Palestinians riot as Jewish worshippers visit Joseph’s Tomb

Palestinians in Nablus attacked Israeli soldiers escorting a convoy of Jewish worshippers who entered the West Bank city to visit Joseph’s Tomb.

The 26 busloads of worshippers arrived overnight Wednesday into Thursday in order to visit the purported burial place of the Jewish patriarch. The site is holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews.

The soldiers were attacked with rocks and burning tires, according to reports. There were no injuries reported to the soldiers, who responded to the rioting with tear gas and stun grenades, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported. Maan said no injuries were reported among the Palestinians.

The visit came on the final intermediate day of Passover.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, the site was to remain under Israeli control. The Israeli army evacuated the premises in October 2000 during the second intifada and it was burnt down by Palestinians.

Jewish worshippers, in coordination with the Israel Defense Forces, make monthly nocturnal pilgrimages to the site, which was renovated and restored. It was torched and vandalized in October 2015.

Two Israeli soldiers stabbed inside West Bank settlement

Two Israeli soldiers were stabbed at the entrance to a West Bank settlement near Nablus.

The Wednesday evening stabbings, which caused minor injuries, were the second such attack in the central West Bank in a day, the Times of Israel reported.

The two alleged assailants at the Har Bracha settlement gate were captured by Israeli security forces after a brief manhunt, according to the Debka File. The attackers are believed to have stolen the victims’ guns before fleeing the scene, but appear to have abandoned them just outside the settlement, where the weapons were found.

Yossi Dagan, chairman of the Samaria (northern West Bank) regional council, told Army Radio that the attackers opened fire before fleeing.

Early Wednesday morning, two Palestinian teens stabbed Roi Harel, a father of five, as he was leaving his West Bank home for army reserve duty. The assailants attacked Harel with clubs and axes, then entered the premises, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Harel said he managed to shove his assailants out of his home in the Eli settlement before they could hurt his family.

He was treated at a Jerusalem hospital for cuts to his head.

Both alleged assailants, 17, were later shot dead by settlement guards after fleeing the scene.

Joseph’s Tomb repaired in nighttime operation

Joseph’s Tomb, which was firebombed and vandalized two weeks ago, was repaired in a nighttime operation near the West Bank city of Nablus.

The site was cleaned and painted, the grave marker was restored and the marble covering of the tomb was replaced, according to reports.

Arriving at the site late on Monday night, the workers took about five hours to complete the repairs. Israeli soldiers guarded the painters, metalworkers, electricians, gardeners and stoneworkers.

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan initiated the action, Israel National News reported Tuesday. Dagan called the torching of the site a “national disgrace,” and criticized the decision to do the work in the middle of the night.

“Our coming here in the dead of night, like thieves, to a place that is unquestionably ours. It’s a difficult feeling,” he said, according to the Times of Israel.

The tomb was set afire by Palestinian rioters early on Oct. 16, shortly after Hamas leaders in Gaza called for “a day of rage” against Israel — a term that is often used to describe shooting or the hurling of stones and firebombs at Israelis.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, the site was to remain under Israeli control. The Israel Defense Forces evacuated the premises in October 2000 during the second intifada and it was burnt down by Palestinians.

Jewish worshippers in coordination with the IDF make monthly nocturnal pilgrimages to the site, which has been renovated and restored. But haredi Orthodox worshippers sometimes make illegal visits to what is believed to be the burial place of the biblical patriarch.

Joseph’s Tomb torched ahead of Palestinian ‘day of rage’

Palestinian rioters set fire to the compound of the Tomb of Joseph near Nablus.

Flames engulfed the tomb, a Jewish holy site in the West Bank that is under control of Palestinian Authority policemen, early Friday morning. Several hundred people gathered outside the site and a few individuals hurled firebombs over its fence, Army Radio reported.

No one was hurt in the incident, which ended after Palestinian policemen dispersed the crowd. Footage showed extensive damage to the tomb’s dome and to its perimeter fence, which was knocked over.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s president, said in a statement that the arson was “wrong, obscene and irresponsible.” He added that the Palestinian Authority will restore the site and investigate the incident. The tomb was also set on fire during the second intifada in 2000,

Palestinian Authority police and fire brigades arrived at the scene and extinguished the flames, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

The riot occurred shortly after Hamas leaders in Gaza called for “a day of rage” on Friday against Israel — a term that is often used to describe shooting or the hurling of stones and firebombs at Israelis at various locales in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials harshly condemned the arson, which the Israeli foreign ministry’s director, Dore Gold, said was “reminiscent of the actions of radical Islamists from Afghanistan to Libya.” He added the incident showed the Palestinians could not be trusted to control religious holy sites.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely called the attack anti-Semitic.

The culprits, she said, “are targeting sites holy to the Jewish People, that show our deep attachment, which goes back millennia, to the Land of Israel.”

Terror cell members that killed Israeli couple arrested

The members of a terror cell responsible for the murder of an Israeli couple whose four children were in the car at the time of the attack were arrested.

The five-member terror cell affiliated with the Hamas terror movement in Nablus in the West Bank were arrested Monday during a joint operation conducted by the Shin Bet security agency, the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police, according to statements released by the security agencies.

