On 29 March, two Arab men went to Bnei Brak. One was armed with an M-16 and meant to kill. The other was Amir Khoury, a 32-year-old Israeli-Arab Christian and police officer. When he and his partner got the call they sped to the scene, where the gunman had just claimed his fourth victim. Khoury and his fellow officer engaged and killed the terrorist but not before he shot Khoury, who later died from his wounds. “My children will grow up and remember your name because you were my flak jacket, dear brother,” Khoury’s partner said in a tribute to his fallen colleague.
The terrorist was a 27-year-old Palestinian from northern Samaria. Let us not dignify his name — yimakh shemo. He chose the stereotype, the dull and self-defeating cliche of murderous Palestinian rejectionism. In short, he chose death. In his own way, Amir Khoury chose death, too; becoming a police officer meant living with it as a daily risk. His killer valued no one’s life, not even his own, but Khoury made the protection of all lives his calling: Arab, Jewish, Christian, Muslim. It is a vocation to which he gave the ultimate loyalty. Haaretz has called him “a national hero”.
Khoury embodied the liberal Zionist ideal of equal and integrated Arab-Israeli citizen, but he deserves to be remembered as more than a symbol. He was the 11th Israeli killed by terrorism in just seven days but his significance was not statistical. To honour him, follow the example of his partner. Teach your children about Amir Khoury. Teach them that one wicked evening in Bnei Brak, when Jews were being slaughtered, an Arab came to their rescue. An Arab who put himself in the firing line to take down the terrorist. An Arab who gave his own life to save countless others.
Teach them that this was remarkable but not extraordinary. Teach them about Yazan Falah, the Druze Border Police officer gunned down two days before Khoury in the Hadera terror attack. Teach them about Youssef Ottman. He was an Israeli Arab who, after a stint in the Border Police, worked as a security guard for Har Adar. When a Palestinian gunman opened fired on the settlement in 2017, Ottman tackled the killer and was shot dead.
Teach them about Ha’il Satawi and Kamil Shnaan, two Druze police officers murdered in a terrorist shooting at the Temple Mount, also in 2017; about Jedan Assad, a Druze Border Police officer slain in a ramming attack in East Jerusalem in 2014; about First Sergeant Ihab Khatib, a Druze logistics officer in the IDF, stabbed to death at Kfar Tapuach in 2010; about Warrant Officer Lutfi Nasraladin, another Druze, killed in a Palestinian mortar attack on an IDF base in 2008; about Sergeant Menhash al-Banyat, a Bedouin shot dead along with two other soldiers while fending off a Hamas cell’s attempt to infiltrate Israel the same year.
There are Amir Khourys all across Israel — Arabs, Druze and Bedouins who dedicate themselves to patrolling Israel’s streets and guarding her borders. When they hear gunshots or cries for help, they do not stop to weigh up who is doing the firing and who the screaming. They are a modern-day shomrei hachomot, watchmen on the walls of an Israel that doesn’t always work well but works well enough. Most would never think themselves anything as grand as symbols but these men nonetheless live the coexistence the politicians and the peacemakers fret about.
That an Israeli-Arab cop died a brave death does not negate Israel’s problems, not anti-Arab racism or disparate outcomes nor increased militancy in the Arab sector or unrest in the Galilee and Negev. The hasbara tendency likes inspirational stories that can go viral with an upbeat message about multicultural Israel and how cooperation is breaking down barriers. The circumstances of Khoury’s murder are not inspirational. They underscore some of the most stubborn challenges confronting Israel, not least the security threat of the Palestinian question.
Instead of turning Amir Khoury’s life and death into an Instagram post, honour him as a patriot and public servant, venerate his courage and sacrifice, and learn the lessons of how he came to die. That Israel is messy and complex and not always easy to love but that an Arab cop from Nof Hagalil loved it enough to die protecting its streets. That Israeli Jews and Arabs do more to advance coexistence by going about their lives — lives that bump into one another in ways pleasant, hostile and indifferent — than a thousand government plans. That Israel’s security is fragile and threatened on multiple fronts and yet the Shin Bet failed to prevent three deadly attacks in the space of a week.
Israel’s Amir Khourys stand guard. They must not stand alone.