Solidarity needed for courageous reporter

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 10 13:45:06 MDT 2001


From: Yehudit Harel (via the Gush Shalom e-mail list)

Jack Kelley of USA Today wrote a cover story called "Vigilantes take up
arms, vow to expel 'Muslim filth'" In it, he exposes Israeli extremists and
terrorists and their effect on the turbulent situation.

Mr. Kelley came under attack, receiving over 300 emails from settler
friends worldwide. He had received only 5 positive emails. We received a
phone call from a distraught Mr. Kelley telling of the overwhelming Jewish
criticism.


ACTION REQUESTED:

Email USA Today and Jack Kelley thanking them for their insight into the
matter. They can be reached at:

jkelley at usatoday.com
editor at usatoday.com

----

Vigilantes take up arms, vow to expel 'Muslim filth'

By Jack Kelley

USA TODAY

HEBRON, West Bank -- After a quick prayer, Avi Shapiro and 12 other Jewish
settlers put on their religious skullcaps, grabbed their semiautomatic
rifles and headed toward Highway 60.

There, they pushed boulders, stretched barbed wire and set tires afire to
form a barricade that, they said, would stop even the biggest of
Palestinian taxis. Then they waited for a vehicle to arrive.

As they crouched in a ditch beside the road, Shapiro, the leader of the
group, gave the settlers orders: Surround any taxi, ''open fire'' and kill
as many of the ''blood-sucking Arab'' passengers as possible.

''We are doing what (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon promised but has
failed to do: drive these sons of Arab whores from the Land of Israel,''
said Shapiro, 42, who moved here with his wife and four children 3 years
ago from Brooklyn. ''If he won't get rid of the Muslim filth, then we will.''

Claiming they have been abandoned by Israel's government and determined to
rid the West Bank of Arabs, vigilante Jewish settlers are shooting and
beating Palestinians, stealing and destroying their property and poisoning
and diverting their water supplies, Israeli and Palestinian officials say.

Though Jewish extremists have lashed out before -- most notoriously in 1994
when a U.S. settler, Baruch Goldstein, gunned down 29 Arabs in a nearby
mosque -- never before have they struck with such frequency, Israeli
officials say. And nowhere has the violence been as intense as in this
disputed city, believed to be the burial place of the Biblical prophet
Abraham.

Nearly 450 right-wing Jews, all of whom are armed and claim a Biblical
right to the land, live here among 120,000 Palestinians. Many, like Shapiro
and his colleagues, are ready to strike at any time.

Israeli and U.S. officials have warned Sharon that if the violence against
Palestinian civilians increases, it could enflame already high emotions and
lead the entire region into war.

''It only takes a spark to light a very big fire here,'' says Yossi Sarid,
a left-wing Israeli opposition leader. ''This is a city that is cursed.''

'A time bomb'

Since the start of the latest surge of violence in Israel a year ago this
month, at least 119 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli civilians in
the West Bank and Gaza, according to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights
group that has been critical of both sides. Hundreds have been
hospitalized, it says.

During the same time, at least 30 settlers have been killed by Palestinian
gunmen.

In July, Jewish vigilantes killed three Palestinians, including a
3-month-old boy, in Nablus. The State Department condemned the attack as a
''barbaric act'' of ''unconscionable vigilantism.'' No one has been charged
in the attack.

''These people are a time bomb,'' says Hanna Nasser, Palestinian mayor of
the West Bank city of Bethlehem. ''No one is safe.''

The almost daily attacks have been condemned by nearly all Israelis,
including most settlers. Politicians, who fear the extremists will spoil
Israel's attempt to portray itself as the victim rather than the aggressor
in this conflict, have been the most vocal.

''These Jewish terrorists are criminals,'' Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon
Peres says. ''They've gone too far.''

Yet, the attacks are expected to increase, Israeli officials say. A group
of Jewish vigilantes who possess bomb-making materials has formed in
Hebron, the officials say.

