Israel’s Terror Wave: The Arab Officer Who Became a National Hero

Amir Khoury, an Arab-Israeli officer, rushed to the scene of a terror attack and fought the shooter. He was the second Arab cop to die in the current wave of terror attacks, two of which were conducted by Arab-Israelis

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Police officers carrying the coffin of Amir Khoury in Nof Hagalil on Thursday. He died while confronting a terrorist in Bnei Brak on Tuesday evening.
Police officers carrying the coffin of Amir Khoury in Nof Hagalil on Thursday. He died while confronting a terrorist in Bnei Brak on Tuesday evening.Credit: JALAA MAREY - AFP

Media coverage in Israel in recent days focused on the fact that two of the deadly terror attacks that have shocked the country were committed by Arab citizens of Israel – a worrying development that casts a dark shadow on Jewish-Arab relations.

But that’s only one part of the story. Just as significant is the fact that two of those killed in the latest terror wave were Arab-Israeli policemen who lost their lives protecting others.

Amir Khoury, 32, grew up in an Arab-Christian family in northern Israel and joined the Israel Police, as other members of his family had done before him. On Tuesday night, while on assignment in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak, he rushed to the scene of a shooting attack after hearing about it on his radio.

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Riding a motorcycle, Khoury identified the Palestinian gunman who was carrying out the attack and opened fire on him. He was killed by one of the attacker’s final bullets, but played an important role in stopping him before other innocent civilians were harmed. His partner, whose name has not been made public, eventually killed the terrorist.

Amir Khoury, who served in the police like his brother and father before him.

Khoury’s funeral took place on Thursday in his hometown of Nof Hagalil, with members of Bnei Brak’s ultra-Orthodox community in attendance to honor the officer for his life-saving actions.

Just a day before Khoury’s death, another young Arab man in uniform was also laid to rest. Yazan Falah, a 19-year-old Border Police officer from the Druze village of Kisra-Sumei in northern Israel, was killed Sunday in an ISIS-inspired shooting attack in Hadera.

According to his family, Falah wanted to join the Border Police in order to serve in the same unit other members of his family had served in before him. His uncle, Louis Falah said that his nephew “felt he belonged to the Border Police family and was proud of his service,” calling the death “a very painful tragedy.”

The sacrifices of Khoury and Falah highlighted for many Israelis the importance of not turning the current wave of terror attacks into a tribal war – a worrying possibility that emerged in the aftermath of the attacks as right-wing extremists led crowds in chants of “Death to the Arabs” near the scenes of the attacks.

Yazan Falah and Shirel Abukarat, the two border police fighters killed in the attack in HaderaCredit: Israeli Border Police

Public admiration for Khoury’s bravery in particular intensified among Israelis after his partner’s body camera footage of the incident was released, dramatizing how quickly he and his partner rushed toward the gunshots and fired at the attacker. On the video, his partner can be heard crying “Khoury, watch out!” before gunshots begin ringing out.

Senior government figures flocked to Khoury’s family’s home near Nazareth to pay their respects. Joining the Khoury family was Shani Yashar, Amir Khoury’s girlfriend of seven years, who tearfully told reporters that after earlier terror attacks had rocked the country, she begged him “not to be a hero.”

Yashar, who is Jewish, added that the couple had planned to get married in the near future.

Border Police officers weeping at the funeral of fellow officer Yazan Falah, in the Druze village of Kisra-Sumei on Monday.Credit: Rami Shllush

Hours after Tuesday’s incident, the first visitor was Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, who declared to the fallen officer’s father: “It is important for me to tell you that your son saved the lives of many civilians. His actions will become a legacy and memory of heroism for the whole country.” He vowed that the police will “stand with you and provide whatever you need.”

Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein also came to thank the family for Khoury’s sacrifice. In the hours after the attack, a crowd of mostly young ultra-Orthodox men gathered in a street nearby and shouted racist slogans against Arabs. The mayor’s appreciation of the late police officer offered an alternative view of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel in the face of the current terror wave.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar also tweeted out a photograph of himself comforting the grieving family of the man “who bravely saved the lives of many civilians. We will remember his heroism. Israel will stand together in the face of murder and extremism – and win!”

Amir Khoury was the third member of his family to join the Israeli police, following in the footsteps of his father and his brother. His father told the media that his son’s “whole life was his police service” and that he had risen quickly in the ranks, always first to arrive at any incident.

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