Saturday, January 27, 2007

Disgraceful, but nothing new

By Danny Rubinstein, Ha'aretz, January, 25, 2007

Last week, Israel's Channel 10 aired a short video clip that had been filmed in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron, in which Jewish settler Yifat Alkobi can be seen roughly pushing and cursing her neighbors, members of the Palestinian Abu Aisha family. A few months ago B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, gave the Abu-Aishas a camera in order to document what was happening near their home, and they now have many video clips of a similar nature.

What is interesting about this particular one is that the pushing and cursing took place while a few meters away Israel Defense Forces soldiers observed the incident without lifting a finger.Nobody was particularly exercised by these images, and that included Alkobi herself, who was called in for an interrogation and did not even show up.

There is a group of international observers in the city, called TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron), and they published an announcement to the effect that the film contained nothing new. "For years we have been publishing information about harassment, damage to property, destruction of buildings, stone throwing and the breaking of windows, carried out by the settlers against the Arab residents, and in the past we have often turned to the IDF and to the police, and nothing happened," said the observers. Their reports are sent to the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority and the governments of the six countries that sent the observers (Norway, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Turkey).

B'Tselem also hastened to warn about turning Alkobi into a scapegoat; the fact is that responsibility for what happens in Hebron belongs to all the Israeli governments that have allowed and continue to allow such disgraceful sights to take place.The statistics are familiar. Of the thousands of Arabs who lived in the part of Hebron under Israeli control (according to the agreement of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu), few remain.

The Abu Aisha family of Tel Rumeida lives in a house that has been dubbed the "cage house" because of the bars surrounding it, which are meant to protect it from harassment by the settlers. The other isolated Arab families who have remained in the area near the settlers tend to hide in a similar manner. In other words, the Hebron settlers have succeeded in getting rid of almost all of their Arab neighbors, something the IDF and the police have done nothing to prevent, which means they are in effect helping the settlers.

The Israeli right, which supports the Hebron settlers, has long since slid down the slippery slope of racism. In a meeting in Jerusalem recently, a senior (Jewish) police officer who has left the service told guests from abroad how he had to deal with settlers in the Arab neighborhoods of the city who refuse to obey Arab policemen. "You are Arabs, and we don't talk to you. Bring a Jewish policeman," they say. The guests from Canada were shocked. One of them, a senior official in the Canadian government, said that anyone daring to make such a remark in Canada would be immediately thrown into prison. Here it passes quietly.

Not all the settlers are like those in Hebron. There are also settlers who are trying to build neighborly relations with the Arabs. Both groups defend themselves against claims of dispossession and racism, saying that this has been the situation in the Land of Israel since the beginning of the Zionist settlement enterprise. Tel Aviv was not built only on sands either, and everywhere in the country, from Dan to Be'er Sheva, Arabs were expelled and dispossessed. So what do people want from them?

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