LAST WEEK a middle-aged businessman rescued five students from a lynch mob. Now the lynch mob is after the businessman, threatening to kill him for his act of bravery.
"I'm not a hero," insists the man, as heroes usually do. "I did it because I'm a human being."
The incident happened in Hebron, the ancient city in Israel's West Bank that today is largely controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Five yeshiva students, haredi ("ultra-Orthodox") tourists from America, took a wrong turn while driving to the Cave of Machpela, the sacred burial site of the Biblical patriarchs, and suddenly found themselves under attack in one of Hebron's Arab neighborhoods. The students were assaulted with rocks and Molotov cocktails; their car was set on fire. The mob was just beginning to beat them when a bystander intervened. Faiz Abu Hamadiah, a 51-year-old local resident, quickly propelled the students into his own house nearby, and sheltered them until Israeli security forces arrived nearly an hour later.
"As soon as we saw that a riot was starting," Hamadiah told a reporter, "my family and I managed to bring them inside.... We gave them water to drink and tried to tell them that they were safe, though they didn't speak Arabic."
For an unarmed man to save five intended victims from a frenzied mob takes remarkable courage under any circumstances. When the rescuer is a Palestinian Muslim in an all-Arab neighborhood and those he saves are strangers in conspicuously Jewish garb, the moral valor he displays is extraordinary — and a heart-lifting reminder of the goodness that people are capable of, however poisonous the atmosphere that surrounds them.
Jewish tradition famously teaches: "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world." That teaching is so famous, in fact, that it is quoted in the Koran.
No society in history — not even the most decent — has ever wholly uprooted the lust to kill and terrorize. Israel comes closer than most; Muslim tourists who inadvertently take a wrong turn into a Jewish neighborhood will not find themselves under attack by a mob bent on slaughter. But the Jewish state has its savages as well, such as the arsonists who torched the home of the Dewabsha family in the village of Duma on July 31. An 18-month-old toddler, Ali, burned to death in the inferno; his father, Sa'ad, died a week later. On Monday, after weeks in a coma, Ali's mother, Reham, died of her injuries too.
Israelis across the political spectrum expressed shame and anguish in response to the arson attack. Many are sickened by the realization that such evil could come from within — and outraged that the murderers are still at large. The Palestinian man who saved five Jewish lives, meanwhile, finds himself reviled as a collaborator. Other Palestinians have reportedly threatened to "burn his house down, or cut off his head."
Heroism comes in different forms, but the greatest is the courage to act in defense of the despised outsider — especially when it would be more prudent to look the other way. Today we use the term "good Samaritan" to mean any charitable person. But 2,000 years ago, whenJesus related his parable about the Israelite who had been beaten and left for dead on the Jericho road, Samaritans and Jews hated each other. Bitterness between the two communities ran deep. Yet it was precisely the Samaritan who saved the wounded Jew, choosing to ignore the stranger's detested tribal identity, and to see instead a fellow human being.
That Samaritan, like Faiz Abu Hamadiah, would no doubt have denied being a hero. But there is a key difference between them: The Good Samaritan was a parable. Hamadiah is blessedly, beautifully real.