People and Politics / Too close a shave for justice

 By Akiva Eldar, 01/02/2003

A petition by a new group calling itself the "Forum of Holocaust survivors and descendants to halt the deterioration of Israeli humanism" is cautiously maneuvering between the murder of the yeshiva students in Otniel and Holocaust denial in the Arab world, between the horrors of the occupation and the stories of abuse of Palestinians by soldiers and settlers.

"Palestinian terror is a despicable crime," says the petition by Zvi Gil, the forum coordinator, and journalist Raoul Teitelbaum, immediately following that obvious statement with "we cannot clear our conscience in light of the mass, arbitrary destruction of civilians' homes, uprooted olive trees, and orchards shaved to the ground. We cannot accept the extensive disruptions of daily life and abuse, for its own sake or not, at the checkpoints."

Since the petition first began making the rounds on December 15, dozens of Holocaust survivors and descendants have been adding their names daily. They agree that "Israeli society is descending into a quagmire of violence, brutality, disrespect for human rights, and contempt for human life." They agree that "domination of another people against its will contradicts the lessons of the Holocaust, morally, humanely, and politically."

Among those who have signed are Prof. Hannah Jablonsky from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, one of the world's leading researchers in the field of Holocaust survivors, and Aryeh Barnea, principal of Gymnasia Herzliya and the founder of Lapid, a movement of Holocaust researchers.

Gil says that authors Savyon Liebricht and Miriam Akiva have signed, as have actors Gila Almagor and Shmuel Atzmon. Nava Semel, Ofra Gelbert-Avni, Benny Handel, Dr. Gad Kenar, and Dr. Yehudith Feuer have all joined the call, "based on the ruthless lessons of life we have experienced," for Israel to liberate itself from the occupation.

All refer to the Holocaust as "an element in Israeli identity" and warn the conflict with the Palestinians is not only turning Israel into a place where it is dangerous to live, but making Jewish communities worldwide insecure.

The petition organizers asked in the past for a meeting with then-chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, explain their views. They never received an answer.

Haircut practice

Two weeks ago, a letter was quoted in these pages in which a Military Police investigator asked B'Tselem, the human rights monitoring group, to find four Palestinians who complained about some soldiers at a checkpoint who stole their money. It very quickly was discovered that one of the Palestinians was easy to find - he was in the Megiddo detention center for Palestinians arrested in recent months. The Military Police investigator also wanted B'Tselem to help it with some translation work. B'Tselem people thought the investigator's letter was the height of arrogance, but then Najib Abu Rakiyeh, a B'Tselem field worker found a new letter from a Military police investigator.

The army detective (his name is known to this reporter) reports to Abu Rakiyeh that another complaint has come to the Military Police, from two Palestinians saying they were used as human shields during IDF searches. But this time, the investigator doesn't make do with asking the B'Tselem people to find the Palestinian complainants. The investigator, a sergeant major in the Military Police, wants Abu Rakiyeh to take the Palestinians' "detailed testimony about the incident." Just to make sure B'Tselem understands what he wants, he added to the letter a photocopy of B'Tselem's own petition to the High Court of Justice regarding IDF violations of the court order banning "neighborhood practice," in which Palestinians who live near wanted suspects are used as human shields while the army makes the arrest.

Before the B'Tselem people could recover from that absurdity, the organization's legal adviser, Yael Stein, received another letter, this time from the IDF Spokeswoman's Office. In response to B'Tselem questions about a case of soldiers abusing Palestinians in Hebron, the head of the assistance department, Capt. Henrietta Levy, "calls" on B'Tselem field researchers "to talk with the relevant authorities in the IDF to help locate the soldiers involved in the case, so it can be investigated."

They are having a difficult time trying to decide at the B'Tselem offices whether to laugh or scream. Someone proposed that Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon grant lieutenant's bars to the head of B'Tselem's field work team in Hebron, Mussa Abu Hashash, so the cooperation he gets from "the relevant IDF authorities," isn't the usual "get out of here before I throw you in the calaboose."

