After eight years of police foot-dragging, a left-wing Meretz activist has been sentenced to a year in jail and three years suspended sentence for attacking right-wing activists in Haifa in 1998.
Deputy Chief Justice of the Haifa district court Rachel Hoza ruled Sunday in favor of Dr. Eli Buchbinder and Dr. Ronen Adar, who were brutally attacked by a group of Arabs wearing Meretz T-shirts and hanging signs for the Meretz municipal elections.
"The severity of the crimes the accused is found guilty of is in the fact that they were violent acts with completely harmful results - damage to Mr. Buchbinder, requiring his hospitalization and undergoing of surgery, as well as permanent disability for him. Additionally, the accused chose to express his anger in this way against a political demonstration carried out according to law and against someone who was on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Society must stigmatize completely all acts of violence and violent expression from ideological debate - especially political."
Aviad Vissouly of the Land of Israel Task Force is happy with the verdict, but emphasizes that the police postponed the indictment for over three years, until Atty. Meir Hoffler, who represented the complainants, threatened to file a Supreme Court petition against the police. Once the case was eventually brought to trial, the hearings continued for another four years.
"We, the activists of the Land of Israel Task Force, have complained about dozens of violent attacks against us during the protest vigils we hold at central intersections in Haifa from the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993 until today," Vissouly said. "The police do not even deal with our complaints, do not investigate them and do not hand down indictments, even when we are dealing with clear cases of leftist activists attacking right-wing ones for their beliefs. At the same time, the police did not hesitate to hand down hundreds of indictments against right-wing protesters for even the lightest infractions, such as 'unlawful assembly,' during the Disengagement.”
The victims of the attacks, Dr. Eli Buchbinder and Dr. Ronen Adar, refused to give up despite all the obstacles and legal costs, suing their attackers in a civil suit as well. The court ordered 60,000 shekels to be paid by the attackers after a lengthy civil trial that ended in 2004, before the criminal court convictions.
The attack took place on Friday, October 23, 1998, when a number of Arab activists working for the Meretz movement took a break from affixing banners reading “There is Meretz [Energy] in the City,” to tear anti-Oslo Accords signs out of the hands of Land of Israel activists standing at a nearby intersection, telling them to “get out of here or we will kill you!”
The Arabs then attacked Dr. Buchbinder, after he tried to prevent a scuffle with a fellow activist who had accidentally dislodged one of the Meretz banners. He was punched in the face and kicked mercilessly once he hit the ground. “I remember myself on the pavement with three or four hooligans beating me without respite,” Dr. Buchbinder told the B’Sheva newspaper. “I completely panicked. Everything around me became foggy. I tried to defend myself in one place and just to be beaten in another one. They deliberately aimed their blows mostly at my face. My entire body went into shock, numb and completely powerless. I felt like I was being lynched, that there was no chance I would emerge from this alive. It continued for a while longer – them just beating and kicking me with all their might, with intense burning anger. It wasn’t a scuffle; they fully intended to kill me.”
Dr. Adar, standing nearby, tried to save his friend. “I screamed with all my might, ‘Stop beating him, don’t use violence!’ I saw them trying to literally murder him,” Adar said. “I have never in my entire life seen such a violent and savage scene. There were Jewish Meretz activists standing nearby and I saw the complete shock in their eyes as well.”
Dr. Adar then tried to get his camera to take pictures of the perpetrators. “I ran to the other side of the street to get my camera from my bag,” said Adar. “When I returned they told me the Arabs had gone to a coffee shop in the Carmelit neighborhood. I ran to the coffee shop and they were sitting there, with a dozen other Meretz activists all wearing Meretz t-shirts, drinking – ostensibly to relax after the attack. I stood on the sidewalk and took two pictures of them sitting in the coffee shop wearing their Meretz t-shirts. They suddenly saw me photographing them and became very alarmed. They ran out of the coffee shop and tried to grab my camera. I wouldn’t give it to them so they knocked me to the ground and began to kick me all over my body.”
Following the attack, Dr. Buchbinder was brought to Rambam hospital where doctors informed him that he suffered four fractures of his jaw. He underwent a lengthy surgery over the Sabbath to reconstruct his jaw with a metal pin and several screws, remaining hospitalized for the next five days. The doctors informed him that he had 5% permanent paralysis. Dr. Buchbinder lost a year of doctoral work, leading to a substantial economic loss as well.
Atty. Hoffler and Drs. Buchbinder and Adar filed a complaint with the Haifa police immediately following the incident. The police did not respond, and ignored repeated letters from Atty. Hoffler. The letters, sent to the then-commander of the Haifa region, Brigadier-General Dov Shechter, Major-General Alik Ron, then police chief of the northern region, and Superintendent Yisrael Grey, received no response whatsoever.
While researching the case, Atty. Hoffler discovered that the attackers were relatives of Atty. Ghassan Abu-Warada, who was running at the time for Haifa city council as a candidate for the Meretz party. The attack had taken place preceding the local municipal elections in which Amram Mitzna ran for mayor of Haifa, and Abu-Warada had hired his relatives to stand at that intersection and hang up Meretz banners. “It is regrettable that the judge didn’t have the courage to convict Abu-Warada as well, for sitting silently without raising a finger when his men beat Dr. Adar mercilessly,” Atty. Hoffler said. “The judge unfortunately decided that the defendant would walk out scot-free, unpunished for his shameful behavior, which clearly contravenes an Israeli law called ‘Do not stand idly by thy brother’s blood.’ ”
Meretz spokesman Roi Yellin told B’Sheva newspaper at the time that his party condemns the violence against the Land of Israel activists. “We explain to all our members that it is forbidden to act in a violent manner. Meretz is against such behavior and condemns it fully. Violent behavior is against everything we stand for and believe in, and in our eyes is simply out of the question. It is important to stress, though, that the attackers were not bona fide Meretz activists, but workers specifically hired for local election campaigning.”
Vissouly intends to continue to pursue what he believes to be the root of the matter. “There is no doubt that an invisible political hand guides the police prosecution against right-wing activists, while expressing complete disregard for violence used against them - whether by police themselves or left-wing activists,” he said. “This is discriminatory enforcement of the law, which is illegal and even corrupt - and should not be found in a country that claims to be democratic.”
“The State Comptroller should be advised to examine the police procedures, the prosecution and the Attorney General with regard to the policy of dealing with indictments against demonstrators.”