Following the announcement of the capture of the terror cell, U.S. State Department spokesman Marc Toner confirmed that Rabbi Eitam Henkin, who with his wife Na’ama was killed in the attack, was an American citizen. He was the son of Rabbi Yehuda and Chana Henkin who moved to Israel from the United States in the 1970s and in 1990 founded Nishmat, an institute for advanced Torah study for women in Jerusalem.

Each of the Palestinian men arrested had a defined role in the attack, the Shin Bet said in a statement announcing their capture. One checked the route, three were in the vehicle used in the attack – a driver and two gunmen, and a cell commander, who was not in the vehicle. Several additional suspects have been arrested on suspicion of aiding the cell, according to the Shin Bet.

During questioning, the cell members said that after they opened fire on the car carrying the Henkin couple and their four young children, they left their vehicle and approached the Henkin’s car and fired on the couple at close range.

During the shooting, one of the cell members was accidentally shot by one of his colleagues and dropped his pistol, which was left at the scene and found by Israeli forces. After carrying out the shooing, the terrorists fled toward Nablus, according to the Shin Bet.

The cell members also said that they had been involved in two shooting attacks in recent weeks, neither of which resulted in casualties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the arrests in a statement issued Monday evening.

“We are acting with a strong hand against terrorism and against inciters,” Netanyahu said. “We are operating on all fronts. We have brought an additional four IDF battalions into Judea and Samaria, and thousands of police into Jerusalem. The police are going deeply into the Arab neighborhoods, which has not been done in the past. We will demolish terrorists’ homes. We are allowing our forces to take strong action against those who throw rocks and firebombs. This is necessary in order to safeguard the security of Israeli citizens on the roads and everywhere.”

Netanyahu added: “We are not prepared to give immunity to any rioter, inciter or terrorist anywhere; therefore, there are no restrictions on the action of our security forces. We will also lift restrictions regarding action against inciters.”

Netanyahu thanked Israel’s security forces “who have been working around the clock for our security; they are doing excellent work. They have full backing from me and from the government. We are in a difficult struggle but one thing should be clear – we will win. Just as we defeated previous waves of terrorism, we will defeat this one as well.”

West Bank Palestinians arrested for attack that killed Israeli couple

Several Palestinian suspects were arrested in connection with the drive-by shooting in the West Bank that killed an Israeli couple.

The suspects were arrested in raids in the Palestinian West Bank city of Nablus early Saturday morning during a joint operation of the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service, the IDF said in a statement.

Nablus is located 3 miles from the site of Thursday’s shooting attack on the car of Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin. Their four young children were in the vehicle at the time of the attack but were not injured.

The IDF said it has deployed four additional battalions in the West Bank to continue the search for other suspects and to provide more security against Palestinian violence.

There is a gag order on other details of the investigation into the attack, according to the IDF.

Eight Palestinians were detained in the raids in Nablus and at least 10 others were wounded during the operation, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported. The detained men were identified by Maan as Hamas affiliates.

The Abdel Qader al-Husseini Brigades, a group affiliated with Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Terror cell planning Joseph’s Tomb attack is arrested

Israel’s security service said it arrested a Palestinian terror cell that was planning an attack on Jewish worshippers at Joseph’s Tomb.

A statement released by the Shin Bet on Tuesday did not say when the arrest of the four-member cell based in the West Bank took place. The arrests were in conjunction with the Israel Defense Forces.

The tomb is located in the West Bank city of Nablus, which the Jews know as Shechem. The city is under the official control of the Palestinian Authority.

Jewish worshippers are permitted to visit the holy site once a month. The early-morning visits are coordinated with the military, which provides security. However, some Jews sneak in to pray at other times. The attack was to be directed at the worshippers making unofficial visits, the Shin Bet said.

The cell members were residents of nearby Palestinian communities and are associated with the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Tanzim terror groups, according to the Shin Bet said. They each had assigned positions, including acquiring weapons, intelligence gathering and executing the attack. The attack, which was coordinated in the Gaza Strip, was to include guns and explosives.

“In this investigation we have seen again very clearly that there is high motivation for operatives in Gaza to push and direct terror in the West Bank,” the Shin Bet statement said.

West Bank riots flare up after Palestinian baby’s funeral

An Israeli policeman was lightly wounded in one of several riots and attacks by Palestinians following the funeral of a baby who died in a fire near Nablus allegedly started by Jewish extremists.

The officer was wounded in eastern Jerusalem when he was hit by a stone hurled at him by a Palestinian during a riot near the Temple Mount Friday, Army Radio reported. Security forces arrested a suspect in connection with the incident.

Separately, unidentified individuals opened fire on an Israeli vehicle near the West Bank settlement of Kochav Hashachar. The car was hit by bullets, but the people inside were not hurt.

In a third incident, rioters in the Jerusalem-area Palestinian village of Isawiya threw firebombs and stones at police officers, resulting in no injuries.

The attacks occurred hours after the burial of Ali Saad Dawabsha, an 18-month-old baby who died in a fire started by unidentified individuals at his home in the Nablus-area village of Duma. The arsonists left Hebrew-language graffiti about revenge at the site, and Israeli police suspect Jewish extremists caused the fire.

