Why do survivors of massacre by Israeli soldier face imprisonment?

Sisters Hazar and Dina Turki, killed by an Israel soldier who opened fire in a bus, are mourned during their funeral, August 2005.

Pavel Wolberg EPA/Newscom

Seven Palestinian men in Shefa Amr, a city in the Galilee region of present-day Israel, are anxiously awaiting the verdict of a protracted court case. The men have been put on trial over the 2005 killing of an Israeli soldier who had carried out a massacre. Despite ample evidence that the killing was an act of self-defense, the seven men fear they will be convicted of murder.

On 4 August 2005, Eden Natan Zada — wearing an Israeli military uniform — boarded a bus heading from Haifa to Shefa Amr. When the bus reached the Marashan neighborhood at the entrance of Shefa Amrr, Zada walked to the front, indicating that he wished to disembark. As the door of the bus opened, he shot the driver, Michel Bahouth, before opening fire on the passengers. As well as Bahouth, Zada killed two sisters in their early twenties, Hazar and Dina Turki, and a local man, Nader Hayek.

Before he was able to murder anyone else, Zada was confronted by a crowd and killed. Within minutes of the massacre, hundreds of angry locals had surrounded the bus. Israeli police were unable to recover Zada’s body for a further four hours.

The massacre perpetrated by Zada was condemned as a “vile act” against innocent civilians by Israel’s then prime minister, Ariel Sharon (“‘Vile act by terrorist’”, Ynet, 4 August 2005). Nonetheless, the Israeli authorities soon launched criminal proceedings against those suspected of killing Zada. The suspects were identified from video recordings of the incident.

“Accusation we refuse to accept”

Almost eight years later, the trial is nearing a conclusion. Summaries of the hearings have been submitted by the prosecution and the attorneys. A date for the delivery of the verdict is likely to be announced soon.

Jamil Safuri, a board member of the political party Abnaa al-Balad, is one of the seven accused. Safuri is adamant that Zada had already been killed by the time he arrived on the scene. There are good reasons to fear that Israel wishes to put him behind bars because of his activism.

“It is not easy to wake up one day and be charged with murder,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “It is an accusation we refuse to accept.”

Daoud Nafaa, one of the attorneys representing the accused, believes the trial is clearly unjust. “The main aim of this trial is to turn the oppressor into a victim and the victim into an oppressor,” Nafaa said. “The State of Israel wants its Palestinians citizens to give in to the reality of oppression against them.” Palestinians comprise about one-fifth of the population within Israel.

Safuri said that the trial has “damaged all our lives.” With two or three hearings per week, maintaining work commitments has been extremely hard. One of the accused, Basil Khatib, lost a job as a result. Others among the seven have married and formed families since the trial began. Basil Keddri, for example, is the father of a baby daughter. The trial has caused financial worries for the men and their loved ones.

“Absence of justice”

Many Palestinian citizens of Israel have been eager to demonstrate their solidarity with the seven men.

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel has decided that it will call a general strike if the seven men are convicted and imprisoned. In a recent statement, the committee said that the trial against the seven men showed that Palestinians in Israel face “an absence of justice” in a racist state.

Last week the filmmaker Nidal Barani organized a screening of his documentary 30 March in Haifa to raise funds for the seven. The documentary features interviews with witnesses of the 1976 Land Day protests, during which six Palestinians in Israel were shot dead by the Israeli military and police.

“These eyewitnesses have shed their tears with us as they remembered what happened to them in 1976,” said Barani. “This pain should be imprinted on our memory, as should other important events such as the Shefa Amr massacre.”

Sawsan Khalife’ is a political activist and journalist from Shefa Amr in the Galilee region of Palestine.