+972 Magazine » Haggai Matar http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Fri, 12 Feb 2016 14:31:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Israel revokes entry permits for dozens of Palestinian peace activists http://972mag.com/idf-revokes-entry-permits-for-dozens-of-palestinian-peace-activists/116825/ http://972mag.com/idf-revokes-entry-permits-for-dozens-of-palestinian-peace-activists/116825/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 17:46:00 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116825 Dozens of Palestinians active in joint peace groups will no longer be able to cross into Israel to give workshops on reconciliation and dialogue.

Palestinians enter the main checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians enter the main checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

The Israeli army’s Civil Administration, formerly known as the military government, recently informed dozens of joint Israeli-Palestinian peace organizations that it would retroactively revoke entry permits for Palestinian peace activists from the West Bank into Israel.

The change will affect veteran Palestinian activists, many of whom work or even manage peace organizations alongside their Israeli counterparts, and who have led workshops on peace, reconciliation, and dialogue in Israel for many years.

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In early January, Lt.-Col. Eyal Ze’evi of the Civil Administration updated the Peace NGOs Forum, which includes dozens of Israeli peace organizations, on the change in policy. Up until that point, Palestinian activists belonging to these groups would use three-month entry permits, which they would renew four times a year.

The Civil Administration — which despite its name is the military arm that manages many aspects of the day-to-day life of Palestinians living in the occupied territories — is charged with issuing entry permits. As part of the change in policy, entry to Palestinians will be limited to 180 days per year, they will not be able to enter the country during the first week following the month in which they entered, and will not be able to appeal a permit request that was rejected for security-related reasons.

The peace groups were surprised not only by the change in policy, but by the decision to retroactively implement the 180-day restriction, which effectively prevents Palestinian activists from receiving new entry permits in one fell swoop. The decision has led these groups to cancel dozens of workshops, speaking events, and dialogue groups scheduled for January and February.

Staff meetings, which generally take place in either Israel or the West Bank, can now only take place in the latter. It is worth mentioning that Israelis can enter Palestinian cities, and that peace and dialogue workshops for people of all ages are continuing on the Palestinian side.

“The whole point of these meetings, in pre-military academy programs and schools, for instance, is that they are joint meetings, which is precisely why this decision makes our activities difficult,” says Uri Ben Assa, from Combatants for Peace. “Our meetings include an Israeli and a Palestinian who tell their personal stories. The Palestinian describes how he used to be part of the cycle of violence — some of our Palestinian activists have been in prison — and how he came to the conclusion that violence is not the way, and that he wants to achieve his rights nonviolently. Young Israelis ask tough questions, which is good, and they receive direct and honest answers while getting another perspective of the situation.”

“If we generally have 10 Palestinians who speak Hebrew and were able to obtain entry permits, now all the work falls on one or two people from Jerusalem. We are forced to cancel our events.”

Pressing on despite the violence

The first signs of a change in policy by the Civil Administration appeared last November. Following a stabbing attack by a Palestinian resident of Hebron who entered Israel with a work permit, the administration froze all entry permits for Palestinians from the Hebron area, including the peace activists among them. Peace organizations see the move as part of the general political atmosphere, which includes stabbing, shooting, and vehicular attacks against Israelis, as well as attacks on left-wing NGOs by the government and right-wing groups.

Activists in the Parents Circle-Families Forum, a grassroots organization of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost family members to the conflict, believe that there are those who are afraid of the organization’s unique voice.

“Our goal is for people to hear Palestinians talk about their pain and bereavement, who explain how they do not wish to act out of revenge, but rather to promote nonviolence and reconciliation,” explains Doubi Schwartz, the Israeli general manager of the organization. “Today there are moles and different ways of hurting us through bureaucracy.”

Parents Circle Families Forum dialogue tent in Tel Aviv (photo: Henriette Chacar)

An activist with the Parents Circle-Families Forum speaks at a dialogue tent in Tel Aviv. (photo: Henriette Chacar)

Over the past few weeks, the Parents Circle-Families Forum has been forced to cancel dozens of meetings with 20-30 Palestinian activists. Another group of Palestinians that did not receiver permits will not be able to attend a tour of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, which was meant to provide the Palestinians with an understanding of the Jewish trauma from the Holocaust.

The groups point out that permits for Palestinian activists were already limited to three months, as opposed to six months for Palestinian laborers. The decision will not affect entry permits for all Palestinians, especially in light of the defense establishment’s recent request to grant entry permits to another 30,000 Palestinian workers. Only peace activists will face restrictions.

The organizations have been trying to fight the decision by contacting various people in the Civil Administration as well as members of Knesset. According to a response Schwartz received from the military body last week, the issue is being reevaluated, and the Civil Administration understands that “a comprehensive update often includes mishaps, each of which is assessed and from which we learn what needs to be implemented or changed.” The Civil Administration further clarified that “we have no intention of harming the forum’s activities or the meetings held by different organizations, and therefore we are working tirelessly to reach conclusions.”

The Civil Administration and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the unit charged with coordinating activities in the occupied territories, issued the following response:

The procedures for obtaining entry permits for different purposes that do not require an extended stay have recently been adjusted, and thus are issued for limited periods. In light of the many requests, the issue is being examined.

Let’s be clear: despite what the official response says, the procedures have not been adjusted. They have been changed completely.

Palestinians and Israelis take part in the yearly alternative Memorial Day service organized by Combatants for Peace. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinians and Israelis take part in the yearly alternative Memorial Day service organized by Combatants for Peace. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

“I am not really sure why this is happening, maybe in light of the security situation, or perhaps it stems from the fear of giving peace organizations entry permits, because who knows what may happen,” jokes Mazen Faraj, the Palestinian general manager of the Parents Circle-Families Forum, who has been entering Israel for the past 10 years and lives in Dheishe refugee camp near Bethlehem. “In my opinion it needs to be the exact opposite: the work of these organizations only helps bring about the end of the conflict, getting to know one another and reconciliation, rather than ignoring reality.”

