In Hebron

Hebron is the only Palestinian city outside Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank where Israeli settlers are living in the midst of a Palestinian population. It is not a situation where good neighborliness abounds.

Yes, there was a Jewish community in Hebron which became victim to enraged Palestinian mobs in 1929, and a horrible massacre was perpetrated there [it also has to be said that some Palestinian families sheltered and saved their Jewish neighbors during the sudden attacks], and the Jewish community was evacuated.

Settlers returned there in the 1980s, in an extremely belligerent presence. The ugliness of relations has been documented by numerous photographs, videos, news reports and eyewitness accounts — including from members of the serving Israeli Defense Forces, who were themselves appalled at the aggression of Jewish settlers, and the casual complicity of some of the young Israeli soldiers, against the Palestinian population.

In February 1994, an American-Israeli settler living in Kiryat Arba just above downtown Hebron went, wearing his Israeli Army reserve uniform and carrying his rifle, into the immensely important Ibrahimi Mosque [built to enclose the tomb of  the Patriarch Abraham, who is revered by both Jews and Muslims as the first prophet of their monotheistic religions], and killed 29 Palestinian worshippers at dawn prayers during Ramadan.  The murderer was killed on the spot, and his tomb in Kiryat Arba has become a focus of some celebratory pilgrimage for national-religious extremists.  Since then, the Ibrahimi Mosque has been divided under schedules and demarcations that are totally under control of the Israeli military.  Muslims are excluded for a day or more at a time, during certain  Jewish holidays.

The Jewish settler presence in downtown Hebron was accepted a few years later by the late Yasser Arafat in negotiations with Benyamin Netanyahu that were brokered by U.S. President Bill Clinton in the Wye River Accords, part of the Oslo process, which divided the Old City of Hebron into two areas [H1 + H2].

Because of the terrible relations that ensued, a group of countries has created a Temporary International Presence in Hebron [TIPH] with international monitors [most with policing or legal experience] who drive around in marked white cars with distinctive vests, and make purely internal periodic reports about the continuing tension.

And, there is a Christian Peacemaker Team [CPT] of volunteers living in the area of worst tension in Hebron, the Old City.

The CPT has Tweeted a photo album of what they have witnessed — these photos were taken in the last 3 to 4 months [the whole series can be viewed here

Hebron - soldiers + settler security outside Palestinian shops in Old City

Continue reading In Hebron

Meanwhile, in Hebron

Meanwhile, back in Palestine – photos with many thanks to Hope for a Free Palestine — Palestinian police block international and Palestinian protesters at a demonstration in Hebron on Friday 25 February:

Palestinian police block international + Palestinian protesters in Hebron

This had to have been — it was — coordinated with Israeli security forces…

And, as always, the Israelis take the highest point:

Israeli soldiers on rooftop in Hebron during demonstration on 25 February

Israeli soldiers take the highest points in Hebron during demonstration on 25 Feb 2011

The demonstration called for opening Shuhada (Martyrs) Street, which has been closed for security reasons to protect the Jewish settler presence in the heart of the old city of Hebron, near the immensely important Ibrahimi Mosque…

Demonstrators walk through the Old City of Hebron

But of course the demonstration made references to the protests taking place elsewhere in the region — and to the specifics of this place. And it ended with tear gas being shot around the narrow alleyways.

Israelis and internationals joined the protest in Hebron

The whole set of photos can be viewed here.

Palestinians begin to express opposition as OECD tourism meeting opens in Jerusalem

Palestinians have started to express objections and opposition to an OECD meeting that opened yesterday in Jerusalem — after months of public announcements and preparations.

The OECD – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – is a Paris-based international organization grouping economically-developed countries who are also considered “democracies”.

A public meeting has been called in Ramallah this afternoon to discuss the international law aspects of the meeting.

The decision to convene the tourism conference in Jerusalem was announced in mid-June — four months ago.   It takes months and months of preparations to hold such a conference.

Why did it take the Palestinians so long to organize their response?   The conference was already in its second day when Palestinian officials called for its cancellation…

Continue reading Palestinians begin to express opposition as OECD tourism meeting opens in Jerusalem

"It's a tragedy"

Four Israeli settlers were ambushed, shot and killed — apparently at close range — Tuesday evening, while driving to their homes in the West Bank settlement of Beit Hagai, near the large and well-fortified settlement of Kiryat Arbaa, outside Hebron.

The deaths occurred on Road 60, just after 7:30 in the evening, at a time when Muslim Palestinians were breaking their fast on the 20th day of sacred month of Ramadan — a month of introspection, calm, and prayer when fighting and conflict is normally supposed to be suspended, according to Islamic tradition.

Yet, Hamas spokespersons in Gaza suggested that such an attack could be considered justifiable, while Palestinian officials in Washington for important meetings immediately pinned the blame squarely on Hamas.

