Excluding Jerusalem’s Old City, Hebron is the most incendiary of all the cities Israel conquered in June 1967. In Hebron, the settlers launched a plan to gradually take over places the government had intended to exchange in peace talks. The tension between Muslims and Jews – in Hebron in general, and around the Tomb of the Patriarchs in particular – led to killing on both sides. Dividing Hebron into two sections in the Oslo Accords didn’t lessen the conflict. Since the start of the current wave of terror last October, terrorism’s center of gravity has shifted from Jerusalem to Hebron, and the security forces are required to make considerable, persistent efforts to keep a lid on it.
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However, at least one group, backed by political patrons – or even soldiers – isn’t interested in quiet in Hebron. The settlers who lead invasions into Palestinians’ homes and seize their lands will do anything to provoke the Palestinians and Israeli authorities, and foment unrest.
The settlers’ occupation of two empty buildings near the Tomb of the Patriarchs last Thursday wasn’t merely exercising real estate rights, as the settlers claimed. It was poking a finger in the eye of the Palestinians, the Israel Defense Forces – which is the sovereign in the occupied territories – and the government. The invaders knew full well that the security forces would be sent to evacuate them. They needed images of their evacuation to glorify themselves in their internal political struggle.
Ministers from the Habayit Hayehudi and Likud parties enlisted to support the invaders, contrary to the government’s policy – which was represented almost single-handedly by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who may have backed Ya’alon by saying “We’re all committed to respect the law,” was alarmed by the pressure and promised the settlers that only paperwork stood between them and the properties they had occupied. The prime minister’s aides tried to placate the settlers and praised their “courageous resistance to terrorism.” This was a cowardly statement that ignores reality and stems mainly from Netanyahu’s fear of popular political rivals Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, who are undermining him.
Jewish settlement in Hebron, including home invasions, has constituted a decisive contribution to terrorism. Even if the prime minister has forgotten Baruch Goldstein and the 29 Palestinians he murdered at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994, Netanyahu, more than anyone else, keeps accusing the Palestinian Authority of incitement against Israel and responsibility for igniting the area.
In fear of the political dangers regarding himself, Netanyahu is oblivious to the dangers awaiting Israel. The signs of the international front being formed against Israel are mounting: the U.S. administration’s public objection to Israel’s double standards in enforcing the law in the territories; the Palestinian Authority’s move to bring about a UN Security Council resolution classifying settlements as illegal; and Brazil’s refusal to accept the settlers’ head, Dani Dayan, as ambassador – these are only some of the signs.
Instead of responding to these developments, Netanyahu is busy groveling to the settlers. The price for this will be paid by all Israelis.