Although an Israeli Arab gunman is dead and gone, it’s important to ask whether he was a terrorist, or a criminal with a troubled past. Not every murder is a terror attack, though every attack is terrifying.
Tel Aviv shooter Nashet Melhem was buried last Friday after being tracked down by Israeli security forces and killed when he opened fire as they neared his hideout.
Melhem, 31, was found after a week of intensive searching in the place where he began his life: the Wadi Ara village of Ar’ara.
So much searching, and yet it turned out he had zoomed straight back to the village where he lived.
Many details are still missing from the puzzle. How did he manage to get there, and who provided him with food and other supplies while he was hiding out from police?
There are two sides to the village –the original, older part – the al-Daharat neighborhood, and a newer part, ‘Ara, where the houses are larger, and the lands are less developed because many still await homes.
That is the part where Nashet Melhem’s father’s home is located, where he moved a few years ago, into a larger, multi-unit home that he built on a plot of land that he owned.
Villagers hold on to these plots of land, keeping them for the time their sons will marry. They build there for the generations. That is the honored tradition in Arab life.
It is also a rule to honor one’s parents, and to treat one’s family with respect. Honor is the guiding principle in Arab life; Nashet’s brushes with the law brought disgrace to his whole family. They did their best to dismiss it.
At 18 he was arrested for selling marijuana, and also admitted in court to smoking the drug. Because he had no criminal record at the time, the Nazareth District Court agreed to release him to a rehab program. He went, but no one knows whether he actually completed the program.
One year later Melhem’s cousin Nadim, 28, was allegedly shot and killed by police during a search for weapons at his home. Few details about this incident are available, and it is not clear whether Nadim opened fire or attempted to attack the officers, prompting the gunfire.
The two cousins were close despite the age difference, according to a report by Ynet. Relatives told the news outlet that Melhem admired his cousin and they spent a lot of time together. He was hit hard by his death.
Eighteen months later, at age 20 or 21, Melhem attacked an IDF soldier and stabbed him with a screwdriver at a bus stop at the Karkur Junction, then tried to steal his weapon but failed. He fled on foot and eventually made his way home – where police awaited him.
Melhem confessed to the attack, saying he had intended to avenge his cousin’s death. He was sentenced to five years in prison, and served his time at the Ayalon and Shata facilities. Ironically, Melhem never joined an organized terror organization. He never had an interest in it. His mind was elsewhere. No affiliation with any terror group has ever been discovered.
Representing him each time in court was his distant relative, attorney Sami Melhem, who was forthright about his anger management problems, going right back to the beginning.
The attorney told Ynet that even in prison he had a problem with violence, and the Prisons Service “always gave him negative reviews when he filed requests for benefits or to have a third of his sentence commuted.
“I’m not trying to build him a line of defense now,” he added. “Even at the time I identified he had violent issues. I even stated it to the court… one thing is clear: he was allowed back into a home where a licensed weapon was being kept.”