Five members of an Israeli family — including both parents and an infant — living in the northern West Bank settlement of Itamar, not far from Nablus, were brutally murdered in their home on Friday night.
The bodies were discovered when their 12-year-old daughter returned home. Two boys (ages 2 and 6) may have survived, according to unclear Israeli media reports in English.
The northern West Bank was put under lock-down.
All top Israeli officials have called for condemnation of this heinous crime, and said it must be punished and revenged.
Revenge has been and is being carried out against Palestinians.
But, so far, little to no proof of any Palestinian involvement has emerged.
There are footprints, reportedly, leading from a point where the Itamar security system was apparently breached … to the Palestinian village of Awarta.
UPDATE: By March 16, no one — not even a Palestinian — had been charged with the murder, despite intensive Israeli investigations. Awarta is still under lock-down. Thai workers who live in Itamar were reportedly rounded up for interrogation, and there were strong rumors that one of them, who had worked for the family and who was owed 10,000 or 20,000 shekels, was suspected, but there are still no charges against anyone…. At least one Israeli report indicated that the house was still locked from the inside when the murders were discovered. Everybody who was asked and even those who were not asked had dutifully and also sincerely denounced the murders. But those who believe that it was an act of terror committed by Palestinians, well, they still believe it. (See comment below). And, reprisals by settlers against Palestinians are continuing…
UPDATE TWO: The IDF lifted the lock-down on Awarta on Wednesday, more than five days after it began. Reports now indicate that some 40 residents are still being detained.
UPDATE THREE: The Board of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel has issued a statement saying that it “is deeply disturbed that Israeli officials are once again accusing the international media of being biased against Israel. In the latest instance, officials attending a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday dredged up ancient and unfounded conspiracy theories about an 11-year-old case [the death of Muhammad al-Durra, killed while crouching beside his father beside a concrete block in a hail of gunfire in Gaza] and without providing any evidence, tried to equate it to coverage of the weekend knife attack in Itamar. We strongly urge Israeli officials to refrain from making unsubstantiated blanket statements against the international media — a diverse group of hundreds of journalists from around the world — and encourage parliament to seek out more credible witnesses in the future”…
The FPA statement is apparently a reference to remarks made at a Knesset committee on (Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs) this week by Danny Seaman, who served for ten years as head of the Israeli Government Press Office and who is now the Deputy Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Information. The Knesset Committee Chairperson, Danny Danon of Likud, reportedly said — according to an account apparently compiled by the Committee spokesperson — that a court battle concerning the film footage of the Gaza gunbattle between the IDF and Palestinian policemen, pursued by French Jewish businessman Philippe Karsenty (now running for the French Parliament, who was present and who was one of those addressing the Knesset hearing this week) “succeeded in proving provocation and conspiracy by foreign journalists. ‘Our enemies have no problem using unacceptable and dishonest means to attack us, so that cases like this where it is possible to reveal the truth are very important for the battle over the legitimacy of the State of Israel’. Danny Seaman, who said he became convinced after his own lengthy investigation that the video footage of the shoot-out in Gaza had been at least in part staged, and who has previously spoken publicly about this in various fora for several years, told the Knesset Committee that he now also believes “there is a direct link between the position taken by the French media on the Muhammad al-Durrah incident that seeks to represent Israel as murderers of children, and their failure to cover the terrible massacre in Itamar”.
From here, it is hard to see that there was any lack of coverage of the murders of five members of the Fogel family in Itamar (much less that this is due to French television’s report on the death of Muhammad al-Durra — though Karsenty has even questioned whether or not the Palestinian child’s death was faked as well). However, it is true that the top news worldwide in the past week has been the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, followed by continuing events in Libya and Bahrain.
Meanwhile, no Israeli government official has yet said explicitly that Palestinians committed the murders in Itamar, either, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded that the Palestinian Authority leadership must explicitly condemn the killings — and must also end what he said was a “campaign of incitement” against Israel…
A videotape has been aired that casts “grave doubt” on the explanation given by Israeli settler guard who killed one [it is not clear if there was a also second death] Palestinian man a week ago at 4 am in Silwan.
UPDATE: It has now become clear that there was only one Palestinian death in this shooting.
The guard said his was was blocked, and he feared for his life. Israeli printmedia quickly reported that the victim had a record of being involved in previous “riots”.
Here is the new evidence, a report on Israel’s Channel 2 Television with film provided by Silwan’s Wadi Hilweh Information Center:
The Silwan Information Center has a brief post on this new evidence here.