In addition to the ongoing crisis, these organizations are beginning to prepare for the yearly alternative Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day, which has taken place in Tel Aviv for the past 11 years. Activists fear that the new policy may end up harming the event. Last year, the Samaria Settler Council tried to cancel the event and called on Defense Minister Ya’alon to rescind entry permits from all Palestinians who were scheduled to take part. “Every year we have trouble bringing people in, and we end up getting only half of the permits we need for the 150 invitees from the West Bank,” says Ben Assa. “Now that things have fundamentally changed, I have no idea what will happen.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Jerusalem court slams police over arrests of left-wing activists http://972mag.com/jerusalem-court-slams-police-over-arrests-of-left-wing-activists/116410/ http://972mag.com/jerusalem-court-slams-police-over-arrests-of-left-wing-activists/116410/#comments Fri, 29 Jan 2016 15:33:31 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116410 Jerusalem Magistate’s Court frees Israeli left-wing activists Ezra Nawi and Guy Butavia from house arrest, chastises police for not substantiating their suspicions against the pair.

Israeli left-wing activist Guy Butavia greets supporters at the Jerusalem Magistate's Court, January 21, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli left-wing activist Guy Butavia greets supporters at the Jerusalem Magistate’s Court, January 21, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Jerusalem Magistate’s Court freed Israeli left-wing activists Ezra Nawi and Guy Butavia from house arrest on Thursday, with Judge David Shaul Gabai Richter chastising police for not substantiating their suspicions against the pair.

Nawi and Butavia, activists with anti-occupation direct-action group Ta’ayush, were arrested following the broadcast of a right-wing hidden camera “sting,” on suspicion of making contact with a foreign agent (Palestinian security services) and accessory to manslaughter (a Palestinian man who died, presumably of natural causes, after he was exposed selling land to Israeli settlers).

On Thursday morning Gabai Richter rejected a police request to bar Nawi and Butavia from entering the West Bank or making contact with others connected to the case. The police appealed the decision on Friday.

Nawi and Butavia were released from house arrest earlier this week after the court found that police — which had been investigating the two over their alleged involvement in the death of a Palestinian man — could not even establish what the cause of the man’s death was, not to mention what connection the two activists had.

In his decision, Judge Gabai Richter said the following:

As to the reasonable suspicion necessary to hand down such a decision — I did not find anything to substantiate the central suspicions against the respondents. As a result … this nullifies the cause for arrest and release [to house arrest and conditional release].

The media spotlight on this case, and the fact that the case originated with an investigative news report, shows that there was no fear of obstruction in this case, and that there was fertile ground for obstruction of the investigation from the beginning, whether through the Internet, the media, or other means beyond our control…

It is known that this case was at the heart of a political controversy, and is being used by one side to attack the other. There was a concerted effort to refrain from doing so throughout the lengthy hearings, although the two sides made an effort to emphasize these aspects of the story, which were not necessarily relevant.

Moreover, I regret that the behavior of the two sides during the hearings was not friendly and at times even hurtful. The spirit of debate is part of the appearance of justice, is inseparable from its very essence, and must be protected at all costs. If the court must be forced to remind us of this, it will do so. This should be axiomatic, and it is a shame that it has been forgotten here.

This court must adopt the rhetorical question “why must I be bothered with politics,” which applies to each of the suspects , and [I say that] on the basis of legal evaluations alone.

Nawi spent two weeks in detention (Butavia was arrested a week after Nawi) following an investigative report aired by Channel 2′s flagship investigative show, “Uvda.” The show, which aired in the beginning of January, accused the two — along with B’Tselem fieldworker Nasser Nawaja’h — of informing the Palestinian security services about a Palestinian man who allegedly trying to sell West Bank land to Israeli settlers. Selling West Bank land to Israelis is a capital offense under Palestinian law, although the PA has not carried out an execution in over a decade.

Nawi was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport as he was on his way out of the country three days after the show aired, although there was no legal obstacle to him leaving the country. He says he was leaving due to threats and attacks against him as a result of right-wing activists publishing his home address.

Palestinian anti-occupation activist Nasser Nawajah is accompanied by Israeli attorney Gabi Lasky (right) as he enters the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, January 20, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian anti-occupation activist Nasser Nawajah enters the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, January 20, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The court initially put all three cases under a sweeping gag order, prevented Nawi from meeting with his attorney, and tried to paint the three activists as responsible for attempted murder. Moreover, the police did not adhere to the District Court’s order to release Nawaj’ah, instead removing him from Israeli sovereign territory and delivering him to a military court in the West Bank.

Three weeks after the report aired on Uvda, it seems that the police still have no evidentiary basis for its suspicions against the three activists.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Israel bans Palestinian prisoners from bringing in books http://972mag.com/israel-bans-palestinian-prisoners-from-bringing-in-books/116350/ http://972mag.com/israel-bans-palestinian-prisoners-from-bringing-in-books/116350/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2016 18:36:07 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116350 The ban is a response to smuggling attempts using hollowed-out books, prison officials say. No such sweeping punishments are imposed on Israeli prisoners, attorney says.

Ayalon prison facility, near the city of Ramla (photo: Activestills)

Israel’s Ayalon prison, near the city of Ramla (photo: Activestills)

The Israel Prison Service (IPS) has been changing its policy about what it allows Palestinian security prisoners to receive inside its prisons, and has now banned them from bringing in books, +972 has learned.

The book ban was imposed “after attempts to smuggle cellular phones inside books,” an IPS spokesperson told +972’s Hebrew sister site Local Call on Tuesday, adding that the ban is indefinite for the time being.

