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West Bank Shooting: Why It Pays To Read Hebrew

West Bank Shooting: Why It Pays To Read Hebrew

Analysis by Sol Salbe

It's the headline I dread to read on turning my PC on but, there it was on Tuesday morning on ABC Online: Two killed, five wounded in West Bank ambush. It got worse-the number rose to three and a careful check indicated that all three killed were civilians. In the interest of accuracy: Yes, they were settlers who had no business being there but I have been on record enough times in the past endorsing the view of B'Tselem on the subject. For the umpteenth time all civilians, not just the innocent ones, should be off limit in war.

There are lots of reasons to hate getting this sort of news. Quite apart from hating the bloodshed I know that every such attack undermines the forces of peace in Israel. And the Pavlovian counter attack undermines the forces of peace in Palestine.

Nobody likes the Cassandras who have been warning about such attacks being proven right. Such attacks were inevitable given Israel's behaviour but I would have preferred to have been proven wrong.

Nevertheless, this attack was fortunately "too small to destroy process of calm" and with other material to post not a high priority to comment on. It is a fundamental tenet of Middle East politics that you are what you read. If you read the right-wing Jerusalem Post your view will be different than if your major source is Haaretz. And generally speaking, almost every Hebrew source will be more open as to what really goes than an English-language one.

I had considered translating Rami Yitzhar, the editor of the Israeli News Web site Einyan Merkazi (sorry Hebrew only).

Yitzhar is no friend of the Palestinians. As you can see he'd be happy to see the perpetrators "terminated." But he does value the truth. Criticising the settlers who blame Sharon and the disengagement for the attack he wrote:

"The Palestinian murderers will be arrested or terminated. Don't worry: they deserve it. But it's absolute claptrap to blame the disengagement. The West Bank hypocrites are screeching that it's all the result of the disengagement. Oh no it isn't.

"There is only one aspect which they are right about: it is Arik Sharon's fault. But it's a different reason than the one they provide. Sharon is guilty because he lets the security forces push the Palestinians into the corner in such away that their only way out is through despicable acts of murder.

"In the weeks since the disengagement Israel has arrested hundreds of Palestinians. We don't have the exact number but it is around 700. Did the Army , the General Security Service, [Defence Minister Shaul] Mofaz or Sharon think that that there will be no response to such a wave of arrests especially when there is no sign that Israeli operation are coming to an end? And we haven't mentioned the wave of terminations of which we apparently have only seen the beginning. [Yitzhar is using the colloquial 'khisul' rather than the official 'targeted assassination'.-translator]

"I am not trying to dispute the wisdom of the security forces attack on the Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the West bank. But it is the height of stupidity not to expect a response from the Palestinian side…"

But shortly afterwards I saw something similar in Amos Harel's commentary in Haaretz in Hebrew. A quick check - the same piece of analysis is in English. No need to translate anything. But in retrospect I should have checked more carefully.

Quite a few hours later I receive the news summary from my friends in a Jewish Voice for Peace in San Francisco.

This was Mitchell Plitnick's introduction: (direct e-mail, no link available yet)

A shooting attack near a major Israeli settlement on the West Bank drew a harsh response from Israel, which closed major roads in the southern West Bank. Indications at the time of this writing are that Israel will soon reopen those roads after some slight rebuke from the United States. Absurdly, the US hinted that Israel should back off while also saying that Israel had the right to 'defend itself'. While that is obviously true, we are never going to get anywhere until the international community states firmly that collective punishment like this is not self-defence.

In a way, Yossi Beilin of Meretz makes a similar point in the article below from today's Ha'aretz. Beilin points out the self-defeating nature of such draconian measures, as they only increase the numbers of Palestinians willing, even eager in their hopeless ness and rage, to engage in murderous acts. Further, the big show of the Gaza withdrawal amounts to little gain when Israel is simultaneously undermining Mahmoud Abbas' efforts to create a unified and accountable Palestinian government (albeit one firmly controlled by Fatah, a major Abbas goal, but also one which recent West Bank elections confirm is consistent with the will of the Palestinian majority) which can control the attacks. Abbas can only do this if the people believe that his program has some hope of success. As long as the Sharon government continues to undermine those efforts with unilateral actions extrajudicial executions and sharp crackdowns in the Occupied Territories, Abbas is doomed to failure.

I started to wonder why Plitnick didn't refer to Harel's commentary. I took another check and then the penny dropped. For some reason some of the background information wasn't deemed worthy of translation.

Here is the relevant part in English:

"And while most of the Palestinian public now has reservations about suicide attacks inside the Green Line, the settlers are considered legitimate targets. Settlements are still spread throughout the West Bank, expansion is continuing and a peaceful solution seems a long way off."

This is more or less the same as the Hebrew but the crucial next sentence had been dropped:

"There is another factor that the Israelis tend to forget. As far as the Palestinians are concerned the ledger remains open. It is a weekly occurrence for some of those on Israel's wanted list or ordinary civilians to be killed in Israeli operations designed to arrest them. The terror organisations see themselves as having the right to respond to what they regard as Israeli aggression especially as the Palestinian Authority doesn't go out of its way to stop them."

Israel responded with the usual way: it cut off discussion with the PA, reintroduced restriction on Palestinian travel on roads etc. Even the state department didn't think it was particularly wise as the Associated Press reported:

"While affirming an Israeli right to self-defence, the State Department on Monday chided Israel for imposing travel restrictions on West Bank Palestinians in response to a terror attack.

In a message also delivered privately by Lt Gen William Ward, the US security envoy in the region, the State Department said it continued to ask the Israeli government 'to take steps to ease the daily plight of the Palestinian people."

The same view was taken by the leader of Meretz-Yachad, the country's major left-wing opposition party, Yossi Beilin who "lambasted on Monday the government's reaction to the shooting attack in Gush Etzion that killed three and wounded another seven on Sunday, saying it was playing into the hands of the Palestinian terrorists.

"The government's reaction is the Pavlovian reaction, the much expected reaction which plays exactly to the tune of the Palestinian terror groups," Beilin told Israel Radio.

Both the Israeli left and the right warned that "the disengagement would be interpreted as an escape from terror, and that the terrorism would pass from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank," he said. But the left insisted that "without immediate tight cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, what will happen would be worse than before the pullout from Gaza."

Instead of tightening cooperation, Beilin said, "[Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon cancels meeting with [PA Chairman] Mahmoud Abbas, [Defence Minister Shaul] Mofaz ends all defence cooperation with the Palestinians, we're bringing back the curfews and the roadblocks."

This in turn, Beilin said, increases hatred and will for revenge among Palestinians. "The Hamas and Islamic Jihad are rubbing their hands with delight - this is exactly what they wanted to happen as a result of yesterday's attack.

We are returning to 2002- 2003 with eyes open wide before the mistake," he said, referring to the height of the second Palestinian Intifada."

Beilin's views need to be heeded. But you are unlikely to come across them. A check of Google News for his name suggests that apart from Haaretz and two South African sites your best chance is in Hebrew. The only exceptions are publications of the extreme right in Israel who regard his views as self-evidently wrong and therefore publicise them widely as the way to attack people like him. As I said you are what you read.


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