Monday, June 3, 2002

The Best of the Hebron Blues

The Best of the Hebron Blues
June 3, 2002


Tonight, it’s my pleasure to tell you a fairytale. Last September two teenagers stood on Hebron’s main street, talking to some soldiers. During the discussion one of the officers received a message stating that an Arab was complaining that someone threw a firebomb into his apartment.  The soldiers quickly made their way to the Arab’s house, with the two teenagers walking with them. When arriving at the scene, the Arab claimed that he and his mother had been sitting on the porch when the firebomb exploded, burning his mother’s face and damaging the porch. Shortly after, the two Jewish teenagers returned to their homes.

The Arab made his way to the police station to issue a complaint. Hebron’s police showed him a picture album, filled with snapshots of Hebron’s Jewish children and asked him to identify the assailant. He immediately pointed to the culprits - the two boys who had accompanied the soldiers to his home. He was emphatic, claiming that he witnessed them fleeing from the site.

Hebron’s police were not disturbed by the fact that the Arab had seen the boys standing with the soldiers next to his apartment. What the Arab says must be true. The police file against, let’s call him Chaim, asserted that he and his friend hurled two firebombs into the Arab’s house, injuring his mother and damaging the home.  The police issued an arrest warrant against the two boys but did not implement it – in other words, the boys were not apprehended.

That was in September. Six months later, in March, several Hebron boys, including Chaim, were stopped by soldiers next to an outpost leading into the Hebron Casba. The boys were forbidden to enter the Casba, as it was a “closed military zone.” During the ensuing argument one of the police recognized Chaim and tried to arrest him. A scuffle followed, including many Hebron residents. When it was over, Chaim was not arrested.

A few weeks later, just outside Jerusalem on the ‘tunnel’s road,’ police stopped a car belonging to Hebron residents. One of the police recognized Chaim and apprehended him on the spot. He was indicted for arson and intentional attack with a dangerous weapon in order to cause injury. He was imprisoned and bail refused. He spent the Passover holiday in jail.

When the trial began, Chaim’s lawyer, attorney Naftali Wertzberger claimed that Chaim had an alibi – at the time of the attack he was talking to soldiers. One of the soldiers, an officer, testified and confirmed the alibi. The state prosecutor argued that the officer was lying. The trial judge immediately released Chaim from prison, sending him to house arrest in a village near Tiberias. He was required to report to the Tiberias police twice a day.

Two weeks ago, as the trial continued, the Arab was called to testify. He contradicted himself, claiming that he saw Chaim hurl the firebomb into his home, despite the fact that at the time of the attack, he only reported to police having seen Chaim fleeing from the scene.

During the Arab’s testimony another interesting fact was revealed. The picture album shown to him contained pictures of all of Hebron’s Jewish youth, including children without any criminal record.  Judges have warned the Hebron police numerous times not to include anyone not convicted of a crime in picture albums for identification purposes. It was from this album that the Arab identified the two boys.

The Arab also claimed that his mother had been severely burned and taken to hospital in Hebron. However, a study of the medical records showed that his mother had not suffered any burns whatsoever. Eventually it was proven that the whole story was a total fabrication, and that no firebomb had been thrown at the Arab’s house. After having spend over a month in prison and then being held under house arrest, last week the case against Chaim was dropped.

The story doesn’t end there. Yesterday Hebron police arrested Chaim’s ‘partner in crime,’ the other boy with him at the time of the imagined firebomb attack, using the original arrest warrant to apprehend him. This, despite the fact that the entire episode was an Arab fantasy. The police then proceeded to interrogate, let’s call him Yitzi, for other assorted alleged offenses having nothing to do with the original charge against him.  According to Yitzi’s mother, during yesterday’s interrogation, the police beat him. He is 17 years old. Next week he is one of twelve Israeli youth from all over Israel being honored with an extraordinary award for excellence for community service. The prize, sponsored by the Education ministry, is to be presented to the youth by Israeli president Moshe Katzav as this residence in Jerusalem.

The police demanded that the court remand Yitzi in custody for an additional five days. When Yitzi appeared yesterday afternoon in court, his lawyer was busy at another hearing. The court judge told Yitzi’s parents that at five o’clock sharp he was leaving. Yitzi could either be represented by his father, or spend the night in jail. Yitzi’s father, not a lawyer, informed the judge that at 10:30 this morning Yitzi was to take his high-school matriculation exam in mathematics. The judge wasn’t interested. Yitzi’s parents called the public defender’s office, which promised to send someone over within a quarter of an hour. That would have put the time at 5:10. Exactly at five, the judge left, and Yitzi spent the night in jail. This morning, at an 8:30 court hearing, the judge released him. 

These are two miniscule examples of the constant persecution of Hebron residents by the police and prosecutor’s office. Attorney Wertzberger: “No where in the world would a minor be imprisoned so quickly, without a complete investigation of all the facts.” Hebron leader Orit Struk adds, “every once in a while the police and prosecutor’s office decide to punish Hebron residents, trying to teach us a thing or two, for no apparent reason, but only because we live in Hebron.”

And that, my friends, is tonight’s fairy tale, called “The Hebron Blues”. Sweet dreams.

With blessings from Hebron,
This is David Wilder

(Parts of this article are based upon an article by Beni Toker in the Makor Rishon newspaper, Friday, May 31, 2002.)

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