How else does one describe the actions of the government — and most specifically of Defense Minister Barak –last night and today?
A review of the sequence of events regarding Beit HaShalom in Hevron since I wrote roughly 24 hours ago:
Late yesterday, the leadership of the PA released statements regarding the tensions surrounding Beit HaShalom. Saying that settlers were committing “a despicable crime” in attacking innocent Palestinians, they indicated that president Mahmoud Abbas was thinking of calling an urgent meeting of the Security Council to discuss the situation.
Maintaining that “the presence of the Jewish settlers in the city is a serious provocation,” they demanded that the Israeli government remove them from Hevron.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh called the violence “an organized terror campaign,” as the settlers “constitute a real danger to the Palestinians and their lands.”
The PA security officer for Hevron declared, “The Israeli government’s failure to stop the settlers is threatening our security plan. We have been working hard to restore law and order and our efforts have thus far been very successful. But what the settlers are doing now poses a major threat to our efforts.”
Now, this was grandstanding — a political ploy, based on gross distortions and exaggerations of the situation. It is clear, has been clear for many, many years, that the Arabs don’t wish to share Hevron, but wish the Jews gone completely. This attitude fueled the 1929 Hevron massacres. Now the PA saw their chance to make their case.
It was the place of our government, then, to respond to this by exposing the ridiculousness of the charges:
Palestinians weren’t attacked in a “terror campaign.” There were altercations between Jews and Palestinians that, according to eyewitness reports, were begun by the Palestinians. One Jewish boy was seriously injured when a rock was thrown at his head by a Palestinian on a roof.
Jews are in Hevron by right of a 4,000 year tradition as well as by law — per an Oslo agreement. The Jews are not leaving Hevron.
Whatever has transpired has been within the area of Hevron controlled by Israel. PA security forces don’t operate in this area and the situation in no way affects their ability to do their job.
But the Israeli government didn’t do this. Perhaps they were responding defensively, perhaps they welcomed what the PA officials said as providing a rationale for getting tougher. I cannot be sure. I was startled to read one statement about how “pogroms against Palestinians” would be prevented. Pogroms?
Then, too, there is the fact that the Labor primary was held today and Barak may have been playing “big man” for potential supporters.
Whatever the motivation, they did get tougher. It was announced that policy had changed and Border Police were going to be making arrests. The road to Beit HaShalom was closed at 5:00 PM. A resident of Kiryat Arba, who was present, recounted to me today the appearance on the scene of the Yassamnikim — from what is called the “special reconnaissance unit.” The toughest — most ruthless — of troops, they were very active in the Gush Katif expulsion and are called out for “special” situations such as demonstrations.
She said that they came in full gear, and she saw stun grenades (which cause a loud sound and emit a flash or smoke) tossed into a crowd that was not violent, as well as girls, who offered no resistance, picked up “like rag dolls.”
This morning there was a period of hopefulness, with reports that Barak was meeting with representatives of the Yesha Council and the Hevron Jewish community in order to reach a compromise. What the Hevron community proposed was that the residents of Beit HaShalom be permitted to stay in the house until the final court decision, but that all those who didn’t live there be required to leave, with the understanding that the residents would also leave quietly if the final decision was against them.
Barak left the meeting and promptly declared that evacuation of the house would proceed. The Yesha Council and Hevron community, feeling a sense of betrayal, were greatly angered — they don’t believe Barak negotiated in good faith at all.
Six hundred troops — both IDF and Border Police — came to Beit HaShalom, circling around from the back of the building (down a hillside where Arab houses sit). Tear gas was tossed into the building. Some troops went in, others remained outside. The house was evacuated with excessive use of force. My information is that 28 residents and protesters were injured.
Barak is now patting himself on the back for “upholding the law” [as if the law required an evacuation of the house] and protecting the integrity of the State. Others are echoing him. Misrepresentations of the situation abound in media sources.
I cannot emphasize enough that Barak precipitated this crisis. When the High Court said that the government could choose to evacuate the house for the period before the final decision was made, or not, he had the option of doing nothing. That would have been entirely within the strictures of the Court, and had he decided to leave the situation alone, there would have been no tension, no violence. It was Barak’s declared intention to do an evacuation of the house that brought out the young people.
But as late as this morning, even after all of this, there was a way to arrive at an equitable resolution without violence: What the Jewish community of Hevron proposed was fair and reasonable. It would have dissipated the crowds of supporters and reduced local tensions, and it assured that the residents would leave quietly later if findings required them to. Barak didn’t choose to go this route, and his failure to negotiate in good faith further exacerbated anger.
There are reports now of “settlers” rioting and damaging Palestinian houses in the area, in anger and frustration at what has transpired. I am loathe to give these reports full credence — I simply don’t know at this point.
What I do know is that attorney Yossi Fuchs, who’s as decent and straight as they come, has filed a complaint against the Hevron police commander and the regional IDF spokesman for a false report they issued today stating that a Jewish activist had sprayed a police officer with acid and caused him serious injuries — a report that was picked up by media sources.
Fuchs was able to determine, with a simple check, that no ambulance had been called to Hevron, no medical personnel drawn upon, to treat a police officer with acid burns. He suspects the deliberate spreading of a libelous falsehood.
And as this did happen, it is important to view other reports with a jaundiced eye until there is final verification of facts.
Will the court finally find in favor of the Jewish community of Hevron and acknowledge that Beit HaShalom was legally purchased and is theirs? If there is justice, it will. But I am not necessarily expecting that justice, nor is the community. (May we all be pleasantly surprised!) In any event the Jewish community of Hevron has made it clear that they are working on other house purchases.
They are still my heroes.
And so “shameful” remains a good way to describe what went on in Hevron today. One week after Jews in India were attacked by Islamic jihadist terrorists because they were Jews, we see Jews facing off against Jews here in Israel. The father of Rivka Holtzberg (z”l) asked the government to keep things quiet at least for the shiva week, but it was not to be.
“Painful” is another.