Arabs Against Themselves, Part I – Even MADA is not safe in Arab towns
Why should a paramedic/ambulance driver from Magen David Adom (Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross) have to fear for her life when she goes into an Arab town to save a life? Here is one story. I am reporting on this now, against the backdrop of the current noise in the media about having to do something to curtail the violence in the Arab sector. There is nothing new in this noise.
For example, Fadi Khatib from Qalansawa was interviewed on Israel TV in October 2019. He had taken part in a demonstration protesting the Arab-on-Arab violence in their own towns and neighbourhoods. The response to this came when a masked shooter aimed his gun at this home, endangering him and his family. Khatib describes himself as living a quiet normal life, not hurting anyone. He says people have become accustomed to hearing the noise of almost daily shootings and stun grenades. He said that he continues to protest but his wife and daughter had not slept at home since the attack — at least until this television recording..
The studio panel discussed the fact that the Arab population is requesting greater involvedment of the police force but also the fact that out of fear, people do not give evidence or report on violence to the police. And that is not all . . .
Also two years ago, Shadi Khalloul Risho, Chairman of the Israeli Aramean Christian Maronite Association, voiced distress at the fact that the Arab political party leaders shout out against violence in the Arab sector but when police officers who go into a town to deal with a violent event and are attacked by the local population, they are suddenly silent. The Arab politicians say nothing against attacks against police officers on duty whether these attacks are physically violent (such as the one we saw again just last week) or “simply” cursing them.
I think many Israelis, Arabs and Jews, are familiar with the arguments and the debates. But what would they say if they knew that MADA first responders were ALSO attacked?
After all, first responders save lives. They prevent simple injuries from becoming serious injuries. Speed of response is of the essence. Why would anyone block the path of an ambulance on a call? Read this and then tell me why.
Attacking an Ambulance in Jizr az-Zarka
This is a two-decade old event, but I bring it now because it is one for which I have the whole story and we have seen that such things can still happen today.
In March 2002, during the second intifada, Sabina Tabashi was 36 years old. Mother of two, she had been working in MADA for years. I have known her for decades, from even before she worked at MADA, and have never experienced her as prone to exaggerating anything or dramatizing anything for effect. I accept her word totally. Here is what she told me of a particularly frightening experience and as she started to tell the story, you can see that she re-experienced it viscerally when she said:
At that time of year, darkness fell at about 8 or 9 in the evening.
Sabina was doing the evening shift in a regular ambulance (as opposed to an ICU ambulance). During her shift, there was a terror attack in Netanya outside the Jeremy Hotel. It was a multi-victim incident in which two people were killed (a baby and a MADA volunteer) and over 50 injured. Given the scope of the attack, most first responder vehicles within a large radius went to Netanya. Sabina was asked to stay in her local MADA station and be on-call for regular emergency situations.
After a short time, there was a call regarding a violent incident in Jisr az-Zarqa, an Arab town on the Mediterranean, bordering Caesaria on its south side. She was sent to help a woman who had been knocked unconscious by her husband. A teenage volunteer was supposed to accompany her but he was not with her and she left for Jizr alone. In the end, this turned out to have been a good thing – one fewer person to be responsible for.
Before setting out on the call she was cautioned because of the large volume of terrorist attacks and told that a police car would meet her at the entrance to the town.
There are two entrances to Jizr — one across a bridge passing over the Tel-Aviv-Haifa highway on the north and another entrance from the south. She was told to enter from the bridge. The town begins a bit in from the end of the bridge and the entrance looked empty to Sabina. She waited for police before crossing the bridge but no police car arrived. She tried calling the call-center to ask what to do in absence of a police escort but, because of the terror attack, communication lines were overwhelmed and she could not reach anyone.
Within moments, villagers began to surround her ambulance and she tried to put the vehicle into reverse and back away. They would not let her.
They were screaming: “attack! attack!” and rocked the ambulance. She tried to reach the call-center again to tell them she was in danger. The crowd almost broke the windows of her ambulance. She did not know what to do.