Several of Dawabsha’s relatives, including his parents, were injured in the fire. His older brother has burns in 60 percent of his body. The arson occurred amid a string of violent attacks by Jewish extremists, including a near-fatal stabbing at the Jerusalem gay pride parade Thursday and the torching last month of a church in the Galilee.

In a statement to Palestinian media, Hamas said that “now every Israeli is a legitimate target” following the arson, according to Ma’ariv. The terrorist group also called for “a day of rage” to protest the killing and to “defend the Al Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited the Dawabsha family at the Israeli hospital where several of them are recovering, spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the phone Friday and said that everyone in Israel was shocked by the “reprehensible terrorism against the Dawabsha family,” his office wrote in a statement.

“We must fight terrorism together regardless of which side it comes from,” said Netanyahu, adding that he had ordered the security forces to use all measures to locate the murderers.

Abbas’ spokesperson has blamed Israel’s settlement policy for the killing and vowed to bring the case to the International Criminal Court.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement released in both Hebrew and Arabic that Israel had not done enough to combat Jewish extremists:  “I feel a sense of shame, and moreover a sense of pain. Pain over the murder of a small baby. Pain that from my people, there are those who have chosen the path of terrorism, and have lost their humanity.”

Palestinian baby burned to death, Israel searches for Jewish extremists

After a Palestinian baby was burned to death in a West Bank arson attack by suspected Jewish extremists, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a manhunt to track down the perpetrators.

Netanyahu said in a statement that the arson Thursday night in the Palestinian West Bank village of Duma near Nablus was “a terrorist attack in every respect.” Ali Saad Dawabsha, 18 months old, was killed when flames engulfed one of two homes that the arsonists set ablaze.

His parents and 4-year-old brother were severely injured in the fire, which police suspect was started by Jewish extremists. The Hebrew words “Revenge” and “Long live the king messiah” were spray-painted on walls at the site of the attack, alongside a Star of David, according to Army Radio.

“I am shocked over this reprehensible and horrific act,” Netanyahu said.

Israel “takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are,” he said. “I have ordered the security forces to use all means at their disposal to apprehend the murderers and bring them to justice forthwith.”

Israel Defense Forces troops beefed up their presence in the West Bank in anticipation of disturbances.

B’Tselem, a human rights group, said the fatal attack came after a string of arson attacks in the West Bank and accused Israeli authorities of not doing enough to track down the perpetrators.

“Since August 2012, Israeli civilians set fire to nine Palestinian homes in the West Bank,” B’Tselem said. “Additionally, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Palestinian taxi, severely burning the family on board. No one was charged in any of these cases.”

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the Israeli government’s support for settlements drove the attack, and urged the international community to respond. The killing will be among issues brought to the International Criminal Court against Israel, said spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

The arson in Duma follows a string of non-lethal attacks on Palestinians and other victims attributed to Jewish extremists. On Thursday, six people were stabbed at the Jerusalem gay pride parade by an Orthodox Jew who was released from jail last month after having served his sentence for stabbing three people at the 2005 edition of the same event. One of the victims, a young woman, is in critical condition.

Itzik Shmuli, a relatively new but prominent lawmaker for the opposition Labor party, revealed in an interview for the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that he was gay, explaining he “could no longer remain silent after the attack.”

Also on Thursday, Israeli prosecutors charged a third Jewish suspect in connection with an arson attack last month at the Church of Multiplication in the Galilee.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s former finance minister and an opposition lawmaker for the secularist Yesh Atid party, called on Netanyahu to hold an emergency cabinet meeting to address these and other acts of violence.

A controversial Hamas exhibition on a Palestinian campus

This story originally appeared at The Media Line.

The Hamas Student Association of the An-Najah University in Nablus recently held an exhibition on Jerusalem as part its “Jerusalem Week” festival. Hundreds of students and Hamas supporters attended the exhibition, including the dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University, and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) Mona Monsour, who represents Hamas.

The exhibition, which ran for a week and was put together by students, included 25 pieces. Among them, there were pieces glorifying vehicular attacks on Israelis (similar to the attacks that actually took place in October and November), pictures of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and a poster of Israeli activist Yitzchak Glick as a shooting target. Glick, who is trying to pressure the Israeli government to allow Jewish prayer at the Al-Aqsa mosque, which is also holy to Jews as the site of the First and Second Temples, narrowly survived an assassination attempt in October.

According to the official Facebook page of the Hamas Student Association, “the message of the exhibition is to justify all attacks as a reaction from Hamas supporters and followers against settlers in Jerusalem ensuring that if Israel keeps to the same policy of neglect and racism against Muslims in Jerusalem, Hamas fighters will be ready to act.”

An anonymous source told The Media Line that the Dean of the university, who is not authorized to speak to the press, said that the exhibition is not considered incitement for violent attacks in Jerusalem, and that the administration cannot forbid student movements' activities.

“We don't ask for a description of illustrative activities, regardless of who is going to do what… we take time and place of the activity into consideration so as not to hinder the learning process,” he said.

He also explained why Hamas is so popular on campus.