Asked to comment, on the eve of meetings that will convene in Washington at U.S. invitation to relaunch direct Israeli-Palestinian talks that were broken off at the start of Israel’s massive 3-week military operation against Hamas in Gaza, the U.S. State Department’s P.J. Crowley responded by saying that “anytime one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy. We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred”.

Tonight, the nearby Palestinian village of Bani Naim has been completely closed off by the Israeli Army.

Ma’an News Agency reported from Bethlehem that a previously unknown group calling itself the Al-Haq (“Rights”) Brigades claimed the attack, and said it was in response to the Palestinian leadership’s decision to return to negotiations with Israel.

There is a large variety of agents provocateurs who might be motivated to carry out such an attack.

Israeli police reports suggest that the victims — a married couple with six children and one grandchild, another woman who also leaves behind a bereaved child, and a young man — were shot at from a car driving alongside their vehicle, then finished off at close range.

UPDATE: Hours after Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza said the attack shows the failure of Israeli-Palestinian Authority security cooperation [despite the fact that the PA has no security role on Road 60, which is under total Israel control], PA security forces rounded up dozens of Hamas supporters across the West Bank (particularly in Hebron). And spokespersons for the West Bank settler group, Yesha — which is as opposed as Hamas (if not more) to the U.S. invitation to restart direct negotiations in Washington this week — announced that they will begin building all over the West Bank at 6pm on Wednesday evening. At least two of the four victims of this attack were settler movement activists. Earlier, Israel’s Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak vowed to “extract a price” for the attack — his choice of words echoing the settler “price tag” policy of retaliating with attacks on Palestinians and their property for any Israeli government action against West Bank Jewish settlements.

UPDATE ADD: By mid-afternoon Wednesday, Haaretz’s Avi Issacharoff, and news agencies, reported that “Palestinian security forces carried out one of the largest waves of arrests in the history of the West Bank following Tuesday’s shooting attack near Hebron, in which four Israelis were killed, a Palestinian source said on Wednesday. According to the source, more than 300 people identified with Hamas have been arrested by Palestinian Authority security forces since the attack. This can be read in full here.

UPDATE TWO: The White House issued a statement last night blaming Hamas for the attack, saying that “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today perpetrated by Hamas in which four Israelis were killed in the southern West Bank. We express our condolences to the victims’ families and call for the terrorists behind this horrific act to be brought to justice”.

UPDATE TWO ADD: At the start of a two-day event in Washington intended to restart direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, U.S. President Obama himself said: “we are going to push back against these kinds of terrorist attacks. And so the message should go out to Hamas and everyone else who is taking credit for these heinous crimes that this is not going to stop us.”

"Tense calm" in East Jerusalem + West Bank

Where to begin?

Israel’s YNet news website is reporting today that Israel’s State President Shimon Peres “is unpleased by the government’s decision to renovate a selected list of heritage sites – which includes the Cave of the Patriarchs [which is also, for Palestinians and Muslims worldwide, the Ibrahimi or Abraham Mosque in Hebron] and Rachel’s Tomb [which is also, for Palestinians, the Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem] – and is concerned by the move’s possible implications, Ynet has learned. The decision should not have been taken in the manner it was taken, but rather, in phases, Peres reportedly said in closed-door sessions over the weekend. ‘It was [or, should have been] possible to decide to focus on 10 sites at this time, and take more decisions later’, Peres was quoted as saying. Following several days of local riots, the president expressed his concern about the violence that may follow in Palestinian areas, while also referring to Israel’s responsibility on this front. ‘It depends on us too’, he noted. ‘We must conduct ourselves cautiously and with restraint’ … Peres added privately [however] that he intends to continue his support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as long as the latter works to renew negotiations with the Palestinians”.

Just for background, YNet added in its report, it was just last Sunday that “the cabinet approved a wide-scale plan to preserve and renovate ‘heritage sites’ at a cost of NIS 400 million (about $106 million dollars). At the last moment, after being pressured by right-wing elements and ministers, Netanyahu decided to add to the plan two sites located in the West Bank. After Hamas called for a third intifada and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned of a ‘religious war’, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad attended the Friday prayer in Hebron, called on his people to continue their struggle, but stressed that the Palestinians would not let the Israeli decision drag them to a state of violence. Netanyahu himself has tried to ease the tensions with the Palestinians several times, saying it was all a misunderstanding. ‘We have no intention of changing the status quo regarding Jewish or Muslim praying. We want to maintain the current prayer arrangements. The renovations were carried out in coordination with the Waqf. These are necessary repairs’, the prime minister said”. This YNet article can be read in full here .

The Associated Press reported on Thursday that Netanyahu had made his second or third statement in three days, trying to “defuse” the situation — however, he failed (as Israeli politicians generally do fail) to speak directly or to reach out to make any empathetic acknowledgement of Palestinian concerns: “In an interview to Israeli TV, Benjamin Netanyahu called the affair a ‘misunderstanding’, saying there was no intention to infringe on Muslim freedom of worship. He said the intent was to protect and maintain the sites. ‘This is not a political decision. It doesn’t change anything in that sense. It is concerned with preserving heritage’, Netanyahu said. This AP report is posted here.

