Another Tack: The heroes we choose

Last week ex-con Tali Fahima – found guilty in 2005 of aiding and abetting the enemy – made headlines yet again. Fahima – who by her own admission volunteered to serve as a human shield for Zakariya Zubeidi, chief of Jenin’s al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades – paid a condolence visit to the family of the jihadist who cold-bloodedly massacred eight young students at Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. She blamed Israel for his demise during the commission of indiscriminate slaughter.

At the same time Tzvia Sariel failed to inspire even minor murmurs in the mainstream media. She lingered ignored and forgotten behind bars for no apparent reason other than civil disobedience – until, in a controversial ruling last Friday, a Netanya judge allowed the manacled teenager to attend a rabbinical court deliberation on whether she and others in similar predicaments may cooperate with the authorities. Only at that point did enlightened defenders of civil liberties remember to squawk, but – alas – against giving the 18-year-old any break, lest it conceivably extricate her, heaven forfend, from the impasse that has kept her locked up since December 4.

Civil disobedience, the last we heard, is no crime in a credible democracy (which Israel claims to be). In fact, we lionize as heroes those who followed in trailblazer Henry David Thoreau’s footsteps (i.e. Martin Luther King). Nevertheless, Tzvia was shunned as a pariah by the selective guardians of our collective conscience – the very ones who were Tali’s loudest champions and most fervent fans.

All of which goes to show that perceptions of justice are extremely flexible and conditional. Which case becomes cause celebre and which is spurned with revulsion depends on who popular thought-molders are – not on objective criteria.

What directives we, as society’s members, are willing to passively accept from the shapers of bon ton sentiment, attest, more than anything, to our ethical identity. The old adage stipulates that “you are known by the company you keep.” By the same token we’re defined by the heroes we choose. Whom we elevate as objects of our admiration and whom we pronounce unworthy of communal tolerance is entirely up to us. It’s a function of our value system and, above all, reflects our moral code.

Thus, when they decreed that Tali merited their advocacy, left-wing campaigners made a distinct value judgment. Fahima was arrested in 2004, after one of her recurrent jaunts to Jenin, and held in administrative detention for four-and-a-half months. Her frequent hobnobbing with terrorists, most notably Zubeidi, to whom she took a special shine – he even let her pose with his gun and fire it – raised suspicion that the then-28-year-old was his active collaborator.

An eventual plea bargain led to her conviction on the “lesser” charges of translating and elucidating a classified military document for Zubeidi, proscribed contact with a foreign agent and violation of legal prohibitions against travel to Palestinian-controlled areas. She served two-thirds of her three-year sentence. During that time, the Palestinian Authority regularly deposited funds into her bank account, as the PA does for all its own apprehended terrorists.

The above notwithstanding, Tali became the darling of radical trendsetters and self-professed human-rights proponents. A maelstrom of protest ensued against her incarceration. In 2006 a sympathy-oozing (and repeatedly rerun) TV documentary was produced about her. Declining to sign a “Liberate Fahima” petition could have meant social and professional ostracism for professors in certain Israeli university faculties. Posters (appropriately in red) flatteringly featuring Tali’s defiant likeness were ubiquitous in central Tel Aviv.

POET AHARON Shabtai dedicated two poems to her and poet Meir Wieseltier celebrated her January 2007 release with another poem. She was compassionately interviewed everywhere. Later that year crooner Danii Amir recorded a song extolling her. Tali was chosen to star last Independence Day in Yesh Gvul’s “alternative” torch-lighting ceremony, where she dedicated her flame “to Palestinian POWs and Israeli political prisoners.” Even the rightist Professors for a Strong Israel and Knesset member Uri Ariel couldn’t entirely resist her charms and decried Tali’s administrative detention.

But the moderate Right didn’t expend excessive passion on Tzvia, while leftist seekers of legal equity weren’t bothered by her bizarre imprisonment. She was accused of having shoved Abdel-Karim Hussein and Abdel-Baki Shahada Amar near her Elon Moreh home. Yet they testified in court on March 5 that Tzvia didn’t push them, that there was shouting but no violence, that they aren’t pressing charges, hadn’t anyway identified Tzvia and that the police made them sign statements they couldn’t read.

The case should have been dismissed right then and there, which would have preempted the rabbinical court hearing. Instead Tzvia was remanded into custody for a further month, subjecting a normative non-delinquent, against whom no case can be reasonably proven, to conditions unwarranted by her deeds. Her resistance to strip-searches landed her in solitary on several occasions. She was denied visits, phone calls, even books and barred from attending both her grandparents’ funerals.

Her real crime was rejecting the judicial establishment’s legitimacy. Two girls arrested with her were freed after signing affidavits and posting bonds. Tzvia wouldn’t even accept the services of an attorney and was forcibly fingerprinted. The system clearly aimed to make a stronger example of her than of still-younger girls (some no older than 13) jailed for their participation in pro-settler demonstrations and subsequent refusal to identify themselves.

Doubtlessly these youngsters make things harder for themselves. Yet at most they’re imprudent, which is no grounds for treating them like the worst of transgressors. Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia once addressed “the imperative to re-educate” one such juvenile detainee. However, reforming opinions is certainly not the prerogative of jurists in a democracy. Where justice is duly blind, ideological orientation is irrelevant.

Those who cheered or countenanced Tali but scorned or avoided Tzvia (although the first must surely be branded a traitor while the latter is a patriot – even if naively overzealous) discredit their egalitarian pretensions and high-minded posturing. By crowning convicted Tali their heroine, and/or vilifying unconvictable Tzvia as a dangerous public enemy, they indicate where their allegiances reside and/or betray their trepidation of the czars of political correctness.

AFTERWORD: On Wednesday evening the court finally admitted that it had no case against Tzvia and let her go.

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