A Jerusalem court acquitted last week Zaki Sabah, a pretzel roll vendor in Jerusalem’s Old City, of assaulting a municipal inspector in a 2017 incident, ruling he had acted in self-defense to protecting his property.
Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Ilan Sela ruled that the inspector had broken the law by confiscating Sabah’s rolls and breaking his wooden serving tray.
Sabah is well-known figure at the Jaffa Gate of the Old City, where he has sold his pretzel rolls (known as “bageleh” in Hebrew, but which are different from American bagels) for decades. He has had regular run-ins with municipal inspectors because he has no vendor’s license and has failed in his efforts to obtain one.
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He served two jail stints over the substantial debt that he accumulated in unpaid fines. In 2008, he spent 11 months in prison, and then, in 2013, after all of his cases were consolidated, he was sentenced by Local Affairs Court Judge Tamar Nimrodi to no less than another 10 years. He served just a few weeks of the term until a settlement agreement was reached – amid public protest over the sentence.
Since then, however, he had accumulated more than a million shekels ($294,000) in additional fines. As a result, inspectors were instructed to confiscate his merchandise on a daily basis rather than continuing to issue citations.
In the 2017 confrontation that was the subject of last week’s ruling, an inspector not only confiscated the rolls but also broke his tray. Sabah, who was represented by Maher Hanna of the Public Defender’s Office, said that it had been his daughter’s wedding day and that he felt the need to earn a little money so that he wouldn’t show up to the wedding empty-handed. He also said that he had to pay the bakery where he obtained the rolls 100 shekels if he did not return the tray.
Judge Sela criticized the inspector for what he said was the inspector’s disregard for Sabah’s property. “This was a tray that enabled the defendant to make a living, even if it was done illegally and without a license, and its value to him was very high relative to his earnings,” the judge wrote. Sela also quoted a passage from the Book of Deuteronomy that forbids taking collateral used to prepare food.
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The judge accepted Sabah’s argument that he had not sought to attack the inspector and was trying to prevent him from destroying the tray. “Although he attacked the complainant [the inspector], he has the right to protect his property while the complainant was damaging it in his presence and against the law, and he acted reasonably to prevent damage to it,” Sela ruled.
In response to the ruling, the Jerusalem Municipality said it had not been a party to the case, which had been pursued by the Israel Police against Sabah in connection with the physical confrontation. “Nevertheless, when it comes to the ruling on the inspector’s behavior, it will be studied and examined.”