A Haaretz editorial published today said that a widely-lambasted new campaign by Israel’s Information and Diaspora Ministry to improve the country’s image is “more than ridiculous, the campaign is disconcerting. ‘Explaining Israel’ [the name of this public relations campaign] reveals the worldview of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government: limitless self-righteousness, eternal hostility toward the Arab and Muslim worlds, a view of Palestinians as invaders and inciters, and commitment to developing the West Bank settlements. This PR drive must not be viewed just as a gimmick, or an attempt to justify the unnecessary existence of the Information Ministry. Instead, it represents how the government wants its citizens to understand their country and represent it to the world. The campaign’s Web site waxes lyrical over the beauty of Judea and Samaria and the grand achievements of the settlement endeavor, even directing visitors to the links of West Bank regional councils. The ministry warns against the evacuation of settlements and withdrawal from elevated areas, which, it says, would turn Israel into a firing range for rockets and render it vulnerable to invasion. Palestinian communities are not part of its landscape – the Palestinian Authority is portrayed as an incitement factory bent on destroying Israel, one that falsifies demographic figures and is headed by a Holocaust denier. Still, the ministry recommends that Israelis ‘say with conviction that Israel will never lose hope for peace’. It is difficult to square these messages with Netanyahu’s frequent calls for ‘two states for two peoples’ and a return to peace talks. Does the prime minister really want to talk to [people he says ares] inciters and Holocaust deniers? What would they talk about – about withdrawal, which the government believes would endanger Israel?” This Haaretz editorial is published here.

Along similar lines, Jerusalem-based writer Gershom Gorenberg wrote, as part of a book review published in the latest issue of “The American Prospect“, that “You might expect Netanyahu to be careful about playing with holy fire. In September 1996, early in his previous term as prime minister, he approved opening a tunnel alongside the Temple Mount, otherwise known [i.e., to Palestinians and the Muslim world] as Haram al-Sharif. That set off a week-long mini war between Israel and Palestinians. How could he so easily give in to pressure and repeat the mistake of asserting ownership of contested holy places? While we’re at it, how does a country declare that a place outside its borders is a national heritage site? I could give quick responses based on Netanyahu’s famously flawed personality. But deeper answers to these questions — and quite a few other Middle Eastern puzzles — can be found in Israeli political sociologist Lev Luis Grinberg’s remarkably insightful recent book, Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine. The starting point of Grinberg’s analysis is that Israel doesn’t have borders, or perhaps has too many of them: ‘If we would ask Israelis … where the state of Israel is — where its borders are — we would never receive a simple answer. … There is no consensus among Jewish citizens of the state where its borders are, where they should be, or even what the legitimate procedure is to decide on them’. Internationally, of course, Israel’s border is commonly regarded as the Green Line, the pre-1967 boundary. For internal Israeli legal purposes, the Green Line is generally where the state ends and occupied territory begins; it defines ‘the area … ruled by democratic law and elective government’, as Grinberg notes. But the Green Line doesn’t appear on Israeli maps. And for purposes of military and economic control, the state includes the West Bank with its Palestinian population. (Gaza’s status, at the moment, is even fuzzier.) Moreover, in the imagination of most Israeli Jews, it seems, the line between those who belong to the nation and those who don’t is ethnic: Jews are in. Palestinians are out, even if they live in Israel and vote. If you find this all confusing, then you understand perfectly. The reality is a mess … With violence low at the moment, most Israelis can imagine that Israeli security measures alone ended the intifada and that the current quiet can last indefinitely. This is an illusion, and a dangerous one: It ignores the Palestinian Authority’s role in restoring order in the West Bank. It also ignores the frustration with blocked diplomacy that is again rising among Palestinians — and international impatience with the Netanyahu government’s foot-dragging. Imagination shapes behavior. Believing the illusion that things can go on as they are, Israelis have largely abandoned debate of alternatives. The space for politics remains closed. So with no discussion, responding to a moment’s pressure, ignoring the dangers, Netanyahu can include two West Bank holy places in a list of Israeli heritage sites. Netanyahu wouldn’t think to consult Palestinians’ representative leadership first. He sees them as outside the borders of his politics … In physical terms, Netanyahu’s imagined Israel is the whole land. In political terms, it includes only Jews. It takes no effort to convince him to include tombs in Hebron and Bethlehem in a map of Israeli heritage sites. But a plea by Israeli critics to include non-Jewish sites within the Green Line will sound to him like static on a bad cell-phone connection — noise without meaning”. This Gershom Gorenberg article in The American Prospect can be read in full here.