The Israeli police “investigation” apparently accepted the version of the Israeli settler guard — in any case, he was arrested, but then released on bail within 24 hours
This photo, posted on the Jerusalem Post website, shows the beautiful new baby boy who was born after his mother, an Israeli settler, was shot and injured, as was her husband, while driving on Road 60, “near Hebron” according to news reports, in the southern part of the occupied West Bank:
The baby was delivered in a hospital in the Israeli city of Beersheva by Ceasarian section before the mother’s bullet wounds, apparently to her foot or lower leg, were treated.
The mother and the father are both 35 years old. According to the JPost report, the first-time father said: “This was not how I planned on bringing a child into the world”.
As the principals were in Washington for the re-launch of Israeli-Palestinian direct talks, a third nighttime attack on Israeli settlers driving in the West Bank occurred at around 9pm on Thursday night, in the northern West Bank near the large settement of Ariel. A 12-year-old girl was moderately wounded by stone-throwing when the car in which she was riding was targetted.
Around 11 pm on Wednesday night, at Rimonim Junction [Israeli place name], east of Ramallah, in the central West Bank, a car was shot at, and the male driver was wounded by gunshots fired from another vehicle in a “drive-by” shooting. The man’s wife, riding as a passenger, was injured when the car overturned.
At around 7:30 pm on Tuesday night, as we have already reported here, a married couple were shot and killed, as were two passengers riding with them to their homes in a settlement near Hebron in the southern West Bank. When the Magen David Adom rescue service arrived on the scene, one of the medical workers discovered that his wife — one of the two passengers who had been given a ride in the targetted car — was among the dead. The car was attacked by gunfire from another vehicle, and the assailants then stopped and returned to finish off the wounded victims at close range.
Haaretz reported that hours after the first attack on Tuesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “urged settlers in the West Bank to exhibit restraint and respect the rule of law in Israel in the wake of a deadly shooting attack near Hebron”. This is reported here.
However, YNet reported that “After learning that one of settlers killed in Tuesday’s deadly shooting attack had his gun license revoked, [Israel’s] interior minister determines West Bank Jews will be given permits without police authorization. ‘We won’t allow deaths as a result of bureaucracy,’ he says … In the aftermath of Tuesday’s deadly shooting attack near Hebron, Interior Minister Eli Yishai has instructed Population and Immigration Administration head Amnon Ben-Ami to ease restrictions on the purchase of firearms by Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Yishai said Wednesday he had decided to change the gun control policy after learning that one of the victims of the attack reportedly had his gun license revoked, and was therefore not carrying a weapon at the time terrorists opened fire. According to the new directive, gun licenses will be issued without police authorization based solely on the professional opinion of Firearms Division personnel. Minister Yishai said that a situation whereby the State of Israel ‘prevents its citizens from protecting themselves’ is ‘absurd’. The new policy also applies to Israelis who work in the West Bank. ‘Due to the launching of direct talks (between Israel and the Palestinians), we can already see the mass murderers coming out of their murder nests to kill Jews’, the minister told Ynet. ‘We won’t allow deaths as a result of bureaucracy. It is our duty to help the residents maintain their basic right to protect their own lives. We must be prepared for a complex period as far as security is concerned’, he said”… This is reported here.
YNet reported this tonight: “More West Bank violence: Two Israelis traveling on Hawara Road in the West Bank on Tuesday found themselves in the midst of a hail of rocks as nearby Palestinians pelted their vehicle with stones. The two Israelis sustained light injuries, but were able to get out of the car and opened fire at the attackers”. This news is reported here.
This is near Nablus, where four Palestinian teenagers were shot dead on Saturday and Sunday.
These two Israelis … “were able to get out of the car and opened fire at the attackers”!
Can the Palestinians do the same? Unthinkable…
UPDATE: On 24 March, Amira Hass reported in Haaretz that “A recent Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court verdict indicates that settlers may fire in the air to repel unarmed Palestinians, a ruling that a Palestinian rights advocate called a dangerous precedent. Magistrate’s Court Judge Hagit Kalmanovitch ruled last month that Abraham Hofi, of the settlement of Halamish, was not guilty of issuing threats or mishandling a weapon when he fired in the air from his father’s balcony on May 6, 2005, after observing three Palestinians shepherding a herd some 100 meters from the settlement fence. The Palestinians, two minors and an adult, testified that Hofi fired at them and that one bullet struck close to the herd. When the Palestinians remained in the area, Hofi and several other settlers went out to confront them … Michael Sfard, legal adviser to Yesh Din, a Palestinian rights group that collected the testimony from the Palestinians involved in the case, said the verdict set a dangerous precedent. ‘It invites civilians to use firearms in non-threatening situations, when the right thing to do is to call the authorities’, he said”. This post can be read in full here.
