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Who's afraid of Israeli hate crimes?

What the government calls ‘nationalist crimes’ are not random acts of violence—they have a clear goal: dispossessing Palestinians of their land.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

Huda Abu Ranni inspects the damage to her home, which was attacked and burned by suspected Jewish extremists using petrol bombs, in the village of Abu Falah, northeast of Ramallah, on November 23, 2014.

Huda Abu Ranni inspects the damage to her home, which was attacked and burned by suspected Jewish extremists using petrol bombs, in the village of Abu Falah, northeast of Ramallah, on November 23, 2014.

From time to time, this country is shaken by a particularly severe wave of nationalistically-motivated hate crimes against Palestinians, often in the form of arson or desecration of a religious site. After each such incident, we are faced with the usual ritual: senior government or police officials stare into the cameras with a determined gaze; they call the acts unconscionable; they say they take the incident with a full measure of responsibility and severity; they claim that this is not how a Jewish state acts; they promise that zero tolerance will be shown. These rituals usually appear against a backdrop of fear that this time the cup will finally runneth over, shattering the sacred “quiet” in the West Bank. After a short while, however, everything is back to normal.

We can see just how seriously the government takes hate crimes from the following case. On July 26, 2010, a large group of Israeli marauders, whom eyewitnesses said came from the direction of the settlements of Yitzhar and Har Bracha, allegedly made their way to land belonging to the nearby Palestinian village of Burin. According to witnesses, the marauders burned hundreds of olive trees, some of them older than a century. They then attacked the villagers with stones and, in a few cases, with clubs, after which they stoned the houses of the village. On that same day, some of the victims lodged a complaint with the Israeli police.

In August 2011—more than a year after the incident—the police informed Yesh Din that the case was turned over to the attention of a prosecutor; that is the last the organization heard of the story for two years. In August 2013, the Shomron Prosecution Unit bothered to update Yesh Din that they had closed the case back in December 2012. Three months later, we received the investigation material of a three-year-old incident, and attempted to see whether there is any point in appealing the decision to close the case.

A man inspects Qurans damaged in a suspected arson hate crime against a mosque in the West Bank village of Al Mughayir, November 12, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A man inspects Qurans damaged in a suspected arson hate crime against a mosque in the West Bank village of Al Mughayir, November 12, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

To the utter surprise of Yesh Din’s attorneys, who were under the impression that the police closed the case for lack of evidence, the files contained quite a bit of evidence. At the same time and place of the incident, three Border Policemen detained two Israeli civilians–A. and M.–after police officers testified that they saw them throwing stones at Palestinians.

The testimony of a cop, as well as the detention of suspects at the scene, is generally enough cause for prosecutorial action, particularly since the government takes hate crimes seriously, as it repeatedly claims. Therefore, Yesh Din appealed the decision to close the case in December 2013, demanding that A. and M. be prosecuted on suspicion of throwing stones and assaulting an officer. Yesh Din also demanded the continuation of an investigation into the question of who attacked one of our clients with an iron rod and set his olive grove on fire.

This is when events took a surrealistic turn. In response to the appeal, the prosecution claimed that they are well aware that there is enough evidence to indict A. and M., but said it would not do so—since it sees no reason to interfere with the decision of the Police Prosecution Unit, which closed the case for lack of public interest.

According to the prosecution, since both sides engaged in stone throwing; there is no precise information about how the incident began; and there was no equivalent interrogation of Palestinian suspects, there is simply no public interest in putting the Israeli marauders on trial.

To quote Yesh Din’s sarcastic reply, sent in April by Attorney Noa Amrami:

To sum, two Israeli civilians woke up one morning, arrived at the village of Burin and the homes and land of our clients, threw stones at them and beat them. Is there any doubt here as to who is the attacker and who the defender? With all due respect, we are not dealing with a kids’ squabble at school here, but with a criminal, methodical action of terrorizing the villagers of Burin, who suffer from the violence of the Israeli civilians residing in the region.