Meanwhile, this “tense calm” is not showing signs of expanding. As Haaretz reported Saturday, “Scores of Jordanian politicians and trade union members staged a sit-in at the Trade Unions Complex in Amman on Saturday to denounce Israel’s addition of two West Bank holy sites to a list of Jewish heritage centers. The participants, including Muslim Brotherhood figures and leading trade unionists, chanted slogans and raised placards calling for concrete action against Israel, the declaration of jihad (holy war) and the rupture of ties with the Jewish state by all Muslim countries”. This Haaretz article can be read in full here.

UPDATE: Jordan’s King Abdallah the second weighed in on this crisis on Sunday evening, and according to a report on the Jerusalem Post website (probably picked up from Palestinian Televisions nightly news broadcast), he was quoted as condemning “Israel’s ‘provocative measures in Jerusalem’ … after a day in which security forces stormed the Temple Mount [Haram ash-Sharif] to quell Arab rioting. Abdullah made the remark after meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman. Abdullah called on the international community to take immediate steps to protect Jerusalem’s holy sites”. This JPost report is posted here.

And, as the AP reported earlier, “The Organization of Islamic Conference, representing 57 predominantly Muslim states, strongly condemned the Israeli government’s decision, calling it illegal and an attempt ‘to trigger religious confrontation’.  In a statement issued after a meeting of its ambassadors at UN headquarters in New York, the OIC urged the UN Security Council to take immediate steps ‘to compel the Israeli government to revoke this illegitimate action’.  It called on the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers — the UN, the U.S., the European Union and Russia — ‘to stand up to this blatant act of aggression which represents a serious provocation to Muslims … and has the serious potential to incite yet another cycle of violence to further destabilize the fragile situation in the occupied Palestinian territories’.”  The U.S. State Department has also criticized the move more than once in the past week. The AP report said that “State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday the decision was ‘provocative’ and unhelpful to the goal of restarting peace talks”.  The AP report is posted here.

The repetition of the peace talks mantra is mesmerizing, but wearing a bit thin. It has been more than a year since Palestinian leadership broke off the inconclusive Annapolis process, in the early days of the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009).

On a third day of heavy rains, Israeli police entered (or “stormed”, as the Israeli press said) the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif compound at least twice on Sunday (though they did not enter Al-Aqsa Mosque itself). Clashes then spread to other areas in East Jerusalem, then died down for the moment. Some 16 Palestinians and 4 Israeli police personnel were injured by nightfall, and 7 Palestinians were reportedly detained.

The Jerusalem Post earlier reported that “police banned men under the age of 50 from the site on Sunday. Meanwhile in the West Bank, the IDF was on high alert on Sunday out of fear that settlers, celebrating Purim, would clash with Palestinians. On Saturday, the IDF clamped a closure on the territories for the duration of Purim which will end Monday night in Jerusalem. Additional forces will be deployed in defined ‘hot spots’ to prevent friction between Palestinians and settlers. While Hebron was quiet over the weekend, defense officials said there were fears that violence would escalate in the city as well as other parts of the West Bank, particularly in northern Samaria, on Purim day”.  This JPost report is published here.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad went to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron to perform his Friday prayers.
Now, Ma’an News Agency reported that “The Fayyad government is due to hold its weekly cabinet meeting in an office the West Bank city of Hebron on Monday, in protest against Israel’s decision to include the Ibrahimi Mosque on a list of Israeli heritage sites. Hebron Governor Hussein Al-Araj said the move from Ramallah to Hebron was a signal Palestinian Authority rejected the Israeli cabinet’s decision, highlighting that Israel lacks the sovereignty needed to change Palestinian landmarks on land occupied by Israel in 1967. ‘[This] is a violation to the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the Hebron Agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority’, he said”.  This Ma’an report is published here.

There is precious little humanity in this conflict these days

Terrible scenes in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem on Tuesday and Wednesday — ugly clashes between the Israeli settlers who have been given the keys to a small house, and the Palestinian family who built the small house as an addition to their family home and who live on the property.

Israeli police cars are now a constant presence in front of the site.  And settler vigilantes ride around in battered unmarked cars,  responding to phone alerts and bringing beefy back-up quickly to suppress any Palestinian protest.  On Wednesday, one settler visiting the group that had taken over the latest house pushed a middle-aged Palestinian woman down as he passed her on the entry sidewalk.   As he left, Palestinian men tried to get the waiting Israeli police to take action against the settler who had pushed the woman.   The settler was joined by a younger man and woman, and laughed as he walked with his companions around the corner, towards a shrine which has been taken over by Israeli religious group, and which Orthodox Jewish visitors believe  is the burial place of Shimon Hatzadik (Simon the Just), a priest in the Second Temple (Palestinians have a different idea about whose bones are in that tomb.)

The police did nothing.

A Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance was called and checked the pushed woman’s her vital signs, before leaving.  The settler, incredibly, returned.  A Palestinian man, and several young Palestinian boys, shouted to him that he was forbidden to enter, and they pushed him out to the sidewalk.

The Israeli police presence has deliberately been kept low, this time, which does reduce general tensions in the area, despite the specific tensions at this now-occupied house.

