A Tale of Twisted Justice for Jerusalem's Most Hapless Pretzel Guy

If a Jew and not an Arab had been caught selling bagels without a permit, no one would have twisted his life around like a chunk of dough.

You already know Zaki Sabah. Nir Hasson wrote about him in Haaretz. Sabah is a 60-year-old Arab father of seven who suffers from diabetes. For 15 years he has been selling beigele ‏(Arab-style bagels‏) at Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate without a permit. For his criminal doings he receives daily fines from municipal inspectors. These now number in the hundreds, all unpaid. Only rarely does the municipality exhibit such determination in pursuing its goals. It was bent on removing Sabah’s beigele cart from the area, and finally achieved victory after Sabah was charged in a Jerusalem court.

His sentence was handed down last week, but went unreported in the media. Such stories always get pushed aside. However, my wife was in her car the other day, listening to Gabi Gazit’s radio program. In total disbelief, she related the incident to me.

“I’m not sure I really heard well, or whether I just imagined it. Take a guess, what do you think his sentence was?”

I hesitated a bit: “Don’t tell me he got a jail sentence?”

“Oh, indeed he did, but for how long?” she persisted.

“Maybe 30 days,” I guessed, thinking I was probably exaggerating.

“You’ve come out looking like a fool again,” sighed my wife.

Justice Tamar Nimrodi sentenced Sabah to either 3,455 days in prison or a fine of NIS 780,000. The beigele seller doesn’t have that kind of money, and has therefore started serving his sentence.

He phoned his attorney, Amir Schneider, from jail, sharing his experiences so far. He shares a cell with another inmate who was sentenced to six years in prison after being caught in possession of 38 kg of heroin. Sabah will have many opportunities to meet murderers and rapists, drug dealers and prisoners who ran over and killed innocent victims. He’ll get to know them well, but which of them will have a comparable sentence?

Why should I complain about the light-headed judge, who chose this case of all cases for bringing the full brunt of the dry and musty law to bear. Instead, I’d like to comment on Jerusalem, from where, on a clear day, one can see the entire area surrounding Sodom. But these are days of hatred and darkness, in which we can see little, not even ourselves. And what a sight we make! The city of glory, once said to be faithful, ruled by law and justice, has now become a harlot.

Are there any judges left in Jerusalem? This sentence is but one of several other groundless and mystifying ones that were handed down recently. If a Jew and not an Arab had been caught selling bagels without a permit, no one would have twisted his life around like a chunk of dough.

The same dry law forbids sentencing someone to prison in absentia. Sabah was not present when he was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Who knows, perhaps if the judge had actually seen him she would have been more lenient. Perhaps.

But Arabs are not usually seen here even from close up. They are always “present absentees,” even when they are already exhausted and sick, surrounded by children. 

Alex Kolomoisky