What the government prefers to call nationalist crimes—what we call ideological crimes—has become a national scourge. This is not an incident of random violence, but rather a form of violence with a clear political goal: dispossessing Palestinians of their land so it may be transferred to Israeli civilians. The police’s failure at resolving these crimes is systematic and well documented: out of 1,045 investigation cases reviewed by Yesh Din in 2005-2014, only 7.4 percent turned into indictments. 85.2 percent of the cases were closed due to the police’s investigative failure, usually because the police failed to find suspects or gathering enough evidence to try them.

The village of Burin is a stark example of criminal actions carried out by Israeli civilians: in the years 2005-2013 Yesh Din documented 103 incidents of criminal activity, mostly violent, by Israeli civilians against Palestinians from the village. Yesh Din has documented a series of violent actions–both by Israeli forces and Israeli civilians—toward the villagers. If we were to take the official rhetoric about the need to fight ideological crime seriously, we would expect any incident in Burin be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.

Yet in practice, even when the police detains suspects and the prosecution has enough evidence to indict them, the case is somehow closed. This time the excuse was “lack of public interest.” Bear this in mind during the next press conference when the police make solemn promises to do its best.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

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    1. Pedro X

      Who is afraid of the Context?

      Israelis who live in communities like Itamar, Yitzhar and Har Bracha, are surrounded by hostile Palestinian villages the residents of which have engaged in decades of violent attacks against these Israeli villages. Itamar has seen its children slaughtered in their beds on more than one occasion not to mention being killed in their school. Yitzhar and Bar Bracha have also seen their share of death and violent attacks. The Israelis who live in these communities encircle their communities with fences to keep the Palestinians from carrying out lethal attacks. They bullet proof and reinforce their school buses because the Palestinians try to harm or kill their children. When they travel outside their communities or other people travel to visit, these people are subject to attacks.

      One of the most violent Palestinian communities leading these attacks is Burrin. Christian volunteers for the grape harvest in Har Bracha in 2010 were stoned and injured by Palestinians from Burrin. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah’s Tanzim all operated out of or around Burrin and sent suicide bombers towards Israel. The villagers of Burrin have been implicated in arsons, shooting, throwing rocks, and Molotov cocktails against Israelis and their vehicles.

      In March of 2010 dozens of Burin residents tried to storm Bar Bracha. In March of 2010 20 residents of Burrin tried to lynch a resident of Yitzhar when he ran out of gas on the road near Burrin. In September Palestinians from Burrin attacked a Jewish Shephard tending his sheep. They beat him and pelted him with rocks. Residents from Burrin had also set Jewish fields on fire on a number of occasions. While harvesting olives near Bar Bracha, Palestinians from Burrin set two fires which threatened to burn down Jewish homes in that community. Two weeks previous to that two residents of Elon Moreh were jumped while preparing their community’s Sabbath eruv. The Palestinians beat them with stones and metal bars. Shortly afterward, a large fire broke out at Havat Gilad ignited by Palestinians.

      In Janaury 2011 a resident of Yitzhar was jumped by a number of Arabs while he was walking on a path near the community. He shot and killed on his attackers who claimed he was the aggressor. In March of 2011 3 children and two parents had their throats slit while they slept in their home in Itamar. Jews responded by rioting. In April 2011 residents from Burrin beat the crap out of another Jewish shepherd tending his animals. Shortly thereafter Palestinians attack the small community of Givat Ronen. In April 2011 residents of Burrin again attacked Yitzhar. Residents of Yitzhar responded by throwing rocks back at the Palestinians. IDF responded by using crowd dispersal methods on both sides.