And, the Israeli police that night seemed to be level-headed and mature, by comparison with others who have lost their cool at checkpoints and in similar situations.  They arrested the settler who had pushed the Palestinian woman + who then laughed in a gloating way.  But, it took them 15 minutes to get the handcuffs on him.  There was no brutality used against the settler — unlike the beatings that were administered by Israeli police and border police to Israelis and international solidarity demonstrators on 2 August when they were protesting the eviction of the Hanoun family from their home up the hill.

The Israeli police then arrested the Palestinian man who pushed the settler out when he tried — inexplicably, but apparently triumphantly — to re-enter the newly-occupied house.

Two young Jewish women, who were living in one or more of the other nearby occupied houses, and who were wearing in the stereotypical multi-layered settler clothing (trousers with skirts, aprons over sweaters over t-shirts, and rasta-type scarfs tied around their heads and behind their ears), chose just that movment to put their babies into strollers and parade up and down the middle of the street, chatting occasionally with the Israeli border police and other security forces there.

Tensions swirled, ebbing and flowing, in that street throughout that afternoon.  It was not the moment to take babies outside — unless you were trying to make a dangerous point.

See the EAPPI (Geneva-based World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel) video of the take-over on Tuesday morning, with organized settler “security forces” assisting the move-in, while an elderly Palestinian woman keeps confronting them and shouting “Itlaa barra!” – “Get Out!”:

In Sheikh Jarrah, a religous-nationalist Jewish group wants to take over some 28 houses (three have already been occupied by settlers) then demolish to make a new large apartment complex for some 200 Jewish families, meaning possibly 1,000 Jewish residents in this small area of East Jerusalem.

This is not (as Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem mayor Nir Barakat are fond of saying) about “the right of Jews to live anywhere” in the former British Mandate of Palestine — it is about armed evictions, backed by Israeli courts and Israeli police and Border Police.

It is about the lack of leadership, and the lack of any social safety net or any alternative for the Palestinian refugees being evicted from homes built by the UN for them, that they thought were theirs, and that they lived in all their lives. It is about their possessions being thrown outside. It is about their staying on the sidewalks afterwards, carrying the whole weight of the Palestinian national struggle on their own shoulders, without any real backing or support either from the Palestinian leadership or from their compatriots.

It is about families — men, women, and children sitting and eating and sleeping in the baking sun last summer, in the winter rains and cold, in the public view of any passersby, being available to tell their stories over and over again for tour groups of European solidarity types who think that if these Palestinian families only sign one more letter, the world will sit up and take notice — though this hasn’t really happened.

It is also about hatred and ugly contempt.

Palestinian resident of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem Nabil al-Kurd is restrained by his wife while watching Israeli settlers and their security throwing  furniture from a house he built out onto the lawn during the settler take-over of the small building he built for his daughter immediately adjacent to his home…

NY Times photo of Nabil al-Kurd being restrained by his wife as settlers throw furniture from his house onto the lawn

The New York Times reported last week that “The small, one-story structure was built about 10 years ago as an extension of the Kurds’ original home, but it was unoccupied, having been sealed by the authorities after it was determined to have been constructed without the proper permits. ‘The authorities took our keys to the property because we built it without permits’, said Nabil al-Kurd, 66, who lives in the original house. ‘But it seems the settlers can live here without permits’…” This NYTimes story can be read in full here.

These Sheikh Jarrah houses were built by UNRWA in the mid-1950s on land granted by Jordan, whose troops moved into the area in May 1948, during the fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel.   Years after Israel conquered East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank in the June 1967  “Six Day War”, Jewish national-religious groups asserted pre-World War One claims to land and homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area — claims that have been supported by the Israeli courts, but for which, Turkish authorities said earlier this year, no supporting documentation could be found after a search through Ottoman Archives.

Later that night, I arrived home in time to see the end of Al-Jazeera (original Arabic channel) showing many reports about The Video (of a settler in a Mercedes running over a downed Palestinian who had been shot six times after allegedly stabbing or trying to stab the settler’s wife).  The Palestinian was taken to an Israeli hospital (possibly Hadassah in Jerusalem) — which only happens when there is some direct or indirect responsibility for the injury.   Almost incredibly, the Palestinian is still alive — but his family, in Hebron, have not been allowed into Jerusalem to visit, and they say they do not have a clear idea about his condition.

All over the West Bank, Israeli settlers are resisting efforts of Israeli “Civil Administration” (military) inspectors to enforce the recent decision of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak (a former Israeli Prime Minister who, as Minister of Defense, is now the effective ruler of the West Bank).

And what does the Israeli Prime Minister do about all this? Instead of saying, as a leader should in a situation of such inter-communal tensions (and one of these communities, it should be recalled, is under the occupation of the other) that NO ONE SHOULD TAKE THE LAW [and it is a law whose application generally favors only one of the communities] … NO ONE SHOULD TAKE THE LAW INTO HIS (or HER) OWN HANDS, Netanyahu tries to persuade the settlers that he and they are all “brothers”.

