Omar al-Hayeb is a member of a legendary Bedouin family in Israel. The al-Hayebs were founding members of the IDF’s Desert Reconnaissance Battalion, which is composed of Bedouin volunteers (Bedouins are exempt from serving in the IDF) who serve as expert trackers, and Omar al-Hayeb was the highest ranking Bedouin member of the IDF while serving as a tracker along the northern border. In 2006, he was found guilty of espionage and drug trafficking on behalf of Hizballah after being caught in 2002 with classified maps of IDF troop positions and lists of IDF communications channels while on his way to a meeting with Hizballah members. Al-Hayeb’s story is a sad one in that he was severely injured by a Hizballah roadside bomb in 1996 and lost an eye as a result, and he ended up selling drugs supplied by the same organization that was responsible for his injury in order to make ends meet. Yesterday, Israel released al-Hayeb from prison after his sentence had already been commuted once before because he is in poor health and is deemed not to be a threat to the state.
On Saturday, Hamas hanged three men in Gaza, one of whom was convicted of spying for Israel. Palestinian law imposes the death penalty for treason and for drug trafficking, so if al-Hayeb had been a Palestinian subject to either Hamas’s or the PA’s jurisdiction, he wouldn’t have stood a chance. Israel is far from perfect, but its behavior in the West Bank sometimes makes people forget that its liberal democratic ethos stands in stark contrast to that of its neighbors. This is one of those times.