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The book ban affects only Palestinian security prisons, as opposed to Israeli criminal prisoners.

“Unsurprisingly, the IPS chose the easy way of collective punishment and sweeping bans,” said Attorney Abir Baker, who represents Palestinians in Israeli courts. “Attempts to smuggle forbidden items into prisons is a known phenomenon all over and for all types of prisoners. That is why prisons have meticulous inspection mechanisms.”

Whereas the IPS treats offenses by family members of Palestinian prisoners with sweeping responses, the prison service treats similar smuggling attempts by criminal prisoners on a case-by-case basis, Baker said.

“A sweeping ban like this won’t stand up to judicial scrutiny,” she added. “The Supreme Court has already ruled a number of times about prisoners’ rights, including political rights, freedom of expression, and personal autonomy which is primarily expressed through the ability to study and read in prison.”

Conditions for Palestinian prisoners are far worse than Israeli prisoners (both are held in facilities run by the IPS). Palestinian prisoners are not allowed to study through university correspondence courses, are not allowed conjugal visits, regular visits are allowed only through barriers and without any physical contact. And unlike Israeli prisoners, Palestinians are not allowed furloughs, and have drastically lower chances of having their sentences reduced.

This article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Journalists protest for release of hunger striking Palestinian http://972mag.com/journalists-protest-for-release-of-hunger-striking-palestinian-journalist/116303/ http://972mag.com/journalists-protest-for-release-of-hunger-striking-palestinian-journalist/116303/#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2016 19:52:40 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116303 Arab journalists and members of Knesset protest for the release of Palestinian journalist Muhammad al-Qiq, who has been on hunger strike for 62 days and is close to death.

Arab journalists and members of Knesset protest outside the Haemek Medical Center for the release of hunger striking Palestinian journalist, Muhammad al-Qiq, January 26, 2016. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Arab journalists and members of Knesset protest outside the Haemek Medical Center for the release of hunger striking Palestinian journalist, Muhammad al-Qiq, January 26, 2016. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Approximately 40 journalists, activists, and members of Knesset demonstrated outside the Haemek Medical Center in northern Israel on Wednesday afternoon, calling for the immediate release of Palestinian journalist Muhammad al-Qiq. Al-Qiq has been on hunger strike for 62 days to protest against his administrative detention. His health has deteriorated significantly over the past few days, and his life is currently in danger.

The demonstration, organized by I’lam — Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research, included a number of Arab journalists from Radio A-Shams, Al-Itihad and news websites Al-Arab and Bokra, respectively. Members of Knesset Haneen Zoabi, Yousef Jabarin, Bassel Ghattas and Abdel Hakim Haj Yehiye, all from the Joint List, were also present. The protesters held signs in Arabic, Hebrew, and English against al-Qiq’s detention and in support of freedom of the press.

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“Muhammad al-Qiq has become a symbol for journalists, as well as an example of a person who manages to be free in his thinking even when he is in detention,” Jabarin told +972. “His only sin was defending his people in his writing. In his hunger strike al-Qiq said he is challenging the powers of occupation and administrative detention, and that he is demanding to be either released or charged with a crime.”

Jabarin and Zoabi both say that they have been trying to visit al-Qiq for several weeks, and that the fact that they are members of Knesset gives them the right to visit any prisoner, but that the Israel Prison Service (IPS) has forbidden them from visiting him. The IPS has yet to respond to these claims.

Al-Qiq, from the West Bank village of Dura near Hebron, works as a reporter for the Saudi news channel “Almajd.” He was arrested on the night of November 21, 2015 when Israeli soldiers blew up the front door of his house and took him in for interrogation at Israel’s Kishon (Jalame) detention center. He was not allowed to make contact with either his wife or his attorney for many days.

Al-Qiq began his hunger strike four days after the beginning of his interrogation, when the latter understood that his interrogation was politically motivated. Sources close to Al-Qiq state that he was interrogated for “journalistic incitement,” and when he refused to cooperate, he was put in administrative detention for a period of six months, which can be renewed indefinitely.

Al-Qiq’s hunger strike has thus far been answered with silence from all sides. The Israeli media is silent, while the Palestinian Authority’s prisoner organizations are not going out of their way to cover the strike as they did with previous detainees — possibly because Al-Qiq is a known critic of the PA, and they want to avoid turning him into a martyr.

Palestinians demonstrate in solidarity with the journalist Muhammad Al-Qiq, 33, who has been on hunger strike for 36 days in Israeli prisons, since Israeli forces arrested him from his home last month, Nablus, West Bank, December 31, 2015. (photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz)

Palestinians demonstrate in solidarity with the journalist Muhammad Al-Qiq, 33, who has been on hunger strike for 62 days against his administration detention, Nablus, West Bank, December 31, 2015. (photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz)

Al-Qiq’s relatives claim that he is being persecuted for expressing his opinions as part of his job. The Shin Bet, however, claims he is a member of Hamas who was previously jailed several times due to his activities in the organization. His current arrest, according to the Shin Bet, came following “founded suspicions of involvement in terror activities with Hamas.”

“As part of our work, Arab journalists can meet with people who are classified as ‘enemies’ by the state, and if we speak to them out of our commitment to professionalism and journalism, this immediately makes us look suspicious,” says Khulood Masalha, who works for I’lam and helped organize the demonstration. “On the other hand, if an Israeli journalist travels to Syria or Iran, no one becomes suspicious.

“In al-Qiq’s case we see a person in administrative detention, while more and more Palestinian journalists have reported that they have been summoned to interrogations, that their freedom of movement is being limited, and that they are being attacked while reporting. In my eyes, this shows that Palestinian journalists are in the crosshairs.”

Beyond the demonstration at Haemek Medical Center, more and more voices of dissent have been heard from the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, as well as the Palestinian Authority’s minister of prisoners’ affairs. Israel’s High Court of Justice is set to hear al-Qiq’s case on Wednesday.