The Jerusalem Post reported that “The atmosphere at the Netanyahu meeting was ‘hard and tense’, said Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein, who said that it was the settlers, rather than Netanyahu, who spoke during the bulk of the meeting. At one point Netanyahu told them, ‘We are not your enemy; we are your brethren’, relayed council head Dani Dayan … ‘We took this difficult decision [a limited 10-month freeze on settlements outside East Jerusalem] in order to move Israel’s widest interests forward’, Netanyahu said during the two-hour meeting … ‘We need to pass through this period together in cooperation … I want you as leaders to hold the steering wheel with us, but there is one thing that is not legitimate. You can protest, demonstrate and express your opinion, but it can’t be that you don’t abide by a decision that was lawfully taken. The real solution is through dialogue and finding solutions during this limited time period‘.” This JPost article can be read in full here.

Yossi Sarid has just written, in an article in Haaretz entitled “I have no brother”, this:  ” ‘The settlers are our brothers’, Prime Minister Netanyahu said this week, trying to convey their holy wrath. But let me make it clear: They are not my brothers. I don’t have any brothers like that, or sisters … When I see a Jew running over a wounded Arab terrorist again and again, I am absolutely certain that any connection between us is coincidental, happenstance, and that I’m obligated to sever it completely. I have to save my human image before I, too, am run over by that silver Mercedes. And when I see Jews expelling Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah – evicting and taking over, getting into warm beds that haven’t even had a chance to cool, leaving entire families in the cold – I am filled with disgust”.  This piece by Yossi Sarid can be read in full here.

UPDATE: Uri Avnery has just written in his article today, which he entitled “kkkitsch”, that: “Israel is a far from monolithic society. It is a vibrant, fermenting mix, with many tendencies, from the extreme Right to the extreme Left. At present we have a government of the extreme right, but there is also a peace camp. There are soldiers who refuse to remove settlements, but there are also soldiers who refuse to guard settlements. Quite a number of people devote their time and energy to the struggle against the occupation, sometimes exposing themselves to physical danger in the process … The Netanyahu government has paid lip-service to the Two-State principle and is violating it every day. It has rejected a full freeze of settlement activity in the territories, the very territories which all governments – including the German one – agree should become the State of Palestine. It is building at a crazy pace in East Jerusalem which – even according to the German government – must become the capital of Palestine. It is carrying out in Jerusalem something which comes very close to ethnic cleansing. Should Ms. Merkel hug this government and smother its face with kisses?” – Avnery asks, on the eve of an important European Union meeting about their position on Jerusalem.

Festival of Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank – Hebron

This photo is irresistable. It is featured today as one of the Jerusalem Post’s top ten photo picks of the week:

IDF soldiers tell a Palestinian man on a donkey that he cannot cross a closed checkpoint into the West Bank city of Hebron.

Taken on 27 July by AP, the caption reads: “IDF soldiers tell a Palestinian man on a donkey that he cannot cross a closed checkpoint into the West Bank city of Hebron”.

(These are really Israeli Defense Force soldiers, and not Border Police…)

You see many Palestinians riding on the sides of the highway (built and maintained in large part for the Gush Etzion settlers, but the road is also one way to go from Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem) between Bethlehem and Hebron. The reason, Raja’i explained, is that this road has no exits for these Palestinians to get to their land, to tend their crops or olive trees. If they drove and left their cars at the shoulder of the road, the car would either be damaged or destroyed — or it simply wouldn’t be there when they got back.

So, they get to their land by donkey…

On Checkpoints – a letter from a volunteer monitor to an angry soldier

Here are extended excerpts from a letter of reply from a Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch volunteer — these volunteers are all and exclusively eminently respectable adult Israeli women — to an angry soldier who objected to one of her monitoring reports:

“…from the point of view of a human being…it is impossible not to see the situation in Hebron in a comprehensive way: the centre of the city that has become a ghetto for thousands of its thousands of Palestinian residents (after over twenty thousand of them were forced to leave their homes), and has become the exclusive domain of the Jewish residents. The checkpoints that you guard are a part of that whole system, and there is nothing worse in all the Occupied Territories. There the army has become, nearly like the Palestinians, subject to the whims of a few hundred Jewish residents, of whom the vast majority are zealots, nationalists and racists. I heard their words more than once and I have read the words that they write. More than that: many of them, including small children, are also violent – sometimes very violent.

