Saturday, December 26, 2009

Flare-Up of Violence

On Thursday Palestinian gunmen killed Meir Avishai Hai, 40, father of seven, in the northern West Bank. On Saturday IDF forces killed the three killers. What you make of this story depends upon who you are and what positions you held prior to the events, obviously. Yet it also works the other way: the kind of information you routinely take in impacts how you understand the story.

First, the NYT. Ethan Bronner, whom the Mondoweiss crowd has long since written off as hopelessly pro-Israel, puts all of what he sees as the essential elements in his first short paragraph, then gives two conflicting interpretations in the next two paragraphs, and then gives details about the events.
The Israeli military killed six Palestinians on Saturday, three in the West Bank whom it accused of killing a Jewish settler and three in Gaza who it said were crawling along the border wall planning an attack. It was the deadliest day in the conflict in nearly a year.
Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, called it “a sad day for Palestinians and their National Authority” and condemned the West Bank operation as an “assassination” and “an attempt to target the state of security and stability that the Palestinian Authority has been able to achieve.”
Maj. Peter Lerner, spokesman for Israel’s Central Command, which controls the West Bank, said that its forces had spent the past two days looking for the killers of the settler, Rabbi Meir Hai, a 45-year-old teacher and father of seven, who was shot dead on Thursday as he drove near his home in the settlement of Shavei Shomron.

The BBC's headline tells of Six Palestinians killed in West Bank, Gaza attacks. Who attacked? The headline doesn't say, and the short item wanders around the hill doing its best not to be clear about anything:

Israeli troops have killed six Palestinians - three in the Gaza Strip and three in the West Bank.

The Israeli military said three Palestinians suspected of trying to infiltrate from Gaza were killed in an air strike near the Erez crossing.

It is the largest number of deaths in a day since the Gaza conflict a year ago.

Separately, Israeli forces said they had killed three men - who were suspected of killing a Jewish settler - in the West Bank city of Nablus.

Palestinian sources in Nablus say two of those killed were militants from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party.

The faction was one of two groups which said they had killed the settler, a father of seven, two days ago - the first fatal shooting of an Israeli by militants in the occupied West Bank for eight months.

The item was later folded into a longer item in which the theme was how angry the Palestinians are at the Israelis. Palestinian leaders condemn Israeli raid in West Bank:

"This [Israeli] operation represents a dangerous escalation," Mr Fayyad said. He said the raid in Nablus "can only be seen in the context of targeting the security and stability that the Palestinian Authority has been able to bring about".

That would be Salam Fayad, the most moderate leader the Palestinians have ever had, not some firebrand Hamasnik - not that you'd ever know it from the BBC.

So far as I saw, the BBC never manages to mention the dead Israeli without reminding that he was a settler. As regular readers of this blog will recognize, human rights are a slippery thing, to be applied differently according to ethnicity and identity. A dead Palestinian may or may not have murdered a Jew, but the dead Jew most certainly was a settler, with the unspoken implication that his human rights are thereby diminished.

Then again, why complain about the BBC when we've got our very own B'telem? None of their people were on the scene, but they're already calling for the IDF to investigate itself on the accusation that its troops wrongfully executed innocent Palestinians:

An investigation into an overnight Israel Defense Forces operation in the West Bank city of Nablus early Saturday suggests that Israeli soldiers may have executed two of the three Palestinian militants who were killed, the left wing rights group B'Tselem said Saturday.

In the operation, the IDF killed three Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades operatives, whom officials said were responsible for a shooting attack on Thursday which killed 40-year-old father of seven Meir Hai of the settlement of Shavei Shomron. The troops surrounded the homes of the three and called for them to exit, and killed them when they refused to surrender.

Haaretz gives B'tselem space, but also quotes an IDF officer:

Meanwhile Saturday, a senior IDF officer rejected claims that the militants had been executed, telling Channel 10 news that "the soldiers called on the terrorist to surrender and turn himself in. He refused and hid in his room and sent his wife out toward us. In cases where there is a threat to our troops and a wanted militant refuses to surrender, IDF forces are permitted to open fire in order to neutralize the threat. I am pleased that none of our fighters were hurt, but the risk factor was very high in this operation."
Another senior IDF official told Israel Radio that the three militants had not fired at Israeli troops and that two of them were unarmed, but that the Israeli soldiers knew that the terror squad that carried out Thursday's attack, to which the three belonged, were highly skilled and had access to firearms and therefore posed a threat. He stressed that the operation was carried out in accordance with IDF regulations, and that the soldiers first fired protest dispersal ammunition, then fired at the walls, and only later fired at the militants.