In any case, according to evidence taken by Hashash, the four soldiers the IDF can't seem to find, walked into a barbershop in H2, the Palestinian part of Hebron, four weeks ago, today. One of the soldiers ordered the owner of the barbershop, Bassem Masawde, 24, to sit in one of the barber chairs. The soldier then began to shave Masawde's head with the electric razor. Masawde tried to ask what the soldier was doing, and was smacked and told to be silent. The soldier kept shaving, ignoring Masawde's request to stop. When he finished cutting off Masawde's hair, the soldier ordered Wayal Abu Rumeila, 19, who was in the barber shop at the time, to sit in the barber chair, and he too was given a close-cut hair cut by the soldier.

Then, say the eyewitnesses, the soldier approached the 19-year-old with a bottle of shampoo, and ordered the youth to open his mouth. When Rumeila refused, the soldier struck him with a metal bucket in the shop, knocking Rumeila to the floor with a bloody nose, crying. The soldier kicked him in the stomach, saying if Rumeila didn't shut up, the soldier would shoot him in the head. The entire time, the other three soldiers were slapping around three other Palestinians in the barber shop - and one of the soldiers grabbed Bilal Al Jerby, and using Jerby as a shield, and Jerby's shoulder as a resting place for his rifle barrel, began shooting at children who started throwing stones.

This horrifying testimony, was sent, as usual, to the IDF by B'Tselem. Now the IDF wants B'Tselem to find the suspected soldiers.

If not for the international interest in the death of Shadeen Abu Hilja, perhaps B'Tselem's people would be searching on behalf of the IDF for the soldier who shot her, as well. Abu Hilja, 60, was shot dead on October 11, while sitting on her porch and embroidering. Her husband, a doctor, and her son, a university lecturer, were also wounded by the burst of bullets fired from a military jeep at them.

It is possible that because he knows that President Bush is personally waiting for the results of the inquiry into how Abu Hilja, an internationally known peace activist, was killed, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon decided to send the inquiry results back to the Judge Advocat General's office for more investigation. According to a military source, the report Ya'alon received on the incident said the woman was killed by a "stray bullet." The Hilja family is saving all 15 bullets fired at them from the jeep.

Sharon's decent Palestinian

According to the plan announced by Sharon at the Herzliya conference, if Arafat were to be so good as to evaporate and a decent Palestinian is named prime minister, it will be possible to discuss a Palestinian state. When discussing Palestinians whom Sharon might choose as prime minister of Palestine, people usually mention Mahmud Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen. So, it's interesting to see what Abu Mazen thinks about the likelihood Sharon will be reelected prime minister of Israel.

In a long interview that appeared last week in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, while visiting Abu Dhabi,. Abu Mazen said "Sharon wants war, and the march toward peace is bound to remove him as it removed Netanyahu before him." He explains that the Israeli public is focused on security, but the Likud doesn't have an answer to the Palestinian question.

He details the strategy he is recommending to the Palestinians: "Sharon is unfit for political work, but we must not allow him to lure us into his battlefield. We must lure him into the political arena."

Abu Mazen agrees with his interviewer's prediction that Sharon will be reelected and proposes preparing for it. He says the election of Sharon reflects the internal "contradiction" in Israel. "A large percentage of Israelis want peace, but they also want security. This may be contradictory, but that is the nature of the Israeli people.... Many of them want security and many want peace. In fact, most of the Israelis approve of the idea of a Palestinian state. The natural result of this is peace, and we must attract Sharon to the peace process and the negotiation table, at which time his lack of interest in peace will be exposed."

Asked by the interviewer if he really is the Palestinian closest to Sharon, Abu Mazen says he won't be offering Sharon a bargain basement solution to the Palestinian issue. "The issue is much deeper than how close I am," he says. "We have demands that will not be surrendered. When we went to Camp David, we had a vision and we still cling to it. We want the land occupied in 1967 in accordance with UN Resolutions 242 and 338. We want Arab Jerusalem and want Israel to acknowledge its responsibility for the plight of refugees and guarantee them the right of return." That's no different from what Israel could have received from Arafat since Camp David in 2000.

By Akiva Eldar