On January 14, 1997, at 12:00 noon, as the Israeli cabinet gathered in Jerusalem to begin its deliberations on the approval of the Oslo accords, something else occurred in Ramat Dania, a neighborhood that is only walking distance from the Israeli Knesset.
A young Palestinian Arab took an axe to a sixty year old Israeli building foreman, Yaakov Yamin, and hacked Yamin to pieces.
The killer then took a taxi to Bethlehem, only a ten minute ride away.
When the assailant arrived to the Bethlehem checkpoint, the driver described to me how his very nervous passenger quickly got out of the cab. He watched as his passenger ran into Bethlehem.
The driver called the Israeli police. So did the driver’s taxi company call the police.
Yet the police demonstrated little interest in the case, coming over only an hour later. The police finally interrogated the driver to get a full description of the murderer, preparing a hand-drawn picture of the killer. Yet the picture did not flash on the TV screen or in the print media the next morning. And the Israeli police did not forward the picture to the Palestinian police. However, the Israeli police spokesman said that the police had no such picture.
The Yaakov Yamin murder was front page news in Israel the next day, sharing headlines with the historic Israeli government meeting that was taking place that day to confirm Israeli government backing for the latest accord with the Palestine Authority. The front page of the popular Israeli newspaper Yediot featured a shot of Netanyahu with Arafat on top, and a small snapshot of Yaakov Yamin on the corner of the page.
“Reciprocity” was the theme of this agreement, with this Israeli government declaring very clearly and forthrightly that it would only cede concessions to the PA only if and when the PA would demonstrate the appropriate confidence building measures that would show that it was indeed keeping its part of the accords.
The matter of killers who had escaped to the Palestine Authority was high on the agenda of the new accord, according to all Israeli government spokespeople.
The retiring Israeli attorney general, Rabin appointee Michael Ben Yair, presented the government with a long awaited legal opinion that declared in no uncertain terms that the accords signed by the previous government with the PA would require the PA hand over hand over killers within its jurisdiction.
Israel Minister of Justice Tzachi Hanegbi followed Ben Yair by stating very clearly that if the new accord did not require the PA to hand over killers, he would not vote for the accords.
Meanwhile, the Yamin killing and killer escape suddenly disappeared from public conscousness. I asked government ministers if the cabinet would send a representative to his funeral or to the Shiva home. No response. And no government minister or member of Knesset showed up at the Yamin home.
I asked the Israeli police spokesperson of they were pursuing the killer in Bethlehem, or whether the Israeli police was asking the Palestinian polcie to hand over the killer. The spokesperson said that the question was premature. I went to the Palestinian police in Bethlehem to find out what they knew. They told me that if the killer had come to Bethlehem that he was welcome to do so. I called IDF radio, Israel state radio, Israel state television, Yediot and Maariv to see why they were not following up on the Yamin murder case, even as a side bar to the government meeting.
The response of news editors: We have been “asked” to drop the case and not to dwell on the issue. Besides, the peace process is more newsworthy. So there was not a word in the Israeli media – and certainly not in the foreign press – on the Yamin murder and the subsequent escape of Yamin’s killer to the Palestine Authority “safe haven” only ten minutes away.
So there you have the precedent of the latest accords that were approved by the Israeli government. An Arab can murder a Jew, escape to a warm welcome only a few minutes away in the Palestine Authority safe haven and the matter will simply be sanitized by a cooperative Israeli and foreign media. Press conspiracy? Hardly. Government policy? Perhaps.
On Tu B’shvat, I had the opportunity to sit with the Yamin family, who had finished their Shiva period of mourning on the previous day. I brought two people with me – Yehudah Wachsman, whose son Nachshon had been abducted and murdered by Arab terrorists only two years ago. Nachson’s chief abductor Muhammad Deif, resides in Gaza and the Israeli government has not even requested Deif’s arrest. I also brought the taxi driver, Mr Y, who described the killer to the family and confirmed to the family that he had sat with the Israeli police for no less than eight hours, as they prepared a sketch of the passenger.
According to Israeli law, victims of terror attacks receive immediate attention and care by the mental health professionals of the Israeli Defence Ministry rehabilitation department and the Israel National Insurance Institute.
However, the Israeli police will only say that they are “99% sure” that Yaakov Yamin was murdered in a terror attack, and not in a robbery. That is despite the fact that Yamin’s bulging wallet was not taken from his body.
Therefore, the Israeli government was not legally obligated to provide any mental health professionals to help the family. Under normal circumstances, a police or military official would show up at the door with a doctor or psychiatrist to inform the family of the murder. Instead, the family found out about the killing when a journalist showed up at their door seeking a picture of the deceased.
If the government does acknowledge that this was a terror attack, then it will be stuck with the difficult question about how it explains to its citizens that the peace process allows Arabs to kill and escape to the sanctuary of the Palestine Authority.