Several months ago I was invited to traffic court to testify about a car accident I witnessed. While waiting my turn, I watched dozens of trials of traffic offenders. Some of them drove at very high speeds in residential areas, yet none of them was detained. Indeed, traffic violations are a major national problem. They should be fought with the full severity of the law, yet the law must be applied equally to the majority that fasts and goes to synagogue on Yom Kippur and to the minority that prefers to eat and travel to the beach.
As I’m not an expert on traffic regulations, I am not arguing with the police investigation findings in respect to the traffic violations attributed to Taufik Jamal, who sparked the riots between Jews and Arabs in Akko after driving on Yom Kippur, and was subsequently arrested two days ago. Indeed, it is difficult not to wonder how can a driver be charged with driving over the speed limit without his speed being measured – yet even if we accept the police’s version, since when is a driver in the State of Israel who was not involved in an accident arrested only because he was driving too fast? How did a minor traffic offence, which is committed hundreds of times daily, turn into a reason for detainment?
The second reason provided by police for the arrest is even more worrisome: Hurting religious feelings. Sadly, Israel is not among the modern countries that feature a full and necessary separation between religion and state and a public transportation system that operates 365 days a year (including on holidays and Saturdays.) However, even in our overly clerical country, driving on Yom Kippur is not an offence.
Media’s silence worrisome
I admit that over the years I drove during Yom Kippur more than once, and not for emergency purposes, but rather, to go on trips. During my rides I passed by many police stations. None of the police officers, some of them possibly religious people who regretted my decision to drive instead of praying, weighed the option of arresting me, as they respected my right to drive on a day where they do not drive.
It is unfortunate that a militant handful of Jewish residents in Akko did not respect Jamal’s right to drive on Yom Kippur and chose to stone him. Yet this is certainly no reason to detain the Arab driver.
As a media researcher, I’m especially bothered by the media’s silence regarding the arrest. Indeed, this is the holiday season, the rating is low, and many journalists are on vacation. However, in a place where an Arab driver is detained just for daring to drive on Yom Kippur, we may see Jewish journalists being detained in the future for daring to air news stories on the holy Shabbat. The media should remind the public and decision-makers that Jamal’s fate must not be any different than that of a traffic offender who committed a similar minor offence – even if the offence was committed on a regular day and not on Yom Kippur.
We must realize that not only Jamal’s personal fate is hanging in the balance, and not even political coexistence between Jews and Arabs – but rather, Israel’s character as a free country where anyone can travel at any time without being stoned or detained.
Dr. Amir Hetsroni is a senior communication lecturer at the Jezreel Valley College