East Jerusalem Bagel Vendor Freed From Prison

After 17 days imprisonment and a public uproar, Zaki Sabah, sentenced to ten years in jail, is released.

Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson

Zaki Sabah, the Jerusalem bagel vendor who was in prison for unpaid fines, was released on Sunday after the prosecution decided to no longer pursue imprisonment.

Local Affairs Court Judge Tamar Nimrodi, who sentenced Sabah to ten years, called in Sabah's attorneys and the prosecution for an urgent meeting. With Nimrodi's recommendation and the consent of the municipality of Jerusalem, the meeting ended in the decision to release Sabah.

Sabah and the municipality will renegotiate how Sabah will pay his debt to the city. The arrangement was reached after it was discovered that the number of days Sabah was to serve in prison was miscalculated, according to sources in the municipality.

The Jerusalem municipality argued that Sabah never completed an application for a vendor's license, while Sabah insists that he applied for one time and time again but was always rejected.

Sabah who for years sold bagels illegally by the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City accumulated fines totaling hundreds of thousands of shekels. He says he did not receive all the tickets and that some of the tickets were issued on days he was not selling. Sabah never paid his fines.

Three weeks ago, Nimrodi issued an arrest warrant for the 254 files opened against Sabah for peddling without a license. The thousands of tickets he received since 2005 had ballooned to fines totaling 731,910 NIS. Because the nonpayment of a fine has a prescribed option of a few days in prison, the number of days that had accumulated reached 3,554, meaning 10 years in prison - all for operating without a license. Sabah spent 17 days in Jerusalem’s Rimonim Prison before his release. 

The reports of the sentence in Haaretz and on 103 FM radio created a wave of public responses. Several citizen groups organized to pay the sum needed for his release. Attorneys volunteered to represent Sabah. MK Zahava Gal-On appealed Attorney General. A Facebook page in support of Sabah popped up. These protestations likely influenced the Jerusalem municipality in the decision to free Sabah. Sources in the municipality added that if Sabah would now apply for a license, his request would be treated "seriously."

"I'm not dangerous, I never harmed anybody, it was just my cart," Sabah said after his release. Even his cell neighbors didn't believe his story, and he felt in danger: "They laughed at me in jail and said, 'you must be leading us on. Because of bagels? You must be an undercover policeman.' They placed me in a dangerous situation."

Despite his ordeal, Sabah intends to return in a few days to Jaffa Gate to sell bagels. "What am I asking for? I'm no thief or anything. All I want is to make a living, take care of my children, buy food and medicine," he said. 

Zaki Sabah selling beigele outside the Old City. Credit: Alex Kolomoisky

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