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The Only Democracy? » Featured, Human Rights Activists in the Crosshairs, On The Ground Reports » UPDATED with Video and more Commentary: Israel Settlers Nearly Lynch Activists with Police Looking on.

UPDATED with Video and more Commentary: Israel Settlers Nearly Lynch Activists with Police Looking on.

I was waiting a few days as the disturbing emails piled my inbox, trying to wrap my head around them and think what angle to bring this story from.

To Hell with my angle. These are activists who’ve seen a lot over the years, staring down police brutality in Sheikh Jarrah (East Jerusalem), and enduring settler and military violence all across the West Bank.

But this time, they say, was different. A palpable fear of death. So let’s hear it from them: (note: in Israeli discourse the word “lynch” has a different connotation, and denotes any violent mob assault)

Were you ever at a lynching? Were you ever someplace where an unbridled mob was beating you and your friends and then chasing you to beat you again? Were you ever the victim of wild violence before the blind eyes of policemen who ignored your desperate calls for help? Have you ever felt abandoned? The following story begins with with blood, but its point is the abandonment.

What happened Friday afternoon at the entrance to the settlement of Anatot was a pogrom, a lynching. There’s no other way to describe an event in which hundreds of large men are wildly beating and pursuing a nonviolent group of male and female activists for an extended period of time. There’s no way to convey to those who weren’t there the threatening sense of the approaching dark – not in words, not in pictures, not even in video.

They came to destroy, to break, perhaps even to kill. They used their hands, their fists and their teeth, along with stones, pipes and knives. They aimed for the photographers, the women, for the young and the old alike. They brought individuals down to the ground and assaulted them as they lay there, surrounded. They pounced on the hindmost of those trying to flee as they pursued their battered victims.

And all this was taking place before the very eyes of the police, who didn’t do a thing to prevent people from being hurt. It all passed, as usual, in a thunderous silence.

Why were the police standing by? Perhaps because so many of the attackers were policemen themselves, including – h/t Richard Silverstein – a senior investigator in the “Judea and Samaria” settler police.

Background from the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement – who, together with Ta’ayush Jerusalem – had organized the protest that nearly cost them their lives.

Last Friday afternoon, a group of activists visited Yassin al-Rifa’i and his family in the village of Anata village, whose lands have been taken over by the settlement of Anatot (also called Almon). The settlers of Anatot have abused the family for years; in repeated attacks, they uproot trees, block water sources, steal agricultural equipment, and harrass and attack the farmers attempting to reach their lands. On Friday afternoon, it was a Palestinian flag that Yassin put up over a tent on his land that gave the settlers of Anatot an excuse for their pogrom. Dozens of settlers, armed with sticks and rocks, brutally attacked Yassin and his family, as well as the activists that accompanied him. The police were present during the pogrom, but stood on the sidelines and did nothing. Three people were hospitalized with serious injuries, three activists were detained for interrogation. Not a single one of the attackers was arrested.

That same evening, forty activists returned to the scene of the pogrom, in order to protest. When we reached the gate of the settlement, we were forbidden enterance, and we remained in front of the locked gate to protest the settlers’ violence and the lack of police resposibility. The settlers of Anatot quickly amassed at the gate: some had participated in the afternoon’s pogrom, some were soldiers and police officers in civilian dress, youths and grown men seething with hatred and hungry for violence. A number of police officers in uniform that were present did nothing to restrain the raging crowd. The settlers demanded that the gates be opened, and under the aegis of the police officers, they charged us, with fists, rocks, and clubs. 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 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, and some were totally destroyed. One car door was etched with Starof David. Despite the attack, which was captured by both stills and video cameras, the police did not arrest a single rioter.

As often happens in a land laden with so many historical layers, there is sad irony. Anatot is called after the hometown of prophet Jeremiah – who was, in his day, a flaming “radical leftist” speaking out against the self-destructive nationalism pushed by the kings and by manipulators of public opinion. For this, he was repeatedly arrested and lynch-mobbed by his compatriots.

It is more likely that the Biblical Anatot was where the Palestinian village of Anata – home to the Aramin family who have famously lost their 10-year-old daughter Abeer to Israeli Border Police bullets – now stands. Anatot settlement sits some 5km to the east, apparently on Anata-owned land (the Anata resident featured in the story is the only one daring stand up for his land rights), and about 10km NE of downtown Jerusalem.

Overlooking the spectacular Wadi Kelt canyon, Anatot is a classic “Quality-of-Life Settlement”, attracting apolitical Israeli Jews who are uncurious about the reasons they can score a huge bargain, buying villas in spectacular scenery at a price that wouldn’t suffice for a 2-bedroom on the “Israel Proper” suburbs, or a studio apartment in Jerusalem itself. Read the hillarious account by Guardian journalist Rachel Shabi, who posed as buyer interested in a house in Anatot.

