Palestinians in the West Bank fiercely reprimanded Israeli Arabs on social media on Saturday, after Israeli media reported that Arabs in northern Israel helped police find the four escaped Palestinian prisoners.
The four fugitives were captured on Friday night and early Saturday morning in Nazareth and Umm al-Ghanam, reportedly with assistance from locals. Some residents of Jenin called on people from Nazareth to stay away from the West Bank city altogether until and unless measures were taken against the so-called snitches, although others sought to turn down the rhetorical flames.
The Israeli reports claiming that members of a Nazareth family gave police information that led to the capture of two of the fugitives in the vicinity of Mount Precipice, just south of the city, reached Jenin quickly. True or not, they escalated rapidly into verbal attacks on the family and on all Nazarenes.
Jamal Zubeidi, who has been incarcerated in Israel eight times, is the uncle of Zakaria Zubeidi, who was apprehended early Saturday together with fellow fugitive Mohammed Aradeh. Jamal Zubeidi wrote on social media: “From today going forward, as far as I’m concerned [Arab citizens of Israel] are Israeli Arabs – Israeli Bedouin, Israeli Druze, Israeli Christians and Israeli Circassians – all their children serve in the Israeli army and [work] in Israeli defense companies, they’re proud of it, they wave the Israeli flag and sing ‘Hatikva,’” Israel’s national anthem. Jamal Zubeidi’s post made waves on social media, with many commenters arguing that there are Palestinians who collaborate in Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well.
One political and social activist who spoke to Haaretz on condition of anonymity said that the fact that the four recaptured escapees were not given protection and shelter by locals shocked the Palestinian community in the West Bank in general and in Jenin in particular. All six of the Palestinians who broke out of Gilboa Prison last Monday were from the Jenin area. “Everyone is downcast and they feel an anger and frustration that is hard to explain,” the activist said. He said the sense of a shared fate from May, when the military flare-up between Israel and Gaza coincided with unrest between Jews and Arabs within Israel, has dissipated. “The Green Line now seems much thicker than the concrete separation barrier,” he added.
Members of the Nazareth family that allegedly gave police the information that led to the capture of two of the fugitives deny any connection to the incident and say they were never in contact with the police. They called the accusations against them a terrible libel and said that the internet only added fuel to the flames. They also stressed that no harm has come to the family as a result of the accusations.
Mohammed Sa’aida, a resident of Umm al-Ghanam whose father, Yusef, had been near where Zakaria Zubeidi and Mohammed Aradeh were apprehended Saturday, told Haaretz that the attempt to link villagers to their capture has adversely affected residents. “No one in the community thought [the escapees] were in the area,” he said.
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Mohammed Bitar Odeh, a social and political activist from Nazareth, believes the crisis, which exists mainly on social media, will blow over soon. “Even if there was a single case of a family giving information [to police], it’s impossible to impugn an entire population without examining the circumstances,” he said, adding that various interests are trying “to damage the close ties between us and our brothers in Jenin, but in the end, the residents of Nazareth don’t have to prove their loyalty to the rights of the Palestinian people to anyone.”
There have been suggestions that the reports of collaboration are part of a deliberate attempt to vilify Israeli Arabs and drive a wedge between them and the West Bank Palestinian population. According to human rights activist Mohammed Zeidan, “The events of the past days showed that to the Israel defense establishment, there is no difference whatsoever between Palestinian communities and communities within the Green Line – and that everyone is suspected of aiding the fugitives.”
Damage-control efforts in the form of solidarity rallies for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel are underway in Nazareth and other Arab communities. The Nazareth branch of the Hadash party issued a statement condemning the verbal attacks on the city’s residents: “There is no justification for a wild attack and the publication of names and photographs, with no grounding in reality, of supposed collaborators.” The announcement went on to say that “even if there was a single instance, it must not lead to an assault that transcends the borders of the state, inter alia by means of a blood libel spread by fictitious social media accounts, as was done in recent days.”