As the latest round of violence unfolds, Israelis and Palestinians seem to mostly be interacting in bloody, enraged spasms of appalling brutality. Quickly uploaded to social media feeds, horrific videos provide graphic proof of just how awful humans can be to one another.
And yet, those aren’t the only stories. Amid the violence and hatred are other scenes that remind us that human beings are — or at least, can be — better than that.
Here are four stories of people who stood up for what they believe is right, defying the climate of fear and hatred that has quickly enveloped the country.
Meimoun Himi was sipping a beer with his son, a soldier on leave, in Netanya’s main square on October 8 when they heard shouts: “Terrorist, terrorist.”
Thinking that a stabbing was taking place, Himi ran to the scene. But instead of a thwarted terrorist attack, he found Jewish youths beating up a young Arab and his two friends for no good reason.
“His head was covered in blood and he suffered from pain. He yelled that he didn’t care about politics and he only came to work,” Himi explained later to the Israeli press. “It was an act of pure evil, an excuse to brutalize the helpless.”
Himi said he sympathizes with Israelis who have stepped forward to punish suspected terrorists caught in the act.
“It’s important for me to make clear that if he really had been a terrorist, I would have made sure he would not have left that incident alive,” he said. “If he had drawn a knife, I would have turned it back into him. If he would have dropped the knife and surrendered — I would have done everything to protect him.”
Himi said standing up for the rule of law should be a value that crosses political lines in a democracy like Israel.
“I am deeply right-wing politically,” he said. “But if we harm innocent people based on their ethnicity — they defeated us.”
Himi’s actions only seem remarkable because others — both Israeli and Palestinian — responded so differently.
On October 3, a Palestinian terrorist attacked Odel Bennett, her husband and her two-year-old son as they walked through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. Begging for help, she lay crumpled on the cobblestones, bleeding from 11 stab wounds, her husband already dead beside her, her son lightly wounded, the knife still in her body. Around her, a taunting crowd of Arab merchants jeered and cursed; not one offered aid.
On October 18, Habtum Zarhum, an Eritrean asylum seeker, was shot by a Beersheva central bus station security officer after a terrorist shot and killed an Israeli soldier and wounded 11 others. The security officer apparently mistook him for a terrorist. But after Zarhum was shot and disabled, a group of frenzied civilians, together with at least one uniformed soldier and possibly one or more policemen, kicked him, beat him, threw a bench at him, and cursed him. Zarhum, too, was killed.
It’s not only Israeli bystanders who have faced difficult moral questions during the current outbreak of violence.
The father of Israeli police officer Maya Stolero, Alexander Levlovitz, was the first Israeli killed in the newest escalation of violence.
Yet Stolero, who is trained in first aid, didn’t hesitate to help a 17-year-old Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem who had attempted to stab an Israeli border policeman and was shot while being apprehended.
“At that moment, I put my personal pain and views aside and drew on my training as a security official and on the values I was brought up with,” she said in an interview with the press at her home in Maale Adumim, a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem.
Stolero’s dilemma is one that many Israelis have pondered: Should medical treatment be given to those who try to kill other innocents? And how should medical personnel prioritize the injured?
The director of Israel’s Magen David Adom caused a near media riot when he recently clarified that first responders would continue to offer medical aid according to the severity of the injury and the other conventional triage procedures, unless otherwise instructed by security forces. Enraged, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, called for soldiers and police to be put on trial if they allow wounded perpetrators of terrorist attacks to remain alive after being captured.
And Israel’s hospitals, of course, insist on treating Palestinian and Jewish victims alike, in keeping with medical ethics.
Ahmed Eid, head of surgery at Hadassah’s Mount Scopus campus, insisted that there was nothing unusual or special about the treatment that he, an Israeli Arab, provided to a Jewish soldier who was attacked by a Palestinian gunman.
“This is the situation and it has become very routine for us. What happens in the country also affects us but it doesn’t influence our medicine,” he said.
As the violence spreads, many ordinary Israelis have given in to their fears and prejudices about all Palestinians. The most common reaction is to seek to avoid all contact with Arab Israelis whether at the workplace, schools or even apartment buildings.
Over the past two weeks, several local authorities have banned Arab workers from schools. Some are calling for banning all Arab workers, including teachers; others “merely” want to keep out cleaning and maintenance workers, especially during school hours.
The school dismissals are illegal under Israeli law, which prohibits discrimination.
But some Israelis have taken it upon themselves to root out suspected threats among their own neighbors.
Ziad “Zizo” Abul Hawa was born and raised in Barcelona. His father is Palestinian and his mother is Syrian. The family returned to East Jerusalem and, about nine years ago, Zizo moved to Tel Aviv.
Out of the blue, an anonymous notice went up on a bulletin board in his apartment complex.
“Due to the security situation, I don’t think we can allow ourselves to be indifferent and do nothing about the fact that there is an Arab residing in our building,” the notice read. “I’m not rejecting him outright, but I do think we should talk to him and check him out. We have the right to be concerned about our safety and the safety of our families and to feel secure in the building we live in.”
Most residents apparently agreed with the racist sentiments expressed by the unnamed neighbors who penned the note. But one woman stood up for him.
The neighbor named Shelly, whom Zizo doesn’t even know, posted a different message that was posted on the same bulletin board. Her missive urged tolerance.
“I hope that one day we’ll all live here as equals,” she wrote. “Until then, I send you a hug that lasts 30 seconds…. And I really hope that your neighbors will come to apologize and get to know you for who you are.”
Hummus, Not Hatred
Israeli Jews are obsessed with hummus, and they devour it by the kilo. They argue all the time about the best hummusia (the local equivalent of a pizza joint), which is often owned by an Israeli Arab.
Most of the perpetrators of recent terror attacks have been Palestinians from the West Bank. Only a very few Arabs who are Israeli citizens have been involved in any of the recent terrorist attacks, yet Arab businesses are usually one of the first casualties of the violence. When tensions flare, Jews stay away and even good hummus can’t bring them back.
So the owners of a greasy spoon at the M Mall in Kfar Vitkin, just north of Netanya on the main Haifa-Tel Aviv road, took to Facebook.
“Scared of Arabs? Scared of Jews?” they posted. “By us we don’t have Arabs! But we also don’t have Jews… By us we’ve got human beings! And real excellent Arab hummus! And great Jewish falafel!”
Manager Kobi Tzafrir is offering a free refill of every serving of hummus to any table where Jews and Arabs sit together.
So far, the response serves as a potent rejoinder to those who would choose hatred over hummus. Business, he says, is great.