In response to:
The Settlers from the June 15, 1989 issue
To the Editors:
I was recently provided with a copy of Mr. Friedman’s article “The Settlers” in the June 15 edition of The New York Review of Books. Many of those interviewed were appalled by the distortions and misquotes in Mr. Friedman’s article.
Frankly, I was not really surprised by the tone of the article. In all fairness, I must point out that Mr. Friedman presented himself as very left of center politically, strongly pro-Palestinian and vehemently against settlement and the Jews who have chosen to make their homes in Judea and Samaria. Clearly, the editorial policy of your publication allows for journalism that, from the outset, is not intended to be objective.
Accuracy, I would hope, however, is one of your requirements. While much of Mr. Friedman’s coverage of Ariel was fair, a portion of his information is based on rumor and hearsay. He not only presents misquotes but excels in presenting his one-sided view by mastering the art of “out of context.”
Blatant fallacies like “most settlers have had almost no direct contact with the Arabs who live near them” or that Ariel has a well-armed militia led by the city’s Mayor are just some of Mr. Friedman’s attempts at making his point, even if he must rely on untruths to do so. For the truth is that most Jewish residents of the towns and villages of Judea and Samaria have numerous relationships with their Arab neighbors, relationships based on commerce, shared experiences, and long-term friendships.
Some of Mr. Friedman’s distortions and inferences are even more offensive. He claims a dual system of justice prevails in the territories and that horrible things are happening to Palestinian Arabs. For minor infractions like throwing rocks and incendiary bombs at Jews, Arabs were actually forced to stand in the rain while the I.D.F tried to discover who it was that perpetrated these acts of attempted murder. He stresses that Jewish civilians have killed eighteen Arabs—with lengthy descriptions that barely touch on the fact that every case was self-defense. That the Palestinian Arabs have murdered twenty-one Jewish civilians is mentioned only in passing.
Moreover, Ariel does not have, nor has it ever had an armed militia. For a short time a citizen’s action group occasionally organized demonstrations in our area. Ariel’s Mayor Ron Nachman was never involved in this group and in fact, has been instrumental in persuading them to cease their demonstrations and disband.
Mr. Friedman based his allegations on the opinions of Knesset Member Dede Zucker. Mr. Zucker represents less than 5% of the Israeli public and like Robert Friedman, is known for his pro-Palestinian bias. Had there been any truth to the vicious lie that Mayor Nachman was the leader of this fictitious armed militia, he would be in prison today, not heading the largest and fastest growing city in Samaria.
Ron Nachman is the young and dynamic leader of the fastest-growing new city in Israel. His efforts have contributed substantially to the growth and development of the only homeland of the Jewish people. One would expect a prestigious publication like The New York Review to be more concerned about responsible journalism. It would seem that a retraction and an apology to Mayor Nachman are in order.
Mr. Friedman was honest about his personal viewpoint and his article makes his prejudices abundantly clear. We can only hope that your readers are sufficiently familiar with Mr. Friedman’s political opinions to realize that this article is his personal reflection and has little to do with the realities of the Arab-Israeli dispute in the administered territories of Judea and Samaria.
Assistant to the Mayor
Municipal Council of Ariel
Robert I Friedman replies:
If you can’t win a political argument on its merits, smear your opponent with charges of being a PLO sympathizer. It’s a common tactic of right-wing polemicists in Israel and it is crudely used here by Dina Shalit. If I had gone to Ariel talking as Shalit falsely claims I did, I doubt I would have been invited back for a second round of interviews. In fact, I never volunteered any of my own political views to Shalit, who arranged my interviews with Ariel’s mayor, Ron Nachman, as well as with the leaders of Ariel’s militia (they call it a “citizen’s action group”). The militia leaders candidly told me they intended to continue their attacks on local Arabs until the Israeli army crushes the intifada—a fact they like to publicize in Israel to put pressure on Shamir.
