If the ‘Terrorist’ Were Jewish

Gideon Levy
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Nizmi Abu Bakr after his arrest in the West Bank, May 2020
Nizmi Abu Bakr after his arrest in the West Bank, May 2020Credit: IDF Spokesperson
Gideon Levy

Let’s say Nizmi Abu Bakr was a Jewish citizen of Israel. It’s nighttime in his village, he’s sleeping in his apartment, and late into the night he suddenly hears loud yelling from the bottom floor of the building, where his brothers and their families live. He is alarmed. His wife and eight children wake up, also frightened. He’s anxious over what might happen to them. Everyone is scared, the children start crying. He realizes that strangers have invaded his house and are now on the bottom floor. He rushes to the rooftop, from where he sees two columns of soldiers from the occupying army in the building’s compound. He grabs a stone block and throws it from the roof at the soldiers who’ve invaded his home. One of them is killed.

Let’s assume Abu Bakr was Jewish. He would have become a hero, someone who put his life on the line with his pitiful resources, defending the people in his home. He would be lauded as someone trying to expel the invader with a rock, a 2020 version of David against Goliath. His story would perhaps have become a legend, making it into the school curriculum. Maybe a street would have been named after him.

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But Abu Bakr isn’t Jewish, which is why he isn’t a hero, but a murderer. He is a 49-year-old Palestinian and the rock he hurled killed the soldier Amit Ben-Yigal, who with his comrades invaded Abu Bakr’s house in yet another pointless, shameful raid, usually employed to carry out political detentions, to train army units and keep them on the ball, or to project power and domination. Within hours, Abu Bakr was arrested.

After a whole year in which no soldier had been killed, but no fewer than 150 Palestinians had been, Israel immediately adopted its usual position of wallowing, posing as a victim, seeking vengeance while demonizing its targets. Abu Bakr was depicted as a terrorist and a despicable murderer, his action a terror attack, his village labeled a hostile one, with any penalty imposed on him other than capital punishment deemed wimpish.

The grotesque ritual called a military trial has not ended yet, with no one convicted so far, but the nation and its prime minister already wish to see his house razed, with all its inhabitants thrown into the street. If the dead soldier’s family is suffering, let them suffer too. This is what happens to anyone who dares oppose the occupation.

This time there was a rare twist to the saga. The High Court of Justice ruled 2-1 against the demolition. Israel became even more roiled. The prime minister, in the role of chief prosecutor, “demanded” another hearing. The bereaved father, Baruch, lowered the flag above his son’s grave to half mast, saying that his father the Holocaust survivor and his son were the victims of the same Nazi Germany. The NGO that supported the Abu Bakr family in its petition against the demolition is funded by German money.

The two judges ruling against the demolition, Menachem Mazuz and George Kara, a leftist and an Arab, respectively, dared to protect the family with their courageous and clearly just ruling. The family was not involved in the action of Abu Bakr and bear no responsibility for it, but the two judges are now being called traitors. Only Justice Yael Vilner defended our national pride in her minority opinion: “The waves of terror sweeping over Israel in the last few years,” she wrote, “necessitate an effective deterrence against similar attacks in the future.”

What “waves of terror” is the judge talking about? And what is the connection between terror and the killing of a soldier on occupied land? Mostly, who will this demolition deter? After all, Israel has not ceased deterring. After 50 years of deterrence, Abu Bakr still threw a block at a soldier.

If Abu Bakr were Jewish, we’d tell the story as it really is. Abu Bakr is the defender, the IDF the aggressor. Every occupation engenders resistance. The terror and violence are dished out mainly by Israel. The more violent the occupation, the more violent the resistance. Palestinian resistance is actually among the tamest in history, in relation to the length of the seemingly endless occupation. Razing a house is collective punishment, a violation of natural justice and international law.

Even decades of brutal occupation have not taught Israel the only lesson there is: In the ruins of every house it demolishes grows the next “terrorist.”