The Jerusalem Magistrates' Court ruled yesterday that a brutal attack on an unarmed Palestinian bus driver was "road rage", denying that the incident constituted a hate crime.
Nidal Fakih, a bus driver from the Shuafat neighbourhood of Jerusalem, was attacked on Thursday night while driving to Modi'in Illit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement north of the city in the occupied West Bank. He told the authorities that he had been dropping off passengers at the illegal settlement when two Israelis boarded the bus and began speaking to him; when they realised that he was a Palestinian they began to beat him.
Footage which emerged on social media shortly after the attack showed Fakih bleeding severely from his left eye and unable to move from his seat, clearly in shock. He was later hospitalised with "lacerations to his face, a fractured eye socket and several cracked ribs," the Times of Israel reported yesterday.
However, despite the severity of the attack and the fact that Israeli police had on Friday said they believed the incident was nationalistically motivated, the Magistrates' Court in Israeli-controlled Jerusalem ruled on Monday that the attack did not constitute a hate crime. "There is no evidence that this was a racist incident, rather [than] an altercation between drivers," Israeli judge Chavi Toker said at the hearing. Toker also refused to allow the suspect — a 20-year-old Israeli settler from Modi'in Illit – to be remanded in custody; instead, he ordered him to be kept under house arrest until Friday.
The attack on Fakih came during several days of intense violence across the occupied Palestinian territories, which saw repeated settler attacks on Palestinians and the killing of several Palestinians by Israeli forces. In the early hours of Thursday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians, 29-year-old Saleh Omar Al-Barghouthi and 23-year-old Ashraf Naalwa. In Al-Bireh, near Ramallah, on Wednesday, they also killed 60-year-old Hamdan Al-Arda. The victim's family members said that he suffered from hearing loss and most likely failed to hear Israeli soldiers' warnings to stop, with their presence causing him to lose control of the car. The Israelis shot and killed him nonetheless.
On Friday, illegal Israeli settlers carried out dozens of so-called "price-tag" attacks when they attacked Palestinian vehicles and shot at Palestinian homes. Dozens of settler youths gathered near the illegal Israeli outpost of Giv'at Assaf – south of Ofra on Route 60 – to throw stones at passing Palestinian vehicles, while on Thursday night settlers stormed Ein Yabroud, north east of Ramallah, and opened fire on Palestinian homes.
Such assaults have continued into this week, with a Palestinian teen left injured on Monday evening after being run over by an Israeli settler south of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. Nineteen-year-old Muhammed Mahmoud Odeh Ghazal, from the nearby village of Kisan, was transferred to hospital with multiple injuries after a settler, believed to be from Ma'ale Amos, hit him with a car at a road junction.
Thus far Israel has not opened investigations into these settler attacks. Even in the event that investigations are opened, Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din estimates that only three per cent of investigations into Palestinians hurt by Israeli citizens since 2005 have resulted in conviction.