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Most of the journalists at Tuesday’s demonstration found themselves in the unusual position of being both protesters and reporters. I was in the same position. It is important to report on the journalists’ campaign for al-Qiq’s release, but as a journalist it is clear that I, too, must join.

No, we do not know why al-Qiq is being detained. The Shin Bet claims it has nothing to do with his opinions, but due to the lack of charges or due process, it is impossible to accept these claims at face value. Furthermore, al-Qiq’s family members, along with his attorney, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, and I’lam say that Israel has been arresting Palestinians for expressing criticism of the Palestinian Authority, including members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

“Muhammad al-Qiq has an Islamic agenda, and I may very well disagree with his agenda,” says Masalha. “But Israeli journalists also have agendas and interests that I do not always agree with, and I will stand with Israeli journalists who are arrested. This is the test of collegiality.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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PHOTOS: Protest for conscientious objector outside IDF prison http://972mag.com/photos-protest-for-conscientious-objector-outside-idf-prison/116256/ http://972mag.com/photos-protest-for-conscientious-objector-outside-idf-prison/116256/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 11:51:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116256 Conscientious objector Tair Kaminer is being held in an Israel army women’s prison for refusing to take part in the occupation.

Text by Haggai Matar
Photos by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org

Solidarity protesters and family members protest for Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer, Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Solidarity protesters and family members protest for Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer, Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Roughly 80 left-wing activists protested in support of jailed conscientious objector Tair Kaminer outside the IDF’s Prison 400 on Saturday.

Two weeks ago Kaminer informed the army that she is refusing to serve because of the ongoing military occupation, and was sentenced to 20 days in the women’s military prison. Kaminer is expected to be released this coming weekend, after which she will once again likely refuse to serve and be sentenced to another period in prison.

Two other young Israeli refuseniks are expected to refuse to serve in the coming weeks, the first on January 31.

Outside Prison 400 on Saturday the activists sang, beat drums and used a PA system to ensure the prisoners heard them. They called for Kaminer’s release and all political prisoners, among them Ezra Nawi, Guy Batavia, and Nasser Nawaj’ah — who were arrested in relation to a right-wing hidden camera stunt, two of whom have since been released to house arrest — along with administrative detainees, with an emphasis on Palestinian journalist Muhammad al-Qiq, who has been on hunger strike for some 60 days.

Solidarity protesters and family members protest for Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer, Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Solidarity protesters and family members protest for Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer, Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Solidarity protesters and family members protest for Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer, Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Solidarity protesters and family members protest for Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer, Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A woman holds a sign reading ‘Free the political prisoners’ at a protest in solidarity with Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer, Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A woman holds a sign reading ‘Free the political prisoners’ at a protest in solidarity with Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer, Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The demonstrators also expressed hopes that everyone in the military prison be released to their homes and families soon. Guards were seen watching the protest from over the prison walls.

Activists from “Yesh Gvul” and “Refusers,” Kaminer’s family and others took part in the solidarity protest.

IDF prison guards watch the protest from inside the prison walls. Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

IDF prison guards watch the protest from inside the prison walls. Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Conscientious objector Tair Kaminer is greeted by supporters outside the Tel Hashomer induction base, Ramat Gan, Israel, January 10, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Conscientious objector Tair Kaminer is greeted by supporters outside the Tel Hashomer induction base, Ramat Gan, Israel, January 10, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Kaminer, 19, recently finished a year of national service with the Israeli Scouts (“Tzofim”) in the southern development town of Sderot. There she volunteered with children who suffer from trauma due to multiple wars in Gaza and continual rocket fire on the city. “The children I worked with grew up in the heart of the conflict and have had extremely difficult experiences from a young age, experiences that caused them to feel hatred, which can be understood, especially when it comes from young children,” Kaminer wrote in a statement several days ago.

“Like them, many children who grow up in Gaza or in the West Bank, in an even more difficult environment, learn to hate the other side,” she continues. “They, too, cannot be blamed. When I look at all of these children, and the next generation on both sides and the reality in which they grow up, I see only more trauma and pain. And I say enough! That is why I refuse: so that I do not take an active part in the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the injustices that the Palestinian people face under occupation, so that I do not take part in this circle of hate in Gaza and Sderot.”

Kaminer also writes that she aspires to peace, equality, democracy, and security for all people who live in Israel/Palestine, emphasizing the security of those whose security tends to be forgotten — Palestinians and Israeli residents of the western Negev Desert. “They convince us that the army has nothing to do with politics, but serving in the army is a political decision. Military jail frightens me less than our society losing its humanity.”

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Israeli police smuggle Palestinian suspect out of the country http://972mag.com/israeli-police-smuggle-palestinian-suspect-out-of-the-country/116167/ http://972mag.com/israeli-police-smuggle-palestinian-suspect-out-of-the-country/116167/#comments Fri, 22 Jan 2016 14:29:13 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116167 The police took Nasser Nawaj’ah out of the West Bank and into Israel to face trial. When that didn’t work, they ignored a court order to release him and smuggled him back to the West Bank and into military custody.

Palestinian anti-occupation activist Nasser Nawajah is led into the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, January 21, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian anti-occupation activist Nasser Nawajah is led into the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, January 21, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

What happened to a Palestinian man named Nasser Nawaj’ah on Thursday could fill an entire chapter of a textbook about the Israeli justice system, or rather, about its military occupation.

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Nasser was arrested in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers on suspicion of filing a complaint to the Palestinian police about another Palestinian. The soldiers hand him over to Israeli police, who take him from the West Bank to Israel. There, a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge rules that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over Palestinians, and orders him released unconditionally. The police appeal the judge’s decision, but the Jerusalem District Court also rules that it doesn’t have jurisdiction, and once again orders the police to release the man unconditionally.