      Givat Ronen was attacked again on the first day of May, 2011. In July Arabs committed arson in an attempt to burn down Givat Ronen. Fire fighters were pelted with stones and the water line was cut. The attackers came from Burrin. In July Arabs torched a memorial near Neveh Tzuf and torched a number of Jewish vineyards. At the time fire fighters were fighting another blaze set by Palestinians at Kochav Yaakov. The IDF would not use live fire and the Palestinians continued with their attacks. the iDF only took more proactive action when Neveh Tzuf residents blocked the main road next to the community and began smashing windows of Arab vehicles. then the residents of Givat Ronen suffered another arson attack from the residents of Burrin. In a couple of weeks time there had been 20 such arson attacks from Arabs against Jewish communities. Burrin residents were also arrested in Jerusalem setting fire to shrubbery in a Jewish cemetery containing the graves of Jewish sages. And on and on these attacks went such as the stabbing death of an Israeli father of 5 children on April 30, 2013.

      Fast forward to December 25, 2014 when Arabs attacked a father and his 11 year old daughter and critically injured the daughter in a firebomb bomb attack. The father pulled his daughter from burning vehicle and carried her one kilometer to get medical treatment.

      See what happens when a Molotov cocktail hits a vehicle:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=30&v=Q6dXtnzL6c0

      A month later the IDF killed an Arab and injured another throwing Molotov cocktails against Jewish traffic near Yitzhar. The terrorists were from Burrin.

      In many cases the IDF contents itself in driving off the Palestinians and does not pursue or arrest them. Sometimes when the IDF arrives both Jews and Palestinians are engaged in rock throwing. So they attempt to separate the sides.

      I have shown before that United Hatazalah figures for 2013 together with UN OCHA figures for 2013 show that for every attack against property or injury to Palestinians in the West Bank, 28 attacks are taken by Palestinians against Jews in Judea and Samaria.

      So it is not surprising there is little appetite for putting Israelis on trial for throwing stones at Palestinians when the Israelis in Judea and Samaria are under continual attack from their neighbors and in the specific circumstances it is difficult to tell who instigated the stone throwing.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Those idyllic peace-loving, respectful “communities.” Aka aggressive, illegal settlements deep in the West Bank. A tale of a spat in one of those “communities”:

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itamar

        In late 2012, Avri Ran took over a hill, Mitzpeh Shloshet Hayamim, which fellow Itamar residents had planned to turn into a tourist site for its spectacular view, and then bulldozed a rockery in order to make building extensions to his farming business. Itamar residents and its out post settlers on Hill777, themselves reportedly illegal squatters who had hitherto never expressed any criticisms when Ran took over Palestinian land, raised a complaint to the Samaria Regional Council to intervene and stop him, on the grounds that he has no title to that tract. Their letter of complaint remarked that,’ “We’re all full of admiration for Avri for his steps to conquer [land] in Samaria. But those exact same deeds are being committed today against his Jewish neighbors.’ The hill is outside the boundaries of the Samaria Regional Council however, and, according to Haaretz, the Israeli Civil Administration has not applied the law to Itamar’s hilltops for a decade and a half.[2]

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Another one of those idyllic, peace-loving, “communities”:
        The inhabitants of Yitzhar have a reputation as being among the most extreme Israeli settlers and regularly clash with local Palestinian civilians. From the late 1980s through the next decade, Yitzhar youth were accused of arson at a local mosque, firing on Palestinian cars, torching Palestinian fields and olive groves, and rampaging through local villages. In 1989, two yeshiva students were convicted of aggravated assault after a rampage led to the killing of a local 13-year-old girl, and injuries to an 82-year-old man.[23] The settlement is at the forefront of the settler movement’s so called “price tag” policy which calls for attacks against Palestinians in retaliation for actions of the Israeli government against West Bank settlements.[5] A reserve officer serving in the area, commenting on incidents where Israeli soldiers were punished or attacked for carrying out demolition orders, is on records as stating:

        “You never know if a patrol in the community and its surroundings won’t end with a barrage of stones,” says a reserve officer who served there. “And the most irritating thing is that later on in the army, and in the community, they’ll feed you with the Shabbat cakes they bring and tell you to let it be, because it’s just a few psychos

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yitzhar

        Reply to Comment
    2. “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” M. K. Gandhi

      Congratulations Yossi! With the “Pedro” label you have moved quickly from ridicule to fight.

      Reply to Comment