A Bedouin Israeli in the south who complained to the police that he was attacked by four Jews simply because he was an Arab was arrested on suspicion that he assaulted the four men.
According to a district court judge, there is no disputing that the man, Sabah Abu Zaid, was attacked first and believed that his life was in danger.
During the incident, Abu Zaid called the police to rescue him and his passenger in the van that he drives for a living. He was arrested a few hours later – after he was released from the hospital – and was then released to house arrest 36 hours later.
The four men were questioned by the police and released; two said Abu Zaid had threatened them in the encounter in the southern city of Be'er Sheva.
According to his lawyer, Abu Zaid said the passenger warned him that the attackers were yelling “Death to Arabs,” and warned him to flee and even shouted “I’m a Jew” to keep the pursuers away.
The lawyer, Nasser Elataona, said Tuesday that the police were treating the version of the person who phoned them as false while the people he complained about went home after being questioned as criminal suspects.
“No one believes him because he’s an Arab,” Elataona said. "It's insanity that causes a reasonable citizen to have no trust in the system.”
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The police said the confrontation was between drivers on the road, and they would continue with their investigation.
According to Abu Zaid, on Sunday afternoon the four men blocked his car, sprayed him with pepper spray through the window, hit his car with clubs and metal bars and broke the lights. After the incident, he was taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva.
At the hospital, a bruised Abu Zaid fainted from the pepper spray, Elataona said. When Abu Zaid left the hospital Monday morning, he was taken to a police station and questioned on suspicion of damaging the car belonging to the four men, illegal possession of a knife and threatening the men.
Abu Zaid said that a day earlier, when he tried to escape, he slashed the tires of the men’s car using a knife from the van's first aid kit. Bedouin passersby tried to help him and they too were attacked, he said, adding that the police arrived a half hour later.
On Monday the police requested that Abu Zaid be detained for six days, but the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court released him to house arrest until Friday. After the police appealed, his release was delayed and Be'er Sheva District Court Revital Katz said there was no evidence to keep him in custody.
Abu Zaid's van has a camera that filmed the incident, and footage was provided to the police. The street where the incident took place also has security cameras.
At the magistrate’s court, the police did not present the footage or the testimony taken at the scene from Abu Zaid, the passenger or the men in the other car. In opting for house arrest, Judge Or Adam noted that Abu Zaid did not have a criminal record and was the one who called the police. But he said there was a reasonable suspicion that Abu Zaid committed the crime he was suspected of.
“The passenger told me: We're going to die, I don’t want to die.’ They chased me, my van couldn’t compete with their car," Abu Zaid testified while he was still in the hospital.
"We reached the square, where they recognized me [as an Arab]. One of them said, ‘Set the van on fire.’ When he saw the passenger and identified him as a Russian, he said: ‘Don’t set the van on fire, break his head open with the jack,’" Abu Zaid added.
"One of them came up to him and told him to get out. I asked him to be a man with me and not leave, so he didn’t get out. I called the police and told the policewoman that I was going to die. When the police arrived, I begged for them to draw their guns to separate us.”
The passenger in the van was not asked to provide testimony beyond what he provided at the scene. After Haaretz requested details from the police on the incident, the passenger was summoned to provide his version of the story Tuesday afternoon.
The man told Haaretz that the four men, whom he estimated to be under 20 years old and riding in a large white Ford, hit the van when he was in it. The attack reminded him of "riots 25 years ago in Russia,” he said.
After testifying to the police, the passenger told Haaretz that he did not remember what the men shouted and was not sure the motive for the attack was racism. He said the four might have believed that Abu Zaid was endangering them by the way he was driving, but he added that Abu Zaid was the victim of the confrontation.