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Suicide Bomber May Have Been Israeli Arab - 2001-09-10


In Israel, one of the suicide bombers who was killed on Sunday in the northern coastal town of Nahariya has been tentatively identified as an Israeli Arab. The news has alarmed Israeli security and Israeli Arabs who have usually distanced themselves from violence.

When Israeli police were sifting through the rubble left by the bomb in Nahariya's train station they found the identity card of Mohammad Shaker Habaishi lying next to the suicide bomber.

Mr. Habaishi was an Israeli Arab from a village in northern Israel. A government statement issued late Sunday says security forces had been looking for him for more than a week amid suspicions he might be preparing a suicide mission.

Last week, Israeli police said they had arrested four Arab teenagers they also suspected of planning bombing missions inside Israel.

The news has dismayed Israeli Arabs who view them as exceptions to the rule. Most Israeli Arabs have distanced themselves from the violence despite growing tensions between Israel's five million Jews and its one million Arab citizens.

In a phone interview from Nazareth, As-Senara newspaper Editor Lutfi Mashour said the long term discrimination and alienation of the Arab community has fueled the tensions. "It's a very bad situation," he said. "And we are talking about two peoples who are living together. We have common places. We have common business. We have common lives. And it's really very dangerous. We are both more nervous, more sensitive and things are going in a very bad direction today."

Mr. Mashour, himself an Israeli Arab, says relations have soured even more since last October when Israeli police killed 13 Arab demonstrators during protests against Israel's crackdown on the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza. "Nobody can build his future by destroying the other's future," says Mr. Mashour. "I mean, in all fields of life, and we (must) understand that there is no winner or loser. We all lose."

Mr. Mashour says Israeli Arabs are caught in the middle between loyalty to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and their position within the state resisting that effort.

Leaders in the Israeli Arab community are urging calm and restraint. But some Israeli commentators are saying that self-restraint may be more difficult the longer the violence continues.

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