“Hamas offers students financial assistance and organizes clinics and schools for Palestinians, who have felt let down by the corrupt and inefficient Palestinian Authority,” he said. “Many students cheered the Hamas armed struggle after the latest Israeli violation of the Oslo accord and the failure of the negotiations (with Israel).”

One of the students involved described the exhibit as a success, praising Hamas' glorification of its fighters, adding that “I believe Hamas and other Palestinian militant factions have a legitimate right of resistance against an occupying military force like Israel. I can`t see Hamas as a terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction, when Israel keeps killing innocent civilians in Gaza.”

The festival also included a theatrical play calling for an intifada (uprising) against the “Judaization” of Jerusalem, and the screening of a documentary about murdered Palestinian teenager, Mohammad Abu Khdeir as part of the opening and closing ceremonies of the event. Khdier was burned to death by Jewish extremists in July after Hamas gunmen kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers.

Visitors to the exhibition said the controversial images glorifying violence did not bother them.

“Violence is a cycle that cannot easily end, but I can`t see this as incitement against Israel while its soldiers still control the entrance to the Palestinian city of Tulkarem and other villages,” Nazmi Khaled, an engineering student told The Media Line. “The children who have seen their parents murdered at the hands of Israelis will seek revenge. Ending Israeli occupation and behaving like a neighboring country is what will bring mutual respect.”

Khaled said the exhibition reminded him of his friends who are sitting in Israeli prisons for alleged ties with Hamas.

“We should be able to live in peace, not in fear,” he said. “I want my friends back from the Israeli jails. We want to build our dream, our cities and towns as they have built their state.”

The film on Mohammed Abu Khdeir resonated with many visitors. Sumaya Nihad, a former student at the university, said she worries that Israelis could attack her as well.

“My kids and I live in fear,” she told The Media Line. “I am from the village of Awarta in the northern West Bank, surrounded by Jewish settlers who are always attacking us and burning our olive trees and fields. They have also torched our mosque. I hate violence, but the actions of settlers and the Israeli government make it really hard for the cycle of hatred to end.”

The exhibit is also a challenge to Hamas’ rival, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas.

“Hamas constantly uses religion and Jerusalem as an easy way to get supporters among university students,” Jamal Tirawi, a PLC member from Fatah told The Media Line. “Palestinians are conservative about religion, so sympathy can be easily obtained by using the religious factor, especially among young students.”

He said that Fatah continues to believe that violence will not lead to a Palestinian state.

“Fatah is advocating negotiations and a non-violent resolution to the conflict,” Tirawi said. “Such an exhibition is not part of our activities; it is not based on our principals and ideologies. However, we cannot intervene in Hamas activities just like they don`t intervene with our non-violent resistance activities — this is freedom of expression.”

Israel Electric cuts Palestinian power again

Two West Bank cities had their electricity cut for the second time in a week because of unpaid bills.

The state-owned Israel Electric Corp. cut power for an hour to Nablus and Jenin on Wednesday to protest what it says is $482 million in debt. The company also briefly cut power to the cities on Monday.

In a statement released by the Israel Electric on Wednesday, the company said, “Having issued numerous warnings and attempts to reach an agreement, the IEC’s board instructed the CEO to take action to minimize the debt,” the Times of Israel reported.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen criticized the electric company’s decision, citing the potentially high humanitarian and diplomatic costs the blackouts would cause, according to Haaretz.

The Palestinian Authority blamed its unpaid bills on Israel withholding approximately $127 million in tax revenues in retaliation for the Palestinians’ unilateral statehood recognition efforts.

Five Palestinians killed in West Bank violence

Five Palestinians were killed in the West Bank on Friday in shootings involving both Israeli forces and a civilian who appeared to be a Jewish settler, medics and witnesses said.

Three Palestinians were killed during clashes between Israeli forces shooting live bullets and protesters throwing stones near the flashpoint city of Hebron.

In a separate incident near another protest against the ongoing conflict in Gaza, witnesses said a person in a car believed to be a settler shot dead one man and wounded three others near the city of Nablus.

The victims were walking along a main street used by both Palestinians and settlers.

Clashes between Israeli border police and Palestinian youths throwing petrol bombs and fireworks escalated. A Reuters photographer witnessed the forces shoot and kill another man.

Israeli forces also shot and wounded two protesters and a local journalist approaching a military checkpoint near a settlement beside the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The Israeli police said it was investigating the violence.

The clashes follow the killing of a Palestinian north of Jerusalem during a thousands-strong protest which was one of the largest since a Palestinian uprising which ended in 2005.

Palestinian fury has mounted after 822 Palestinians – mostly civilians, according to Palestinian medics – have been killed in nearly three weeks of cross-border fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza. The United States and regional powers are urgently seeking a truce.

‘Price tag’ attack hits Palestinian elementary school

Jewish extremists broke into an elementary school and threw stones in one of two “price tag” attacks on Palestinian villages in less than 24 hours.

Israeli media reported that teachers and students at the school in Jalud, a Palestinian village about 20 miles south of Nablus, locked themselves in classrooms during the attack on Wednesday afternoon.

Four Israelis were arrested in connection with the attack.