“These are facts – and not utterances that stem from my personal outlook. There is abundant evidence for these facts, and it is unlikely that you have not seen with your own eyes when you serve there and not read them in the newspapers and in other sources of information. Just recently (in the newspaper Haaretz, the weekly supplement 18 April 2008) the senior journalist Zvi Barel described in depth and in detail the sequence of events since the creation of the Jewish settlement, that very rapidly led to a situation in which the Israeli soldiers stationed in Hebron became servants at the beck and call of the settlers, which has led more than once to extensive humiliation and even abuse of soldiers. Barel’s article is based also on the writer’s personal experience: he was the deputy military governor of Hebron, no less! And he writes: ‘teeming Hebron became a ghost town under the protection of the army’. And he gives a very long series of precise examples of the way in which, since then to this very day, soldiers have been subject to the will of the settlers, and if they do not submit to them, then they are punished at their hands in various ways, and in the end they obey them: ‘the IDF’ he writes, ‘cannot take pride in the legacy of its battle with the settlers’. Those words were also told to me by many soldiers in Hebron – soldiers who only waited for a moment in which they could finally get away from that place that they see as accursed. And those facts have also been documented in writing in various places, in testimony of soldiers of various political views, not just people of the Left, not at all.

“And please, don’t tell me that you are defending my life. Soldiers like you who serve there did not defend me when I stood near the ‘House of Contention’ in Hebron, with one other woman from Machsom Watch, the two of us alone, mature women: we stood and watched, we did not say a word and we did not do a thing and we made no provocation. And suddenly eggs were thrown at us from the roof and the children that were there surrounded me and began – with the vocal encouragement of their parents – to kick me and to hurl a large ball at me. Four soldiers were standing there, two beside a checkpoint that was beside the house and two by the entrance to the house. I asked them to get my attackers away from me and to catch the egg-throwers that were standing on the roof. The soldiers sniggered, they didn’t move from where they were standing and they didn’t lift a finger. And regarding the eggs, they said: how do we know that it was not Palestinians who threw the eggs at you? Not long ago there was a much more serious scene with members of the German parliament, official guests of the government of Israel, whom the settlers abused and the army did not defend, and they were forced to flee from there. But those matters are so well known and documented, that it is unlikely that you do not know. And as one who serves there – maybe you were even one of those soldiers who did not defend those who were attacked? I ask you this question in all seriousness; not to provoke you.

“More than once the army claimed on such occasions that it does not have enough manpower to deal with the settlers: I have also heard that pretext with my own ears, because I have been to Hebron on many occasions. However, this army that is too frail to deal with kicking toddlers and their parents who incite them, this army saw fit to surround with about fifteen soldiers, a skinny boy of about fifteen [in June he will turn fifteen]. That is the incident that I documented, among others, and to which you replied [and why do you not respond about the blockaded house I described in my report?]. Maybe that boy threw stones at you or even rocks (afterwards the soldiers showed me some stones that they claimed had been thrown at them on the street: I did not see there a single rock, just small stones) – were so many armed soldiers necessary against a youth, a boy, whose hands were already cuffed and who was blindfolded? And don’t say that it was not fifteen soldiers who surrounded him: true, you were not summoned to the scene, you gathered from nearby streets. And you surrounded him. I saw that scene, and I also photographed it, and what I recorded in the report was correct in every detail. A few moments before that only three or four soldiers were standing at the checkpoint, and when the handcuffed boy was brought there many surrounded him. After a few moments they dispersed and the boy was taken away. Regarding the jeeps: there was only one jeep on the scene, and afterwards one more came along, and that’s the one that took the boy. Is it really all that important whether it was specially summoned or not? Two jeeps, many soldiers and one boy and one woman – that was the picture. You moved us aside and demanded that we stand on the other side of the barrier. True, we were angry at what we saw [we yelled; we did not curse], and I also wrote that, frankly and honestly. Believe me, that scene would be infuriating to anyone whose senses have not yet been dulled.

“Yes, I described you with precision: why don’t you try to describe yourself under those circumstances, you who did not respond to me when settler families attacked me, how you looked when you stood around a single boy and separated him from his aunt, who at any rate could not have rescued him from you. And maybe you can explain to me why you blindfolded that boy? Did you ask yourself why that humiliation was necessary? Were there military secrets to be seen there? Does that boy not see, every day, the checkpoint and you and the whole terrible environment to which his home has been converted for the sake of the few hundred Jews who settled there in the first place in complete violation of every law and afterwards compelled the governments of Israel to authorize their residence there and to send massive military forces to defend them? Military forces that have become more and more harsh the more depressing the conditions there have become. They are humiliating to the soldiers themselves, to put it mildly.

“And maybe it would even be worthwhile for you to put yourself just once in the place of that boy? And not only in Hebron, although that place, as has been said, is the worst of all. Put yourself in his place and in the place of his aunt and his father and many others to whom you serve in close proximity as a policeman according to laws that were not intended for policemen in a normal state. Have you asked yourself once how millions of civilians in the Territories have been living for decades now, behind enclosures and encirclement and roadblocks? And it is not a matter of one’s political perspective on the conflict: there is no other place in a democratic country in the world in which civilians have been living like that for such a long time, decades under occupation. There is no army in the world that has the right to fight that way against civilians for such a long time, which has become a permanent arrangement, not a temporary situation.

