Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 September 2008
Issue No. 915
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Pogrom in Nablus

There is an unsaid understanding between the army and settlers, argues Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah

With ostensibly tacit consent from the Israeli occupation army, gangs of Jewish terrorists, otherwise known as settlers, have been assaulting unprotected Palestinian civilians and their property in many parts of the West Bank.

The most serious incident took place at the village of Asira Al-Qibliya south of Nablus this week when dozens of heavily armed settler terrorists rampaged through the peaceable Arab community, shooting randomly at terrified Palestinians and vandalising their homes and cars.

Fearing for their lives, the villagers had either to flee the village or barricade themselves in their homes as Israeli soldiers refused to make genuine efforts to stop the rampaging settlers. Footage of the incident, obtained from the Israeli human rights group, Btselem, showed Israeli soldiers present at the scene of the rampage, but virtually doing nothing to stop violence.

At the end of the attempted pogrom, eight locals were injured, including two sustaining serious gunshot wounds.

Hassan Sharaf is the head of the local council at Asira Al-Qibliya. He accused the Israeli army of "conniving, colluding and coordinating with the settlers. It was abundantly clear that the soldiers were not dealing seriously with the terrorists. The settlers behaved and acted as if they had received a green light from the army."

The settlers said they were retaliating for an earlier incident in which a settler boy was assaulted by an unidentified Palestinian assailant. The boy was only slightly hurt, casting doubt on the credibility of the Israeli account of the incident. Some Israeli and Palestinian pundits dismiss the settlers' justification as a blatant lie. "They simply want to murder Palestinians and create an atmosphere of terror in order to make us flee and leave the land for these thugs," said Ahmed Asayra, a local teacher.

The teacher's view is confirmed in the words of the local Yitzhar rabbi: "We must adopt a policy of collective punishment against the Arabs, even to the level of reprisals. There will be many opportunities coming up, both by encouraging the Arabs to leave and deporting them forcibly. But we must start with encouragement now," said Rabbi David Dudkevitch.

Zionist rabbis such as Dudkevitch teach that non-Jews living under Jewish rule must be enslaved as "hewers of wood hewers and water carriers," and be expelled or exterminated. He also argues that in wartime, Jews may murder non-Jewish civilians at will irrespective of whether these people are innocent or not.

Other extremist rabbis like Rabbi David Batsri openly teach that non-Jews are really animals in their core nature and that God created them in a human shape only in deference to Jews since it doesn't befit Jews to be served by animals. The moral of this theology of bigotry is that the lives of non-Jews have no sanctity.

In truth, these wild and terrifying Talmudic interpretations are no longer confined to a few fanatical rabbis. They represent mainstream thinking within religious Zionism, which really shows the extent to which Jewish settlers are willing to go in effecting their genocidal designs against the Palestinians.

An Israeli peace group, Peace Now, denounced the army's nonchalance towards the settlers and urged the army to revoke the gun licences of the settlers. "It is obvious that the settlers don't miss any opportunity to cause harm to Palestinians and endanger human lives," said Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Openheimer.

Openheimer's call is likely to fall on deaf ears in the government, army, the Knesset and especially the justice system, heavily infiltrated by racist judges who routinely issue extremely lenient jail sentences for settlers convicted of assaulting innocent Palestinians, even causing grievous bodily harm to them.

The outgoing Israeli premier Ehud Olmert did denounce the rampage at Asira Al-Qibliya, saying that Israel wouldn't allow the settlers to carry out a pogrom against non-Jews. "The phenomenon of settlers taking the law into their own hands and lashing out with violence and brutality is unforgivable, and will be dealt with by the law enforcement authorities," Olmert, who was speaking at the weekly cabinet session, said. He added that he "expected the authorities to take measures to end this grave phenomenon."

Defence Minister Ehud Barak made similar remarks, but countered that the Israeli occupation army couldn't uphold the "rule of law" without the cooperation of the police and the justice system.

Barak's reference to the lack of cooperation from the Israeli "legal system" in the occupied territories represents a belated but important acknowledgement that the courts and judges are little more than a rubber stamp to the actions of the settlers who have powerful supporters in the government and army.

This view is validated by the fact that the Israeli army has refrained from arresting the perpetrators of the attempted pogrom at Aisra Al-Qibliya despite the pious denunciations of Olmert and Barak. In the final analysis, what really counts, human rights activists argue, is what the Israeli occupation army does on the ground, not what politicians say to the media.

There are two good reasons not to take Olmert and Barak's denunciations seriously. First, the Israeli army itself is heavily infiltrated by Zionist elements, especially followers of their mentor Abraham Kook. Some Israeli sources have estimated that more than 50 per cent of commissioned army officers happen to be either settlers themselves or adherents of religious Zionism. Many Israeli soldiers serving in the West Bank are themselves settlers, which explains the army's reluctance to deal more forcefully with settler violence against Palestinians.

Second, Israel today is undergoing a pre- election season and politicians think twice before upsetting and alienating the powerful religious Zionist camp. As Israeli Jews drift towards right-wing jingoism, this campaign of ethnic cleansing will continue unless strong outside pressure is brought to bear.

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