You may remember that Ayala Shapira was the 11-year old girl who was terribly injured in December 2014 by a Molotov cocktail (i.e a firebomb) thrown by a Palestinian terrorist at the family car. She suffered horrific burns to her face and upper body, and was more dead than alive for a while. She has made a miraculous recovery but still suffers from the burns, has endured many operations and skin grafts, and will have to undergo still many more until she is completely rehabilitated. She has to wear a pressure mask for much of the time as well.
Ayala has shown remarkable courage and stoicism in coping with the terrible pain and disfigurement, as well as her missing schoolwork and social life. Her friends (I’m proud to say my own granddaughter is one of her best friends) and her parents’ friends, family and community have been fantastic in helping out, whether practically or giving moral support, and of course the State has given the support that it gives to all victims of terrorism in Israel. Yet none of this compensates for the damage done.
The terrorists were arrested shortly after the attack, and this week the adult terrorist (the second was a minor) Muhammad Badwan, was sentenced in court to 18 years in prison and fined NIS 50,000 ($14,200) for the attack.
If you think that 18 years and a paltry fine is not enough for this attempted murder, you are not alone.
But it is not only the sentence that is infuriating the Shapiras and their supporters. It is the confused response of the Israeli government, that can’t decide whether this attack is a criminal offense or an act of war (which is what terrorism essentially is) which is angering not only them, but all victims of terrorism and their supporters, and probably most Israelis.
Below is an open letter written by Ruth Shapira explaining her thoughts and reactions, (you can read the original letter in Hebrew here) which I translated myself with her permission.
Please share and distribute as much as possible.
After the sentence of the terrorist, I sent an article to all the media outlets in Israel. Unfortunately most of the media are not built for serious articles and therefore the article was cut and distorted. I would be happy for your assistance in distributing the original article:
So why did not I go to court?
Today, the trial ended of one of the two terrorists who threw firebomb that turned our lives upside down.
The defendant admitted to the court two incidents of throwing Molotov cocktails – the first lightly damaged our family car, and the second almost killed Ayala, my eldest daughter.
We often hear from families of victims of crime who came to court to “look the defendant in the eye.” We chose not to come.
The reason for this, we feel, is that the state has not really decided whether this is a specific criminal incident or an event on a national level.
On the one hand, the state recognizes us as victims of hostile acts, finances for us for the (very expensive) medical care and all the accompanying expenses, and supports and accompanies us in the long process of rehabilitation. The media interest in the story also seems to reflect public opinion and the ready spirit that is beating in the heart of the people.
Thus, in effect, the state recognizes Ayala as having been harmed by an act directed against the state, similar to a soldier who was injured during his army service.
(Or in the language of the law: harm from hostile acts by military or semi-military or irregular forces of a state hostile to Israel, from hostile acts by an organization hostile to Israel or hostile acts carried out while assisting one of them, as their emissary or on their behalf or in order to advance their objectives – The Law of Compensation for Victims of Hostilities, 5730-1970).
On the other hand, the same state treats the terrorist himself as a criminal transgressor and not as an enemy soldier and accordingly puts him on trial for “three attempts of murder” (mine, Avner’s, and our daughter Ayala’s) and not (if already) on assisting the enemy.
And the terrorist himself?
He would certainly agree to the language of the law. After all he does not know Ayala personally (in fact, I have difficulty remembering his name) and has nothing personal against her. Did he know, at the time of the act, that she was the one in the car? Definately not. Did he commit “three attempted murders”? He made two attempts to murder as many Jews as possible, with the clear intention of harming the sovereignty of the State of Israel.
But he did not look like a soldier! One of them is even a minor! Well, that’s exactly what “irregular forces of a hostile organization” look like.
How do you distinguish between irregular forces and a “regular” criminal? There are two easy tests:
1. The test of intention: Was the intention to harm the sovereignty of the State of Israel or a specific person?
2. The test of the environment: Was the arrest carried out as an ordinary police action, or was it more like a military operation? If there was a need for large forces to stop the terrorist, and there was a fear that someone might try to harm these forces during arrest, well, this is not a regular criminal, but an irregular combatant of a hostile organization (the hostile organization in this case, forms the hostile environment in which he lives).
And me? As a mother, of course I would like to see the terrorist punished. I would like him to suffer as Ayala suffers. That his mother will go mad with worry as he hovers between life and death. That he will writhe in pain even while he is asleep, and the percentage of painkillers in his blood will exceed all imagination. That he will undergo surgery, after surgery after surgery, without knowing when it will be over. Since there is no clause in Israeli law that matches such a sentence, I would have been content with the death sentence or life imprisonment.
But aside from being Ayala’s mother, I am also an Israeli citizen, and I care about the country’s future as well, so I can not come to terms with his being tried on a clause so far from the act he committed.
It is important for me to clarify that I have no complaints against the military prosecution, which does its work faithfully. The problem is with the government, which prefers to escape responsibility for managing the war, and to transfer it to the legal system.
Who is the main victim of this policy?
Well, the answer is easy. The State of Israel is losing a great deal of money, both on the rehabilitation of victims of hostile acts and on the holding of terrorists in prisons, it is losing the international public relations arena, and slowly losing its sovereignty.
So I should look at the terrorist in the eyes?
It is more important and urgent for policymakers to look into the eyes of the people.
Ruth Shapira, Tammuz 5771