Earlier, Friday's edition of Haaretz had some discussions that are totally absent in the non-Israeli media: what is the significance of Thursday's attacks? It turns out there were two roadblocks in the immediate vicinity of the site of the attack that were both recently removed. Depending upon your political views, this removal was either crucial, and encouraged the attackers, or totally irrelevant and had no connection to anything. None of the folks voicing opinions can know if they're right, of course, but the question is worth posing, which is why the foreign media doesn't. This little nugget, however, seems very important to me:
Over the past year, the number of terror attacks in the West Bank has dramatically decreased thanks mainly to the Shin Bet security service and IDF. However, IDF officials say attempts to carry out terror attacks continue, especially those perpetrated by local individuals working alone.

Anyone watching knows that matters on the West Bank have been getting dramatically better this year, yet cells of local Palestinians are trying incessantly to attack Israelis; we don't hear much about them because they're being thwarted. Kind of important, isn't it?

Finally, in Hebrew only, Ron Ben-Yishai, tries to figure out what's significant and what not. The dismantling of those two roadblocks: Ben-Yishai admits it didn't help, but expects the attackers could have attacked anyway by shooting from the roadside. At least one of the three attackers signed the agreement with the PA and Israeli authorities whereby he renounced terror and was let off Israel's list of target. Yes, but so did 400 others Palestinian terrorists, and most have indeed honored their signature. The IDF acted on its own yesterday, without coordinating with the PA's police forces except to notify them at the last moment so they should still uninvolved: yes, says Ben-Yishai, that wasn't really nice, but then maybe it's better that they obviously weren't involved so that the Palestinian populace not think their own police is cooperating in killing terrorists.

And so on.The difference between the reports in Haaretz and Y-net, on the one hand, and the non-Israeli media on the other, is that the Israelis are trying to understand the complexity of the situation. Not surprising, given that it's their fate. The outsiders offer a superficial story, more or less biased, but in any case offering only bits of the story. The dramatic bit, yes, but not the bits that explain what's going on.


Gavin said...

Whatever the real story Yaacov I think it's a bad thing that all three in the WB were killed. It suggests rather strongly that capture or arrest wasn't high on the agenda, and that suits the anti-Israeli mob.

Israel flunked a very good PR opportunity there. Under the existing scenario in the WB, where things have been pretty settled, it would have been better in my view to treat the killing of the settler as murder rather than terrorism. Work in with the PA, evacuate the nighbours & wait them out or use tear gas etc. Get international TV crews in to film everything, document all the evidence, and use the situation to your advantage.

Killing them solves nothing. It won't stop the next lot from trying and it won't make the WB any safer. It's a bit disappointing that yet another chance to score some PR points goes begging. These people were murderers & the IDF looks to have made them into victims with the way they handled it. It's bad tactics.

Regards, Gavin.

marek said...


I'm so sorry to disagree with you on every point. Killing them solved the basic problem of administering the basic survival justice and prevented adding 3 more potential candidates for future release demands. It will not make BBC, AP or any such any more biased. As for filming and documenting - any memories of the siege of the nativity church?

AKUS said...

A thoughtful and interesting article, Yakov. Gavin's comments don't wash, I'm afraid - first, we don't really know what happened, second, it is worth noting that Israel has taken one of the terrorists wives to hospital after she was wounded in the shoot out, third, they could have surrendered if they had wanted to, fourth, its that many fewer terrorists to exchange for Gilad or some future Israeli captive, fifth, the BBC etc. will never find anything positive to say about Israel's action in fighting terrorists so the PR aspect is moot.

Gavin said...

Nothing to be sorry about Marek. We can all see things from different perspectives & I'm not necessarily right. I don't believe that the concept of pre-emptive killing can be morally justified unless one is at war. Gaza is a war, the intifada was a war, the suicide bombing campaign was a war, but the WB has been reported as being the calmest year for decades and tactics sometimes need to change to reflect the political environment.

Cheers, Gavin

Victor said...


This is not a mere murder or "incident". With the removal of checkpoints and general climate on the ground of IDF withdrawals, the Palestinians are testing the situation. There are reports from across the settlements of lookouts coming in closer than they have in years, gathering information on security procedures, response times, traffic flows.

The situation is calm today because the IDF exterminated and jailed the leadership of Palestinian terror groups and enmeshed itself within the fabric of Palestinian life using checkpoints and full spectrum dominance. It was a hard won victory. Let's not forget how many lives, Arabs and Jews, were lost to achieve calm.

Don't kid yourself for a moment. The minute IDF forces start pulling out, the old cells which before were too scared to do anything regather and start planning. How far did they pull back? What units are involved? What checkpoints have been removed? How much freedom of movement do we have? Are they monitoring our communications? Are there drones in the air? Do we have access to weapons? If we throw rocks will there be a response? If we shoot at motorists at night will there be a response? If we shoot during the day will there be a response?

This is just the reality, and while Israel tries to please the Europeans and Americans, this is what happens; Jews will die, and then the Arabs who killed them will be killed in response, because if you don't go after them, the message it sends is that it's open season on Jews in the territories.