The Israeli police ignore the Israeli court’s decision, take the Palestinian man outside Israel’s sovereign borders and bring him to the Ofer Military Court in the occupied West Bank. There, Israeli authorities ask a military judge (who is actually a major in the army) to extend the Palestinian man’s remand. The man’s lawyer is not present this time. She is still back in Israel, in Jerusalem, busy filing an emergency petition to hold the police in contempt of court.

Nasser Nawaj’ah explains to the military court that all he did was to report to the Palestinian police a Palestinian man who he thought was trying to harm him, and that he doesn’t understand why that could possibly be illegal.

The military court judge says he feels “uncomfortable” with how this is all happening, and with the fact that Israeli authorities transferred a Palestinian man from a court “in Israel” to a court in “the region” (the West Bank). In other words: this is the opposite of the normal scenario, in which Palestinians are brought only to military courts in “the region.” Nevertheless, the military judge rules that Nawaj’ah be kept in custody until Sunday, using the charming logic that in military courts — as opposed to civilian courts — four days in jail isn’t anything to get worked up about.

WATCH: Anti-occupation activists brought to J’lem court

Meanwhile, the petition to hold the police in contempt of court is still pending. Recall that the police completely disregarded and mocked the District Court’s order to unconditionally release Nasser Nawaj’ah, instead smuggling him out of the country and out of the court’s jurisdiction.

All of this happened while two other arrestees in the same case, suspected of the same crimes, and who happen to be Jewish, are processed though an entirely different legal system.

Amazing, isn’t it?

Update: On Friday morning, Nawaj’ah’s attorney filed an emergency petition for writ of habeus corpus to the Israeli High Court of Justice.

A version of this article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call — read it here.

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When every fire is a potential arson attack http://972mag.com/when-every-fire-is-a-potential-arson-attack/115853/ http://972mag.com/when-every-fire-is-a-potential-arson-attack/115853/#comments Mon, 11 Jan 2016 20:53:48 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=115853 As incitement against the Israeli Left grows, it is no surprise so many people believed right-wing arsonists were behind the fire at the offices of Israel’s oldest human rights organization.

A firefighter stands in front of the charred door of B’Tselem’s offices in Jerusalem. (Photo: Fire Department Spokesperson)

A firefighter stands in front of the charred door of B’Tselem’s offices in Jerusalem. (Photo: Fire Department Spokesperson)

Preliminary investigations by Israeli Police and Israel Fire and Rescue Services indicated that the fire that erupted Sunday night in the Jerusalem offices of Israeli human rights group B’Tselem was not the result of arson. The police and fire department published detailed explanations on their findings, according to which the fire was a result of a short circuit in the office’s acoustic ceiling. The fire reportedly burned the entire ceiling before engulfing the rest of office.

Furthermore, there were no signs of a break in, neither from the door or the windows. Additionally, there was no graffiti or other sign that this was a hate crime, and the security cameras did not capture any suspicious activity. Thus, as far as we can tell, there was no arson. B’Tselem’s staff believes this to be true as well.

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And yet, Sunday’s fire raised everyone’s suspicions as the possibility of arson. I am not talking about a few human rights activists or members of Knesset. The Fire and Rescue Services were the first to presume it was an arson attack; nearly every single media outlet adopted the suspicion as truth, despite a lack of evidence. Much of the public also bought into the suspicions, which seemed so logical. With everything we know about the political climate in Israel today, it is not so far-fetched that such a thing would happen.

Perhaps one of the hardest things to deal with in the current atmosphere is the notion that it is logical that right wingers would set fire to B’Tselem’s office — or worse. The fact is that all of us, not just a few of the paranoid, can imagine this happening. Not only because of the specific details — such as the initial suggestions that the fire began in two separate areas, or the recent, widely-viewed investigative report that allegedly implicated human rights activists in some shady business — but because of everything that has been taking place. If it didn’t happen this time, it will happen next time. If not B’Tselem, then another organization. Not only does it seem so realistic, it feels that such actions would have significant public support, or at the very least would be met with understanding and forgiveness.

Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line know this well. They know the feeling of discrimination, oppression, and harassment by the authorities. As Noam Sheizaf wrote recently, in the past year and a half, the Right has officially taken over, delegitimizing and isolating the Left, be it radical or moderate.

Think about what kind of immense changes Israeli society has undergone in the past year and half, and how our attitude toward political violence (by the Right, only by the Right) has changed. This began with the immolation and murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, and continued with the rise of extreme-right groups such as Lehava, which along with other right-wing groups, hunt for Arabs on the streets of Jerusalem (leftists aren’t spared either). After that came the violent attacks against left-wing activists during Operation Protective Edge, when right-wing thugs followed anti-war demonstrators and attacked them after protests. Then came the arson attack on Jerusalem’s bilingual school, the murder in Duma, threats against left-wing activists, preventing members of Breaking the Silence from holding an event at a pub, and a recent stabbing attempt at a left-wing rally.

Right-wing nationalists attacking left-wing activists during a protest in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with the nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists, with little police interference. Three activists were injured and one right-wing person was arrested. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Right-wing nationalists attacking left-wing activists during a protest in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli war in Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with the nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists, with little police interference. Three activists were injured and one right-wing person were arrested. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

We also had an anti-Semitic video against leftists by the Samaria Settler Council, and recently we had a video produced by hyper-nationalist group Im Tirzu that incited against individual human rights activists. Add to that a slew of groups that have the blessing of the authorities to harass and threaten anyone who dares strive for Jewish-Arab cooperation, or criticize the occupation.

But most of all, we have seen government incitement reach new levels, often with the tacit support of the opposition. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ministers have no problem to lying and slinging baseless accusations of murder at human rights organizations.