The group, which claimed responsibility for three recent Palestinian
deaths, has been distributing fliers in the West Bank that read: ''Revenge
is holy. It should be up to the government to do it, but unfortunately, the
government does not care about the murder of Jews. There are people whose
patience has run out.''

Security officials also say they fear that the extremists are widening
their targets to include Israeli police and soldiers sent to protect the
settlers, as well as Western diplomats and European peace monitors. All
have recently been attacked. The settlers accuse them of not doing enough
to protect them or of favoring the Palestinians.

On Aug. 21, 85 European Community monitors who had patrolled Hebron since
1994 withdrew after complaining of weeks of verbal and physical abuse by
the settlers. ''Every day, we were kicked, dragged and beaten by the
settlers,'' says Karl-Henrik Sjursen of Norway, chief of the observer
mission. ''They made life impossible for us.''

Shots at a taxi

On a recent Sunday, Shapiro and the 12 other extremists spotted their first
target: a white Palestinian taxi that had turned the corner and begun to
rumble toward them. From a hill 50 yards away, the Jewish men could be seen
removing the safety locks from the weapons. Their wives were grabbing extra
ammunition clips. Their children, all of them younger than 12, were picking
up rocks.

But the Palestinian driver, upon seeing the settlers, brought his Mercedes
stretch taxi to a sudden stop 50 yards from the checkpoint. He quickly
turned the car around. Cursing aloud, Shapiro ordered the men to open fire.
The shooting lasted for 10 seconds.

At least two bullets hit the car. One shattered its back window. Several
women wearing white Islamic headscarves could be heard screaming and seen
ducking. It wasn't known whether anyone was injured.

''We'll keep this up until we eliminate all the Muslim filth,'' Shapiro
said before the confrontation. ''We have to: It's our Jewish duty.''

'God's land given to us'

Analysts such as Elisha Efrat of Tel Aviv University estimate that 10% of
the 177,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza are extremists, people who
are willing to die before giving up their land.

Many of them live behind 25-foot tall stone fences and bulletproof windows
in Hebron. The 450 settlers here, and the 7,000 others who live down the
road in Israeli-controlled territory, see themselves as the guardians of
Hebron, which is considered Judaism's second holiest city after Jerusalem.
All are protected by several thousand Israeli soldiers and police.

''This is God's land given to us, the Israeli people,'' says settler Ariel
Fischer, 38, citing Biblical passages that support Israel's claim of the
land. Like most of the extremists, he's Israeli-born. ''If you don't wear a
yarmulke (skullcap), get out.''

Hebron is also home to 120,000 Palestinians, many of whom live in the
hilltop area of Abu Sneineh.

For centuries, Arabs and Jews coexisted peacefully in Hebron. Then a riot
in 1929 resulted in the deaths of more than 60 Jews. The British, who
governed what was then Palestine, resettled the remaining Jews elsewhere.

In 1967, after Israel captured the West Bank of the Jordan River, some Jews
returned. But those who came were the most ideologically extreme of
Israelis. Backed by government policies that encouraged them to move into
the West Bank, the Israelis claimed a Biblical right to the city and
demanded that the Arabs leave.

Then in 1997, the Israeli army, which had controlled Hebron since the war
30 years ago, withdrew from 80% of the city and ceded control to the
Palestinian Authority.

The remaining 20% was left for the settlers.

That was a recipe for disaster, settlers say. Almost daily since last
September, there have been shots fired into their settlement by Palestinian
snipers. In response, Israel put 30,000 Palestinians, whose homes surround
the settlement, under a 24-hour curfew. It prohibits them from leaving
their homes, even to go to a doctor or attend school, and jails them if
they do. Twice a week, the curfew is lifted for a few hours to allow the
residents to shop. The rest of the time, they are in their homes.

Last week, hundreds of Israeli troops, backed by dozens of tanks and
bulldozers, swept into Hebron for several hours to destroy buildings they
say had been used by Palestinian snipers. Settlers want Israel to
reestablish control of the area by permanently reoccupying all of Hebron.
Until that happens, settlers say, they're forced to take ''pre-emptive
actions'' to stop the Palestinian gunfire.

