Six Palestinian men have been handed prison sentences of up to two years each over the 2005 killing of an Israeli soldier who opened fire on a bus full of civilians in Shefa Amr, a city in the Galilee region of present-day Israel. A seventh man has been given a suspended sentence of eight months.
The court case, which concluded last month, demonstrates that Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel are treated differently by the the authorities.
Considerable effort was made to protect the reputation of Eden Natan Zada, the Israeli soldier who opened fire on the bus, murdering the driver and three passengers. The prosecution refused to label him a “terrorist” because using such a label would “disgrace the deceased,” as the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
The Palestinians who tackled Zada and prevented him from inflicting an even higher death toll were, on the other hand, depicted as inherently violent. The court refused to accept the obvious that those who confronted Zada were responding to his unprovoked acts against innocent civilians and were trying to defend their community.
Judge Ilan Schiff claimed that Israel “cannot tolerate acts of retribution,” the Times of Israel reported. His words smacked of hypocrisy; Israel has frequently argued that its attacks on Gaza’s women and children were in retaliation for rockets fired from the Strip. For years it punitively destroyed the homes of family members of Palestinians suspected of armed resistance.
Despite recognizing that Zada killed his victims “simply because they were Arabs,” Schiff effectively rubber-stamped requests from the Israeli state, which had sought the accused be imprisoned for up to nine years. Schiff only departed from that request by taking account of how the trial had lasted for eight years when deciding how long the men would be locked away.
Jamil Safuri, one of the convicted, told The Electronic Intifada that “there is no doubt to anyone that this was a political trial based on racist approaches.”
“We face this discrimination in all aspects in our lives as the Palestinian minority in a Jewish state, whether in education, residency, civil rights or even the right to defend our own lives,” he said.
“We have no rights”
Had this been a case of Israelis killing a Palestinian in self-defense, it would more than likely have gone unpunished. We know this from bitter experience.
No criminal charges were brought against a Jewish Israeli taxi driver who along with police shot a Palestinian who allegedly struck an Israeli police car and a bus with his bulldozer in Jerusalem during 2009. The Palestinian man, a construction worker, died of his wounds.
This double standard was also the case with the killing of the perpetrator of a deadly attack on a yeshiva in Jerusalem in 2008 — a precedent raised by the Shefa Amr defense attorneys in court. The Palestinian gunman who slay eight was shot in the head by student Yitzhak Danon; Danon along with Israeli soldiers then fired repeatedly into the man’s body for ten minutes. “Five hundred or 600 bullets were fired,” according to one witness. No charges were filed against Danon, who was celebrated in the media as a national hero.
Morad Haddad, an elected member of the Shefa Amr municipality, told The Electronic Intifada that nobody was surprised by the Haifa District Court verdict.
“In a way, there is a positive side to this verdict. It shows the true face of the Israeli government towards the Palestinian citizens of its country.
“It shows that the blue ID [card] we hold is there to serve the agenda of the government. They treat us like citizens when it is convenient for them, and like terrorists in other cases. We, therefore, have no rights in this country.”
Sawsan Khalife’ is a political activist and journalist from Shefa Amr in the Galilee region of Palestine.