Yesterday, I wrote the following piece and sent it to immediate members of my family and my small webinar group conducting an open source “Israeli Dialogues”. What follows that piece is an article that appeared in today’s Haaretz about the aftermath in Hawara.
I am back in the saddle again. A year ago, I smashed my femur two weeks before our move to the village of Cobble Hill in the Cowichan Valley of Vancouver Island. I spent 3 ½ months in the hospital and then gradually learned to walk again. I found I also had to learn to write again as well. My missives are not likely to come daily again, but I will still send them even if they are infrequent.
A Third Intifada?
Is this the trigger that will set off a Third Intifada?
The February 27, 2023 Jerusalem Post made the story the headline after two Jewish brothers, Hillel Menachem (22) and Yagel Yaakov (20) Yaniv, from the nearby Har Bracha settlement, were killed by a terrorist on February 26th in Huwara south of Nablus when the gunman opened fire at a traffic junction. The terrorist attack may have been in retaliation for the Israeli raid on Nablus the previous week that killed 11 Palestinian, both militants and civilians. Since January 1, 2023, at least 61 Palestinians, both terrorists and civilians, have been killed by the IDF and settlers.
Though covered in another backpage report, there was no mention in the frontpage headline story that, in a price-tag reprisal attack, settlers torched 30 Palestinian homes in Huwara and set many cars on fire. When 60 settlers attacked Zatara, a village near Huwara, they shot Sameh al-Aqtash, 37, in the abdomen; he died in an ambulance held up by the IDF when his family tried to get him to a hospital; the Israeli military had blocked the road. Sameh had just returned from Turkey where he had been a relief volunteer in Turkey’s devastating earthquake. Almost 100 others were wounded in the attacks, many of them stabbed and beaten with iron rods in the pogrom against the Palestinians. The Washington Post made the latter the lead story and included the former in a paragraph.
Israeli journalists Shahar Glick and Josh Breiner did report that, “a Jewish gunman dressed in black clothes and a military vest and helmet fired at them and threw stun grenades at them.” Why did the IDF not take up positions in anticipation to prevent the settler rampage and murder? After all, Highway 60 is controlled by the IDF and the settlers in four settlements and Palestinians in Huwara and surrounding villages all use the same road. Instead, settlers returned in the evening to set fire to thirty others and to attack Palestinians even though only one house had been torched on Sunday afternoon and their had been plenty of time to deploy IDF to inhibit an escalation in violence by the settlers.
Different stories. Different emphasis. Different angles on the same event. Each reinforces a different stance.
Huwara has always been a flashpoint, especially since one-third of its land is in Area B and two-thirds in Area C. Price-tag attacks have always been used as excuses or covers for establishing new settlements – Yitzhar was established this way. From 2010 to 2014. there were attacks every year on Huwara by vigilante settlers. Jews from Yitzhar in 2014 burned over 100 olive trees in one attack. Tzvika Foghel from the far-right Jewish Power party declared, “A Huwara that is burning — that’s the only way we’ll achieve deterrence.”
While Israel’s National Security Minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, and Bezalel Smotrich, the Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionist Party, Otzma Yehudit, were chiding the settlers as an afterthought for taking the law into their own hands when, in fact, they were behaving as a lawless mob, the two ministers in the government should have threatened to bring the long arm of Israeli justice down on the rioting settlers’ shoulders. Instead, on Sunday, the Knesset pushed forward legislation to apply the death penalty to terrorists. But the Jewish vigilantes were not called terrorists, only the murderer of the Yaniv brothers. Despite arguments by both the attorney general and officials in the Shin Bet that such a threat would not deter terrorists, Israeli legislators were so focused on revenge that they set aside considerations of justice or prudence.
Another event was taking place while two Israeli settlers and an innocent Palestinian were being murdered. In Aqaba in Jordan, American, Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian officials were meeting to try to stop the rising tide of violence. They issued a joint statement: Israel would halt building plans for settlement units for four months and stop the authorization of outposts considered illegal under Israeli law for six months. “The Government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority confirmed their joint readiness and commitment to immediately work to end unilateral measures… [including] an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for 4 months and to stop authorization of any outposts for 6 months.”
Smotrich, who claimed to have had “no idea” that the conference was underway, and declared that it had been “unnecessary,” insisted that Israel would not agree to a settlement freeze, “even for one day.” Ben Gvir went further; he vowed to “crush the enemies” in “the war for our lives.” “Our enemies need to hear a message of settlement, but also one of crushing them one by one.” He insisted that Bibi stop the eviction of the outpost of Evyatar since Netanyahu had agreed that the status of Evyatar would be legalized. Smotrich had already tweeted that he had liked the tweet by deputy head of Samaria Regional Council, Davidi Ben Zion, that “the village of Hawara should be wiped out today.” For Smotrich, there had been “Enough with talk about building and strengthening the settlement; the deterrence needs to happen immediately and there is no room for mercy.”
Israel is now governed by a vigilante mob.
Haaretz 28 February 2023.
