Palestinian taxi driver still healing from hate crime

Eshaq Abu Jibneh was attacked in Jerusalem last summer by Israelis who called him a ‘terrorist’.

Jerusalem hate crime
Abu Jibneh suffered injuries to his wrist and ankle in the brutal attack in a West Jerusalem public square [Nigel Wilson/Al Jazeera]

Jerusalem – Walking with a slight limp, his lower right arm wrapped in a cast, Eshaq Abu Jibneh crossed the living room slowly to place a tray of coffee and cakes on the table.

“Right now, I can move my hand, but I can’t lift heavy things or open bottles,” he told Al Jazeera, noting that he would soon go for surgery on his wrist, while his ankle had recovered well after surgery in the summer.

Abu Jibneh suffered the injuries in a brutal attack in a West Jerusalem public square last summer, belatedly recognised by Israeli authorities as a hate crime.

'Get out of our country, go to work in Gaza. This is our land. Get out of our land,' Abu Jibneh recalled his assailants saying [Nigel Wilson/Al Jazeera]
‘Get out of our country, go to work in Gaza. This is our land. Get out of our land,’ Abu Jibneh recalled his assailants saying [Nigel Wilson/Al Jazeera]

A taxi driver by trade, Abu Jibneh had arrived at Zion Square to meet a friend in the early hours of August 5, 2016. The square is a popular location for Palestinian taxi drivers to take breaks between shifts, drink coffee and catch up on the latest local news and gossip. Abu Jibneh had wanted to congratulate his friend, who had recently bought a new taxi.

“It was 3:30 on Friday morning. I parked and was standing there with the other taxi drivers. We were talking. It is normal at that time that Arab taxi drivers stop in that spot and meet,” he said.

He recalled that he and his friends were then approached by a group of six Israeli men who “looked like normal Israelis”.

“One of them said, ‘Here is an Arab taxi driver, right here.’ He started to curse us, told us, ‘Get out of our country, go to work in Gaza. This is our land. Get out of our land,’ and saying rude things about us, cursing our families, our mothers.”

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Responding to the men in Hebrew, Abu Jibneh said that he drew on his previous training and experience as a security guard in an attempt to defuse the situation, but he and his friends quickly decided to leave the area. At that point, he said, the gang started to hit the taxi drivers.

“One of the Israelis had pepper spray, and they sprayed me in the face, in the eyes. I couldn’t see what was happening around me. They started to kick me, hit me with stones, and it left me with several injuries,” he said.


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Abu Jibneh said that the attackers started to shout, “He’s a terrorist,” adding that he feared for his life. However, a group of Jewish Israeli passers-by intervened and the police were called.

Police arrived at the scene within half an hour, and although an officer questioned Abu Jibneh about the attack, he did not interview other witnesses or move to apprehend the attackers, who had fled on foot, Abu Jibneh said.

Two weeks later, having made no arrests, police closed the investigation into the attack. But Abu Jibneh’s lawyer, who works with the anti-racism organisation Tag Meir, would not allow it to be dropped: He went ahead and collected testimonies from witnesses and the ambulance service official who took the call that night. After being presented with more evidence, the police agreed to reopen the case.

Months later, in November, police confirmed that Abu Jibneh had been a “victim of a hostile act” in which the motivation was nationalistic. Still, no suspects have been pinpointed.

Israeli police did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the case.

Steven Beck, deputy director at the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), a civil and human rights organisation that tracks hate crimes in Israel, told Al Jazeera that Israeli police have historically not taken hate crimes against Palestinians seriously.

“The police basically sit on their hands and don’t deal with the issue,” he said. “When a Jew is attacked by an Arab, the police [do their] job and investigate. Our issue is that these [Palestinians] are residents of Jerusalem, sometimes citizens of Israel, and the police need to investigate and treat citizens and residents equally.

“It’s not about the number of attacks,” he added. “It’s about the fact that if a Palestinian who is attacked by a group of Jewish teenagers then goes to the police, I can assure you … that there will be no investigation.”

IRAC recently launched a racism crisis centre and hotline for victims of hate crimes, Beck said, partly because the data on the number and frequency of such attacks was “spotty”. There is no official data on hate crimes against Palestinians in Israel.

Although no arrests have been made in Abu Jibneh’s case, the acknowledgement by police that he was the victim of a hostile act entitles him to a wide range of compensation from branches of the state, including coverage of medical expenses, disability benefits, grants, and discounts or assistance with the purchase of vehicles or household items.

“The police didn’t catch the people who beat me, but they gave me the paper showing that I was attacked for nationalist reasons,” Abu Jibneh said. “Now, I am waiting for the insurance to give me my benefits and salary.”

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Abu Jibneh has taken this letter to Israel’s National Insurance Institute, where his case is still under processing, more than two months later. As a result of his injuries, he has been unable to earn an income through driving and sold his car to cover living costs for his family. He has yet to receive any compensation from the state.


“I didn’t expect to receive this letter. I was surprised and my lawyer was also surprised that we got this paper,” he said. “If the national insurance acknowledges this paper, then I will receive everything. I won’t be relaxed until I have the money in my hand.”

In addition to the letter, senior police officers visited Abu Jibneh and a fellow taxi driver late last year in order to learn more about the problems facing Palestinians in certain areas of West Jerusalem. A police spokesperson told Al Jazeera that they had also significantly increased the number of patrols in the centre of Jerusalem to prevent attacks on Palestinians.

“The police promised us to control the situation, especially in Zion Square where the Arab taxi drivers meet,” Abu Jibneh said. “They said there would be more police cars in that location.” 

So far, he said, his colleagues have not been feeling safer – just last month, another taxi driver reported being verbally assaulted in the same location where Abu Jibneh was attacked.

Source: Al Jazeera