Also in Jalud, five cars were vandalized and Palestinians reported that 400 olive trees were burned.

The next morning, three cars and the outside wall of a mosque in Burka, a village near Ramallah, were vandalized. The attack appears to be in retribution for the evacuation on Wednesday of a West Bank outpost, as well as for the murder last month of an Israeli soldier by a Palestinian former co-worker. Writings on the wall of the mosque referenced the murder near the Palestinian city of Kalkilya.

The permanent structures of the Ge’olat Zion outpost, made up of five families, were destroyed.

The attacks come days after Jerusalem police said they arrested 14 Jewish youths accused of carrying out price tag attacks in Jerusalem.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremist settlers and their supporters have adopted to exact retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or Palestinian attacks on Jews.

Palestinians attack Jewish worshippers at Joseph’s Tomb

Palestinians threw rocks at Jewish worshippers and Israeli security forces at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.

A Palestinian man who opened fire at Israeli forces during the incident on Thursday morning  was seriously injured after being shot by Israeli soldiers. Other Palestinians threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the soldiers.

About 1,400 Jewish worshippers visited the site accompanied by Israeli soldiers.

Organized visits to the tomb under police and military protection take place about once a month.

Nablus Palestinian man treated at Hadassah Hospital

A Palestinian wounded in a clash with Israeli soldiers and settlers near the Palestinian West Bank city of Nablus was taken for treatment to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem.

Hilmi Hasan, 27, was wounded by gunfire several days ago and taken to a hospital in Nablus for treatment. Doctors at the hospital realized that they could not treat Hasan and asked Hadassah Hospital to handle his case. On Monday, he was in the intensive care unit at Hadassah and in severe but stable condition.

According to reports, Hasan is the first patient from Nablus to be treated at Hadassah Hospital, which is 40 miles away.

Senior Hadassah anesthesiologist Micha Shamir traveled to Nablus and accompanied Hasan back to Hadassah. Some local residents protested Shamir’s arrival but did not otherwise threaten him.

“It was a bit unpleasant, but at no time were we under any real threat,” said Shamir, according to a news release. “We were guarded by so many policemen and security people.”

Palestinian woman caught preparing terror attack

A Palestinian woman caught carrying a large knife near the security fence of a West Bank settlement said she was planning to carry out an attack.

Police captured the woman, 32, outside the settlement of Emmanuel in the northern West Bank. The woman told police that she planned to use the knife to carry out a stabbing attack.

The arrest comes a day after two Palestinians carrying large knives were arrested trying to infiltrate the West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh, near Nablus. The attempts come just days after the first yahrzeit for five members of the Fogel family who were murdered as they slept in their home in the West Bank community of Itamar.

Attacks by radical settlers on Israeli army spark debate

Charred tires and boulders pushed to the sides of the road leading to Yitzhar, a West Bank Jewish community near Nablus, were among the signs that residents had made an effort to prevent Israeli soldiers and police from entering the settlement. Patches of grease stains—remnants of the lubricants that had been poured on the narrow road to induce army jeeps, police sedans and backhoes to lose traction—were others.

If not for the influence of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, there probably would have been more serious violence in Yitzhar on the night of Dec. 15, the settlement’s spokesman, Avraham Binyamin, told the JTA on Sunday during a visit.

“It is not our way to stand by passively while such a brutal act is perpetrated,” said Binyamin, a tall, bespectacled young man with a full beard, sidelocks and a large knitted yarmulke, pointing to the ruins of a home and a chicken coop destroyed under government orders for being built on land said to belong to Palestinians.

“But we honored the wishes of the man who owns the land here and did not attempt to resist the destruction,” he added, “at least not in the vicinity of his property.”

The man who Binyamin said owns the land is affiliated with a stream of Chabad Chasidism that believes the deceased Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, will return as messiah. In this milieu, it is customary to “ask” the rebbe for his advice by randomly placing a question written on a piece of paper inside a compendium of Schneerson’s letters. In this case, according to Binyamin, the “answer” given by the rebbe via one of his old letters was, “Don’t fight, concentrate on building.”

The willingness of Yitzhar residents to respect a dead rabbi’s command—one they believe came from the grave—but ignore an order by the government of Israel is instructive. So was Binyamin’s caveat that there would be no violence “in the vicinity.”

Just hours after the destruction of the house, located on a hilltop adjacent to Yitzhar known as Mitzpeh Yitzhar, arsonists torched a mosque in Burqa, a village about four miles east of Ramallah—a half-hour drive from Yitzhar. The desecrators spray-painted the words “war” and “Mitzpeh Yitzhar” on the wall of the mosque.

It was just one in a chain of violent vigilante attacks. In the past few years, radical right-wing activists, representing a growing fringe, have pursued a campaign they call “price tag” to avenge perceived injustices meted out against them by the Israeli government, such as the demolition on Mitzpeh Yitzhar.

Mosques have been burned and desecrated with graffiti such as “Muhammad is a pig,” Palestinian olive trees have been slashed and burned, and other Palestinian property has been damaged. Vandals also have targeted property belonging to Israeli security forces.

But a red line was crossed in recent days.

