Kristallnacht in Hebron
When will Israel wake up to its gruesome legacy, asks Khaled Amayreh
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Clockwise from top left: Israeli settlers teach their children to kill Palestinians; the Khaled Ibn Al-Walid Mosque, threatened by Jewish fanatics; a Muslim cemetery desecrated by settlers
Unconcerned about arrest by the police or prosecution by the Israeli justice system, fanatical Jewish settlers in the Palestinian town of Hebron (Al-Khalil) have been attacking Palestinians, damaging and ransacking their property, exactly like Nazi thugs did to Jewish-owned property in Germany 80 years ago.
The settlers, who claim to be acting in the name of true Judaism, espouse a messianic doctrine advocating violence and terror against non- Jews in Israel-Palestine for the purpose of creating a pure Jewish kingdom that would be ruled by Halacha, or Jewish religious law.
The settlers, who represent the core of religious Zionism, believe that the ethnic cleansing of non-Jews in the Holy Land will eventually usher the messianic age and accelerate the appearance of the Jewish Messiah, or Redeemer, who would bring about redemption for Jews and rule the entire world from Jerusalem.
In recent weeks, these thugs have been attacking Palestinian homes, smashing cars, vandalising property and fostering a general atmosphere of fear and terror throughout this town of nearly 200,000 people.
Al-Ahram Weekly has inspected the damage inflicted by settlers and spoken with thoroughly terrorised victims who complained that the Israeli authorities and army were effectively giving the paramilitary terrorists a carte blanche to terrorise Palestinians. "They [the settlers] are Nazi, and if there was a stronger epithet, I would not hesitate to use. You can't imagine the ugliness and brutality of their behaviour," said Ahmed Al-Jamal, a frequent target of settler terror and vandalism.
"Every Friday night and Saturday, dozens of settlers, including kids, descend on our neighbourhood to smash our cars, windows and property and shout 'Death to the Arabs!' This is their way of sanctifying the Sabbath and pleasing God."
Al-Jamal said dozens of settlers, some of them masked, last week attacked his and his brother's and neighbour's homes around 2.30am, smashing windows and windshields of parked cars. "We informed the police, and the police told us they would look into the matter. This is pretty much what they have been telling us since 1970 when these 'Nazis' came to live here."
Mohamed Daana, who lives in Wadi Al-Nasara, located just south of the Jewish colony of Kiryat Araba, said he submitted at least 500 complaints to the Israeli police in a desperate effort to put an end to settler violence and terror against him and his family.
"The last time I went to submit a police complaint in Kiryat Araba one policeman took me to the next room and told me 'I want to advise you, there is no point in submitting all these complaints. We simply can't do anything to help you. The settlers control the state and the army can do little to protect you from them.'" Asked what he would do next to protect his family, Daana said, "I have no choice but to remain steadfast. A harmful neighbour will either die or move away," said Daana quoting an old Arabic proverb.
Last week, dozens of young settlers, many of them wearing masks and armed with submachine guns, rampaged through the Khaled Ibn Al-Walid neighbourhood, not far from the colony of Kiryat Araba. There the settlers, who reportedly were dressed in religious attire, vandalised a Muslim cemetery and scrawled the Star of David on Muslim graves.
On the walls of the Khaled Ibn Al-Walid Mosque, the rampaging thugs scrawled the following phrase: "Mohamed is a pig." This is the new slogan the settlers are mouthing to offend and provoke the Palestinians. The other slogan is Mavet le Arabim or "Death to the Arabs!"
These obscenities are infuriating the Palestinians who warned that settlers were trying to instigate a religious war in the Middle East. "What does the Prophet Mohamed have to do with the conflict? Why are they deliberately provoking us? We have never, and never will speak ill of their prophets and religious figures," said Hassan Jaber, a neighbour of the mosque.
"When someone touches a Jewish cemetery anywhere in the world, the Jews make a big outcry about anti-Semitism. But when Jews commit blasphemous acts against Islam and Christianity, it is freedom of speech."
This is not the first time self-righteous settlers, who claim to be following the Torah, seek to offend Muslim religious sensibilities. According to local Palestinians, settlers have markedly escalated their anti-Islam discourse, mainly by way of scrawling sacrilegious epithets that are deeply offensive to the Islamic faith, such as cursing the Arabic name of God (Allah) and the Prophet Mohamed. Several years ago, a Jewish immigrant from the former Soviet Union pasted on the doors of Arab stalls and shops in downtown Hebron drawings depicting the prophet of Islam as a pig writing the Quran.
