How and Why Radical Right-winger Bentzi Gopstein Was Acquitted

The judge’s faith in Gopstein is interwoven in a process of acceptance, separation and differentiation.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Bentzi Gopstein during an anti-Arab protest in Afula, 2015.
Bentzi Gopstein during an anti-Arab protest in Afula, 2015.Credit: Gil Eliyahu
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Judge Dov Pollock believes in Bentzi Gopstein’s honesty. This faith forms the basis of his decision to acquit the chairman of Lehava (an NGO seeking to prevent assimilation in the Holy Land) of the charge of attacking two left-wing activists, Daniel Dokorovich and Ezra Nawi.

“I accept the claim,” Pollock wrote in his decision, “that the defendant subjectively felt a clear danger to himself and to neighborhood residents who stood next to him when Ezra, Daniel and their colleagues decided to climb the gate and enter this way, arousing suspicion about their intentions. The defendant made an honest mistake regarding the goal of their entry into the settlement for the sake of preventing a supposed danger presented by their entry. Thus, there is both a foundation for palpable danger and a foundation for the defendant’s subjective sense of urgency.”

No one denies Gopstein’s attack. It was filmed and took place right under the nose of Judea and Samaria District police in Kiryat Arba. It happened on August 2, 2008. Two years passed until the Judea and Samaria District prosecution unit filed an indictment, and even that was only after those attacked kept “nudging.” The trial dragged on and on, and on Sunday the acquittal came down.

The indictment is flawed by omissions, errors and deletions. This is further evidence that prosecution unit did not really try. So let’s summarize the events: Another activist from Ta’ayush, a Jewish-Arab anti-occupation group, was arrested that morning at a protest over the blockage of a trail connecting two small villages. That has been the army’s solution for years. The settlers harass Palestinian passersby, the path is blocked to the Palestinians. Nawi went to pick up the detainee who was released from the Judea and Samaria police station in Kiryat Arba. Nawi asked Dr. Dokorovich to accompany him and examine some Palestinian children. There were two more activists with them.

The small Givat Ha’avot settlement, where Gopstein lives, is adjacent to the police station. The activists entered the settlement by car via the main gate because that is the way to the police station. They noticed a large group of settler children throwing rocks at the Ja’abri family home right nearby. Despite the proximity to the police station and the presence of adults and soldiers, no one made the children stop. The Ta’ayush activists, true heroes, rushed to climb the gate separating Givat Avot and the Ja’abris’ land to stand with the family under attack. Their presence and involvement required the soldiers to disperse the settlers throwing stones.

The activists then saw that a group of Israelis, apparently settlers, were walking suspiciously around their car. Afterward they would discover that the tires had been punctured and Dokorovich’s medical bag lifted. They sought to climb the locked gate and get back to their car on the other side. That’s where Gopstein attacked them. The police arrested the activists.

This factual foundation, which the activists testified to in court, apparently seemed irrelevant to the honorable judge. Relevant was the emotional foundation of the attacker – who, in response to the police’s recommendation a year ago to try him for racist incitement, described the essence of his work as follows: “I represent the Torah of Israel, which taught us the importance of differentiation between Israel and the gentile peoples.”

The judge’s faith in Gopstein is interwoven in a process of acceptance, separation and differentiation. He separates the defendant standing in front of him from the very well-known media personality. There will be those who call this objectivity, or professionalism. He accepts the emotional basis on which Gopstein makes his declaration, and which allows him to present a picture of reality in which he is the potential victim of an attack by Arabs and anarchists. At the same time, the judge ignores the fabric of objective facts that brought the true victims of the attack to Hebron and the settlement. In accepting Gopstein’s claims, the judge makes a differentiation. Between the attacker and the attacked. Between the settler and the one suspected of anarchism, leftism or Arabism. Between Israel and the gentile peoples.

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