Shortly after midnight on Dec. 13, settler radicals—often referred to as “hilltop youths” because they tend to be young and live on small, isolated outposts—stormed into an Israeli base in the northern West Bank. They burned tires and vandalized army vehicles, throwing stones and paint at them.

Elsewhere in the northern West Bank, settlers also attacked and lightly wounded an Israeli army commander when they forced open the door of his jeep and hurled a brick at him.

These attacks on the Israel Defense Forces—one of Israel’s most revered institutions and one to which Israeli families must entrust their sons and daughters—appalled Israelis and sparked intense debate over how best to combat lawlessness in the West Bank.

Political leaders on the left and center argued that the current government’s ideological affinity with the settler movement impaired its ability to crack down on the violence.

Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition Kadima Party, said in a statement that “this government … is laying fertile ground for these tumors. When Netanyahu says that we are dealing with rioters and not ideological crime, it indicates one of two things—either he doesn’t understand what is happening here, or he doesn’t want to deal with this extremist ideology because of his natural coalition partners.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government coalition members have come out strongly and repeatedly against the vigilante violence. Netanyahu said it must be combated with “a heavy hand.”

However, the Netanyahu government continues to support settlement growth; just last week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved a new settlement in Gush Katif, near Bethlehem.

This week, the leaders of all the political parties in the governing coalition except Barak’s Independence faction supported a bill to prevent the demolition of Jewish homes thought to be built on private Palestinian property, like the one destroyed in Mitzpeh Yitzhar.

This would be on condition that the house was standing for at least four years and that at least 20 families live on the outpost. The bill proposes providing compensation to the Palestinian landowner instead. At the last minute, Netanyahu torpedoed the initiative. But an appeal was filed, and the legislation might still move ahead.

Settlers were quick to distance themselves from the violence.

Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of municipal councils on the West Bank that represents mainstream settlement leadership, condemned radical settler attacks against Palestinians and called the assault on the Israeli army base “a shameful, ungrateful atrocity.” He called on the police and state attorney to arrest those responsible and bring them to justice.

But Dayan also warned against lumping together the entire settlement movement with a “fringe” group of radicals. He argued that though “99 percent” of settlers were opposed to acts of violence, some on the left were attempting to exploit recent incidents to “demonize” and “delegitimize” the settler movement as a whole.

Despite the broad consensus opposing violence against Palestinians, however, law enforcement has been largely ineffective. Few suspects have been arrested and even fewer have been indicted.

Out of 112 cases of alleged settler abuse against Palestinians that B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, asked police to investigate in the past two years, two indictments were issued—one for rock throwing and the other for torching a vehicle.

Sarit Michaeli, a B’Tselem spokeswoman, explained that the total number of alleged cases of settler violence for the period was undoubtedly higher since B’Tselem figures only included incidents in which the organization became involved. They do not include incidents in which other human rights organizations, such as Yesh Din, were involved, nor do they include the many cases in which Palestinians refrain from complaining because they see no chance of getting a just hearing.

According to Michaeli, West Bank police are used to prosecuting Palestinians in military courts where less conclusive evidence is needed to convict. Indictments are often based on extracting confessions.

In contrast, radical settlers, as Israeli citizens, are tried in civilian courts where more rigorous evidence is needed to convict and basic rights are protected, Michaeli added.

Hilltop youths have developed sophisticated legal tools, forming a legal aid group that offers subsidized defense. A booklet called “Know Your Rights,” which has been circulating in the West Bank for years, instructs settlers on how to avoid pitfalls during interrogations. The most common tactic is to simply refuse to answer questions.

In an attempt to crack down on the Jewish vigilantes, Netanyahu announced last week that some radicals would be treated the same way as suspected Palestinian militants—detained for long periods without charge and tried in military courts. He stopped short of declaring the hilltop youths a terrorist organization, as suggested by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

But human rights groups such as B’Tselem, which long have condemned Israel’s use of administrative detention and military courts against Palestinians, voiced opposition to extending these methods to be used against settlers as well.

Meanwhile, at Mitzpeh Yitzhar, residents are preparing to rebuild the house demolished by Israeli security forces. The land already has been leveled, and some of the debris has been cleared.

Yehuda Liebman, a Yitzhar settler, told Army Radio last week that the destruction should be seen as a positive thing. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from abroad have come pouring in, according to Liebman.

“The next house will be even bigger than the last one,” he said.

Jerusalem mosque torched as rightists clash with police

Israeli right-wing activists clashed with police in Jerusalem, after a mosque in the capital city was targeted by arsonists.

The torching of the mosque on Wednesday morning followed a series of other so-called price tag attacks in the West Bank in reaction to the possible evacuation of illegal outposts.

The Nebi Akasha mosque, built in the 12th century and not in use for several years, was set alight and the words “price tag,” as well as “Mohammed is dead” and “A good Arab is a dead Arab,” were spray painted on and around the site.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremist settlers and their supporters have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

On Tuesday night, two trucks and a car were set alight in a Palestinian village near Nablus. A Jewish woman was also arrested in connection with rocks thrown at Palestinian cars in the northern West Bank. The incidents reportedly were triggered by the movement of an Israel Defense Forces convoy, which sparked concern that it was on the way to dismantle the Mitzpe Yitzhar outpost, scheduled to be razed by the end of the calendar year, according to Haaretz.

