Opinion |

The Palestinian Heroes of Hebron

The IDF won’t admit that Palestinian farmers need a military escort to work their own lands in order to keep the settlers from running riot.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Kiryat Arba's security coordinator on the Jabari family's land.
Kiryat Arba's security coordinator on the Jabari family's land.Credit: Screenshot
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

When you say extreme violence carried out by settlers with official encouragement, you think of Hebron. (With apologies for leaving out of the discussion all the other settlements that enjoy a full measure of transfer-advocating violence. And to the “moderate” settlements Efrat, Ariel, Givat Ze’ev and their ilk, whose land-gluttony is supported by the official, bureaucratic violence that allocated private and public lands for the construction of middle-class suburbs for Jews — Israelis and recent immigrants — while destroying the Palestinian space.)

When you say Hebron, you think of the Old City, but you forget the neighborhoods scattered along the road on which the lords of the land travel from Kiryat Arba to the ghost town they created together with the Israel Defense Forces. All of the Palestinians who have remained — some only because they can’t afford to leave, others out of a determination not to abandon the place — are no less than heroes. Each and every one of them deserves international recognition for adhering to humanity in the shadow of one of the coarsest mutations of the Jewish people.

Kiryat Arba is built “stain after stain” of well-kept neighborhoods on all that the Jewish mind defined as “state land” or expropriated for “military needs.” In between and around the stains are Palestinian houses, orchards, vineyards and fields, on territory that Israel failed to convert into divine real estate.

For that reason, the people who live alongside the road, closed to Palestinian traffic, between Kiryat Arba to the center of Hebron, are also heroes, as I learned last week from my acquaintance with the family of Abdul Karim Jabari. (Haaretz Feb. 19). This heroism bears the repeat mention of their story.

Is there anything the Jabaris did not endure? A prohibition, that persisted for around six years, on accessing and working their farmland. The erection by settlers of an illegal structure that occupied a significant portion of this area — which the Israeli authorities demolish repeatedly, only to be rebuilt again and again. Physical assaults, damage to their trees, the disruption of their work and astronomical property taxes.

On January 19, three weeks after the government said that Kiryat Arba had no authority to collect arnona local property tax from the Jabaris, the army raided their home on the pretext of searching for weapons. Really? It was predicated on intelligence, I was told.

False intelligence, that is, because no one was arrested and the IDF Spokesman’s Office did not report any confiscations. All we can do is to wonder who supplied the false information. In addition, on February 8 Kiryat Arba’s security coordinator discovered that Jabari was plowing his land, decided that it had not been coordinated and ordered soldiers to stop the plowing.

I asked the IDF Spokesman’s Office to respond to my conclusion that the army carried out the raid on the order of the settlers, in accordance with their clear and known desire to embitter the Jabaris’ lives so that the family would abandon its land and home (to ease expanding the Givat Ha’avot neighborhood). I didn’t receive a response. I also requested the name of the commander who stipulated that the Jabaris must coordinate their farmwork with the army and the reason for the decision.

The IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories in fact said no such coordination was required, but that a military chaperone was “recommended.” COGAT will not admit, of course, that the escort is recommended in order to obtain the “approval” of the settlers and to keep them from running riot.

In its response, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said: “It should be emphasized that the IDF operates in Judea and Samaria in a civilian environment, in which civilian bodies have a defined role during operational incidents in the area. This interface is conducted in accordance with rules and procedures. The security coordinators are the authorized security body and the interface with them is conducted according to the regulations and procedures, but they have no command authority over soldiers.”

To understand this riddle of a response and the fact that the case of the Kiryat Arba security coordinator was not an isolated incident, we must turn to the latest report from Breaking the Silence: “The High Command — Settlers’ influence on IDF conduct in the West Bank,” which is based on soldiers’ testimonies. A few examples follow.

The Kiryat Arba security coordinator with Israeli soldiers on the Jabari family's land.Credit: Screenshot

A staff sergeant who served in the Hebron area in 2007 said: “The civilian security coordinator is like Military Intelligence in the territories: You’re notified about a serious incident, and then you hear your officer get a phone call from the civilian security coordinator. In a way the civilian security coordinator is totally an extension of the army.”

A sergeant first class who served in Ma’on in 2013 said: “The civilian security coordinator said, ‘I am the commander on the field, I give the orders, when the army arrives I direct it.’”

Another sergeant first class who served in the Jordan Valley in 2013 said: “Security coordinators are practical; each one is the sovereign in his land.”

A staff sergeant who served in Ofra in 2010 told of escorting Palestinians during the olive harvest into a grove that was trapped inside the settlement.

When asked who determined how much time the Palestinians would be given to harvest their olives, he said: “The civilian security coordinator. He’s the only one who knows the issue. Only after the fact do you understand who the civilian security coordinator is and what it means that he’s the civilian security coordinator. He’s part of the settlement, he protects it; he’s against the Palestinians. The Defense Ministry pays him but he’s not their employee. You have no authority over him but he has some kind of authority over you. In general, they tell you, ‘Do what the civilian security coordinator tells you.’˝

“Who told you that?”

“The company commanders. And it is the civilian security coordinator who says where the Palestinians should be and where they shouldn’t be.”

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