When Mimon Himy and his son heard screams of “Terrorist! Terrorist!” in their hometown’s main square they charged forward, ready to deal with an attacker, but instead ended up saving an innocent Arab-Israeli from an angry Jewish mob bent on lynching him.
In this climate of tension and suspicion, people are being targeted solely for being of the "wrong" ethnicity, showing how the wave of stabbing attacks and calls by Israeli officials for civilians to be ready to deal with terrorists risk encouraging a culture of vigilantism. .
Himy’s son Dan, a new army recruit, had the night off and came home to Netanya on Thursday. Father and son had just settled in for a beer in the main square when, says Himy, they heard cries of “Terrorist! Terrorist!” and then “Death to the Arabs!”
“My son picked up a chair and we went running toward the commotion,” says Himy, a 58-year-old religious man who defines himself as “strongly right-wing.”
Their goal was “to kill the terrorist and protect the Jews,” he recalls, but the two quickly realized the scene was not what it seemed.
“There was this Arab running away from the mob with his hands in the air, and no weapon. His face was battered and bloody. I realized this was no terror attack,” says Himy.
Abed al-Kader Jamal, an Israeli citizen from Kalansua, had come into Netanya, a coastal city north of Tel Aviv, to go shopping. Finding the clothes store he wanted to visit closed, he and two friends decided to get cokes instead and go sit at the beach. They never made it there. If it had not been for Himy, who ended up throwing himself on top of Jamal and protecting him with his own body, the event could have ended with the young man being beaten to death.
The 30 or so individuals involved in the attempted lynch “were drunks and homeless people and youngsters with nothing to do, who somehow thought that by attacking an innocent Arab they would be seen to be fighting terror,” Himy says. “This was an act of pure hatred and the perpetrators were acting like animals.”
With tensions running high and stabbings continuing across the country this week, Israeli officials have called on civilians to do their part in dealing with terrorists. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan and Ashdod police commander Noam Shekel have urged those who own firearms to carry them at all times so as to “increase security.”
Barkat said armed citizens should consider themselves on “reserve duty” and respond with full force if they come upon an attack.
“Don’t hesitate, even when an incident just starts, shooting to kill is the right thing to do,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid urged the public this week, striking the same tone from the ranks of the opposition. “The directives should specify shooting to kill when anyone pulls out a knife or screwdriver or whatever.”
The correct model, continued Lapid, should be what happened in Tel Aviv last week, when an Air Force officer saw someone rampaging with a screwdriver – and without hesitating, took out his weapon and killed the attacker, becoming a media hero in the process.
Arab leaders have condemned these calls and also criticized police for being too quick to shoot stabbers instead of trying to arrest them. There is also a suspicion that double standards are in place.
On Friday morning, just a few hours after the Netanya attack on Jamal, four Arabs in the southern city of Dimona were stabbed by an assailant wielding a knife and a screwdriver. The Jewish attacker was arrested.
“Of course the Jewish stabber ended the spree [four stabbings] without a bullet or scratch,” MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint Arab List posted on Twitter.
In the case of the Netanya attack, five men involved in the would-be lynch were arrested and the city’s mayor spoke out against their actions.
Since Thursday night’s events, Himy says he has been doing a lot of thinking about why he acted the way he did. His wife complains that he should not have gotten involved, and among the many “likes” he has garnered on his Facebook page from strangers, there are also a fair number of messages directing him to “Go back to Gaza.”
“My main objective in throwing myself into this story was to save Jews,” he repeats, not at all interested in becoming a poster boy for any civil liberties group.
“And actually, I realized later that was exactly what I did,” he concludes. “I saved those Jews from themselves.”