The Chaos in Hawara Didn’t End on the Night of the Riots, nor Did the Israeli Army’s Incompetence
The day after the destruction sown by Israelis in the village, masked men continued to seek vengeance for the murder of the two brothers from Har Bracha while locals locked themselves inside their homes. Soldiers, who were not sent to quell the disturbances, looked on indifferently
The day after Sunday’s rioting in Hawara in which hundreds of settlers set fire to homes and cars and threw stones, it was obvious to anyone on the road leading into the West Bank Palestinian town that the rioters were still in control. Scores of young Jews, many of them masked, were gathered there on Monday morning checking vehicles in search of Palestinians. There were Israeli soldiers a distance away, but the young men were doing as they pleased. The reports of a large Israeli army presence in the town existed only on paper.
Palestinians didn’t dare wander around their village, which looked like a ghost town. The shops were shuttered, the streets strewn with rocks, the smell of smoke was still in the air.
In the heart of Hawara, where the terrorist attack that killed two Israelis had occurred on Sunday, a bus stopped and let off students from the yeshiva in the settlement of Itamar. They stood in a circle in the middle of the street and sang, “I believe in perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah.”
Although they were obstructing both lanes of traffic, not a single Palestinian motorist drove passed and honked at them to move out of the way. Guarded by the army, the students finished singing and made their way to the funeral of the victims of Sunday’s attack, brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv. Their killer, whose identity is known to the security forces, remained at large.
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On the prior evening, on Sunday, Hawara had been under the control of Jews who wanted to see the town go up in flames. It’s difficult to describe how it feels to be walking almost alone at night as a reporter in a Palestinian town where a terrorist who killed Israelis hours earlier had not yet been caught. An armed Jewish man shot at me even though I identified myself as a reporter, as Palestinian homes were being torched and residents threw stones in every direction. It was chaos along with the smell of smoke. That’s apparently what it feels like where violence rules: Government and law mean nothing.
Here and there the occasional Israeli soldier could be seen in the alleyways. Their uniforms looked like a costumes on an abandoned movie set. They’re supposed to symbolize the presence of a government, but that’s only in theory.
During the chaos in Hawara, there was no presence of soldiers, police or Border Police. The following day, on Monday, the head of the IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, took the rioters to task. The army accused them of forcing it to redirect manpower away from the search for killer of the Yaniv brothers to restore quiet to Hawara.
Because really, how could they have known that settlers had intended to run riot in Hawara? Who could have foreseen the settlers’ rage over the killling of two of their comrades? Did the security forces need solid intelligence to figure out that after a terror attack, the army should beef up its forces in Hawara, particularly on roads leading to the Palestinian village from the Jewish settlement of Yizhar?
It might have been difficult to foresee even the obvious if the settlers’ plans to enter the village hadn’t been revealed ahead of time on social media and in flyers. There wasn’t even any need for wiretapping, spyware or cellphone hacking. All they had to do was to know how to read.
A flyer distributed Sunday following the killing of the Yaniv brothers in Hawara. It calls in part for revenge and announces that a march to Hawara would be held.
Early Sunday evening, a group of young people, some of them masked, marched to Hawara. It was an embarrassing sight: Immediately after the terror attack, the police and army had closed the access road into Hawara. Soldiers were telling Palestinian motorists that they couldn’t enter the village, but young men wearing skullcaps were marching together, chanting “revenge, revenge” and “Arabs beware, Jewish blood isn’t up for grabs.” They did as they pleased.
While walking along the road, they were on the lookout for cars driven by Palestinians (who, in any event, weren’t daring to venture there). Army and police vehicles passed them. No one thought to stop the revenge-seekers. But one military vehicle suddenly slowed as it approached the group. “Guys, take care of yourselves,” one of the soldiers called out to them.
The group passed us in the dark. An armed adult man accompanied them on their way to the pogrom, as if he was a parent escorting them on a school field trip.
The rioters’ first target was Palestinians living on the outskirts of Hawara. They’re always the first to sustain such blows. No one had thought to station troops there.
Stones were thrown at the houses and property was set on fire. An attempt to torch a nearby olive grove was stopped thanks to Israeli Army Radio reporter Shahar Glick, who acted quickly to put out the blaze. The Palestinians weren’t going to take it lying down. They began throwing stones back at the rioters from the rooftops and balconies of their homes.
Meanwhile, at a second entrance to Hawara near Yizhar, another front opened up as homes and cars were torched. Palestinians fled for their lives.
Palestinian fire trucks were pelted with stones. The lust for revenge was now in full swing and there was a sense of madness and chaos. It was everyone for himself, with no one in change or in command. Even soldiers were masked.
When Glick and I approached an area that was ablaze, an armed group suddenly called on us to halt. They weren’t soldiers. And even though we were identified as Israeli journalists, one of the men threw a stun grenade toward us. Stunned by the shockwave, I quipped to him, “Maybe you’ll just shoot us?” And in response, he shot in our direction.
The sound of the gunshot was drowned out by voices and other noises coming from afar. It was total madness in a place with a lot of faith but no God.
We stopped some soldiers and reported to them on what had happened, but it didn’t seem to interest them very much. I dismissed any thought of filing an official complaint: No one would bother to find an unidentified armed man who shot at reporters.
When we reached the center of Hawara, for the most part what we saw was stray dogs in the alleyways and shuttered stores. There was light coming from one of the mosques. There were three worshipers inside and an armed soldier stood in the doorway. From beyond the hills, we could hear the constant call of a mosque muezzin, as if residents of Hawara were being called upon to emerge from their homes and protect their property.