West Bank riot illustrates essence of occupation

When residents of one of the most radical settlements in the West Bank terrorized their Palestinian neighbors, the army and police did what they are becoming known for doing: absolutely nothing.

By Yesh Din (written by Yossi Gurvitz)

On April 25th, 2013, Raed Mahmoud Ahmad Sabah was in his house in the village of ‘Urif when he noticed three Israeli civilians, all wearing hoods, approaching his house from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar. Shortly afterwards, a settlement security vehicle joined the group, and out stepped a man who Sabah identified as a settlement security officer. Several minutes late, two IDF vehicles arrived, out of which emerged a handful of soldiers. The squad of hooded Israelis was reinforced by even more hooded Israelis who also came from the direction of Yitzhar. Together they began to hurl stones at Sabah’s home and at the neighboring houses and uprooting saplings. The Israeli soldiers, along with the settlement security officer, just stood about aimlessly.

Only when the young men of ‘Urif gathered to defend themselves and their property, did the army spring into action. Naturally, the IDF and Border Police began firing tear gas canisters at the Palestinians. Sabah would later count seven tear gas canisters in his courtyard. The Israeli rioters used the opportunity to sneak back home under cover of the gas. Needless to say, none of them were detained.

Yitzhar is one of the most notoriously radical settlements. Its municipal council recently resigned (Hebrew) after its residents decided to stop cooperating with the IDF and appointed suspected criminal Boaz Albert (Hebrew) as their representative to the army.  Last August, the settlers denied Druze workers entry to the settlements. At the time, the army decided once more to give in (Hebrew) and sent Jewish workers in their stead. Yitzhar is home to the Od Yosef Khai Yeshiva (religious school), whose rabbis published the gentile-slaying manual, “Torat HaMelekh.” The yeshiva students operate the “HaKol HaYehudi” website, which several years ago published an article (Hebrew) by Yossi Elizur, which detailed the principles of “arvut hadadit,” the name given by the settlers at the time to the terror acts which became known as “price tag” attacks. The security system alleges that several Yitzhar residents are involved in a series of “price tag” incidents, as well as daily terror attacks on Palestinians.

So, this was just another story of the usual riot and collaboration by the army. We’ve become inured to that. Sabah, who possesses a sense of humor, complained to the Military Police Criminal Investigations Department (MPCID) about the behavior of the soldiers, as well as to the police over the settlers and settlement security officers. This, it must be noted, is his second complaint: three months earlier, Sabah lodged another complaint about a settler attack.

So what did the police do with Sabah’s complaint? Nothing. Just like Sabah’s earlier complaint, this case was also closed by the police on grounds of “unknown perpetrator.” The police did so even though Sabah presented a video showing the settlement security officer exiting the vehicle near the hooded settlers. Indeed,  the only investigative action taken by the JSDP (Judea and Samaria Police District Police) was taking Sabah’s statement and watching his video.

As noted by Yesh Din;s attorneys, Anu Lusky and Noa Amrami, there were quite a few actions the police could have taken. It could have interrogated Sabah’s neighbors; he said in his testimony that they, too, were attacked. The police didn’t do so. The JSDP could have interrogated the settlement’s security officer, but was instead satisfied with a short question presented to him about the issue, which was dropped after he replied that he “did not remember” such an incident.

The police could have located the soldiers, who Palestinians testified were seen talking to the Israeli rioters during the incident, and interrogated them – but the investigators never bothered to find out their identities. In a handwritten memo, a police officer noted that he asked the security coordinator of Yitzhar whether he could identify the rioters – the officer did not even bother to write down the answer.

This is how it looks. First, you build a settlement. Then you let it turn into a base of attacks against the local villages and towns, while the army not only refrains from stopping the attacks but provides cover for them. Finally come the police and put the investigation out to pasture. In the West Bank, this desolate state of affairs masquerades as “the rule of law.”

It bears repeating: the residents of the West Bank are protected persons according to the Geneva Conventions and the rulings of the Israeli High Court of Justice. When the army and the police refrain from providing them with this protection, they betray their basic duty. The words of Attorneys Lusky and Amrami in the appeal against the decision to close the case are worth quoting:

We shall further remind you that according to Israeli law, as well as international law, the military commander and the police in the region are under an active duty to ensure the realization of the rights of the Palestinian residents and their protection. Hence, it is clear that our client is entitled to full protection by the JSDP, as has been ordered by the military commander in the region, particularly as this is not a single offense. […] This duty was blatantly violated in this case by the failure of the IDF troops and settlement security officials, who stood idly by and did not stop the violence started by [the settlement’s] residents, even though they were present at the scene in real time. This duty was violated once more, when a decision was made to close the case without fully investigating it.

Israel should decide to which world it wants to belong: that which performs tikkun olam based on the rule of law and international law, or that of rogue nations. Even though the question has never been presented to the citizens of Israel, the state’s actions in the West Bank provide a fitting answer.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights.

Palestinians catch settlers allegedly attempting a ‘price tag’ attack
WATCH: IDF soldiers escort masked settlers attacking Palestinian village