Opinion

Jews Get Off Easy When the Victim Is an Arab

Jews in Israel have often received ridiculously light sentences for attacking Arabs, even when the assaults resulted in death

Israeli riot police officers arrest an Israeli Arab during a protest in the Arab village of Kfar Kana, northern Israel, Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014
אי־פי

The Jerusalem District Court last month sentenced Daniel Cohen Shor, who had pleaded guilty to aggravated battery, to 400 hours of community service. The maximum sentence for such a crime is six years imprisonment. He also received a one-year suspended sentence and had to pay the victim 7,500 shekels ($2,130).

Shor, the main perpetrator, was convicted along with five others. His specific role in the crime was unproven. The attack was unprovoked. The only reason for it was that the target was an Arab. The attack started with them teasing the donkey the victim was riding and continued until he was hit in the chest by a stone. He struggled to breathe and got off the donkey. The mob surrounded him and pelted him with more stones, injuring his rib and ear. While he was lying wounded on the ground, some of the attackers kept punching him in the head and legs, cursing him as an “Arab son of a bitch.”

Not only did they cause him physical harm, but a review revealed that they gravely hurt his sense of basic security and trust in people. His feelings of detachment, alienation and defenselessness, which he already possessed due to being a member of an ethnic minority and lacking the status of an Israeli citizen or resident, also worsened. He developed symptoms of PTSD, and suffers from night terrors and uncontrollable fits of rage.

The judge, Chana Miriam Lomp, ruled that considerations of justice, deterrence and protection of the public must also be taken into account in this case. However, she stated, “I chose not to implement the full force of the law given his young age, his personal circumstances, his taking responsibility and internalizing the wrongness in his actions, and also in consideration of the recommendation of the evaluation service.” Incidentally, he was 19 when he took part in the attack.

The court ruled that a fair punishment ranged between a few months of prison, which could be spent doing community service, to 18 months. The judge explained that she decided to stay within this range for the sake of Shor’s rehabilitation.

And as if by magic, the court decided to take it into account that the accused had spent over a month in detention, so it decided to only give him community service. Thus, the talk of the importance of penalization, defense of the public and deterrence was nullified, and even the range of suitable punishment, according to the court’s lenient interpretation, went out the window.

You don’t need a rich imagination to guess what the attackers’ victim felt when he heard the sentence, and realized how little his personal security, body and human dignity are worth in an Israeli court. It’s worth noting that the damage to his human dignity wasn’t even mentioned in the sentencing. You don’t need a rich imagination to understand how any Arab feels upon hearing how a nation of laws, Israel, treats a mob attack on an Arab because he is an Arab. Neither is much of an imagination needed to understand the message being sent by the sentence to Arab haters and other racists. We are not talking about a fringe group but a broad public, many of whose members are organized and whose acts are often planned. Such a sentence encourages racist thugs.

Jews in Israel have often received ridiculous sentences for attacking Arabs, even causing their death, which can only be understood as blatant discrimination. This phenomenon, whose first signs were seen even before Israel’s conquest of the territories, has only strengthened in the conquest’s aftermath. It’s probably difficult to escape the corrupting effects of occupation, one of which is the habit of looking on the conquered as inferior and as the enemy.

However, we mustn’t take this as permission to continue on this path. That would be calling a crooked line straight. Precisely because such a legal trend has developed, attesting to widespread discriminatory attitudes, everything should be done so it doesn’t become the rule, and so the legal system won’t be stained by the twisting of the law instead of pursuing justice. The obligation in this matter falls on every judge – to cleanse the system of a flaw that cannot be tolerated.

When it comes to racist crimes, and perhaps other crimes, too, in which the criminal is a Jew and the victim is an Arab, the judge should do the following exercise. First, close his eyes and switch the ethnicity of the victim and perpetrator. A fair punishment in these circumstances would be fair in all circumstances. And if you want to make sure to avoid gross distortion, imagine such an incident happening abroad, in which the victim is a Jew and the criminals are non-Jews. Any range of punishment that would lead us to decry an “anti-Semitic court” is off-limits for an Israeli judge.

The court must decide in these cases whether it sides with violent racists or with the victims whose only crime is their ethnicity. When a ridiculous punishment is meted out, there is no avoiding the conclusion that the court indeed joined the wrong side.

One other comment about racist crimes against Arabs. Clearly, the perpetrators must be punished in a way that reflects the full gravity of their actions, for reasons of recompense, prevention, education and deterrence. But that’s not enough. Public leaders who make racist and disparaging comments about Arabs prepare the ground for racist violence and bear public responsibility for such deeds.

Those who shape the narrative of Arabs as trespassers in the Land of Israel, and Palestinians as Israel’s eternal enemies, also create an atmosphere that encourages racist violence against Arabs. The same applies to those who deny the destructiveness of the occupation – and they are growing more numerous and powerful.

Those who take lightly the criminality of Jews towards Arabs, whoever they may be, as if it were a marginal phenomenon that the Jewish public is united in condemning and eradicating – they are also gravely mistaken. Their attitude encourages such criminality. Even the education system, which has not put the struggle against racism at the top of its concerns, is not free of responsibility.