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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Critics of Israel’s West Bank Occupation Say Calm Before New Violence Was an Illusion

A video report from Arutz Sheva, an Israeli settler news organization, on the funeral of Evyatar Borovsky, who was killed Tuesday near his home in the West Bank by a Palestinian attacker.

As my colleagues Isabel Kershner and Fares Akram report, the tension of daily life in the occupied West Bank exploded into deadly violence on Tuesday, when a knife-wielding Palestinian man attacked and killed an Israeli settler at a bus stop. The attacker, identified as Salam Zaghal, a 24-year-old who recently spent three years in jail for throwing stones, then seized the dead man’s pistol and engaged in a shoot-out with police officers.

Before the victim, Evyatar Borovsky, a 31-year-old father of five, was laid to rest in an emotional ceremony, vigilantes from the Israeli settlements that dot the West Bank sought to punish their Palestinian neighbors by smashing the windows of a mosque, setting fields on fire and throwing stones at a school bus.

On social networks and in statements to the news media, representatives Israel’s military and the leadership of the settler community were in no doubt about the nature of the attack, describing the killing as the murder of an Israeli civilian by a Palestinian terrorist.

Some supporters of the national-religious settlement project, like the editors of The Jewish Press in Brooklyn, even blamed the officers who responded to the attack for not just killing the attacker on the spot. “It is not clear,” The Press reported, “why they shot the terrorist in the leg, and not the head.”

From Palestinians and Israelis who oppose the occupation, though, condemnations of the killing were mixed with calls to pay attention to the broader context â€" in which an Arab community of 2.5 million, living under military rule for 46 years, is forced to accommodate itself to an influx of hundreds of thousands of Israeli migrants to expanding Jewish-only settlements, defended by armed soldiers, officers and civilian guards.

In a statement offering “condolences to the family of the murder victim,” the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights said it was “horrified by the nationalistic murder,” but also suggested that Palestinians are engaged in “a morally justified campaign against a discriminatory military regime.” The rabbis quickly added, however, that even a just cause “does not justify harm to civilians, and we harshly condemn any attack such as this.”

According to Yousef Munayyer, the director of The Palestine Center in Washington, his group has documented more than 1,200 incidents of violence by settlers in the 18 months since the last killing of an Israeli civilian in the occupied territory.

In a post for the Israeli news blog +972, Mairav Zonszein, argued that the 18 months since the last fatal attack on an Israeli in the West Bank had created “an illusion of calm and stability” in a status quo that is unsustainable. Ms. Zonszein, an Israeli-American blogger who works with Ta’ayush, an Arab-Jewish group that supports rural Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills, wrote:

During this “calm” period, most Israelis continue going about their lives. They aren’t affected by the violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a daily basis. But days like today, when the phrase “terror attack” is back in the news, Israelis suddenly remember that we are in a violent conflict. The government, of course, does a good job of reminding us we are the victims.

But on all those days when there is no violence against Israelis in the news, on all those days when Israelis can go about their business, the situation is actually not at all stable or calm. It’s definitely not calm for the Palestinian population, specifically in the West Bank where life under occupation is anything but free of violence.

By way of explanation, Ms. Zonszein cited remarks published last year by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, on the constant pressure of life in the West Bank, between outbreaks of deadly violence, in which he asked the rhetorical question: “What goes on in the Middle East when nothing goes on there at the direct politico-military level (i.e. when there are no tensions, attacks, negotiations)?” His answer was:

What goes on is the incessant slow work of taking the land from the Palestinians in the West Bank: the gradual strangling of the Palestinian economy, the parceling of their land, the building of new settlements, the pressure on Palestinian farmers to make them abandon their land (which goes from crop-burning and religious desecration up to individual killings), all this supported by a Kafkaesque network of legal regulations.

“To avoid any kind of misunderstanding,” Mr. Žižek added, “taking all this into account in no way implies any ‘understanding’ for inexcusable terrorist acts. On the contrary, it provides the only ground from which one can condemn the terrorist attacks without hypocrisy.”

In the days before the deadly attack, Ms. Zonszein’s fellow-activists at Ta’ayush were working to draw attention to how very tense daily life in the occupied West Bank can be when Israeli soldiers try to keep Palestinian farmers away from land near Israeli settlements.

Over the weekend, Ta’ayush released a brief video clip showing an Israeli soldier shouting with rage at Israeli activists who had accompanied Palestinian shepherds from a West Bank village as they tried to graze their sheep on land near Othni’el, an Israeli settlement.

Video recorded by an Israeli activist in the West Bank this month showed an Israeli soldier screaming at Palestinian shepherds and their Israeli supporters.

According to Ms. Zonszein’s translation, when a Ta’ayush activist named Guy interrupted the soldier as he was shouting at a shepherd, the reservist turned to Guy’s camera and screamed “Get out of here you Israel haters!” After threatening to hit the activist, he added: “You are worse than the Arabs!” The officer then shouted at a female Israeli activist: “Shut up, Israel hater who goes to bed with Arabs!”

After the video was featured on the Web site of Israel’s most popular newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, the Israeli military called the officer’s conduct unbecoming, but suggested that the confrontation had been provoked by the “left-wing activists” who recorded it.

Activists from Ta’ayush have also documented an apparent effort by Israeli officers in the West Bank to prevent footage of what ordinary aspects of the occupation look like from being recorded. In another video clip, released with a blog post on Saturday, soldiers can be seen repeatedly blocking the lens of Ta’ayush activists as they attempted to film the shepherds being forced away from land near the settlement.

Video of Israeli officers using their own phones and cameras to block the lenses of Israeli activists attempting to record their work in the West Bank.

Asked about this footage, in which officers can be seen using their own phones and cameras to block the lenses of the activists, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, Capt. Eytan Buchman, told The Lede: “a Palestinian shepherd, accompanied by Israeli activists, tried to illegally graze a field adjacent to the town of Othni’el in a blatant attempt to create a provocation. Security forces arrived in order to distance the shepherd and activists without the use of force.”

Israeli soldiers blocked the cameras of Israeli activists who were recording their activities in the occupied West Bank this month.Guy, Ta’ayush Israeli soldiers blocked the cameras of Israeli activists who were recording their activities in the occupied West Bank this month.

Amiel Vardi, a Hebrew University classics professor and one of the founders of Ta’ayush, was with the shepherds in South Mount Hebron when the video was recorded. He told The Lede in an e-mail, “the soldiers gave no reason,” for blocking their cameras. “On the contrary, they insisted that they do not restrict our filming â€" only filming us too, as is their right. So much for what they said. As for what they actually did, I suppose they know that they have no legal authority to drive the shepherds away from these lands, and are not to keen to be filmed doing it.”

As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, Mr. Vardi “was shot in 2006 by a settler when he and friends tried to help Palestinian farmers reach their vineyards during the grape harvest.”

According to the Ta’ayush activists, the effort to prevent them from recording scenes of routine confrontations in the occupied West Bank is a concerted one. Last month, they posted a video compilation of officers blocking their cameras during several visits to the area, and at the start of this month, they were even detained for several hours by police officers investigating a complaint filed by settlers who accused the activists of “disturbing public order” by filming construction at a settlement.