“It is not just and not wise, especially not wise: by no means will we be able to live like this in peace and security in the long run. Not only are you not defending my life, you are even endangering it with the actions that you are ordered to carry out against civilians, men, women and children – under the cover of ‘war on terror’, as if all of them were terrorists. You are endangering me and us with the hatred that you and your comrades are sowing in the neighbourhoods and houses every day and every night. Indeed with my own eyes I see again and again the actions that you carry out, and I am not exaggerating: the destruction that soldiers leave behind them in houses [I saw!], the humiliations at the checkpoints and on the streets and the highways [I saw and heard and read them!]. Have you once put yourself in the place of those people that you are supposedly defending me against? I have put myself in their place in my thoughts and I travel every week to see their situation in the villages and in the cities and I am well-received by them [as a Jew and an Israeli, not as someone who identifies with terror], and I do not need you to defend me at all when I’m there. In their houses they even take extraordinary care of me, according to the code of hospitality that is sacred to them. I fear you more than I fear them. Because the moment you or your comrades appear in some civilian area, for example at the gates of a school, and the trouble begins, then I am liable to be in danger. Believe me: these things I have seen with my own eyes, I am not spouting slogans to you. And if behind all this I have my own outlook, it is not a ‘leftist’ outlook, but the outlook that was bequeathed to me by my parents, who were persecuted in Europe, and it was they who taught me not to be silent when human rights are violated so; and I am not silent and I will not be silent.

“Against that background, of what importance is it why your rifles were slung over your shoulders and if all the rifles were pointed and if it is possible to hold rifles in a way different to the way you were holding them in front of the boy and his aunt? You simply have nothing to seek from them there in the middle of the city, at that asinine checkpoint, with all your weapons and communications devices. You have become heroes facing down women and old people and children – if once you look a little bit beyond the end of the barrel of your rifle, it is impossible that you will not see and feel that. Many soldiers have already gone off the rails because of that,

+In conclusion, here is the testimony of a soldier who served recently in Hebron and who evidently looked around him:

“ ‘If I stand at a checkpoint that prevents people from going to places that they clearly have to go to, that is to say, sometimes they cannot go between the grocery store and their home because I am standing there, it makes no difference how polite I am. I do not need to be cruel to them for it to be wrong. I can be the politest person and it will still not be OK, because from their point of view it is not that I am being nice to them – I am still not letting them go to their home – what’s the difference if I try to be polite? What’s the difference, if I am humiliating them at the same time? The checkpoint itself is a humiliation. As long as I fulfill my role according to the regulations, according to all the laws, doing something completely legal, I am still doing something that harms people, and harms them in a gratuitous way. I am guarding, or ensuring the existence, of 500 settlers at the expense of 15,000 people in a direct occupation in Area H2 and another 140,000-160,000 in Hebron around it. And it makes no difference how decent I try to be, it makes no difference how decent my commander tries to be, it just … it will not be OK. I will still be their enemy. There will still be a conflict between us, and sometimes when I’m nice to them that makes problems for me because then they have somebody to argue with and somebody to appeal to. But I have nothing to answer to them – they can’t pass because they can’t pass and that’s that! Because it is an order, and due to security considerations, as long as you want to guard those 500 people, that’s what you have to do. As long as we want to keep those guys in Hebron alive, and want to ensure that they can have normal lives, it will be necessary to destroy the routine of all the others. There is no other alternative. For the most part they are genuine security considerations. They are not contrived considerations – in order that they cannot shoot at them from above, we have to hold the hills above them. People live on those hills. We have to occupy people, we have to hold people, we have to harm those people sometimes, but as long as the government sticks to its decision that the settlement in Hebron must remain, even without gratuitous cruelty, all the cruelty will be there and it will make no difference if people are nice or not‘.”

What happens in a snowball fight…

… if you’re Palestinian, and the others are Jewish settlers in Hebron?

Photo captions: “An Israeli soldier detains Palestinian youths who had a playful snow fight with Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron January 31, 2008”.
MaanImages photo by Mamoun Wazwaz Another photo from Hebron by Mamoun Wazwaz for MaanImages

Ma’an Images adds that “the boys were released after less than an hour”.

Al-Aqsa Mosque – 250,000 attended Laylat al-Qadr last night

According to Ma’an, the independent Palestinian news agency, some 250,000 faithful attended night prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in east Jerusalem last night. It was Laylat al-Qadr, or “the night of Power”, which is the most important night of the holy month of Ramadan. By agreement, apparently, Laylat al-Qadr is marked on the 27th night of Ramadan.

The end of Ramadan should be on Friday.

In my neighborhood, there were groups of tens of young Palestinian men, looking uncertain, but eager to somehow get through the checkpoints to be at Al-Aqsa. Their chances of getting through were almost zero.

Ma’an news agency also reported that Israeli police used stun grenades to dissuade the faithful from assembling for Laylat al-Qadr at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, where it is believed that Abraham — the founder of the three monotheistic religions — is buried.