Today, the Israeli media reported that “Defense officials believe settlers were behind the torching of a Palestinian home and two vehicles in the West Bank early Sunday, Army Radio reported, in an apparent attempt to avenge a construction freeze in settlements. According to the report, Israeli security forces subsequently searched the area near the home, near Nablus. The incident came shortly before police on Sunday forcibly evacuated about 100 right-wing activists who had blocked roads near the West Bank settlement of Kedumin, in a bid to prevent inspectors from handing out orders to implement the moratorium. The activists included local settlers, girls from a religious high school, regional council leaders, and the settlement’s rabbi. Police arrested one protestor during the confrontation. The clashes coincided with the cabinet’s weekly meeting, during which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his reasons for deciding on the construction halt. ‘These are our brothers; they’re a part of us, and we’re a part of them’, Netanyahu said” … On Saturday, about 200 people led by the chairman of the Yesha council of settlements, Danny Dayan, and MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Uri Ariel convened an emergency meeting in the West Bank settlement of Ofra to discuss tactics to thwart the moratorium. The chairman of the Binyamin regional council suggested, among other things, that ‘everyone begin building. Add a shed, and make it white so that the satellites will pick it up. Build new structures, for B’nei Akiva, for whatever, build them far from the gates so that it will take the inspectors a long time to reach them’.” According to this report, Daan said that “There are people who say that we are violating the law … To them I say: We will disobey the order, we have a moral duty to do so. This is so anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist that we are willing to pay the price. There are orders that we will disobey”. This report can be read in full in Haaretz here.
In another article in Haaretz, Gideon Levy wrote that “Like every production, be it a flop or a hit, the future of this show will also be decided by the audience. In the meantime, as the first act shifts into high gear, the viewers are yawning. The government and the settlers are proud to introduce ‘The Freeze’, a show in which both sides play – in quite unconvincing fashion – already scripted parts. During the first act, no real, historic edict has been issued. Rather, these decrees are just props. Thus, nobody will evacuate one balcony in the final scene. The audience is skeptical. It does not believe the prime minister, who speaks of two states and in the same breath vows that the freeze will soon end, as if it were just a temporary shortage of construction materials that caused it. He pledges that the freeze will not include pergolas and synagogues. Most importantly, he promises that construction will resume in full force immediately after the halt. The audience is even more skeptical of the shrill, ludicrous performance displayed by the settlers, who are staging a bogus protest over the temporary freeze and sounding the manufactured cry of a bully playing the victim. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the settlers do not mean what they say. They freeze and they wink, for the show must go on. The settlers, as is their wont, scream to the high heavens in order to sow fear and warn of what awaits us in the future. Every local council chief in the territories who rips up the orders to freeze building in front of television cameras knows full well that these edicts were issued ‘as if’. Meaning, as if there was a freeze, as if there were edicts, and as if there was resistance. The inspectors apologize, the policemen push and shove a bit, but they also know the truth. The show must go on”.
Gideon Levy added that “It is impossible to lend support to Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan as long as there is a heavy cloud of suspicion hovering over it, one which suggests that this is nothing more than a swindle, an act of deceit designed to appease U.S. President Barack Obama … In the meantime, the settlers are generating just a smidgen of revulsion through their brazen, outrageous and lawless behavior. Yet Holon and Bat Yam are still not showing genuine rage. Even the settlers’ statements championing ‘human rights’, ‘humane living conditions’, ‘morality’ and ‘democracy’ invite only mockery, seeing as they are uttered by the most serial violators of these principles. In order for Tel Aviv and its denizens to react with the same fury – something which should have happened long ago – what is needed is a leader who is truly intent on putting an end to this behavior. But between Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, we do not have such a leader at hand. When the real leader is found and when Tel Aviv really begins to get angry, we will be surprised to find out just how paved the road already is. Yet somebody needs to stand up and point the way”. Gideon Levy’s article can be read in full here.
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…
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.
In the early morning hours on Sunday, Israeli Border Police broke into the homes of the Hanoun and Ghawi families in Sheikh Jarrah, north of the Old City but still part of downtown East Jerusalem, and forcibly expelled at gunpoint three families from one building (only one of them was under court expulsion order) and four from another (there, only one was under court expulsion order).
Over 50 Palestinian refugees (from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war) immediately became homeless, with nowhere to go. No provisions were made to care for their household possessions or to shelter them by the Israeli authorities who have administered the area since their conquest in the June 1967 war, and who had ordered the expulsions to be carried out.
Sunday night, the Hanoun and Ghawi families were out on the streets. “The Red Cross came and offered us tents”, said Maher Hanoun, “But we do not want any tent. We do not want rations of rice and sugar. We want to return to our home”.
Just after the eviction operation, settlers moved in, protected by the Israeli Border Police.