In Israel the new year began with a terror attack in the heart of Tel Aviv.

On Friday, January 1, the cafes and shops along Dizengoff Street were packed. One of the many passersby was Nashat Melhem, a 31 Arab-Israeli, with emotional problems and a criminal history.

After he wandered into a health food store and sampled the merchandise, Melhem calmly stepped outside, pulled an automatic weapon from his backpack, and sprayed bullets at a group of Israelis celebrating a friend’s birthday at a pub across the street. “We dropped to the floor and I remember the smile on his face,” one witness, who gave his name as Noah, described afterwards. When the carnage was over, seven people lay wounded in the street (four seriously) and two men – Alon Bakal, the pub’s 26 year old manager, and 30-year-old Shimon Ruimi – were dead.

Alon Bakal

The attack was the latest in a line of horrible murders in the Jewish state in recent months, and was even more violent in its scope, featuring the mass shooting of innocent civilians in the center of a major city. Melhem remains at large, the subject of a huge manhunt in Israel – and creating major fear for Israelis that they might, God forbid, be his next victims. Israeli police suspect Melhem is behind the murder of an Arab taxi driver in Tel Aviv soon after the shooting.

Instead of condemning the murders, some figures and media outlets around the world seemed to try to justify the attack.

“Tel Aviv shooting: suspect 'wanted to avenge cousin's death'” Britain’s influential Guardian newspaper announced in a headline, creating the impression that the attack was somehow reasonable.

That sentiment was echoed by MK Ayman Odeh, who heads a coalition in Israel’s Knesset of Arab parties. Appearing on Israeli TV in the aftermath of the attack, MK Odeh asserted that the root cause of Melhem’s attack was Israel’s occupation of Arab lands – before criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “a human being that just incites”.

In the United States, many media outlets emphasized that some relatives had said Melhem was sad after the death of his cousin in 2006 in a police confrontation. CBS news was typical in describing Melhem as “traumatized” by his cousin’s death in 2006, implying that his decision to open fire on the crowd in Tel Aviv was somehow reasonable or even justified.

In reporting on the terrorism sweeping Israel, in October 2015, Time Magazine was typical in headlining its report “The Desperation Driving Young Palestinians to Violence”. Rather than condemning attacks on Israelis, the very fact that Israelis were being murdered was perversely offered as proof of the legitimacy of their attackers’ grievances. Instead of portraying Arabs as free agents who are capable of choosing their actions like other people, it peddled an offensive old stereotype: of Arabs as somehow (unlike other people) unable to refrain from violence.

Yet after the Tel Aviv attack, it was those closest to Nashat Milhem – relatives and friends who might have been expected to share in his sense of desperation or trauma – who didn’t try to explain away his murderous rampage, but who worked with the police to help apprehend him and head off further violence, instead. It was Nashat’s own father, Muhammad – a security guard and volunteer with the Israeli police – who recognized his son from media reports and contacted the police to alert them of the attacker’s identity.

Muhammad Milhem

“It's important to me now that they reach my son and arrest him, because he's still armed, and just like he murdered two people he could murder more," Muhammad Milhem explained. "I'm worried and I want to hear that he's in the police's hands." After coming home from work at 6 AM, he was inundated with calls from concerned friends and relatives who thought they’d recognized Nashat from surveillance footage being shown on TV. He turned right around and returned to the police station to help them in their search.

Muhammad Milhem told reporters that “I am an Israeli citizen, a law-abiding citizen. I heard what my son has done, and I am sorry. I did not educate him to act in that way. I went to the police and helped the security forces. I did not expect that my son would do such a thing.”

Mahmad Masri, a member of the local council in the town of Ar'ara, where Milhem lives, echoed Muhammad Milhem’s sentiments. "We are in shock. The shooter is my neighbor. The entire village is surprised and condemns the event."

As Israeli police work to track down Milhem and prevent further carnage, the world should learn from the actions of his family and community how to respond to terror: not by trying to explain away or vindicate evil – but by condemning it, forcefully and fully. Violence is neither inevitable nor justifiable.


This article was written in the immediate aftermath of the Tel Aviv terror attack, when the shooter's father, Muhammed Melhem, had publicly stated his repugnance at the crime and declared his willingness to help police apprehend his son. My objective in writing was to highlight Muhammed's statements, and point out that his condemnation of the attack is the only acceptable response. His willingness to state clearly that he condemned his son's terror attack, and that he would do all he could to help police find his son, seemed to be an inspiring example of human decency.

On Tuesday, January 5, Israeli police arrested Muhammed Melhem as an accomplice to his son's crime. Several other family members were also arrested. Was it naive to accept Muhammed Melhem's statements at face value? Perhaps. At this point, we do not know for certain whether he was lying, if the police are using his arrest as a tactic to put pressure on his son to come forward, or if they really do suspect he was an accomplice and obstructing justice. As police continue to search for Nashat Melhem, I fervently hope and wish that his father helps rather than hinders the search, that Nashat is found soon, without any further violence.