The Arch-terrorist in a Garbage Bin

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Zakaria Zubeidi and Mohammed Aradeh after being recaptured early Saturday.

The photo of Israel’s grand victory is worth a thousand words: The “brain” behind the escape and a “senior” Islamic Jihad member picking through garbage, looking for food; a frightened Zakaria Zubeidi being led to a police car, his exhausted face swollen from blows he received. “Put your head down,” he is instructed by the hero of the hour, a policewoman.

Two escapees were caught among garbage bins, another two among some trucks. The escape that threatened to ignite the Middle East, or at least the West Bank and Gaza Strip, ended at a garbage dump, with a policeman taking shoes and socks off the feet of a bound and miserable fugitive who had become an existential threat to a regional power.

With one whoosh, all the air escaped from the balloon of fear and intimidation: They’ll carry out a mass terror attack; they’re armed; they’ll escape to Jordan, Lebanon, perhaps to Afghanistan; waiting for them on the outside is help, an escape route, and a road to a terror attack. They are extremely dangerous, very sophisticated. They are heavily armed. TV studios were bursting with the usual horrific scenarios, with statements and messages delivered by people that are called “military correspondents,” by generals and senior police officers, by people in the know, people who always know everything. The constant message was meant to stoke fear. It’s good for ratings and for people idolizing the defense establishment. Each infusion of fear adds to the sense of self-importance. More fear means more budgets.

Fear absolves Israelis of any doubts or questions. In its shadow, everything is fair game. If it’s so dangerous, justice is on our side. Only one side is allowed to shed the blood of the other; only Jewish blood-letting leads to reprisals – hardly anyone is punished for shedding Palestinian blood.

Fear makes the need for justice and equality redundant. If the siege over Gaza is lifted – Israel will be annihilated; if the right of return is honored, the Holocaust will return, and if the prisoners aren’t caught, the world will end.

The genies who escaped from their bottle were quickly returned to their place by the Shin Bet, special police forces, and the Border Police. It was necessary to capture the escaped men, even though I was hoping they wouldn’t be, but this could have been done without a campaign of fear against the men, against Arab Israelis who might cooperate with them and against the city of Jenin.

The method is tried and tested: Increase the sense of danger and be a hero. The air force bombs the headquarters of the “naval commandos” in Gaza – a paddle board and snorkel – let the best become pilots. Tanks shell “a terror command post of Hamas,” – a tin hut with a plastic chair – let us sing the praises of our armored forces. “Undercover forces eliminated a senior Hamas member” – a 17-year-old youth – let’s give a medal for bravery. The enemy facing us is so sophisticated, well-equipped, armed, and cruel that only our heroes can vanquish him.

Actually, the opposite is true. In the West Bank and Gaza stands one of the best-equipped armies in the world, with a science fiction-like air force and intelligence services seen only in movies, facing off against a ragtag army. One hundred years of David and Goliath, with David getting weaker and Goliath bursting with increasing powers, while Israelis tell themselves the opposite. Israel’s defense needs, you know.

What luck Israel has that the ones facing them are Palestinians. In Afghanistan the mujahideen shot down Soviet helicopters, while in Jerusalem, a doctor attacking a policeman with a knife used for cutting tomatoes is instantly shot to death, with policemen stepping on his body in another victory pose.

One photo dispelled it all on Friday night. The look on the fugitives’ faces which could not but evoke compassion for them, given what awaits them for the rest of their lives and mainly in the coming days, in light of the public opprobrium, the stoking of the flames in the media, their demonization, and the mobilization of so many security forces against them.

It’s now obvious that these men escaped with one desperate goal, to gain their freedom, even though there was no chance of succeeding, or at least to restore their dignity. Only one thing was on the side of those weak, bound, frightened and depressed escapees – justice. But this, as is well-known, is not common currency these days. It has no value whatsoever.

Therefore, laud the people who caught them, join the ones lamenting the fact that they weren’t liquidated. In the end, the real picture is of a Palestinian rummaging through the garbage, looking for food. A sad picture, very sad.

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