If the goal of the Palestinian driver of the massive construction vehicle — whose rampage killed three Israelis and injured more than 40 on Wednesday — was to make the greatest possible media impact, he chose his location well.
The carnage played out in Jerusalem right in front of the JCS building, which houses the offices of several major international news outlets — including the BBC, which captured the incident in real time and immediately uploaded the clip to its website.
BBC reporter Tim Franks was sitting in his office overlooking Jaffa Road when he heard screams coming from below. Looking out the window, he saw the bulldozer plowing into a municipal bus and saw people scattering in all directions. He ran downstairs and came upon a bank security guard who claimed to have stopped the driver of the earthmover, which had meanwhile ground to a halt, by shooting him with his pistol.
Franks was preparing to interview the security guard when the huge Caterpillar started moving again, crushing more vehicles and causing a huge panic. At that point the SWAT team arrived, with one officer climbing up on the vehicle and shooting the driver dead.
Israel’s Channel 10 broadcast the footage practically in a loop for nearly an hour — and no wonder: in a scene straight out of a Hollywood action film, it shows Yasam (SWAT) officer Eli Mizrahi, dressed in civilian clothes, leaning into the cabin of the earthmover and shooting the driver dead at point-blank range in front of the cameras, resulting in the footage that has been played endlessly on local and international news broadcasts.
The incident took place on Jaffa Road, the main artery of West Jerusalem, just steps from the bustling Mahane Yehuda outdoor market. Thousands of people shop daily for food at the market, which has been the scene of several major terror attacks over the past decade.
Witnesses of the rampage said that one of the dead was a female driver of a Toyota who was crushed to death.
According to Ynet, the driver was a 31-year-old Hossam Dawiath, a father of two from the village of Tzur Baher in East Jerusalem, meaning that he held an Israeli identity card that entitled him to national insurance and health benefits and allowed him to travel freely within Israel, but was not a citizen with voting rights. Married with two children, he was a construction worker employed by the company that had the contract to build Jerusalem’s light railway. Jaffa Road is currently dug up for the construction work on the rail, with traffic narrowed into a single lane.
Ynet also reported that the driver of the earthmover had a criminal record and was well-known to police.
A previously unknown organization called “Free People of the Galilee” telephoned the Palestinian news agency Maan, based in Bethlehem, to take responsibility for the attack, according to the Israeli media.
But police do not believe the organization, which claims to represent disgruntled Israeli-Arabs, actually exists.
At 2 p.m. Israel time, the chief of the Jerusalem police told reporters, as seen on Channel 10 (Hebrew link), that the man was suspected of being a lone wolf who committed the attack for no apparent reason. He was not suspected of having connections to any terror organization, but special units were nonetheless dispatched to comb his East Jerusalem neighborhood and interview residents.
Hamas predictably stated that the attack was the natural expression of rage against Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people, but did not claim responsibility for its execution.
But that doesn’t mean all was quiet in Gaza. Just as the pictures of the Jerusalem attack were first being broadcast on Israeli television, the news broke that thousands of Palestinians tried to storm the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
The effort was unsuccessful — the crowds were pushed back by Egyptian soldiers.
For a few minutes it felt as though Israel was again under attack from all sides, but the Israeli security services — never known to minimize possible danger when lives are at stake — continued to insist that the Jerusalem incident was not a terror attack.
As the dust settled, it became clear that the fragile ceasefire with Hamas-controlled Gaza would continue to hold for the time being, but there is no real sense of short-term security in the Wild Middle East — let alone long-term peace.