You might not see it from a few thousand miles away, but Israel is in turmoil again. And standing in the middle of it all earlier this week, there was Yair Ben-Shabat, an Israeli man armed with a pair of nunchucks.
Since the beginning of this month dozens of incidents of street violence—stabbings, shootings, at least one incident of ramming a car into a bus stop, and other fragmented attacks—have been carried out within the region, largely by young Palestinians without formal direction or common political affiliation. So far, according to the New York Times, the attacks have led to the deaths of at least seven Israelis, with many more wounded.
This violence comes as long-simmering Israeli-Palestinian disputes are boiling over. A month ago, Israeli security forces raided Temple Mount—the hilltop religious site in Jerusalem's Old City revered by Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike—and fueled Palestinian fears over its fate. Widespread protests have culminated in countless clashes between police and demonstrators. According to an estimate from the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Health, at least 1,990 Palestinians have been injured since the start of the month, and at least 27—including the alleged attackers—have been killed. Experts wonder aloud whether the latest events mark the start of a third intifada, a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation. And in response to this latest unrest, Israeli authorities have closed off Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, bolstered its military and police presence, and even toyed with the idea of loosening laws that limit Israeli citizens' ability to acquire firearms.
They've been improvising in the meantime. This past Monday, Yair Ben-Shabat happened to be toting Nick Diaz’s favorite plaything when an attack happened on a bus driving near the Chords Bridge in Jerusalem around 8:30 p.m. local time. According to a report in the Israeli outlet YNet News, a 22-year-old from the West Bank named Muhammad Shmasanah had taken a seat next to a soldier, then stabbed him and attempted to steal his gun. Other passengers, including a police officer, tussled with Shmasanah to prevent him from scooping up the firearm. Additional police boarded the bus, saw Shmasanah holding a weapon, then shot and killed him. (The injured solider was hospitalized.)
At some point, Ben-Shabat entered the fray, wielding his exotic armament. “I jumped onto the bus and helped them fight the terrorist,” Ben-Shabat told YNet News. “I took nunchucks out and hit him where I had to for them to be able to pry loose the weapon he held.” Harming and killing a bystander is always horrible, and in that light, the sentiments in pro-Israel press and social media that declare Ben-Shabat a "hero" are understandable.
But the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian tensions are fraught with complexity and counter-narratives, and it's hard to fit these recent events into a neat and tidy storyline where the good guys wear white and the bad guys wear black. It’s even harder to hear a guy boast about using a martial arts weapon to set upon an attacker and not get stuck on the first essential question: why were you carrying nunchucks, of all things?
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