We have seen the Prime Minister’s Office’s campaign — joined by “centrist” Yair Lapid — against Breaking the Silence. We have seen attempts to destroy the Left’s political representation, first by continually attacking any and all political organizing by Israel’s Palestinian citizens — be it by outlawing the Islamic Movement, the attempts to disqualify the nationalist Balad slate from participating in elections, or raising the election threshold, thereby forcing the Arab parties to form a single political party. After all, without cooperation with Arab citizens, the Left has no real way of getting into power.

We saw legislation aimed at ensuring funding to left-wing NGOs is “transparent,” though that funding has always been out in the open, while right-wing NGOs are granted permission to keep the source of large donations secret. This is before we get to the lies-turned-truths about the Mufti, a reminder that the prime minister will deliberately distort historical facts and lie, so long as it promotes his agenda of incitement.

Hundreds of Israelis celebrated the fire at the B’Tselem office online, while others expressed sorrow that the offices were empty when it erupted. Avigdor Liberman responded to the fire by calling B’Tselem “traitors.” Neighbors who witnessed the fire expressed joy over what they believed was arson, and a few people even came to celebrate with an Israeli flag.

So this time it wasn’t arson. Just a short circuit that came at an incredibly tense moment. But those who suspected an arson attack are not crazy. They understand exactly which direction the wind blows.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Dozens protest in support of Israeli conscientious objector http://972mag.com/dozens-protest-outside-idf-base-in-support-of-conscientious-objector/115807/ http://972mag.com/dozens-protest-outside-idf-base-in-support-of-conscientious-objector/115807/#comments Sun, 10 Jan 2016 17:12:58 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=115807 Tair Kaminer is expected to be sentenced to a month in military jail for refusing to enlist in the IDF. Kaminer: ‘Military jail frightens me less than our society losing its humanity.’

Conscientious objector Tair Kaminer is greeted by supporters outside the Tel Hashomer induction base, Ramat Gan, Israel, January 10, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Conscientious objector Tair Kaminer is greeted by supporters outside the Tel Hashomer induction base, Ramat Gan, Israel, January 10, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Approximately 40 demonstrators accompanied Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer to the Tel Hashomer induction base on Sunday, where she is expected to be sentenced for her refusal to enlist in the Israeli army.

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The demonstrators held signs chanted against the occupation at the entrance to the base. Some of them organized a short performance, in which they wore IDF uniforms and pledged their loyalty to the state while their their eyes, ears, and mouths were covered.

Kaminer, 19, recently finished a year of national service with the Israeli Scouts (“Tzofim”) in the southern development town of Sderot. There she volunteered with children who suffer from trauma due to multiple wars in Gaza and continual rocket fire on the city. “The children I worked with grew up in the heart of the conflict and have had extremely difficult experiences from a young age, experiences that caused them to feel hatred, which can be understood, especially when it comes from young children,” Kaminer wrote in a statement several days ago.

“Like them, many children who grow up in Gaza or in the West Bank, in an even more difficult environment, learn to hate the other side,” she continues. “They, too, cannot be blamed. When I look at all of these children, and the next generation on both sides and the reality in which they grow up, I see only more trauma and pain. And I say enough! That is why I refuse: so that I do not take an active part in the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the injustices that the Palestinian people face under occupation, so that I do not take part in this circle of hate in Gaza and Sderot.”

Demonstrators organize a performance in support of Tair Kaminer, a 19-year-old Israeli conscientious objector, at the Tel Hashomer induction base, Ramat Gan, Israel, January 10, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Demonstrators organize a performance in support of Tair Kaminer, a 19-year-old Israeli conscientious objector, at the Tel Hashomer induction base, Ramat Gan, Israel, January 10, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Kaminer also writes that she aspires to peace, equality, democracy, and security for all people who live in Israel/Palestine, emphasizing the security of those whose security tends to be forgotten — Palestinians and Israeli residents of the western Negev Desert. “They convince us that the army has nothing to do with politics, but serving in the army is a political decision. Military jail frightens me less than our society losing its humanity.”

The protest, which was organized by a new group called “Mesarvot” (“Refusers” in Hebrew), included anti-occupation activists, Druze conscientious objectors, anarchists, communists, and others. Participants also included members of the Kaminer family, including Tair’s cousin, Matan Kaminer, who served two years in military prison for his refusal to enlist 13 years ago (full disclosure: I served in prison alongside Matan and a number of other friends for refusing to enlist in the military. Matan and I remain friends until this day).

Kaminer is expected to be sentenced to a month in military jail. (Update, 10 p.m.: Kaminer was sentenced to 20 days.) She will then be released and return to the induction base where she will be required to enlist once again. Should she refuse, she will be sentenced to another month in jail. This process repeats itself ad nauseam until the army decides to officially discharge her. Over the past few years, a number of conscientious objectors have been sentenced up to 10 times in this vicious cycle.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here

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How respectable journalists are joining attacks on Israel’s Left http://972mag.com/how-respectable-journalists-are-joining-attacks-on-israels-left/115784/ http://972mag.com/how-respectable-journalists-are-joining-attacks-on-israels-left/115784/#comments Sat, 09 Jan 2016 21:05:14 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=115784 The country’s top investigative news program airs a hidden-camera sting operation carried out by a shady right-wing organization, and fails to ask the tough questions and give the necessary context.

Ilan Dayan, on Channel 2 show Uvda

Channel 2′s Ilan Dayan, host of investigative news show ‘Uvda.’

Uvda, Israel’s most prominent investigative television news program, dedicated its 600th episode on Thursday to joining the massive-and-growing campaign against the Israeli Left and human rights NGOs in the country. The show’s host, Channel 2’s Ilana Dayan, known as a courageous and decent reporter who recently won the prestigious Sokolov Award for outstanding journalism, failed miserably and demonstrated poor journalistic judgment.