Seeing an old woman in the crowd, she motioned for her to approach and the woman was equally anxious to get to Sabina because it was her daughter who needed the medical attention. Sabina let her into the front and the old woman tried to stop the masses from harming the ambulance, to no avail. Finally, she screamed at Sabina in frustration and fear and told her to drive and to drive FAST!
Sabina said it felt like an eternity but it only took seconds to drive into the village itself. She turned on the siren and the villagers were still screaming “attack!”. Sabina drove into the crowd. She understood that the old woman was her ticket in and out safely. Seeing her in the passenger seat, the crowd finally let the ambulance through.
They reached a small street and beyond a certain point were unable to advance further. They would have to cross the short distance left on foot to get to the house where the daughter was. Sabina wondered what would happen if she left the relative safety of the ambulance; would the huge crowd beat her up? She had no choice other than to go with the old woman and, heart beating furiously, she followed her to the house. It was at this point that she was glad there was no young volunteer with her.
Sabina said, painfully, that everyone in the street was looking at her with hate in their eyes; she felt they were just waiting for her to say or do something stupid, something that could be interpreted as hostile.
Taking equipment with her from the ambulance, she thought creatively and quickly on her feet. She took people from the crowd and told them that they had to hurry. She gave them orders to carry this and to carry that and they obeyed her.
The entrance to the house was locked and they could not open the door. Sabina looked in a window and saw the young woman unconscious on the floor. The inside of the house was a mess, as if a hurricane had swept through it. She gave orders to the crowd to hurry and get her in and get the woman out.
Some of those in the crowd broke into the house and put the woman on a bed.
I told them again to hurry and I gave the young woman oxygen. They helped me put her into the ambulance. I did not take the time to even check whether or not she was alive. In fact, had she been dead and had the crowd known that, it is likely I would not have got out of the situation alive.
At this point, people who had almost lynched Sabina now opened the way among the throngs of angry people to let her drive back out to the bridge. The crowd was still shouting out: “attack, attack!”
After safely reaching the highway, Sabina pulled over to the side of the road to assess the woman’s condition. She was breathing and her vital signs were good so she just kept the oxygen mask on and continued to the hospital.
After this experience, Sabina got a gun. It was hard for her to come to terms with the overt threat of violence directed against her and the hate in peoples’ eyes. This was not the first time she had been attacked in her ambulance but this was the most frightening time.
By the way, the same bridge she had driven over to get to the town was the bridge from which rocks have periodically been thrown at cars passing beneath it on the drive between Tel Aviv and Haifa, especially during this same time Sabina found herself alone in Jizr.
Sabina told me that during the second intifada, police escorts had to accompany MADA ambulances providing services in Arab towns. However, they continue to be required periodically at times of increased tension, such as last spring when violence erupted in Lod and Acco. And, in fact, an unaccompanied ambulance was blocked and stoned by some locals in Umm el-Fahm:
Violent rioters are attacking @Mdais team who rushes to help injured.
MDA is an Israel’s Red Cross. It saves all lives.
— 🇮🇱🇱🇹 Izraelis Lietuvoje (@IsraelinLT) May 13, 2021
What does it mean for the chances of instilling law and order in the Arab sector when a huge mob can endanger a paramedic who comes to help one of their own?
Looking back on this incident almost twenty years later, Sabina says:
It makes me feel very sad to look back on this experience. It took away my innocence. After having felt what I felt, seen the look in their eyes, do I still believe that peace is possible?
And what about law and order in the Arab sector? What do you believe?
I wrote to the spokespeople for MADA and the Israel Police inviting them to comment. Here is the response from MADA:
MADA enters every place we are needed and to all communities and villages. Moreover, in the last few years and especially today, there are more and more (thousands) volunteers and MADA personnel with medical equipment, some driving MADA motorcycles and some ambulances, who live in Arab villages and cities. They are called up from within their communities in addition to ambulances, arriving quickly and treating people until the ambulance arrives. Similarly, in many communities there are MADA stations, for example, Jizr az-Zarka, Furideis, Sachnin, Rahat, Jaljulia, Tira, Baka al-Garbiya, Shfaram, East Jerusalem, and more..
I wonder why he does not say a single word about Sabina’s experience. Not a word.
I will add the police response when I get one.
Feature Image Credit: Screenshot of Facebook Image.