It now seems possible that the already infamous “Itamar massacre” last week may not have been the work of a Palestinian but could have been the act of a disgruntled worker from Thailand who was furious after a dispute over unpaid wages. According to reports emerging today the Thai worker had apparently threatened to kill a settler family after he was not paid 10,000 shekels in wages which he believes he was owed. Local reports also claim that Thai workers in Israel are being “rounded up”, which suggests that the authorities know the truth, although the reports have not been confirmed because the Israelis have placed a “gag order” on the investigation. Sadly, this revelation has come too late for hundreds of innocent Palestinians who have been targeted and harassed severely in response to this crime over the past few days.
On the night of Friday 11th March five members of an Israeli settler family in the illegal Jewish settlement of Itamar in the West Bank (near the Palestinian city of Nablus) were murdered. The “mother, father and three children, aged between three months and 11” of the Fogel family “were attacked with knives” and killed. Despite having no evidence at the time to indicate who the murderer was, the Israeli government wasted no time at all in using the gruesome crime to target and brand all Palestinians as criminals. In the last few days it has been used by the Israeli government and army as a pretext to harass, arrest and abuse local Palestinians.
The kneejerk reaction of the Israeli authorities indicates a serious lack of common sense and democratic values, and is a violation of the human rights of Palestinians. The reaction has been imitated by groups of settlers “armed with guns, clubs and knives” who have been attacking local Palestinians across the occupied West Bank in front of Israeli soldiers who are doing nothing to stop the assaults. The following illustrates how the state of Israel, the so-called bastion of democracy in the Middle East, is reacting to this brutal crime and is attempting to turn the tragedy of one family to its political advantage.
Widespread arrests, house raids, destruction of Palestinian property and firing live ammunition at innocent Palestinian civilians.
The Israeli authorities have sworn vengeance and in doing so have put aside all pretence of legal due process. At least 300 villagers in Awarta have been arrested so far. According to reports by International Solidarity Movement volunteers who have been staying with some of the targeted families in the village, “soldiers are beating people and continuing their house raids: destroying houses from the inside, cutting off electricity, and polluting the drinking water by throwing mud in the water-tanks. Thirty homes were occupied by soldiers last night. Computers and phones have been destroyed and money and property stolen by the soldiers. In the last two days soldiers have been throwing sound grenades inside and outside the houses, and shooting in the air.”
Furthermore, in addition to the mass arrest of the men of the village, “while the soldiers were searching the houses, the families, including women and small children, were forbidden to eat or drink. It has been reported that an 80-year-old woman who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure was beaten by the soldiers“. She was taken to the Rafidia hospital in Nablus. Children have, it is alleged, also been arrested in this brutal crackdown.
While this sort of collective punishment is nothing new against Palestinians, the international community should be outraged that it is happening yet again and the perpetrator is the state of Israel, yet again. Collective punishment is a crime under the Geneva Convention and yet it is being meted out against Palestinians all over the Occupied Palestinian Territories. If this is how they react to crime, albeit a brutal crime, questions must be asked about how rational, democratic and law-abiding the authorities in Israel actually are.
Instead of sending in a police force to gather evidence and follow-up leads based on forensic identification and real detective work, a strict curfew has been imposed on the village of Awarta by the Israeli army which has now lasted for three days. Someone should tell the Israelis that armies aren’t there to bring criminals to justice.
But then, justice is not something that the Israelis know or care much about; the targeting of Awarta is completely unjustified. Palestinians said straight away that Israel has been too quick to judge the case, and the ISM reported, “The army hasn’t presented any evidence that the murderer was from Awarta, and villagers have said to the ISM that they strongly doubt the murderer was even Palestinian as the settlement is so heavily guarded it would be impossible to break in.”
Call to reinstate the death penalty against Palestinians
Israel’s deputy foreign minister Sylvan Shalom has jumped on the bandwagon and used this crime to call for the reinstatement of capital punishment against all Palestinians who kill in resistance attacks, with specific reference to this case. The fact that he did not call for capital punishment to be available for use against all murderers regardless of their race or religion illustrates the raw racism of this supposedly senior politician. Has Mr. Shalom stopped to consider that this awful crime could have been committed by another settler? Israeli settlers are not incapable of criminal activities, as their regular and brutal assaults on Palestinians and their homes demonstrate.
Promise to build 1000 illegal housing units for every Israeli killed
In another ridiculous act, “Israel’s Interior Minister has called on the government to start building 5000 new settlement units in the occupied West Bank. Eli Yishai says that this will be 1000 units for every settler of the five who were killed in the illegal settlement of Itamar.” What sort of twisted logic determines that the reaction to a crime by an unidentified individual will be to break international law on a massive scale and defile the rights of thousands of Palestinians in the process? This is not the reaction of a normal state and provides further evidence – if more is indeed needed – of the lengths that Israel will go to in an attempt to justify its state criminality. Such self-delusion is a sign of a seriously warped mentality on the part of Israeli politicians. Israel is a threat to itself as well as its neighbours.
Outcry over the Itamar deaths
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave an interview on Israel Radio on Monday in the wake of the Itamar murders in which he is reported to have said, “A human being is not capable of something like that… Scenes like these – the murder of infants and children and a woman slaughtered – cause any person endowed with humanity to hurt and to cry.” Such sentiments betray the fact that Abbas sheds few tears over the murder and brutalisation of innocent Palestinians, by Israelis as well as his own security thugs acting in the interests of the occupying forces.
If, after days of violence and intimidation of innocent Palestinians, it emerges that the killings were carried out by a disgruntled Thai worker, it should be a source of great embarrassment to Israel and its vociferous supporters who have demonised the Palestinians even more than usual in their blogs and websites; one “strategic advisor and crisis management expert” by the name of Roni Rimon has called the Palestinians “animals” in response. Such people are shameless. From the very beginning Palestinians have denied involvement in the killings: “The militant wings of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah have all denied involvement in the murders, with the Al-Aqsa Brigades saying on Monday that they ‘oppose the targeting of civilians and killing of children no matter what the pretext may be’.”
Regardless of whom the Itamar killer turns out to be, Israel has exposed itself through its reaction to this incident as the definitive rogue state. While the killing of one family is undoubtedly a crime, the persecution of an entire people and occupation of their land under the pretext of justice is surely a crime beyond comparison.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.