Days Of Awe

It is hard to imagine a more vivid contrast between the Israels that Israelis must choose.

This morning, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Daniel Shechtman, 70, a professor of materials science at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. A professional in cosmopolitan Haifa, who also teaches in Iowa, Shechtman personifies the old Zionist dream of a Jewish modernity, taking in what is best in the larger world, and breathing out a creative newness--in this case, an ingenious proof that nature, the natural crystal, is capable of imitating of all things classical Islamic art, which might have also been Maimonides' art, since its genius was delighting without "graven images."

Also this morning, I got this email from my friend Assaf Sharon, who along with other members of Solidarity was attacked near the settlement of Anatot on Rosh Hashana: "Perhaps you have already heard about the violent attack we experienced on Rosh Hashana. I paste below a description of the events and a video capturing some of what happened. Although I took quite a beating, I must confess that the pain of the blows and wounds dulls in comparison with the frustration from the silence and indifference with which this unprecedented event is being received."

I reproduce his report in full. Something to consider on Yom Kippur:

For decades, the Israeli government and police force have passively allowed settlers to act violently against Palestinians and Israelis who protest the occupation. Last Friday, when a mob of settlers attacked a group of Palestinian farmers and Israeli solidarity activists outside the settlement of Anatot, a new level of collusion was reached: not only did the police not act to stop the mob of settlers, but indeed many of the settlers in the mob were themselves out-of-uniform policemen and state employees. The press was silent. The occupation has found a new way to silence non-violent resistance and dissent.

At first glance, Anatot is a pastoral gated community close to Jerusalem, inhabited by law-abiding citizens, many of whom are employed by the Civil Administration and the police. But despite its benign appearance, Anatot is a settlement, located in Palestinian territory occupied in 1967. Anatot was built in 1982 on land allocated by the Israeli government, and inexpensive housing was offered to police officers and other government employees in order to encourage them to live and work in the otherwise unattractive area known by the Israeli government and settlers as “Judea and Samaria,” and by the rest of the world as the West Bank. Like many other settlements, Anatot is surrounded by a separation fence that envelops acres of privately-owned Palestinian land.

Six years ago, the residents of Anatot decided to expand their settlement southward. They neither requested nor received government permits to expand. They simply rerouted the settlement’s fence to encompass additional private Palestinian land, including land owned by a farmer named Yassin el-Rafa’i and his family, who are citizens of Israel. For years, settlers from Anatot have regularly harassed el-Rafa’i. On multiple occasions, settlers have uprooted el-Rafa’i’s trees and otherwise damaged his property, including poisoning his well with animal carcasses. El-Rafa’i has filed numerous complaints with the local police, but to no avail.

The police have consistently refused to address el-Rafa’i’s complaints, or to take any action whatsoever to restrain the settlers’ continued harassment. Last Friday (9/30/2011), a group of a dozen Israeli activists from The Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, Ta’ayush, and other groups, went to visit Yassin el-Rafa’i and his wife Iman, in order to hear their story and to express friendship and solidarity. While the activists were getting ready to go home, a crowd of nearly a hundred settlers from Anatot surrounded the el-Rafa’i family and the Israeli activists.

The mob of settlers quickly grew violent, and began to attack Iman, Yassin and the Israeli activists with fists, rocks and clubs. Three people were hospitalized, including Yassin and Iman, and several activists were detained for interrogation. During the entire incident, uniformed police officers were present, and did nothing to stop or restrain the mob, despite the activists’ repeated pleas for intervention. Not a single settler was detained or arrested. No journalists were present, and the majority of the evidence was destroyed by the attackers, who specifically targeted cameras, breaking or stealing them and beating the photographers.

That evening, a group of about 40 Israeli activists returned to Anatot, to protest the brutalities committed earlier that day. The activists held a nonviolent demonstration in front of the settlement’s locked gate, while hundreds of settlers amassed on the other side. Some had participated in the afternoon's violent attack, and some were soldiers and police officers in civilian dress: a horde of men seething with hatred and hungry for violence. The settlers demanded that the gates be opened, and charged at the activists, again with fists, rocks, and clubs.

The police officers in uniform that were present did nothing to restrain the crowd. One of the attackers tried a number of times to stab activists with a knife. When we tried to get away from the place, the attackers chased us, chanting “Death to Arabs!” and "Death to leftists!" They were accompanied by a group of uniformed police officers. About 10 demonstrators were injured, three of whom were evacuated for medical treatment. Six cars were seriously damaged or destroyed. On one of them a Jewish star, a Magen David, was incised.

Despite the attack, which was caught in stills and in video, the police did not arrest a single rioter. And despite the fact that the afternoon’s attack was known to the press, not a single journalist was present to witness the evening’s attack. The readiness with which the settlers turned to brutal violence - violence which in any other context would be called terror - exposes Anatot for what it is: an extremist ideological settlement. Furthermore, these attacks call into question the commonly held belief in Israel which posits a clear distinction between extremist, ideological settlements and moderate, ‘quality of life’ settlements.

All settlements are based on expropriation and dispossession, and all are maintained by the same tools of the occupation. The fact that the police accommodated and enabled the rioters highlights the complete lack of both accountability and justice in the occupation .The police and security forces do not monitor the settlers; they work for the settlers. In many cases, including the case of Anatot, the police are the settlers, and the settlers are the police. Police out of uniform assaulted citizens while uniformed police looked on and did nothing. The press largely ignored the events, and only after considerable public pressure and the release of videos and photos did several newspapers cover Friday’s events.

Even then, most of the coverage was tepid, equivocating, and biased towards the settlers and the police. With the Anatot events, political conflict in Israel has reached a watershed. In the light of day and under the supervision of the law enforcement, nonviolent dissent is being silenced with brutality. Dissidents are branded as traitors, and their physical safety and property are forfeit. Israelis and Palestinians alike were savaged by a mob of settlers, who acted with the complete confidence of those whose impunity is guaranteed.

Decades of occupation and repression have made Israeli society largely callous to settler and state violence against Palestinians. In Anatot on Friday, this violence was extended to Israelis who arrived to show nonviolent solidarity with the struggle against injustice, discrimination, and occupation.

•We demand an investigation of the events in Anatot, to be carried out by a special commission made of officials unrelated to the Judea and Samaria District.
•We demand the immediate suspension of the law enforcement officers present, and the dismissal of the chief security officer of the settlement, Tomer Shapira.
•We demand that the el-Rifa’i family be guaranteed full and uninhibited access to all of their land, including, if necessary, security escorts and protection.
•We demand the dismantlement of the illegal separation fence that allows the settlers of Anatot to expropriate privately-owned Palestinian lands.

We will not be silenced. We will continue to struggle against the occupation, violence, and repression. We will continue to stand up for justice, civil equality and democracy. Will you stand up with us? Share the story of the Anatot events and of the el-Rifa’i family. Share the videos of the attacks with your friends, family, classmates and colleagues. Bring these stories to the attention of your political representatives and community leaders.

-- Assaf Sharon