When police in Jerusalem attempted to arrest suspects Wednesday in connection with recent price tag attacks, activists began clashing with officers and rioting, including slashing tires and breaking the windows of several police cars, Haaretz reported.

Also on Wednesday, a special meeting convened by Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussed recent acts of violence by extremist settlers, and decided to recommend to Netanyahu that acts of violence by right-wing activists be called terror acts and the perpetrators terrorists.

Israeli man killed during visit to Joseph’s Tomb

One Israeli was killed and at least four injured during a visit to Joseph’s Tomb near the West Bank city of Nablus.

The men were part of a group of 15 Breslov Hasidim who arrived early Sunday morning in three cars to worship at the site, which is holy to Jews and is located in West Bank territory under full Palestinian control. The worshippers did not coordinate their visit with the Israel Defense Forces.

A Palestinian security guard fired on one of the cars as it was leaving the site, saying the men’s activities looked “suspicious.” Worshippers in the other cars told Ynet that the Palestinian police officers shouted “Allahu Akbar” or God is great, as they shot at the vehicles leaving the site.

A joint IDF-Palestinian investigation is looking in to the incident.

The dead man, who was buried Sunday morning, was identified as Ben-Joseph Livnat, 25, a father of four from Jerusalem. He is the nephew of Israeli Science and Culture Minister Limor Livnat of the ruling Likud Party.

Rioting occurred in Nablus following the incident, according to reports, and the tomb also reportedly was set on fire by Palestinian youths. The tomb was recently renovated after being badly damaged and desecrated during the second Palestinian Intifada.

Minister Livnat said in a statement that her nephew had wanted to pray at the tomb in honor of the Passover holiday and said that he “was killed in cold blood in an abominable way.”

The Israeli army coordinates monthly prayer visits to the tomb, believed to be the burial site of the Biblical patriarch Joseph and his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Members of the Breslov sect frequently sneak in to the tomb to pray, without coordinating their visits, according to reports.

Violent clashes erupt between Israelis, Palestinians near Nablus

One Israeli and a number of Palestinians were wounded Monday when clashes broke out on land between a West Bank outpost and a nearby Arab village.

The Israeli was lightly wounded when struck by a rock hurled by a Palestinian during the clashes, Israeli Radio reported. Of the Palestinian casualties, at least one was lightly wounded in his leg, apparently from a gunshot fired by Israeli security forces at the scene.

According to the settlers, dozens of Palestinians marched up to the Eli Ayin outpost armed with knives, and started the violent confrontation.


Give Peace a Shot

Mahmud, 24, and I, met at a Moroccan falafel place near Dupont Circle on a surprisingly sunny December afternoon. I’d guarantee that even if you looked carefully around the D.C. area, you would find very few “couples” like us — a Palestinian from Nablus, and an Israeli from Herzliya, talking with such sincerity for more than two hours, catching up on life. A week prior to our meeting, Mahmud had returned from a visit to Nablus, his hometown, after four years away living rather comfortably in the United States. The story I heard that sunny afternoon accounts for why Hamas won the Palestinian elections in such a landslide.

“My best friends in Nablus are either masters of card games and snooker, or militia leaders,” Mahmud said. “Most of them, even those who graduated from university, are unemployed. All they do is sit around and play cards. Others who are bored with cards join the city gangs and take arms.”

“Against the Israelis?” I asked, assuming that the answer was yes.

“No,” Mahmud said. “These militias run the city by instilling terror in Nabulsis themselves. They smuggle arms, kidnap people and threaten their lives. They have nothing to do with the Israelis … well, not directly, if you know what I mean.”

The picture of Nablus became clearer as dusk devoured Dupont Circle. Nabulsis were locked in Nablus, unable to commute to other cities for jobs and leisure. Most of the youth were unemployed, and thus occupied themselves in illegal, worthless activities. Disillusionment with Fatah and its leaders Abu Mazen was ubiquitous. Abu Mazen has been promising reforms, but nothing on the ground has changed. The roads were broken, electricity often was shut down and jobs were scarce. Amidst the despair rose Hamas.

“You know, Shira,” said Mahmud to me, our eyes fixated on each other with unusual sincerity, “Hamas is nothing like Fatah. When you go to a Fatah gathering in the city, the chairs are disorganized and people shoot with their guns at the air to demonstrate power and control. At a Hamas rally, which usually takes place in elementary schoolyards, the chairs for the guests are in perfect lines — as orderly as disciplined soldiers — and there is not a single shot heard in the air. It is weird,” he paused, “I think the more conservative you are, the more orderly you become. This is how Hamas operates in Palestine. And people respect that, Shira. Because people know, if Hamas promises something, Hamas makes true. Unlike Fatah, whose words are null and void.”

I listened in silence, holding my head between my hands.

Let the moral of this story be very clear. The outcome of the Palestinian elections reflects not the heroic victory of Hamas, but the crushing defeat of the Fatah. Corruption, empty promises and a deteriorating economy have given way to loyalty to the people and potentially a brighter economic future for the average Palestinian. Sound obnoxious to be attested by an Israeli? It is about time that we begin to talk with our Palestinian neighbors and learn what is happening in the Palestinian streets, before we speculate and are caught unprepared.

