Earlier this week, when a 19-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem plowed his BMW into a crowd of soldiers at a busy Jerusalem intersection, the international media barely took notice. Though 15 Israelis were injured, nobody was killed, and the major newspapers dispensed with the item in their rundown of briefs. At first glance, the incident seemed no more significant than a bad car crash. But it's part of a bigger trend that's worth watching.
Already this year, four Palestinians from East Jerusalem have gone on rampages in the city; in three cases, the incidents involved plunging a vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians. In recent years, attacks of any kind in Jerusalem have been extremely rare. Incidents involving Palestinians from East Jerusalem are rarer still; usually the attackers come from the West Bank).
Four isolated incidents don't necessarily herald the outbreak of new hostilities. Still, it's worth remembering that the first intifada began with a traffic altercation. (In December 1987, an Israeli tank plowed into a crowd of Palestinians in a Gaza refugee camp, killing four.) With U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians foundering, the political climate is ripe for renewed violence. At the scene of this week's crash, a mob of angry Jewish teenagers shouted "Death to the Arabs!" and chased a fleeing Palestinian along the Old City walls. Any one of these episodes could ignite a larger conflict.
What set this week's assailant off? A visit Tuesday to the home of Qassem al-Mughrabi, the driver of the BMW in this week's attack, yielded some clues. His uncles and cousins were chatting together on their front porch, which has sweeping views of the concrete barrier that cuts through Jerusalem and the West Bank. They described the 19-year-old as an impetuous young man who liked nightclubs and partying. Two months ago he asked a 15-year-old cousin to marry him, but she said no, according to the girl's father. On the day of the attack, Mughrabi learned that the girl was engaged to marry a different cousin. According to friends, when Mughrabi heard the news, he grabbed the keys to his brother's car and tore out of the driveway. It's easy to imagine how the agitated youth could have singled out the crowd of Israeli soldiers—a convenient scapegoat for his anger.
Each of this year's attackers had his own trigger. The families described grievances from insurmountable debt to a simple broken heart. Yet all the attackers had one thing in common: disappointment. In his novel "The Adventures of Augie March," Saul Bellow describes his main character's motivation as the "refusal to live a disappointed life." Bellow meant it in a positive sense, but in the Middle East, that's also the kind of sentiment that kills. Increasingly, East Jerusalem is full of young men living disappointed lives.