Yitzhak Algabry didn’t know his life was about to end when he walked into his backyard in Moshav Avihayil in the Sharon one night in October 2012 to grab some bread for a family dinner that was taking place inside the house.
Instead, Algabry surprised three burglars from Tulkarm who were hiding in the apartment unit in the back yard. The men began to fight with him, with one bludgeoning him in the head before another stabbed him in the chest with a screwdriver, mortally wounding the 62-year-old man. By the time his family noticed his body lying dead in the apartment unit, the killers were long gone, and according to an indictment issued in August of this year, they were already on their way to a shwarma restaurant in Jaljulya, where they would stop for dinner before heading home to the West Bank.
The Moshav Avihayil case came to mind earlier this month, when retired IDF Colonel Sraya Ofer was murdered late at night by three men wielding sticks and axes in the backyard of his house on the small vacation village of Brosh Habika in the northern Jordan Valley. In the coming days three Hebron men were arrested and allegedly confessed to the crime, which was quickly seized upon by politicians and the media as a terror attack, even as police said they were unsure the motive behind the killing. The killers later admitted that they had been at the house in the weeks earlier, apparently casing it out.
To me the killing bore many signs of a botched robbery. It took place late at night, when burglars arrived at an appealing target – a large spread in a secluded area – where a man lived with his wife. That man was widely known to be a member of Israel’s Ofer family, one of the country’s wealthiest, though I don’t know if there’s any indication the perpetrators knew that. Nonetheless, the fact that police were not able to say what the motive was without a shadow of a doubt was telling, just like it was in another case a week earlier, when a nine-year-old girl was attacked by an intruder in the backyard of her house in Psagot. Within minutes reports began circulating that she was shot in the chest at point blank range, and that the incident was a failed terror attack. Just like a week later in Brosh Habika, politicians jumped on the incident, blaming incitement in the Palestinian Authority, even though the motive of the crime not be determined and in the days to come police and the army were unable to give a clear answer about whether or not the girl was shot or stabbed.
Despite the many layers of fog and uncertainty circling the two cases, they were both pounced upon by certain MKs who never miss an opportunity to exploit an opportunity to blame an act of violence on Palestinian incitement against Jews.
On Wednesday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon referred to both incidents, as part of comments made to the Knesset Foreign Affairs committee on recent violence in the West Bank, saying “also when the motive is personal or sometimes criminal it becomes nationalist, the ease with which a robbery ends in the murder of a Jew or certainly the act of using a knife to steal a girl’s bike, is unacceptable.”
He then said that the basis for such attacks and others are “the incitement in the Palestinian Authority which we have pointed out for some time.”
The way I read between those lines is that because of the pervasive level of anti-Semitism in Palestinian society, which is stoked by PA propaganda, any act of violence by a Palestinian towards a Jew is by definition nationalist even if the act started out as a simple crime. At some point, when Palestinians come to rob you, when it gets violent, a switch goes off and the act is now nationalist, now its terror, not simply crime, according to this rationale.
By this standard, not only were Psagot and Brosh Habika terror attacks, but so was Moshav Avihayil. Come to think of it, why was that act of violence considered purely criminal? The men who killed Yitzhak Agabry were from Tulkarm, do they not have access to Palestinian Authority TV there? Or, is it purely because of the location of the incident? In other words, if you’re killed by a Palestinian in the course of a crime within the Green Line it’s considered criminal, but if you’re killed by a Palestinian in the West Bank in the course of a robbery it’s terrorism?
On the other hand, there is certain logic to his remarks – the conflict and the hatred that Arabs and Jews have been raised with in these parts do permeate relationships and interaction between the two peoples, both the criminal and the mundane. By Ya’alon’s notion, if you are raised to hate another people, how hard is it to then victimize them?
Though there is certainly logic to his approach, it ignores not only that such hatred is a two-way street, but also the ease with which Jewish and Arab criminals murder their own people, completely devoid of the framework of the conflict. Not only is Arab on Arab crime well out of control within the Green Line, but Ya’alon’s comments came the same day that two Arab men from Lod were arrested for the shooting of an Arab city council member at an open house in the city, and the same week that there were a number of gangland hits and attempted hits by Jewish mobsters on other Jews with little concern for the safety of bystanders, Jewish or otherwise.
An easy trigger finger and a casual dismissal of societal norms and concern for innocent bystanders are things that neither people has a monopoly one, and are typically displayed in this country in a fashion that is outside of the prism of nationalism and the conflict.
For the victims – particularly the ones who are killed – it’s of little consequence. For the perpetrators though, it means being immediately branded terrorists based on their ethnicity and that of their victim, something that makes all violent crime terrorism, depending on who’s killing who.