My hunch is that Hamas, now controlling most of the Palestinian parliament, will remain passively loyal to its 22nd clause calling for the destruction of Israel. Nonetheless, it will not embrace terrorism as its foreign policy and will remain generally calm and in a state of hudnah (truce) with the Fatah opposition and with Israel. It is in Israel’s hands — it is Israel’s responsibility — not to panic now, as it is standing in a crucial crossroads prior to the Israeli March elections.

If we panic now, and let public opinion shift to the right, Benjamin Netanyahu will rise to power. Being the only real hawk that promises to be harsh on terrorism, he will behave like a bull in a china shop. Wandering between the shelves with good intentions and no real desire to harm, he will shatter the little china figures into pieces and lead us to disaster. Israel will have to pay the price of its own panicking. Again, like in Netanyahu’s previous term in office, buses will be blowing up in the center of Tel Aviv. Four years of sleepless nights are guaranteed.

No, Israel must remain calm. We already know that violence begets violence begets violence. Has anyone tried anything else recently? Let us remain calm and allow Hamas to politicize itself, perhaps re-examine its agenda, now that it is a majority in the Palestinian parliament and responsible for the entire Palestinian population. Let us not panic before we are provided with the reason to do so. Let us not crush with our hands the opportunity for a change before it even surfaces. Let us be unlike ourselves, and just give it a shot. At the end of the day, it’s either we give it a shot, or we shoot at it.

The author is an Israeli sophomore from Herzliya studying government at Harvard.


A Swift, Immediate Reaction

Watching the second tower of the World Trade Center crumble into dust on Tuesday, I was able to imagine the horror of the survivors of the Titanic as they witnessed their vessel sink into the Atlantic Ocean. A symbol of human progress and ingenuity, a monument to economic strength and power, the Titanic was regarded as indestructible. So too the World Trade Center represented, more than any other edifice in the United States, America’s sense of its own power and invulnerability. Rising more than 100 stories high, these towers once so effectively dominated the New York skyline that in the air they could be seen from 150 miles away. When a 1993 car bomb failed to destroy them, the sense of invulnerability may have also given way to a sense of complacency.

Yet, fortune does not always smile on its most blessed sons. When terror struck, with a magnitude never experienced before, there was not a citizen in this country who was prepared for it. With thousands of deaths, a shut down of cities and a halt to financial activity throughout the country, it has delivered the kind of paralyzing blow that we only read about in books or see in movies. Never has it been internalized as such a genuine threat to the American way of life.

There are good reasons for this. For two centuries, the United States mainland has stood aloof from depredations in other parts of the world, its stateside population certain in the knowledge that time, distance and deterrence would save it from invasion or attack. But the average U.S. citizen has never reckoned on the reality of foreign suicide bombers who could hijack commercial airplanes and turn them into missiles that target centers of American finance and defense.

Yet the world is changing and with the Sept. 11 hijackings, no one should now doubt that the bombings represent a watershed in history. The attack was correctly characterized by the American president as an attack on freedom. But it is much more than even that. It is an attack on our very concept of humanity and represents a clash of civilizations and worldviews that cannot be bridged through peace talks, appeasement or negotiation.

Just ask the Israelis. Over the past 10 years, they have absorbed scores of suicide bombings. In Israel, a country of six million, the death of 20 people is the equivalent of 3,500 in the United States. The recent frequency of these attacks has pounded its way through the consciousness of a people who no longer believe in Yasser Arafat’s empty gestures of peace, but see him as an aider and abettor of Islamic terror. That was confirmed on Tuesday when television footage showed Palestinians celebrating in the streets of Nablus and Gaza City. The Israeli assessment is identical in tone to what many analysts and commentators on the right have said for years: Muslim extremists and the radical Arab regimes that harbor them represent the gravest peril to safety and security in western civilization.

That being the case there is no time to waste in lengthy debates on the failure of the intelligence agencies or setting limits on the level of retaliation. The U.S. government must act immediately and decisively to close down the offices of Islamic fundamentalist organizations in the United States. It must move to block their financial pipelines by freezing assets; it should identify the bankers of these terrorists and force them to divest. It should make clear to the international community that there is no sitting on the fence in the war against terrorism. You are either a soldier in the war, or you are an enemy. That includes Switzerland, who often acts as a conduit for terrorist funding.

Moreover, those who harbor Islamic fundamentalists and perpetrators of terror should be made to feel the full force of American economic and military retaliation — Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian Authority, to name just a few. It should not be forgotten that even if arch-terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, the most likely culprit of the Tuesday bombings, are eliminated, there will be others to take their place. Emasculating the ability of these terrorists to lord over their global network is the first step in interfering with the kind of intricate logistics that made Tuesday’s bombings possible.

The New York landscape may well have changed, but so has the psychological landscape of the United States. Much like the German sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States stands on the brink of decisive and historic action. But failure to make clear to the rest of the world that this American tragedy is in truth the entire civilized world’s, may hamper this action and give encouragement to the perpetrators of terror.