Mahamid recalled that on Sept. 18 he was waiting by himself at a bus stop near Umm el-Fahm, an Arab town in northern Israel a short distance from the line separating Israel from the West Bank. Seeing a man approach with a large bag, Mahamid's suspicions were raised and he asked to borrow the man's mobile phone, telling him he had to call a friend. Instead he dialed the police and whispered to them that he believed a suspicious man was planning to blow up a bus.
The bomber was apparently waiting to get on a bus to carry out his attack, but instead, a police van sped around the corner 15 minutes later. Mahamid said he had returned the phone to the bomber and sat beside him for a chat, hoping not to give anything away. "I was not afraid," he said. "I asked him where he worked." Then police arrived and approached the bomber, who blew himself up, spraying the bus stop with shrapnel.
Bits of metal cut and badly injured Mahamid in the face and neck. He was still recovering in a hospital bed Thursday. Metal staples sealed a long gash on his neck. After the bombing, as he was wheeled out of surgery, the police were waiting for him, thinking at first that the young Arab was an accomplice of the attacker. Police tied his legs to rails on his hospital bed for five days and kept his parents from visiting before they realized Mahamid was not involved in an attack. "In the course of the investigation it became clear that he was completely innocent," police spokesman Gil Kleiman said.
On Wednesday, police officers gave Mahamid a certificate and thanked him. "I am proud of myself, thanks to God. I feel now that I have saved some peoples' lives," he said.
Mahamid's story is part of a complicated, agonized relationship between Israel's Jewish majority and its Arab citizens who account for almost a fifth of its 6.6 million population. Throughout the last two years of fighting, fears and suspicions have driven Jews and Arabs even further apart here. Many of Israel's Arab citizens, already angered by years of government neglect and economic disadvantage, sympathize with their Palestinian cousins in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and some have aided in terror attacks in Israel. One man blew himself in northern Israel a year ago, killing three other people.
Israeli Arabs are people who did not leave Israel during the turbulent creation of the Jewish state and subsequent wars. Some 700,000 Arabs did flee or were driven out of the areas that became Israel, and many of them--along with their descendants--now live in refugee camps and shanty towns in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip and in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon. Many complain of discrimination, but Israeli Arabs enjoy the benefits of citizenship in Israel--a better economy and better schools, more jobs and welfare assistance.
Mahamid, a thin man who quit school to help out at his family's furniture store, put it this way: "I'm an Israeli citizen and also an Arab, but I acted as a human being in that moment. I hate to see innocent people killed. This is my attitude."
During two years of fighting, 79 Palestinian suicide bombers have leveled an awful toll in Israeli cities--killing 278 people. The next day, another bomber boarded a bus in Tel Aviv, set off his explosives and killed six people.