A large sign stands in the municipal plaza in Shfar'am. The number on it changes daily. It indicates the time spent in prison by four of the town’s residents who were convicted for the attempted murder of Eden Natan-Zada.
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On Wednesday, the number on the sign was 109.
Natan-Zada, a member of the supremacist extreme right Kach movement and an army deserter, opened fire inside a bus in Shfar’am, murdering four residents and wounding dozens of others in 2005.
The four men were put behind bars at the beginning of January this year, almost 10 years after the murderous attack. Shfar'am residents say displaying the number of prison days in the central square is a reminder to the town and the public in general: Instead of being awarded a medal given those who neutralized Palestinian terrorists and saved human lives, four Shfar’am residents were jailed for stopping a heinous terrorist and preventing him from continuing his killing spree.
Law enforcement officials said throughout the investigation, arrests and trial that despite the horrendous terror attack, its tragic result and the bereaved families’ suffering, Israel is a state of law. Therefore it was imperative to bring to trial those who attacked Natan-Zada, regardless of his act. This is why the state allocated resources and the police conducted an intensive investigation to bring the suspects to trial, they said.
Both claims may be debatable, but the story of Shfar’am’s four jailed residents bears out what the Arab public thinks of the law enforcement authorities: "When they want to - they act, when they don't want to – they drag their feet." This applies not only to issues of national security, but to fighting crime and violence in the Arab sector and to dealing with the wide distribution of illegal firearms.
The hate crimes perpetrated by extreme rightists and termed "price tag" were until recently the lot of West Bank Palestinians alone. Over there in the Wild West the attacks caused no shock or indignation. But in October 2011 Israel awoke to a new dawn: Vandals had torched the al-Nur mosque in the village of Tuba Zangaria in the north of Israel - The hate crimes had crossed the Green Line, reaching the Arab communities in Israel. The event made headlines and was denounced by all, triggering an urgent visit of the state’s president, together with the chief rabbis. Calls were raised to the law enforcement authorities to deal with the event with an iron fist and bring the culprits to justice.
Since then, the incident in Tuba Zangaria has been consigned to history while the attacks continue with rising frequency. No community, village or town, mosque or monastery, is immune. The denunciations and expressions of sorrow and shock, uttered every time from the heads of state, can be recited by heart. Leaks from the investigations have also become a routine ritual, but not a single case has been cracked.
Instead of cracked cases and severe sentences for the perpetrators, what we have is security cameras’ footage showing more and more masked figures appearing in the dead of night, spraying graffiti, puncturing tires, setting fire and leaving in seconds. The police also have access to this footage, but so far without any results. The council heads and leaders of the villages under attack hear many explanations about the difficulty of the investigation and the need to gather evidence. But these are far from convincing. As long as no arrests are made and no suspects brought to trial, there’s no deterrence and no confidence, not to mention the fear of another Natan-Zada.
Every Arab has a lurking feeling that the state is capable of finding the culprits and the “long arm” that protects Israel’s security has suddenly been cut short, when it comes to hate crimes against Arabs. Because the problem is not with those who spray and set fire, but with those who instigate, incite and egg them on. These do not walk about in masks, and they are definitely within law enforcement's reach.