Such sacrilegious acts generally go unpunished by the Israeli government, allowing the settlers and their supporters to feel powerful and immune from government action.
The bulk of Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories follow the teachings of Abraham Kook, the first rabbi of Israel, who taught that Jews should seek to expedite the appearance of the "redeemer" or Jewish Messiah by way of carrying out acts of violence and bloodshed. In 1994, a Jewish settler terrorist, an American immigrant by the name of Baruch Goldstein, murdered at least 29 Arab worshipers who as they were praying at the Ibrahimi Mosque.
Goldstein, who was eventually killed by survivors, became a national hero among religious Zionists and Jewish extremists in general, and his tomb in Kiryat Araba became a pilgrimage site for religious Zionists from around the world. The settlers adopt a manifestly genocidal ideology with regard to how non-Jews living in Israel ought to be treated.
This ideology, which settlers say is based on the Talmud and is taught at the Mirkaz Harav religious Zionist college in Jerusalem, and gives Palestinians in Israel-Palestine three choices: first, comprehensive enslavement whereby non- Jews, or goyem, would have to accept their inferior status, second, outright expulsion, "lest they remain a thorn in your side," and third, Old Testament-style physical extermination.
The settler community in Hebron is not large in terms of numbers. According to Israeli government statistics, no more than 500-600 settlers and Yeshiva (religious school) students live in the old quarter of Hebron among the town's 180,000--200,000 Palestinian inhabitants. However, thousands of Israeli soldiers and paramilitary troops guard and protect the settlers around the clock, with the chief method of protection taking the form of making large parts of the town off-limit to Palestinians. In other words, 200,000 are held hostage to the whims of 500- 600 thugs who demand that non-Jews be enslaved, expelled or exterminated.
Needless to say, this causes immense hardship to Palestinian inhabitants whose freedom of movement and economic activities are harshly restricted. In some cases, a Palestinian living, say, in the vicinity of the Ibrahimi Mosque, is forced to travel several miles in order to get home from a nearby school or grocery store. The reason for such draconian restrictions is to make ordinary life so unbearable for ordinary Palestinians that they would leave their homes "voluntarily" so that the settlers could then seize them without the need of murdering the inhabitants.
As usual, the Israeli government continues to treat the settlers with the greatest temerity, refusing to take decisive action to stop their almost daily acts of violent and terror against Palestinians.
There are three main reasons contributing to the soft-glove policy towards the settlers. First, many of the soldiers serving in the occupied territories, particularly in the Hebron region, are themselves settlers and reluctant to arrest their colleagues. After all, the soldiers and settlers often have the same rabbi and attend the same Yeshiva, and worship at the same synagogue. Moreover, soldiers who are also settlers are effectively answerable first and foremost to their local rabbis, and only secondarily to their army superior. Second, the Israeli state itself views the settlers as a strategic asset that will prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state, guaranteeing the continuity of Israeli control over the West Bank. This is despite all official propaganda that Jewish settler violence is carried out in spite of the government. Third, the proximity of the upcoming Israeli elections, slated to take place on 10 February, makes the government, especially Defence Minister Ehud Barak (head of the Labour Party) think twice before alienating the settlers, even by carrying out High Court rulings.
Last week, the Israeli High Court ordered the state to vacate Jewish settlers from an Arab building they had seized after forging ownership documents. However, the settlers and their supporters, including 48 Knesset members (out of 120) and former ministers, vowed to confront the army and police "be it as it may". Moreover, the settlers were planing to hold a large rally in Hebron to protest against the court decision and to underscore their determination to have their way.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, the godfather of Jewish settlements in the West Bank who is falsely portrayed as a man of peace, was quoted as saying during a visit to London last week that "Israel will find it difficult to evacuate the settlements without civil war." Yossi Sarid, a former minister, spoke of "a state within a state that has arisen in the territories."
Writing in Haaretz on 21 November, Sarid wrote, "a new custom has come to the country: High Court rulings are one thing, reality is another. One has not the slightest thing to do with the other. The settlements and the outposts are planted firmly in place and refuse to be uprooted; private land of Palestinians is being freely stolen; whole neighbourhoods born in sin are being populated; homes that have been stolen are filled with people; a brazen fence stands according to its original, arbitrary plan with only minimal changes."
Sarid's remarks may even be an understatement of reality.
One noted Israeli journalist intimated to this writer last week that Israel was facing two nightmarish scenarios in light of the settlers' determined refusal to leave the West Bank: "We have two alternatives, either we go into civil war or become a fascist or Nazi state. These two choices are becoming starker with the passage of each day."