''People here are extremely upset,'' says David Wilder, a spokesman for
Jewish settlers here. ''We're upset by the daily shooting, killings and
harassment by Palestinians. People feel abandoned (by Israel's government)
and so some people are going to take up guns.'' Says another settler
spokesman Noam Federman, ''If we don't take up guns, we'll be ducks in a
shooting range.''

But Israeli officials say the settlers often provoke the violence. Unlike
the Palestinians, the settlers are free to leave their homes at will. They
regularly attack Palestinian shops while the Palestinians, who are forced
to stay indoors because of the curfew, can only watch, according to human
rights groups.

Ahmad Abu Neni, 55, is blind and a Palestinian. His small kiosk of cleaning
supplies has been ransacked three times since last September by settlers,
human rights officials say. He also has been beaten in the back with a
brick and punched repeatedly, they add.

Neni says Israeli soldiers tried to break up one of the attacks by firing a
concussion grenade at the attackers, only to set his clothes on fire. He
suffered third-degree burns. His shop now closed, he survives on handouts
of food and money. ''If I had money and could see, I would leave,'' Neni
says. ''It's just a matter of time before they beat me again.''

Nearby, Nafez Bani Jaber, 45, was burying all 123 of his sheep. He says
they were poisoned last week after 10 Jewish extremists chased him off his
fields. Israeli police say they have found needles dipped in poison that
they believe the settlers used on the sheep. Police say poison also was
dumped down a nearby well that Palestinians use.

''First they poisoned the sheep. Next will be the children,'' Jaber says.
''These are war crimes.''

Often, the violence directed at the Palestinians is aimed at their Muslim
faith. Settlers have spray painted graffiti reading ''Mohammed is a
homosexual,'' referring to the Islamic prophet, and painted Jewish Stars of
David on the walls of the local Arab market. They also have surrounded
Muslim women and tried to rip off their Islamic headscarves and body veils,
human rights groups say.

Samar Abdul-Shafti, 36, a Palestinian mother of two, was photographed last
month trying to escape several settlers who were beating her as they tried
to remove her headscarf. It has happened two other times since then, she
says, revealing bruises on her arms, legs and forehead.

''The Jews are trying to do to us what was done to them during the
Holocaust,'' Shafti says. ''They must not be allowed to drive us from our
homes. Someone must help.''

'Ashamed to be a Jew'

Palestinian police say they don't have the means to defend the Arab residents.

Israeli soldiers seem unwilling or unable to help. Noam Tivon, Israeli
Defense Forces brigade commander for Hebron, says his soldiers are in
Hebron to protect the settlers, not the Palestinians. Tivon says his
soldiers and police officers often are ambushed by settlers whom he calls
''hooligans.''

 The settlers accuse the police of failing to stop the Arab violence.

''They throw rocks at us, curse at us and vandalize our police cars,'' says
Israeli policeman Shahar Mahsomi, 25. He suffered a concussion in March
after a settler struck him on the head with a rock. Another settler tried
to stab two police officers in the same scuttle. ''I never thought I'd be
fighting Jews,'' Mahsomi says.

The situation is just as dangerous at the nearby settlements of Kiryat Arba
and Givat Harsina where nearly 7,000 settlers, many of whom are
hard-liners, regularly attack neighboring Palestinians.

''I can't believe we are risking our lives to defend these fanatics,'' says
Sgt. Avi Alamm, 28, as he watches a settler boy, dressed as the late
Goldstein, walked by with an Israeli flag. Goldstein, who gunned down the
29 Muslims, is revered among some settlers as a prophet. They encourage
their children to dress like him on occasion. ''The people make me ashamed
to be a Jew,'' Alamm says.

Now, many Israelis are calling on the government to dismantle extremist
settlements such as the one here.

''The Jewish settlement in Hebron is a major nuisance, and the lawless
behavior by Jews there in recent days leads to one conclusion,'' the
Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz recently editorialized. ''Hebron must be
evacuated.''


Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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