As the latest flare-up between Israel and Hamas exploded in May, the normally quiet and pastoral community of Binyamina in central Israel was rocked by two violent and disturbing incidents in which Jews sought out, attacked and injured Arab citizens.
After waiting months for police investigations to be completed and arrests made in connection with the violent incidents, three members of the town’s council have sent a letter of protest to the country’s police chief, Kobi Shabtai, demanding action.
“We, the members of the Binyamina-Giv’at Ada Council, are asking you to command the Israel Police to deal with these incidents with urgency and severity. We ask ourselves: Why are these attackers roaming free among us without consequences and without any kind of deterrence that will prevent them from attacking again?” they wrote.
The first incident the letter refers to took place on May 12. That evening, a large group of young men, which some witnesses said numbered in the hundreds, hunted down and attacked Arabs at a junction on their town’s border with the city of Or Akiva. Arab-driven vehicles were stopped on the highway, while pedestrians were pulled off the sidewalk and beaten with bats and planks. Two Arabs were hospitalized with their injuries.
At a nearby gas station, Arab workers hid with the assistance of the business’s Jewish owners, fearing for their lives as the attackers loudly demanded to know where they were.
Less than two weeks later, on May 27, a gang of 10 people, whom eyewitnesses identified as Jewish, attacked an Arab security guard after he refused to let them enter a construction site. They fled the scene, leaving the bloodied guard on the ground, where others arranged for him to be transported to a hospital for care and surgery.
The councillors’ letter stated that in the first attack at the junction, “An investigation was opened and a single indictment was filed.” They noted that “only after repeated inquiries from citizens was an investigation opened and this one indictment filed.”
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Despite the fact that the local police were given “photos, videos and documentation of the cases and many people involved in these incidents,” the letter said that “from conversations we had with witnesses, it became clear to us that some of them were not questioned at all and no real effort was made to find all the culprits and bring them to justice.”
In the case of the second attack, the letter asserted that the police failed to visit the hospital where the guard was hospitalized, nor go to his home after he was discharged. They only asked him to come to the police station and share his account of the incident about a week after the attack, the letter added.
One of the council members behind the letter, Maoz Inon, said it was written in frustration after meetings with the local station commander did not yield satisfactory responses.
He said the city councilors asked why, when so much video evidence and witness testimony was available in the May 12 riots, so little action had seemingly been taken. “He gave us excuses: that he didn’t have enough manpower, infrastructure or technological tools at his disposal. But it seems very obvious to us that there was little effort to find Jewish attackers. And that’s a shame,” Inon charged.
Following the second attack, Inon said, “We held a protest vigil afterward for an entire day, to protest racist violence. But a lot of people in the community have tried to deny that it happened, or said it was unrelated to race. We approached our municipality and asked them to release a statement condemning race-based violence – they refused.”
His conclusion: “People think it can’t happen here, in a place like Binyamina, and they refuse to admit that Jews are capable of doing something like this.”
In response to the charges laid out in the letter, a police spokesman said that in the attack at the junction, “The police arrested a number of people involved, including a suspect who attacked another person with a machete and a knife. In his case, a serious indictment was filed and a request for detention until the end of the proceedings.” He added that the police had been successful in quelling the activity.
Regarding the second incident involving the guard, the police spokesman said an investigation is underway and “we do not provide details about ongoing investigations. We will continue to investigate the case thoroughly, in order to bring the suspects to justice.”
Disappointed, not surprised
Shoshi and Naaman Stavy, the mother-and-son owners of the gas station at the junction where the May 12 riots took place and who witnessed the events, said they were disappointed but not surprised that more participants did not pay a price for what happened.
“It’s clearly being swept under the carpet,” Naaman Stavy said. “As a result, I don’t believe people will think twice if they decide to riot again – and I won’t be surprised if that happens.”
The message to the workers at his gas station, he says, “is that you aren’t important to us, and that crimes perpetrated by Jews against Arabs are not important enough for police and the Israeli justice system, and are not being taken seriously enough.”
Shoshi Stavy said she was not surprised the rioters have escaped legal repercussions for their actions. “I knew that nothing was going to come out of it,” she said. “I could tell on the same night from the attitude of the police. I had to insist that they take the video footage I filmed that night. They were uninterested because it was Jews attacking Arabs.”
Three months later, she said, life at the Binyamina junction is “pretty much back to normal” – with one significant change. Before the incident, she never felt her gas station needed additional protection. Now, on weekend nights, she retains a security guard to ensure her workers’ safety – “and I don’t know if I’ll ever stop.”
The experience in Binyamina reflects the national picture following the wave of Jewish-Arab violence during the 11-day conflict in May. On June 3, the police announced the end of what had been called Operation Law and Order, during which thousands of police officers, Border Police and reserve duty officers were deployed around the country to quell riots and inter-ethnic violence – particularly in cities where Jews and Arabs live in close proximity. According to the police, 2,142 people were arrested in the operation of whom 91 percent were Arab.