Arab Businessman Offers $20,000 for Capture of Tel Aviv Gunman

An Israeli forensic policeman works at the scene of a shooting incident in Tel Aviv, Israel January 1. Reuters/Baz Ratner

An Arab-Israeli business leader has doubled his offer of a cash reward to anyone who comes forward with information that leads to the capture of the Tel Aviv shooting suspect, after the murder of three people shook the Israeli city on January 1.

Mazen Qaq, the head of the merchants' committee in Jerusalem's Old City, had originally offered a $10,000 reward for information on the whereabouts of prime suspect Nashat Melhem, but he has now doubled the offer to $20,000 as Melhem continues to elude a countrywide manhunt, he told Newsweek by phone from Jerusalem.

"We want to bring back security for the people," he says, "And to start to work together and build up trust between the Palestinian people and the Israeli people."

He adds: "We must help with information about anyone who wants to do anything like is going on in Tel Aviv. It really hurts from inside to see what is going on in the street and what is happening between the Palestinian people and the Jewish people."

Qaq's motivation for the cash reward comes from the damage that the spate of violence has done to Arab-Jewish relations—not just in the city but across the country—in what neared a third Palestinian Intifada, or uprising. He views the reward as a message of solidarity between all religions in the holy city and says they must come together to ensure security.

"I want my family to be safe in the streets, as well as the Jewish and the Christian people," he continues. "I don't feel comfortable with this violence, as we are human beings. We need to build something together and it starts from Jerusalem."

Qaq says the cash reward is entirely from his own pocket and donations from business owners in the Old City, but says he is the only one speaking about the reward. The business leader adds that he has not received any funds from the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority, the body that rules over the West Bank.

Since Qaq's initial $10,000 reward was reported by the Israeli media on Tuesday, he has received a torrent of online abuse on Facebook and verbal threats in the Old City. But he remains defiant that he must send a message of unity to all parties mired in the conflict.

"Everyone wants to kill Mazen Qaq now because I speak this," he says. "But I don't care...I don't need any help from the government of Israel, not from the Palestinian government. This is me, I won't change anything."

Qaq, who represents many businesses in the holy city, says that trade is "very slow" and down as much as 50 percent in all quarters of the Old City because of recent stabbing attacks by Palestinians against both civilian Israelis and Israeli authorities. He says that the city is losing approximately $150 million every month in business because of the wave of violence.

The search for Melhem, now in its seventh day, was initially focused on the surrounding Tel Aviv area but has since spread to the West Bank and northern Israel. Israeli police believe he is the man who opened fire on a bar in Tel Aviv, killing two Jewish Israelis, and an Arab-Israeli taxi driver in a hijacking following the attack.

Israeli authorities have extended the detention of Melhem's father, Mohammed, as they believe he is hiding information that could lead to the suspect's arrest, Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported on Friday.

Since the beginning of October, Palestinians have killed 21 Israelis and a U.S. citizen in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities and the West Bank in a string of stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks. Israeli forces have killed 137 Palestinians in the same period. Israel says more than half of the Palestinians killed were assailants carrying out attacks.

Arab Businessman Offers $20,000 for Capture of Tel Aviv Gunman | World