Why would a community leader with faith in Gandhi turn to violence?

Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters had their commitment to non-violence severely tested.

In the West nowadays, however, most proponents of peace face less extreme challenges. It’s much easier to denounce war and stand up for peace if you are neither directly exposed to war nor subject to violent attacks.

For this reason, when it comes to the situation in the Middle East, many observers outside the region are inclined to focus on the innocent victims of war and occupation because they find it too difficult to identify with the armed adversaries. There is an unwillingness to entertain the notion that in certain sets of conditions, almost anyone might turn to violence. It’s much more comfortable to assume that some people have violent inclinations while others do not.

For anyone with this perspective, the story of Bahaa Alian, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, might be instructive.

Creede Newton and Dylan Collins write: On Tuesday, Oct. 13, two simultaneous attacks rocked Jerusalem in what was the bloodiest day of the current round of violence.

Around nine in the morning, Bilal Ranem, 23, and Bahaa Alian, 22, two Palestinian men from the Jabal al-Mukaber neighborhood in East Jerusalem, boarded a bus in nearby East Talpiot, an Israeli settlement. One was armed with a knife and the other with a pistol. As the bus began moving, the men started shooting and stabbing. Ten were injured, and two killed, including one of the attackers.

Rubi Muhatbi, an 18-year-old Israeli, told Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s most widely-read daily, that in that “moment, you feel fear and stress and you don’t know what to do. I preferred running away rather than confronting him… all I was thinking about was I was either going to survive this or I die.”

The attack was shocking by any standard, but it was made doubly so for us after the identities of the attackers were released. We quickly realized that we had met Bahaa Alian, the attacker who was killed, less than a year ago.

From what you’ve read in media reports, these two men were either terrorists who were quickly “neutralized” by Israeli security forces, or troubled Palestinian youth from an impoverished neighborhood, surrounded by Jewish-only settlements.

Perhaps both are true, but neither agrees with the impression Alian made when we met him. [Continue reading…]

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