On Wednesday, November 5, an Arab resident of the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat, 38-year-old Ibrahim al- Acri, used his white commercial van to slam into people at two locations along the capital’s so-called seam. He killed a 38-year-old Druse Border Police officer and a 17-year-old yeshiva student, and wounded 13 others.
After crashing the van, Acri jumped out with a crowbar and began threatening pedestrians until he was shot dead by another Border Police officer.
It was caught on one of the city’s (and country’s, it seems) growing phalanx of security cameras. It’s clear what he was doing when he was brought down.
Within minutes, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was on the scene. After a briefing from senior police officials, this is what he said into the microphones and cameras: “The actions of the Border Police officer who chased down and quickly killed the terrorist were correct and professional, and this is the way I would like such incidents to end. The sentence for a terrorist who harms civilians should be death.”
Aharonovitch once headed the Border Police, so it can be assumed he was saddened and outraged that one of the dead was a Border Police officer, but satisfied and proud that it was another who had ended the attack. Except now he’s a politician and probably girding his loins for a paradigm shift that might be in the making for the country’s right-wing leadership, so his choice of tough words should surprise no one – although their vagueness should have us worried.
The problems begin with the phrase “this is the way I would like such incidents to end.” What did he mean? Incidents in which a terrorist has killed someone? Incidents in which a terrorist has used a vehicle? Incidents in which a terrorist has used a vehicle to kill someone? Incidents in Jerusalem? Incidents along the city’s seam area? And what about the word “end”? With the terrorist stopped by force? Stopped by bullets? Stopped dead by a dozen bullets? The real problem, though, is the following: “The sentence for a terrorist who harms civilians should be death.”
Harm, as in killing, or merely wounding? Death after an arrest and trial? Death on the spot? And if that’s not possible, death the way Avraham Shalom had his Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) men do it 30 years ago to the two terrorists who made it off bus No. 300 alive? I just love it when pols like Yitz Aharonovitch delve into the details.
THE REAL problem here is not how you handle a specific terrorist attack – Jerusalem police acquitted themselves admirably and well early Tuesday morning during the brutal attack at a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Har Nof – it’s the general approach to handling them all, and this requires a coherent policy that stands up to scrutiny.
Thanks to that security camera, it’s clear that Acri, who had ditched one weapon and now held another, had to be stopped. Did he have to be killed to be stopped? I don’t know; the camera was relatively far away. What I do know, however, is that our security forces sometimes seem to have itchy trigger fingers when it comes to Arabs, even when the situation doesn’t warrant it.
This has long been evident with the IDF in the wild West Bank, but also on occasion inside Israel proper, where two Friday nights ago, 22-year-old Kheir al-Din Hamdan was shot and killed by police in the Arab town of Kafr Kana, a shooting that led to widespread rioting.
A spokesman for the Northern District Police issued a statement saying that Hamdan had attacked officers with a knife. Believing that he and his fellow cops were in serious danger, one fired in the air and then directly at Hamdan, striking him.
But then came the video footage from a private security camera, which shows the victim holding something in his hand and using it to bang on the closed window of a police vehicle. After Hamdan appears to give up, turn and walk away, an officer emerges from the vehicle, levels his handgun and fires directly at him from the rear. The danger to the cops had passed or at least dropped a notch, but still a lethal police trigger was pulled.
What happened in Kafr Kana was bad enough, but the fact that the police issued a statement that was clearly contradicted by the video footage indicates that someone, somewhere, was lying. I don’t think it was Hamdan.
What happened next could indicate that the Israel Police and its Border Police branch are well aware that they are facing a serious credibility issue.
Last week, it was announced that a Border Police officer had been arrested on possible murder charges in connection with another incident, with reports that a superior had also been arrested for his role in a possible cover-up.
In this instance, footage from private security cameras in the West Bank town of Beitunya showed two Palestinian youths dropping to the ground while walking in the same spot about an hour apart on May 15. (To those not from these parts, that’s Nakba Day, when Palestinians each year commemorate – generally with predictable results – the “catastrophe” of Israel’s establishment.) Despite the footage and a bullet said to have been retrieved from one of the bodies, Israeli authorities denied that security forces had used live ammunition during rioting taking place in the vicinity, much less against two youths doing nothing but walking outside a string of shops.
Along with these denials came claims from certain circles in Israel that the whole thing was just another “Pallywood” production. Because it’s no secret that Palestinians have from time to time staged deaths for the media, it was immediately posited that like Muhammad al-Dura – the boy caught in the murderous crossfire between the IDF and Palestinian gunmen at the Gaza Strip’s Netzarim crossroad in September 2000 – the Nakba Day “victims” were very much alive and having the last laugh.
If not giving credence to Palestinian claims about what happened in Beitunya, the announcement of the arrests – a full six months after the incident but just five days after what happened in Kafr Kana – seems to indicate that the police are becoming aware of the gaping holes in their credibility and are making efforts to show the public that the holes are being patched. As the saying goes, sunshine is the best disinfectant. A caveat might be that on cloudy days you take any rays you can get.
Is it true that the police and IDF handle Arabs differently than the way they handle Jews? It might not be a policy set in stone, but there certainly can be a trickle-down effect in the way orders are passed along in the field – especially when the boss avoids details or uses lots of euphemisms, perhaps in the hope that the rest of us will be lulled into going along.
TERROR ATTACKS can unfold with astounding speed. An Arab-looking person at the wheel who poses a clear, present and mortal danger? Shoot him down! But remember one thing: At first glance, a whole lot of Jews in this country look like Arabs.
Just wait till the guy lying dead from a dozen bullets is named Moshe or Yosef and not Mussa or Yussef. I have a sneaking suspicion that Yitz Aharonovitch won’t have such kind words for his subordinates, let me tell you.