to welcome this summer.

But to the sobbing mourners who gathered on a hilltop in West Jerusalem on Thursday to bury him, Relevy, 68, died for just one thing.

"He was killed because he was Jewish, not for any other reason," said Rabbi Moshe Levy, who eulogized Relevy at his funeral.

Relevy was among three people killed Wednesday when a Palestinian construction worker went on a rampage with an earthmover on one of Jerusalem's busiest streets. More than 40 others were hurt before Hussam Edwyat, 34, was shot dead by police.

The attack was the second in four months involving a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, which is mostly Arab, who crossed into predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem. A day after the rampage, differing interpretations of Edwyat's motives reflected the wide gulf between the city's halves.

Israeli officials and media described Edwyat as a terrorist who had targeted Jews. But friends and relatives in East Jerusalem on Thursday described a man with no political affiliations or particular grievances against his Jewish neighbors. Instead, they said Edwyat had suddenly snapped for reasons they did not understand.

"He was not a person who hates Jews. He worked with them for years in construction," said Hassan Darbash, an uncle.

Relatives confirmed that Edwyat had had a long-term Jewish girlfriend. He had recently served two years in prison following allegations of domestic abuse and drug charges, relatives said.

"He was not religious. He didn't belong to any party -- not Hamas or any other faction," said a neighbor, who did not want his name published. "But he was a guy who gets angry and upset very fast."

Edwyat's act immediately influenced the debate over the future of Jerusalem, a city divided between Palestinians and Israeli Jews that both consider holy and claim as their capital.

On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon suggested rerouting the barrier between Israel and much of the West Bank so that it would exclude numerous Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem -- including Edwyat's Sur Baher -- and lock many more Palestinians out of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a speech Thursday evening that he favored a return to an Israeli practice of demolishing assailants' homes in order to deter attacks.

On Thursday, Edwyat's family tried to distance itself from the attack. "The family condemns the act, expresses sorrow and regret at what happened and sends its condolences to the families of the victims," said family attorney Shimon Kokush.

Across town, at Relevy's funeral, he was remembered as intellectually adept and generous. "He was a complete man, an honest man," said Johnny Persaud, a close friend. "If it had to happen, why did it happen to a person like this?"

Special correspondent Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.

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