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The entire episode was based on a story handed to Uvda by a relatively new and secretive right-wing NGO, comprised of former military personnel, and which aims to “expose the true face of anti-Israeli organizations” – i.e. left-wing groups working against the occupation.

Its juicy revelation: the right-wing organization followed Ezra Nawi, an activist who has dedicated the past few decades of his life to protecting Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills from settler and state violence.  They secretly recorded as he bragged about informing on Palestinians who sell land to Jews, to the Palestinian intelligence service, so that they can be tortured and executed by Palestinian authorities – according to his own words. This, according to Uvda and the right-wing NGO, is proof of Nawi’s questionable morals, and by proxy, those of anyone involved with him and of the entire Israeli Left — somehow. As Edo Konrad mentioned here yesterday, the highest echelons of Israel’s government were quick to jump on board.

The right-wing organization, ‘Ad Kan,’ sent its employees to infiltrate human rights organizations and record their every move with hidden cameras. The man on the left is the ‘infiltrator,’ Ezra Nawi is on the right. (Screenshot)

The right-wing organization, ‘Ad Kan,’ sent its employees to infiltrate human rights organizations and record their every move with hidden cameras. The man on the left is the ‘infiltrator,’ Ezra Nawi is on the right. (Screenshot)

Undoubtedly, talking about and even rejoicing at the possibility of the torture and execution of others – as seen in the tape – is deplorable. However, there are some very serious problems with this piece of investigative journalism that put into question the entire basis of its findings. There are no answers to the question of who is backing this new NGO that did all the actual reporting, and how it funds its extensive work and expensive surveillance equipment. The organization’s website doesn’t provide any answers either.

But more importantly, Uvda’s researchers ignored some crucial pieces of information which must be addressed. First of all, although Prime Minister Netanyahu promptly accused the left and the Palestinian Authority of the murder of innocent people, the show, with all its undercover work and investigative resources, was not able to prove that any person was actually harmed by Nawi’s actions. It is true that Palestinian law prescribes capital punishment for anyone convicted of selling land to Israelis, but the show made no mention of the fact that the Palestinian Authority has not carried out a single execution since Mahmoud Abbas came to power in 2005, more than a decade ago.

Torture, on the other hand, is commonly employed by the PA’s security forces (and by Israeli ones), but for the most part it is used against political adversaries of Abbas’ Fatah movement and against people designated as security threats by Israel and “handled” by the PA at the behest of Israel security forces —part of the famous “security coordination” between the two. While Nawi boasts sending people into the Palestinian torture chambers, Uvda was unable to find a single person who was actually arrested or tortured as a result of Nawi’s actions. Finding such people who were sent there by Israeli officials would be much easier.

Yet another failure in Uvda’s reporting is the baffling lack of context it provided for the story. The missing context of this dramatic episode is the military occupation of the West Bank, where since 1967 Israeli settlers and state authorities have worked hand in hand to achieve one central goal – the expropriation of as much land as possible, all while kicking as many Palestinians as possible off of that land.

A Palestinian family outside their tent home in the south Hebron Hills village of Susya (Photo: Activestills.org)

A Palestinian family outside their tent home in the south Hebron Hills village of Susya (Photo: Activestills.org)

More specifically, the backdrop of this story is the South Hebron Hills, an area where disempowered and impoverished Palestinian communities live in caves, tents and tin huts in the middle of the desert, and have for decades been trying to non-violently repel the army’s attempts to demolish their meager homes for the benefit of settlement expansion.

Ta’ayush, the group with which Nawi volunteers, has taken it upon itself to do the unrewarding, dedicated, marvelous and difficult work of helping these communities in their struggle for survival, documenting and protecting them from settler violence, and more.

With this in mind, let’s get back to the Uvda story. Nawi, one of the more prominent activists doing this type of work, was being secretly recorded when he got a strange call from a stranger, a Palestinian, offering him to sell him land adjacent to Israeli settlements in the South Hebron Hills, and who suggests that Nawi help him find Jewish buyers. Such sales, by the way, are often times made by people who claim to own the land, claims that Israeli courts have on numerous occasions found to be fraudulent.

As Nawi stated in a comment published as nothing more than an afterthought on the show, he suspected someone was trying to set him up, to frame him and make his Palestinian partners think he was collaborating with Israeli settlers. After all, it is quite unlikely that anyone who knows anything about Nawi would think even for a moment that he might willingly participate in such a dubious deal. Looking back at it now, it is an unlikely coincidence that the would-be land broker just happened to call Nawi while his was being secretly filmed and recorded.

Ezra Nawi, 2009 (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Ezra Nawi, 2009 (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

So what did he do? That is, aside from talking trash about how people like the land broker should be executed? What did actually do? He called his Palestinian friends from the area, informed them of the call he got, and together they decided to turn the supposed land broker over to the legally entrusted authorities who deal with such matters. They tried to set a meeting with the man, but he then disappeared and stopped making any contact with them. Naturally, he was not arrested, nor was he tortured, let alone executed.

To sum up: what we have here is a report on prime-time television, which enjoys considerable journalistic credibility, that was in fact made by a shady covert NGO of unknown origin and not seriously criticized by the news desk that produced it. The report aims to blacken the entire Left, led to a series of government statements against the Left, all based on one person, who – aside from saying some terrible things – was not shown to actually have harmed anyone. Someone who was only trying to protect himself from being framed and working with his friends to try and have a suspicious man arrested by authorities. All this while the true story – of continuous land grabs and settler and army brutality – goes completely untold.

Those campaigning against the Israeli Left and human rights organizations should be proud of themselves. Well done.

A different, longer version of this post was published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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What do we do when terror strikes Tel Aviv? http://972mag.com/what-do-we-do-when-terror-strikes-tel-aviv/115517/ http://972mag.com/what-do-we-do-when-terror-strikes-tel-aviv/115517/#comments Sat, 02 Jan 2016 13:37:22 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=115517 Following Friday’s shooting attack in central Tel Aviv, the Israeli Right has called to allow more civilians to carry weapons.

