Dodging the Bullets

"I'm going in," Zvika Fogel reported over the phone to police Superintendent Nir Ekron. Fogel got into his car in Rosh Pina and headed to his job as the head of the Tuba-Zangariyye council, three kilometers to the east. On the way he stopped at a Rosh Pina cafe to buy cigarettes. "It's a cafe owned by people from Tuba; for me it's important to buy specifically from them," he said, displaying his commitment to the village's residents.

Five minutes later, two police patrol cars were waiting for him, with Superintendent Ekron in one of them. On Yom Kippur eve, Fogel's car was torched outside his office in Tuba-Zangariyye and shots were fired directly at his office windows.

Tuba-Zangariyye is a Bedouin village in the Upper Galilee with about 6,000 residents. "I bent down to my bag and grabbed my pistol," says Fogel, recalling his actions in those seconds. "When I raised my head to the window, they were already gone, happily for me. If I had fired and hit someone, I would have sentenced the village to an impossible period of chaos."

He still refrains from saying who would have wanted to hurt him. But yesterday, he spoke for the first time and told Haaretz that "someone wanted elections to be held in the village."

Recently, a petition calling for new elections and the appointment of a council head from the village, has been signed by some 1,000 residents. "As a democratic effort, I respected the call," said Fogel, "but the motives cited in the petition were bad."

After the shooting, the police barred him from returning to the village for a week. Only two days ago, with a security escort, did he return to his office in Tuba. Yesterday he met with Major General Shimon Koren, commander of the northern police district, and received an update on the details of the investigation. When he entered his office, police investigators were waiting for him. "We're with you," they told him with a smile. Glaziers were working to replace the bullet-riddled window panes, and a council employee was repairing the bullet holes in the office. Fogel thinks they were warning shots.

Fogel, 53, a brigadier general in the reserves, was appointed about a year ago by Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit to serve as local council head. Before that he was a member of the village's appointed committee. During the last war he coordinated the use of heavy fire in the Gaza Strip and worked in the command's war room with OC Southern Command Major General Yoav Gallant. In 2003, two months after being discharged from the army, he ran for mayor of Be'er Sheva but lost to Yaakov Terner. After a short time as a city councillor, he left his hometown, headed north and set up a project management and process analysis company.

"After unacceptable pressure from the interior minister," as he described it, he agreed to become the appointed head of the Tuba-Zangariyye local council. Fogel describes the assignment as "Zionism and a national mission," adding that he hopes for a new generation of local leadership that will run and lead the village. "For me, the Zionism is integrating the Arab community in the range of Israeli endeavors. Equality of all the obligations and benefits. I know that Arab citizens will never feel fully equal, but at least they should feel that their starting point is equal."

Poverty, violent power struggles and criminal elements have shaped the village's image as a violent place, and Fogel wants to change that from the bottom up. He envisages bed-and-breakfasts overlooking the rugged Jordan River channel, but for now, the police patrol car outside his office window seems closer than the dream of bed-and-breakfasts.