Battling for the Wrong Cause

In law-abiding countries, even terrorists like Natan-Zada, even assassins like Yigal Amir, even Palestinian suicide bombers are entitled to a fair trial.

Let's say the attorney general gives in to the demands of the Arab MKs and the Jewish left, and orders the police to terminate the investigation and release the seven suspects in the lynch of the Jewish terrorist, Eden Natan-Zada. Let's say that Arab terrorists take over an Egged bus tomorrow and murder some of the passengers. Vigilantes then storm the bus, capture the terrorists, grab their weapons, bind their hands and beat them to death. As the year goes by, the law enforcement authorities gather solid evidence leading to the suspects. After a conspiracy to obstruct the investigation is exposed in the top ranks of the Shin Bet security service, the president of Israel decides to cooperate with the political echelon and pardon the lynch suspects. What would the Arab politicians say? What kind of explanation could the Jewish activists offer?

In law-abiding countries, even terrorists like Natan-Zada, even assassins like Yigal Amir, even Palestinian suicide bombers are entitled to a fair trial. Israeli courts do not impose the death penalty on a father who murders his baby daughter or a person who murders an elderly woman out of greed. Israeli citizens, especially those who belong to a weak minority group, would not want to live in a country where might makes right. Instead of spewing pandering, populist rhetoric, the Arab MKs should be explaining to their people why the Shfaram file must not be closed under any circumstances.

Those who rightly demand that Arabs and Jews be treated equally in all matters of civil rights and opportunities cannot ask that Jews and Arabs be treated differently when it comes to the supremely important principle of equality before the law. Today, these lynch suspects are let off the hook because Jewish terrorism is a sensitive matter in the Arab sector; tomorrow, Arab citizens who want to board a plane in Kiryat Shmona are discriminated against because Arab terrorism is a sensitive matter in the Jewish sector.

MK Mohammed Barakeh, chairman of the Hadash party and a resident of Shfaram, claims that the suspects in the killing were acting in self-defense. The police officers who killed demonstrators in the October 2000 riots also say their lives were in danger. Would Barakeh agree that along with calling off the investigation of the lynch, the case would also be closed for good on the shooting deaths of these 13 Arab protesters?

If there is any substance in the Shfaram suspects' claim of self-defense, the proper place to determine that is a court of law. With these seven young people on trial, there will be even more incentive to investigate who gave this troubled soldier a gun, and to penalize the officers who were so quick on the trigger back in October 2000.

One cannot get up and applaud the checks and balances of Israeli democracy when the High Court of Justice rules that Arab schools are being blatantly discriminated against, and then turn around the next day and doubt the ability of that same legal system to grant members of the Arab minority a fair trial. Arab politicians who behave this way are not only cutting off the branch on which they sit, they are cutting down the whole tree on which the public they are supposed to be representing sits. What a shame that Barakeh and his friends are wasting their ammunition on the wrong battle, when there is such an abundance of worthy fights to be fought.

The response of the mayor of Shfaram, Orsan Yassin, proves there is another way. Interviewed on an Arab language radio station, Yassin said that while he understands the anger and dismay of his fellow citizens, he also understands that the police must do their duty and take whatever measures are required by law.

After the inquiry is complete, perhaps even before the trial, the minister of justice can ask the president, in keeping with a famous precedent set in another bus incident, to pardon the suspects. You never know, maybe one of them will be elected to the Knesset some day and launch an investigation into whatever happened to the recommendations of the Or Commission.