Carnage in Beersheba and a badge of dishonor - opinion

Israelis grieving the loss this week of four precious lives aren’t interested in excuses from the institutions tasked with their safety.

 Police Chief Kobi Shabtai holds a briefing following the Beersheba terror attack that left four dead, March 22, 2022 (photo credit: POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Police Chief Kobi Shabtai holds a briefing following the Beersheba terror attack that left four dead, March 22, 2022
(photo credit: POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

A study presented this week at the “Conference on Politics and Arab Society in Israel”— held on Sunday and Monday at the University of Haifa, in conjunction with the Israel Democracy Institute and the New Israel Fund — shows a steady erosion of public trust in law enforcement and the judiciary. The research, conducted by professors Gideon Fishman and Arie Ratner at the university’s department of sociology, covers the 22-year period beginning in 2000.

What the two academics revealed isn’t a hot news flash to most Israelis. But it’s been particularly apparent since Tuesday afternoon.

That’s when 34-year-old Muhammad Alab Ahmed abu Alkiyan, an Israeli citizen from the Bedouin town of Hura — a married father of five, three of whom have special needs — slaughtered four innocent Jews in Beersheba and seriously wounded two others.

Let us start with the police, who were nowhere to be found during Alkiyan’s car-ramming and stabbing spree that left dead Chabad Rabbi Moshe Kravitzky, 48, Laura Yitzhak, 43, Doris Yahbas, 49, and Menahem Yehezkel, 67.

While hysterical witnesses phoned for help, two heroic citizens took it upon themselves to prevent Alkiyan from perpetrating additional carnage. One was Arthur Chaimov, an Egged bus driver who exited his vehicle, pistol drawn, and pursued Alkiyan on foot.

Israelis protest at the site of yesterday deadly terror attack, outside the big shopping center in Beer Sheva, southern Israel, on March 23, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)Israelis protest at the site of yesterday deadly terror attack, outside the big shopping center in Beer Sheva, southern Israel, on March 23, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Chaimov called on Alkiyan several times to drop his knife. Rather than comply, the terrorist lunged, and Chaimov fired one shot at him. This is when the second armed citizen, who wishes to remain anonymous, finished the job.

Thanks to the bravery of these men, by the time law enforcement showed up, the threat had been eliminated. Though there is some dispute about how long it took cops to arrive, it is clear that none had been stationed in the targeted area, the One Plaza mini-mall, prior to the incident.

This, in itself, was sufficient cause for disillusionment with law enforcement. Not only had that shopping center been the scene of previous attacks; but the entire Negev has turned into a hub of inter-Arab violence, illegal-weapons procurement, mafia-like protection-fee shakedowns, and the increasing radicalization of the younger generation of Bedouin.

Furthermore, authorities have been harping about beefing up security ahead of and during the upcoming Passover and Ramadan holidays, particularly in light of a recent spate of “lone-wolf” attacks in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country.

As if the absence of security forces weren’t bad enough, the saviors who took out Alkiyan were summoned by police and had their guns confiscated for ballistic examination. This despite video footage of the shooting from every angle.

Though the interrogation and temporary removal of the weapons was standard procedure, the investigator’s dismissive and rude treatment of “anonymous” was outrageous. Rather than hailing the citizen as a hero, the officer practically had him arrested for refusing to leave the premises until his weapon was returned.

He explained that he was now a sitting duck for terrorists who could have seen his face on one of many clips circulating on social media. He pointed out, as well, that his possessing of a legal firearm in the first place was related to his residence in the South Hebron Hills.

The badge basically told him to buzz off — that he wasn’t getting his gun back that evening; that he wasn’t allowed to hang around the station; and that he shouldn’t expect the police to serve as his personal security guards. When the man protested, he was warned that if he didn’t watch his step, he’d be detained.

As a result of the ensuring mass outcry that included a clamor for Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Kobi Shabtai to resign, the police issued a semblance of an apology statement. Defending the courageous citizens who killed the terrorist, it vowed to return the owners’ weapons at once and look into the inappropriate attitude of their interrogator. In addition, according to a later disclosure, police escorted the South Hebron Hills resident home.

Shabtai further announced the implementation of a new procedure for cases like this, to enable citizens who perform life-saving feats to be provided with replacement weapons while theirs are undergoing ballistic evaluation.

THEN CAME the funerals on Wednesday of Alkiyan’s victims. At Yahbas’s burial, Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev made such a blooper that he was heckled on the spot, and has since been deservedly ridiculed.

“We will not rest until this criminal and terrorist is apprehended and tried,” he said, as mourners shouted that Alkiyan was already dead.

Not hearing or paying attention, he went on, “We will not rest until we eradicate terrorism... until we reach all the terrorists... their places and their families, and we will prosecute anyone who lifts a hand or a knife at citizens in the State of Israel.”

His platitudes did not go over well. But the anger wasn’t merely because Bar Lev, the minister in charge of law enforcement, didn’t even know the details of the country’s worst civilian carnage since June 2016, when two terrorists gunned down diners at the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv, killing four and wounding 16.

No, it’s Bar Lev’s Labor Party politics that weren’t welcome on this occasion specifically, and that aren’t appreciated by a majority of Israelis in general. Many find it hard to forget his boasting on Twitter in December about having met with US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, and praising her interest in “settler violence and... strengthen[ing] the Palestinian Authority.”

Not surprisingly, what impressed the Public Security minister the most about Nuland was her inversion of victim and perpetrator. No wonder then that during a visit to the South Hebron Hills shortly thereafter, he never changes his tune. While briefed on the uptick in Palestinian assaults on Jews in Judea and Samaria, he said, “I understand that it’s really difficult for some of you to hold a mirror up to your faces.”

Given that the hero of the Beersheba attack turned out to live in that very location, Bar Lev is lucky not to have included a clause about Jewish terrorism in his impromptu and embarrassing eulogy for Yahbas.

Bar Lev and Shabtai aren’t the only figures responsible for waning faith in Israeli law enforcement, however. On the contrary: the worst aspect of the Beersheba attack predates the current roles of each.

The initial culprit was Yoel Eden, the judge who encountered the terrorist in 2015. A school teacher at the time, Alkiyan was indicted for plotting to join Islamic State fighters in Syria and for trying to recruit his students to the jihadist organization.

Despite the prosecution’s request that the ISIS loyalist be given the maximum five-year sentence, on grounds that “criminals like the defendant are ‘ticking time bombs’ whose countdown is impossible to predict,” Eden reduced it to four. His justification for the decision was that Alkiyan had expressed what seemed to be genuine remorse, and was deserving of mercy for being his wife’s and children’s sole provider.

After his release from jail in 2019, Alkiyan went to work for a family shop in Hura, and was under some form of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) surveillance. Today, the Shin Bet insists that in the period since then, it never observed him engaging in suspicious activity.

Israelis grieving the loss this week of four precious lives aren’t interested in excuses from the institutions tasked with their safety. We demand a systemic change, not sociological studies telling us what we already know.