Palestinian officials in Hebron want more cooperation with Israeli Army
This article first appeared on The Media Line.
A Palestinian driver rammed his car into an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint near the West Bank town of Hebron on Wednesday, seriously wounding him, before soldiers shot and killed the driver. It was the latest incident in a string of attacks that have made the West Bank city of Hebron the focus of the violent wave of Palestinian violence that has left 11 Israelis and some 70 Palestinians dead over the past month. Israeli officials say that 26 of the assailants from the past few weeks are from Hebron.
In an effort to curb violence in Hebron, the Palestinian Authority leadership is considering asking the Israeli army to reestablish the Joint Security Committee, the cooperative effort between the Palestinian National Security Forces and the Israeli army which had been in force in the city between 1995 and early 2001 in order to keep Hebron calm. It was disbanded with the beginning of the Second Intifada, or uprising, that left hundreds dead.
Palestinians in Hebron say the army does not do enough to protect them from attacks by extremist Israelis. On October 17, 18-year-old Fadel Al-Qawasmeh was shot and killed by a Jewish resident in Hebron. The Israeli army claimed that Al-Qawasmeh had a knife and threatened to stab the civilian, a claim that Amnesty International has denied, but the army insists that if the Jewish resident had acted improperly, he would have been arrested.
Hebron is unique in the West Bank in that about 500 Israeli Jews live in several enclaves among 270,000 Palestinians. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers are stationed in Hebron to protect the Israelis living there, and Palestinians are not allowed to use streets near the Jewish enclaves.
Palestinians say that the Israeli Jews living in Hebron are armed and are often responsible for the violence.
“Palestinians in Hebron are angry because of the increased violence by the Israeli radical Jewish settlers,” Hebron Governor Kamel Hamid told The Media Line using the term applied to Jewish Israelis living in communities located on land Israel conquered in the 1967 war. “They are armed and they have killed little boys, claiming they were a threat. I can understand the shooting at legs, but not executions.”
Palestinian security officials say that Hebron has become increasingly dangerous.
“The city of Hebron has become the focal point for clashes between the Palestinians on one hand and the occupation army and the settlers on the other hand,” Mohammad Naeem, a senior security official in the Palestinian Authority told The Media Line. “Direct contact with extremist armed Jews who live in enclaves set up in the heart of the city is the most important reasons why young Palestinians in Hebron carry out aggression. They are being threatened by an armed neighbor.”
Naeem said that the Palestinian Authority cannot be blamed for the violence, as Israel is in control of the parts of the city where the Jewish residents live. Hebron is divided into H-1, which is under Palestinian control, and H-2 is under Israeli control. He said the army must do more to control the Israeli “settlers” – whom Palestinians argue are responsible for much of the tension.
At least some in the Israeli army agree that the Jewish residents in Hebron are making it harder to calm the situation down.
“Right-wing violence in the West Bank is one of the causes of Palestinian terror,” a senior Israel Defense Forces officer told a court last month.
“Some of the motivation of the Palestinians to carry out terror attacks is due to the violence of right-wing elements in the West Bank,” the director of the IDF operations directorate, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, said in testimony at a trial about incitement on the Hakol Hayehudi (The Jewish Voice) website.
Israeli military officials say they are doing everything they can to calm the situation down. They have sent hundreds of extra soldiers to Hebron, with a total of four divisions currently in the West Bank.
“We are seeing individual attackers who are being inspired by attackers who came before them,” a senior official in the army’s Central Command, which includes Hebron, told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “If they have problems at home, it’s easy to take a knife from the kitchen and attack a soldier or a Jewish civilian.”
The army’s main concern, the official said, is to help calm the situation as quickly as possible. Soldiers stationed in Hebron receive special briefings and training, and “the goal is to strengthen feelings of security,” for both the Jewish residents and the local population, she said.
The official also said that coverage of several of the recent incidents in Hebron has not been correct. Amnesty International has recently published a report saying that several of the Palestinians killed in Hebron did not pose an immediate threat and charged Israel with “extrajudicial killing.”
The army official sharply disagreed, saying the army is careful to follow the protocol for ending attacks and to open fire only when the soldiers’ lives are in danger.
“It is not a sterile environment here, but each incident has a weapon,” she said. “Often the soldiers want to get the knives out of the way, so they kick them and then they are not found close to the body.”
She also charged that the Palestinians are encouraging more attacks by glorifying them. Israel this week closed the “Hurriya” radio station in Hebron, saying it was inciting Palestinians to more violent attacks. Palestinians posted photos on Facebook showing damage to the radio station they said was done by the soldiers.