Israel Pulse

IDF in West Bank refrains from arresting Jews

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Article Summary
Despite a dramatic increase in Jewish nationalist crimes, such as slashing tires, throwing stones, and cutting down olive trees in Palestinian settlements even within the Green Line, Israeli security forces have been remarkably helpless.

Last August, human rights group Yesh Din released a position paper concerning Jewish nationalist crimes in the West Bank. In recent years, far-right militants have titled such crimes "price tag" attacks. The position paper focused on price tag incidents in just six Palestinian villages in the West Bank, adjacent to the Palestinian town of Nablus and the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, from January 2017 to March 2018. All in all, the paper documented 40 separate incidents. Had the paper been published nowadays — in December — the number of incidents would have been much higher.

This December was particularly dramatic. At least one price tag attack was recorded about every three days. These included the slashing of tires of cars belonging to Palestinians, anti-Arab graffiti in Palestinian villages, the throwing of stones, the cutting down of olive trees and more. After the terrorist attack at the Givat Asaf intersection on Dec. 13, dozens of price tag attacks were recorded in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. In Beit Hanina, for example, assailants slashed tires and sprayed slogans like “Death to the Arabs” and “We will not sleep when blood is spilled here.” The graffiti included the Star of David, which has been adopted by price Tag activists as a symbol of their nationalist crimes.

Despite the steep rise in incidents, almost no suspects have been arrested. According to figures published by Yesh Din in December 2017, ever since 2005, only 8.1% of investigations into price tag attacks tracked by Yesh Din have resulted in an indictment. Figures released by Yesh Din in March 2018, which cover 2016, showed that 79% of the complaints filed with the Military Advocate General concerning crimes by soldiers against Palestinians were closed without any criminal investigation.

It is worth noting that because Palestinians have no faith in the Israeli justice system, the number of complaints filed with the police is very low. In Yesh Din’s position paper, Palestinian victims in 27 of the 40 incidents (67%) preferred not to file a complaint with the police. “The State provides the settlers with land and infrastructures; it approves illegal construction, grants de facto recognition to illegal settlements, and takes steps to increase the legitimacy of the Israeli presence in the West Bank,” says the position paper in its summary. “The army … does not prevent attacks on the local villagers and in many cases actually helps violent settlers. Then, after the fact, if a complaint is filed, the police and the State Attorney’s Office grant de facto immunity to the assailants and very rarely make them stand trial for their actions.”

On Dec. 5, Knesset member Mossi Raz of the Meretz Party submitted an urgent proposal to the Knesset’s agenda concerning the increase in price tag activities. “In the last 10 days alone, eight separate price tag incident were recorded in Arab villages in the West Bank, as well as in East Jerusalem and Kafr Kassem,” he wrote, explaining his proposal. He continued, “These hate crimes included anti-Arab graffiti and the slashing of tires. Experience from the not too distant past shows that whenever property is damaged for nationalist and religious reasons, the crimes eventually escalate to encompass houses of worship, homes and even people.”

In his speech to the Knesset, Raz wondered how the police and the Shin Bet could be so remarkably ineffective, and why they have failed to arrest almost any suspects. He stressed that price tag crimes have infiltrated the Green Line into Israel “with the climax occurring in Kafr Kassem.” Some 32 cars had their tires slashed there, and unknown assailants sprayed “Jews will not be silent!” on the side of a truck.

Talking to Al-Monitor, Raz said that he has recently started participating in patrols by the nongovernmental organization Tag Meir (“Tag of Light instead of Terrorism”) in villages and other sites that have been subjected to Jewish terrorism. He discovered that such acts have become an almost daily plague, and that “nothing is being done to protect the Palestinian population from those wild wrongdoers.”

According to him, “The entire role of the [Israel Defense Forces (IDF)] in the territories is exactly the opposite of what it should be. According to international law, it is the role of an occupying force to protect the local population, but what actually happens is that the IDF protects the settlers at any cost under the assumption that the Palestinians are the enemy. Even a person injured by a stone thrown by settlers is an enemy.”

Knesset member Raz notes that so far not a single suspect has been arrested for throwing rocks at a car carrying Aisha Muhammad al-Rawbi, 47, from the village of Bidia, near the Tapuah Intersection on Oct. 13. Aisha died in the accident that resulted from the stone-throwing attack. According to a report on Kan on Nov. 1, yarmulke-wearing right-wing activists, described as having experience with Shin Bet interrogations, drove to an unnamed educational institute in a West Bank settlement on a Saturday morning to brief the students about what to do should they be called for interrogation about the incident. In fact, no one has been arrested to date. Similarly, no arrests were made for the destruction of hundreds of olive trees and grape vines in five Palestinian villages in the West Bank.

“The Israeli media is constantly asking how it is possible that the terrorist responsible for the attack on Barkan has not been caught yet,” says Raz. “But no one asks how the assailant from the Tapuah Intersection attack was never caught. The only person called for interrogation was Aisha’s 8-year-old daughter, who saw her mother die right beside her. An armed policewoman sat there throughout and interrogated her about the incident. Nothing came of it.”

Are the Shin Bet and police afraid of the settlers? While there is no clear answer, an incident that occurred Nov. 27 is telling. At the time, it was reported that a senior officer in the Civil Administration submitted a report to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, recommending that any continued development of Yitzhar be contingent on the cessation of all violence by the settlers. In her report, the officer claimed that residents of Yitzhar were involved in some 30 violent incidents, including an attack on a Palestinian shepherd, throwing rocks and the attempted stabbing of the Palestinian operator of a mini-tractor. The residents were also responsible for injuring a commander of the border police. In response to this, Knesset member Betzalel Smotrich of HaBayit HaYehudi suggested that the Civil Administration be shut down for daring to assail the settlers and for receiving support from Abu Rokon.

A source in the Civil Administration tells Al-Monitor that in order to arrest suspects in particularly sensitive settlements like Yitzhar, it would take an operation comparable to any other military operation in the territories. He goes on to claim that such an operation would not receive political approval, which means that we are likely to see frequent price tag incidents in the future.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be responsible for giving such an order in his capacity as the person ultimately in charge of the Shin Bet and as the serving defense minister in charge of the IDF. But past experience shows that Netanyahu would never dare give such an order in an election year so as not to upset his electoral base — the settlers — or HaBayit HaYehudi.

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Shlomi Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

Eldar has published two books: "Eyeless in Gaza" (2005), which anticipated the Hamas victory in the subsequent Palestinian elections, and "Getting to Know Hamas" (2012), which won the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for Military Literature. He was awarded the Ophir Prize (Israeli Oscar) twice for his documentary films: "Precious Life" (2010) and "Foreign Land" (2018). "Precious Life" was also shortlisted for an Oscar and was broadcast on HBO. He has a master's degree in Middle East studies from the Hebrew University. On Twitter: @shlomieldar

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