Although Shalit writes accusingly about bias and error in my article, she doesn’t point out one mistake, one misquote, or a single example of statements taken out of context. All of my interviews with Ariel’s citizens were tape-recorded, including my interview with the leaders of the town’s militia, an interview that Shalit attended and contributed to.
Now Shalit claims that Ariel doesn’t harbor a militia. However, Ariel’s Ku Klux Klan-style armed raids on neighboring Arabs have been extensively documented by Israeli and American reporters, as well as by Israeli police and Knesset members. Since the publication of my article, which recounted a number of specific attacks on local Arabs by Ariel’s citizenry, the settlement’s hotheads have been busy.
On May 30, marauding settlers from Ariel rampaged through a village located one hundred yards from Ariel and shot a sixteen-year-old Palestinian girl to death. Palestinian witnesses and Israeli news reports said thirty to forty settlers from Ariel entered the village and set fire to wheat fields and olive groves while indiscriminately shooting into the air. The girl was shot in the chest when she left her house to see what was happening. She was the five-hundredth Palestinian fatality of the intifada.
On June 3, Ariel’s mayor Ron Nachman was criticized even by Likud party leaders when he proposed that Arab workers entering Ariel be forced to wear yellow tags identifying them as “alien workers.” Nachman backed down after Israeli critics compared the tags to the yellow Stars of David that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany. The US State Department also protested the tags, calling the idea “undemocratic.”
On June 21, about five hundred armed mourners at Ariel, enraged over the killing of a comrade by a Palestinian, attacked Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s motorcade when he came to Ariel to pay his respects. The settlers then went into a nearby Arab village, shooting and stoning the residents, according to Israeli press reports. Shortly after the funeral, Israeli police arrested a settler who shot and seriously wounded two Arab road workers as he drove through a busy Tel Aviv highway junction.
On September 25, Israeli police questioned eight settlers from Ariel on suspicion of firebombing Israeli property and stoning settlers to stir up anti-Arab sentiment. Israel Radio, quoting Israel’s northern district police spokesman Gideon Arbel, reported that the settlers, pretending to be marauding Arabs, had attacked Israeli settlers and hurled a firebomb on an Israeli-owned car as a pretext to launch “counterattacks” against Arab villages. The Israeli press also reported that Ariel settlers had stepped up vigilante attacks against Arabs in the northern part of the West Bank. According to New York Newsday, Ron Nachman called the allegations “a bit of a fantasy. I just can’t believe it.” This is the same Ron Nachman who told me as he looked at an Arab village from his balcony: “Every house will be destroyed if they don’t watch it!”
Shalit’s ridiculous contention that Jews and Arabs of “Judea and Samaria have numerous relationships…based on commerce, shared experiences, and long term friendships” might work with the synagogue audiences in America, to whom Nachman periodically talks in order to raise money for Ariel. But even Shamir would admit that relations between West Bank settlers and their Arab neighbors are miserable.
The dual system of justice that prevails on the West Bank has been documented in great detail in studies by Jerusalem’s former deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti, Israel’s Deputy Attorney General, Yehudit Karo, and human rights groups in Israel and abroad. The incident I described in which Arabs in Bidya were forced to sit in a freezing drizzle by Israeli soldiers was not, as Shalit inaccurately infers, a punishment for stone-throwing. As I wrote, the Arabs were forced to sit in a schoolyard as an Israeli tax collector confiscated the IDs of Arabs who had not paid their taxes. Although Shalit says Jewish civilians killed eighteen Arabs in self-defense during the intifada, one settler responsible for the death of an Arab has already been convicted of manslaughter, another settler is being tried for murder, and Gush Emunim leader Rabbi Moshe Levinger of Kiryat Arba is being tried for manslaughter and destruction of property in a Jerusalem district court. Nearly seven hundred Arabs have been killed by the Israeli army and by Israeli settlers during the intifada. That is not a perception or an opinion but a hard, brutal fact.