Israeli rescue personnel prepare to remove the body
of a driver from inside a bulldozer after an attack in
Jerusalem July 22, 2008. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
In less than a month, two Palestinian bulldozer drivers killed three Israelis and injured dozens after rampaging through Jerusalem’s busy streets. Both drivers were shot dead.
“People have developed bulldozer-phobia,” said Anas, a 23-year-old Palestinian driver who asked to be identified by his first name. “It is better to start looking for a new career.”
Bulldozers are common sight across Jerusalem, where a light-rail system and other projects are being built.
Many of the drivers are Palestinians from Arab East Jerusalem, whose Israeli identification cards allow them to travel across the city and Israel, unlike Palestinians who live in the occupied West Bank.
For many Palestinians, bulldozers can be a symbol of Israeli occupation. The army uses them in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank. In Jerusalem, the municipality uses them to demolish homes constructed without hard-to-obtain building permits.
“Now the Palestinians are trying to fight the occupation by using its very tools,” Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri said.
Israel says only illegally built houses are demolished and maintains that difficulties getting building permits were no excuse for breaching the law.
The two strikingly similar bulldozer attacks in Jewish west Jerusalem have stirred Israeli fears that Palestinians in the city could easily strike again.
Israeli police have tightened security at road construction and building sites, checking the identification papers of bulldozer driver and other records.
“We have more patrols and have … stepped up security since the last attack took place in Jerusalem in order to prevent this type of pattern,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said recent bulldozer and shooting attacks by Palestinians from Jerusalem appeared to be part of a “new phenomenon”.
“We are looking at ways to better protect the Israeli civilian population of Jerusalem,” he said.
Masri said Israel’s barrier in and around the occupied West Bank may help explain why Palestinians from Jerusalem were involved in the attacks since it is harder for militants in the West Bank to reach their targets in the city.
Israel has deemed the two incidents “terrorist” attacks but have not established any links between the drivers and militant groups. Police say both drivers had criminal records.
An estimated 250,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally.
Although they pay Israeli taxes, Palestinians in the city complain of poor municipal and governmental services, harassment by police and a lack of employment opportunities.
But they do receive social benefits like all Israelis, including health insurance and unemployment coverage.
Both Palestinian bulldozer drivers lived in homes built without permits, and they and their families have been paying fines to the Jerusalem municipality, relatives said.
Palestinian analyst Zakaria al-Qaq said Palestinian frustrations in Jerusalem have risen to “unbearable levels”. Ziad Hammoury, of the Jerusalem Centre for Social and Economic Rights, said this may be “fuelling such attacks”.
Many bulldozer drivers say they are afraid to drive to work sites, fearing they will be shot if they get into an accident. “They will think that I am a terrorist and kill me,” said Yoram Baliti, a Jewish tractor driver in Jerusalem.
Palestinian bulldozer driver Mahmoud Abu Anas said: “I feel like people are looking at me when I drive. I’m afraid. What if I have an accident. Now I drive much slower.”
(Additional reporting by Adam Entous; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)