Police officers inspect the scene of the shooting attack on Dizengoff Street, central Tel Aviv, January 1, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Police officers inspect the scene of the shooting attack on Dizengoff Street, central Tel Aviv, January 1, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Even now we still do not have all the necessary details about the horrific murder that took place Friday at Tel Aviv’s “Simta” bar, making it difficult to speak with certainty about the story. And yet, there are a few things we can say — both about the murder of Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruimi, and the way the media and political echelon has dealt with the tragedy.

Tel Aviv: One thing is sure, there is no justification for the special treatment Tel Aviv receives when it comes to murder and violence, as opposed to everywhere else in the country. This is especially noticeable in the media, which is shocked by the fact that “this” has come to Tel Aviv — whether it’s rockets from Gaza or terrorist attacks. As if rockets on Sderot or Ashkelon, or murders in Jerusalem, are routine, and murders in Be’er Sheva or Afula are more of the same. But a “terror attack in the heart of Tel Aviv” — as the top story on Ynet declared — now we really need to talk about it! Has anyone ever seen a headline reading “Attack in the heart of Rishon Lezion?”

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No, there is nothing more or less horrifying about a murder in Tel Aviv. It can terrify us, those who live in the city, since it’s closer, more familiar, and the chance that we know the victims is greater. But even if the majority of journalists are from Tel Aviv, there is no reason this should be reflected in the coverage.

But it isn’t only the media that treats Tel Aviv differently. “Talkbackers” — those who leave comments on news articles — were quick to celebrate the “popping of the Tel Aviv bubble,” ”now they’ll get it” read the comments. As if Tel Aviv is some terror-proof bubble, as if people haven’t been murdered here in the past, as if they haven’t been stabbed, as if buses haven’t been blown up here, as if there was no massacre at the Bar-Noar LGBT youth center, as if rockets never fell here during wartime, etc.

As if Tel Aviv is some island disconnected from the rest of the country. As if the murdered were simply “Tel Avivians” — despite the fact that neither of them are from Tel Aviv. As if people will stop spending time at cafes (they didn’t stop, many of them continued drinking their coffee as the killer was being pursued in the streets). As if one more murder will change the rich, multi-dimensional politics of this city.

The right to bear arms: The immediate response by Likud MK Amir Ohana was that he was planning on increasing the distribution of weapons to private citizens in the name of security. This is the continuation of Israel’s Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan, who has already made it easier for civilians to carry weapons, canceling the restrictions on security guards to take their weapons with them after work. This is also the continuation of copying the American model of politics, with the Right in Israel importing the sickening fetish for more and more guns in the streets.

Police forensic officers, spokespeople and commanders at the scene of the shooting attack on Tel Aviv's Dizengoff's Street, January 1, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Police forensic officers, spokespeople and commanders at the scene of the shooting attack on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff’s Street, January 1, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

If there is anything we can learn from the attack, it is precisely how the proliferation of weapons puts civilian lives in danger. As far as we know, the automatic weapon used in the attack belongs to a family member of the killer. The same goes for hundreds of shooting deaths by authorized weapons every year in the U.S., often caused by the availability of lethal weapons. This is exactly what led President Obama to announce on Friday that he will seek to use his executive powers to tackle the problem of gun violence.

The Israeli “Gun Free Kitchen Tables” campaign has for years been highlighting the fact that violence of security guards who take their weapons home disproportionately affect women. After more and more women were murdered, the campaign’s success reached a fever pitch, pushing the authorities to enforce the law against taking home weapons. The result: not a single woman was murdered by her security guard partner. But now Erdan wants to reverse all that.

For Amir Ohana, it seems these women are nothing more than an unintended consequences, as he wrote on his Facebook page. But now we can easily see that not only women are in danger, but all of us.

Terror: It is too early to determine and fully understand what happened Friday at the bar, but what is clear is that we cannot simply look at it as simply another form of terror. In the first hours following the attack, the biggest question on everyone’s mind was whether the attacker was a “minority,” which would mean he was a “terrorist” and that the event was a “terror attack.” The other option? That the attack was Jewish, and therefore it was likely “criminally-motivated” — or in other words: less frightening and less upsetting.

A policeman looks on as Police forensic officers, spokespeople and commanders inspect the scene of the shooting attack in central Tel Aviv, January 1, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A policeman looks on as Police forensic officers, spokespeople and commanders inspect the scene of the shooting attack on Dizengoff Street, central Tel Aviv, January 1, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

What we know is that the killer is likely mentally unstable — potentially as a result of the killing of his cousin at the hands of Israeli Police (no one was ever charged for the killing) — and who was already convicted of trying to steal a weapon from an Israeli soldier. The family of the alleged perpetrator also claim that his mental state has deteriorated over the past few years. On the other hand, there is no proof that he made any political or jihadist-related declarations — neither in the past nor in the lead-up to the murder.

Does this meet the criteria for terrorism on nationalistic grounds? Likely not. Yes, the murder of two people in a bar and the wounding of others in the middle of the day terrifies all of us. In this sense, the killings were an act of terror. But so are mob hits or school shootings in the U.S.

So what do we do? First of all respond to the event as it is, not according to what we have decided it is based on previous knowledge or outright racism (after all, it didn’t stop groups of people from yelling “death to Arabs” in central Tel Aviv on Friday). The police needs to do its job, find the murderer, and put him on trial. There is no legitimacy for destroying his home or torturing his relatives, who were the first to call the police and help. Moreover, we must not respond to this incident differently than any other murder simply because it happened in Tel Aviv. And we must think long and hard about our policies vis-a-vis distributing weapons to civilians.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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