Settlers hurl stones near the settlement of Yitzhar.

A riot near Yizhar demonstrates, in one short incident, the essence of Israeli occupation

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 settlement of Yizhar. Shortly afterwards, a settlement security vehicle arrived and joined the raiders, and out stepped a man who Sabah identified as a settlement security officer. Several minutes late, two IDF vehicles joined the group, out of which emerged a handful of soldiers. The squad of hooded Israelis were reinforced by more hooded Israelis, who also came from the direction of Yizhar. Together they began to hurl stones at Sabah’s home and at the neighboring houses.  The group also started to uproot saplings. The Israeli soldiers, as well as the settlement security officer, stood about aimlessly, without bothering to stop the attack. The young men of Urif gathered to defend themselves and their property, and only then did the army spring into action. Large forces of the IDF and Border Police began firing tear gas canisters – at the Palestinians, naturally. 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 screen. Needless to say, none of them were detained.

Yizhar is one of the most notorious settlements. Its municipal council recently resigned (Hebrew) after its residents? decided to stop cooperating with the IDF and appointed a suspected criminal, Boaz Albert (Hebrew) as their representative to the army.  Last August, the Yizhar settlers denied Druze workers entry to the settlements. At the time, the army decided once more to retreat (Hebrew) and sent Jewish workers in their stead. Yizhar 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 (one of the writers of Torah/torat? Hamelekh), which detailed the principles of “arvut hadadit,” the name given by the settlers at the time to the terror acts known as “price tag” attacks. The security system alleges that several Yizhar residents are involved in a series of “price tag” incidents, as well as daily terror attacks on Palestinians.

So, here was another story of the usual riot and collaboration by the army with the attackers. We’ve become inured to that. Our client, Sabah, possesses a sense of humor, so he complained to the Military Police Criminal Investigations Department (MPCID) about the behavior of the soldiers, and to the police against the settlers and settlement security officers. This, we should note, 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? It did nothing. Just like Sabah’s earlier complaint, this case was also closed by the police on grounds of “perpetrator unknown.” The police did so even though Sabah presented it with 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 our 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 instead it was satisfied with a short question presented to him about the issue, which was dropped when 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 did not bother to find out who they were. In a handwritten memo, a police officer noted that he asked the security coordinator of Yizhar whether he could identify the rioters – but the officer didn’t 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; and then comes the police and puts the investigation out to pasture. In the West Bank, this desolate state of affairs is masquerading as “the rule of law.”

We’ll repeat this again: 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 the 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.