Bearing Witness in the West Bank

Kobi Wolf/Contact Press Images
Israeli soldiers detaining a Palestinian during clashes at a protest, Hebron, West Bank, February 2018

On June 2, 1980, three members of an offshoot of the right-wing Israeli settler movement, a terrorist group that became known as the Jewish Underground—Menachem Livni, Uzi Sharabaf, and Shaul Nir, all West Bank settlers—placed bombs under the cars of the Palestinian mayors of Ramallah, Bireh, and Nablus. The mayor of Nablus, Ghassan Shakaa, lost both his legs; Kareem Khalaf, the mayor of Ramallah, lost a foot. A rumor circulated that Menachem Livni worked at the military governor’s office in Ramallah. If so, I must have seen him there. When I heard what he had done and saw his picture, I wondered at the incongruity of his innocent-looking face.

The three were apprehended in 1984 and convicted in 1985 after another attack, which killed three Palestinian students at the Islamic College in Hebron. They received life sentences, but these were commuted by Israeli president Chaim Herzog. In 1990 they were released from prison, to the cheers of Jewish settlers and no real show of public protest. Menachem Livni now produces cabernet sauvignon at his winery in the settlement of Kiryat Arba next to Hebron.

After the bombings, Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights NGO, met with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and urged an investigation of settler violence in the West Bank. In 1981 a committee to carry one out was formed by the Israeli attorney general, headed by his deputy, Judith Karp. The Karp Report: On the Investigations of Suspicions Against Israelis in Judea and Samaria, published in 1984, described numerous acts of violence carried out by Jewish settlers against Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank, including assaults, destruction of property, armed threats, shootings, obstructed access to places of employment, and attacks on schoolchildren. It was not followed by any significant change in the ways settler violence was addressed by the Israeli police and security services.

Such criminal behavior is more widespread now than it was in the 1980s. Then, the Israeli army was solely responsible for security and the pursuit of criminals in the West Bank. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1995, security has been shared between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), with the latter restricted to Area A, which constitutes only 18 percent of the Palestinian territory. The violence takes place mainly in Area C, where the Palestinian police cannot operate. Yet even within their jurisdiction, the PA police, with whom the Israeli security forces coordinate, do not assist Palestinian citizens during army or settler raids.

During the first intifada, which lasted from 1987 to 1993, Palestinians in the West Bank confronted the settlers who tried to intimidate Arab farmers. Not so anymore. Now the farmers are on their own, except when solidarity groups like Ta‘ayush, the Arab-Jewish Partnership, come to…

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