Variants of Vigilantism

It would be funnier if it wasn’t real life and the stakes weren’t so high: a vigilante who tried to lynch a terrorist is arrested by police and then set upon by a mob which now mistakes him for the attacker. That scene actually unfolded last Monday evening in Netanya, minutes after an attacker stabbed an elderly woman and was shot and subdued by police.

A mourners at a candlelit vigil for Eritrean Haptom Zarhum in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park on October 21. (credit: BEN HARTMAN)

A mourner at a candlelit vigil for Eritrean Haptom Zarhum in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park on October 21. (credit: BEN HARTMAN)

The vigilante – who in trying to get to the terrorist scuffled with police – was charged the next day with assaulting a police officer, but as it turns out, maybe there isn’t that much separating him from the rest of Israeli Jews.

According to a poll released last week, 53 percent of Israeli Jews believe that Palestinians who perpetrate terrorist attacks against Jews should be killed at the scene, even if they have already been subdued and no longer pose a threat.

The Israel Democracy Institute poll was based on 600 respondents, 70 percent of whom said that Israeli courts are too lenient with Palestinian terrorists.

Coming weeks after the fatal beating and shooting of an Eritrean asylum- seeker mistaken for a terrorist during an attack at the Beersheba Central Bus Station, the poll reveals that while there isn’t a universal consensus for summarily executing subdued terrorists, there is still a majority – a slim one but a majority nonetheless – that does not shy away from saying that they believe in killing enemy combatants who are taken alive.

This decrease in shame came to mind when watching a video last week of yet another incident of violence caught on tape in Israel.

Compared to the avalanche of snuff videos that has covered Israel since the stabbing Intifada began in early October, the images weren’t too impressive.

There were no knives, no cars slamming into bus stops, no frenzied attackers cut down by gunshots as they chase after victims. Still, the images were troublesome.

Roy Sharon – Channel 10’s correspondent for the West Bank – was attacked, insulted and shoved by a group of far-right extremists, until he and his crew left the scene.

Sharon was one of many journalists in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze’ev last Wednesday to cover the planned demolition of a synagogue that the High Court ruled had been illegally built. The young men at the scene set their sights on Sharon though, calling him a traitor because of his past coverage of settlers and forcing him to leave. The presence of the cameras did not seem to deter them in the slightest from throwing rocks at a Jew and fellow countryman, much less a member of the press.

It wasn’t the first such ugly incident to occur recently. On October 8, Channel 2 reporter Furat Nasser and his soundman were assaulted by onlookers while reporting on a stabbing attack in Afula. Police took the case seriously and arrested the main suspect just a couple of days later, but there was still reason for concern.

Talkbacks online ranged from insulting the thug who attacked the soundman to questioning why Channel 2 had decided to send an Israeli-Arab reporter to the scene of a stabbing attack – the implication being that it was almost to be expected that such a reporter would be attacked.

The press has been a scapegoat many times in Israel, especially during times of escalation. The Second Lebanon War comes to mind, when the media were blamed for broadcasting sensitive information picked up by Hezbollah, if not for outright losing the war.

Still, the incidents in which journalists were attacked, and the cases of Hadas Shteif of Army Radio and Arad Nir of Channel 2, who were labeled “traitors” for comments they made online, perhaps are part of a wider theme during the knife intifada – that of a terrified populace with a failed leadership finding itself at war with “enemies within.”

The press in Israel – with the exception of Israel Hayom and outlets to its right – is seen as overly sympathetic to the Arabs and as agents of an even worse enemy, leftists. The backlash to the press can be seen in the comments online after almost any event, but it’s been particularly noticeable following a recurring feature of this wave of violence – the vigilante attacks and attempted lynches.

In these instances, the press is seen, at best, as a sort of killjoy trying – as part of an anti-Zionist agenda – to dampen the public’s enthusiasm, if not actively trying to make Israelis look bad for taking the law into their own hands.

In comments on Facebook and talkbacks on Israeli websites, the Left and the press are subject to virulent hatred and even calls to violence that, while they may not represent the majority of Israelis, certainly seem to no longer be solely the provenance of some lunatic fringe.

The vigilante actions of a number of civilians and security guards in the past two months have at times stopped attacks and served as examples of true heroism.

Along the way, though, there have also been cases of abuse and unnecessary violence whose images have been hard to shake, adding to the collective trauma of the recent wave of violence.

Watching these scenes of violence – especially the footage from Beersheba – there is a feeling that something primitive has emerged within the fear of the Israeli public. While most Israeli Jews were disturbed by the slaying of the Eritrean man and would not support random terrorist attacks on Arabs, perhaps there isn’t as much daylight between the hatred and celebration of violence in Palestinian society and that of Israeli society as we thought.

Considering these cases – and the celebratory talkbacks written by some Israelis in past cases when journalists have been attacked, or after terrorist victim and coexistence activist Richard Lakin died of his wounds last month, or after Palestinian school children were killed in a school bus crash in the West Bank in 2012 – perhaps there is less that separates us than we think.

There’s something of the night about this terrorist wave, something brutal, vicious and personal that may be with us longer than we think.

This entry was posted in African Migrants, Crime, Israel, palestine, Palestinians, police, Tel Aviv and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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