The one thing that Yaacov didn't mention is that these three terrorists didn't know who was in the car they targeted. It could have been a doctor on a way to visit a sick patient. It could have been an engineer developing cold fusion. It could have been a speaker from B'tselem going to encourage all the settlers to leave. The only thing they knew about their target, was that it was a Jew. It could have been me. It could have been Yaacov. It could have been any Jew. Why that particular Jew? Because he was there.

By the Palestinians own tribal law, the spilled blood had to be avenged. Anything less and you would see dozens of such "operations" all over the West Bank. Now, in the villages they will all know that if you kill a Jew, you will be killed. That's how things work there, and it's the only deterrence the people on the ground understand.

It's not over, of course. As long as the IDF keeps withdrawing, the Palestinians will keep getting more bold, testing their limits more and more. It has always been this way. Each time, the cost of returning the "calm" will be more lives lost, on all sides.

Victor said...

By the way, notice how no one has asked about the civil rights of those 150 Palestinians who were detained by PA forces. For what reason were they detained? How long will they remain detained? What conditions are they being held in? Do they have access to legal council? Where are they being held? Was torture used in their interrogations?

Gavin said...

It's always 'mere' murder Victor. Calling it a terrorist attack is minimising what is a brutal and unprovoked murder of an innocent person. Murder is the ultimate crime, even Palestinians have no time for murderers so why not treat it as murder.

Israel has been handing over authority & control to the PA, the PA have an absolute duty under international law to pursue murderers and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Don't they have the death penalty for murder?

The PA may not have done so, indeed they probably would have failed to do anything, but Israel appeared to have not given them a chance to prove themselves. If Israel played it right they could possibly have made enormous political capital out of the PAs failure to honour their end of the security deal. If they let the killers go... well they wouldn't be going far would they.

You can't keep going it alone Victor, politics is important too.


annie said...

Gavin, Israel never manages to make political capital out of anything for the simple reason that she is not allowed to by all those "neutral" observers like the international press, the UN and the rest of the alphabet soup of international "human rights" agencies.

Did Israel get any credit at all for withdrawing from Gaza? Did Israel get any sympathy for the rocketing and bombing of Sderot? Further back, how much sympathy was there during the intifada years when Israelis were being killed by the dozens every day? How much approval did Israel get when trying to avoid huge civilian casualties in Jenin?

I could carry on but I don't think the comment box is big enough.

As an Israeli citizen who frequently travels to Israeli villages in Judea and Samaria (I refuse to call them settlements) I am jolly glad the IDF identified and killed those terrorists so quickly. International opinion be damned. It's my life you're taking such generous risks with, mine and every other Israeli's - all for the sake of some dubious international approval which will never be forthcoming in any case.

In fact, all those international agencies can congratulate themselves for the fact that Israel now doesn't give much of a hoot what they think. If Israel had ever been given the benefit of the doubt, or been given the slightest smidgen of approval when it did do what international agencies wanted, then Israel might have been willing to try again. But as things stand now, with Israel being condemned no matter what she does, she might as well do what is convenient for her and not for anyone else.

Anonymous said...

My personal knee-jerk reaction in any case like this one is feeling deeply sorry for the men (and women?) who have to do the killing. I think killing in any context is abhorrent to any feeling human being and it will inevitably scar those who HAVE TO DO IT. Therefore as a general rule I think that even if they should make mistakes during an operation they should be treated with great respect especially if an investigation should prove necessary.

and to Gavin:
there was no lost opportunity for anything. The focus of the vast majority of media is on Israel as an evil giant, just read the review for this thing

can you imagine anybody ever taking the trouble of doing a similar job on the trouble of Israelis at the same time? I distinctly remember reports from Israel in the Wochenschau-en shown before movies in the 50s of Israeli farmers tilling their fields while being shot at - no theme for a graphic novel, that one and why? it wouldn't sell but we youngsters loved it at the time and why? because Israel was presented to us as the David at the time and no matter how much military might there might be by now one look at a globus could convince anyone that she is still the David but we get fed the Goliath-story again and again.

It is all so unjust, a foul heap of slander. The dishonesty is even heightened by the fact that the general feeling seems to be that one is fed up with the whole thing wants nothing but quiet but bad news sell papers and so the media keep milking it put always the same angle on it which is to create exasperation with those Israelis who just will not submit to getting killed and keep quiet about it.

Once the NYT book review equally praises a graphic novel about Israeli sufferings at the height of the suicide bombings or the Israeli farmers of 1956 I might be willing to think about finding fault with Israeli actions. As long as anything remotely like that doesn't happen, they are the wronged party which has to be backed - of course trying to find chinks in a terrible Catch 22 is OK but not by telling the Israelis they might have done better - that seems more than a bit unfair to me.