As the Sheikh Jarrah activists put it,

It’s not easy to process the meaning of these events. The magnitude of the hatred that the settlers of Anatot – ostensibly non-ideological and non-extremist settlers – showed, and the forgiving and accommodating behavior of the media, are a troubling testimony to the indifference that characterizes Israeli society after years of occupation and repression. We don’t pretend to know how to continue from here. But we feel that the events in Anatot last Friday are – and must be – a watershed moment. We turn to you in hope that we can continue to count on your support and participation in the near future.

Call to action!

Six years ago, the settlers of Anatot decided to move the fence on the southern part of the settlement and to annex private lands owned by residents of the village of Anata. Today their access to their own lands is blocked, thanks to this illegal fence. In Anatot, like in the rest of the settlements, there is no justice and no accountability, and the settlers can do as they please. The violence that took place on Friday is the clear product of the settlement project, the same project advanced and supported by every single government in the past four decades. Its consequences are occupation and repression, theft and land expropriation, the marking dissidents as traitors. This policy is maintained by the courts, the police that are in collusion with the settlers, the media that doesn’t do its job, and an Israeli society that keeps its mouth shut.

We will not remain silent until the illegal fence is dismantled

and the residents of Anata can reach their lands.

We will not stop until the criminals of Anatot are brought to justice.

In the next few days we will announce our plan of action for Anatot.

See also Sara Benninga’s poignant testimony.

In the activism circles I move in, I have always thought there is a slight tendency towards exaggeration. Yes, fascism is rising, we say, but I mostly believed this was said with wink, with a bit of exaggeration, revealing an honest conviction that it can’t really get that bad.

…But yesterday my perception changed. I came in close contact with fascism, face to face, its fist up against my face, and the faces and bodies of many of my friends. My mouth bleeding, his nose broken, the other’s eye black from punching, her head split open…

…When a group of the Anatot settlers closed in on A. in the fields, beating her with fists and feet, one of the policemen watching the spectacle came up to her at the end and said, in mock innocence – “madam, you have fallen, let me help you up”.

When the wives of those attackers saw their husbands beating women and men without differentiation (here’s a high-five for gender equality!), they clapped in enthusiasm and spat out towards me the words “traitor”, “you deserve this”. And when those wives heard their husbands threaten us “we’ll fuck you over” – they suddenly became men themselves, cheering their husbands’ potential sexual conquering, as if they were one of the guys.

Fascism is the where basic human solidarity, empathy, if you’d like, evaporates.

Please support their struggle.

————– UPDATE: —————

As the intro says, in order to bring this story out I gave up on figuring out “my own angle” on it. The Israeli media has either ignored the mob-assault or misreported it; these are people I know – had I been in I-P now I could have been there myself; all they have right now is their friends and allies helping spread the story through the blogosphere. So I did.

This morning, veteran activist Yasmin Halevi posted a text that I feel is very close to my personal perspective. It is in Hebrew, but here are some selected translations:

…I don’t quite understand the [conceptual] shock [about the Anatot attacks.]

In the year 2000, a few weeks after the Second Intifada started, I and a few other members in the then-forming Taayush, stood in downtown Tel Aviv fundraising for the besieged West Bank Palestinians, as a political statement that besieging and starving people out is not the way. We got the usual dose of yelling and cussing, but also some money…

A week or two later we repeated the activity… a fragile elderly woman who owned a nearby shop, came by and started yelling in a manner that would put any street-goon to shame, and called the city inspectors [to drive us away]. Meanwhile, two youngsters arrived, told us they are going to have a coffee, and if we are still there when they return they will break our stall to pieces. Barak was still PM back then, Lieberman was nowhere to be seen…

When [the 2 youngsters] saw we were still there, they fulfilled their promise: without delay, they defaced, broke, hurled and demolished our belongings. The crowd at the nearby coffeeshop gave them a standing ovation: “at last, one true man!”

…Later that day I scrubbed myself with a lot of soap and water, but the nausea didn’t leave me until the next morning…

…to quote Azmi Bishara: this is not tea and biscuits, this is a struggle… let us understand what we have to deal with, once and for all: a nation of occupiers and dispossessors, on the ground, many of whom have a direct stake in retaining the Occupation; a nation among whom we will still have to live, even if the Occupation will ever end (and even then, there will be struggles to carry on).

Thus, even if we return home in battered and beaten bodies – after all, this is a risk that cannot always be foreseen – at least we will not feel humiliated and betrayed, but like heroes.

We will know we have done something, and will be proud of our success in throwing our adversaries off-balance and shaking their confidence.

Thank you, Yasmin, for these brave words.

Written by

Assaf Oron works as a statistician and moonlights (voluntarily) as a human-rights activist and blogger. He arrived in Seattle from Israel in 2002 for studies, and for now is sticking with the local greyness, dampness and uber-politeness, while plotting his glorious repatriation to the land of eternal sunshine and rudeness. Meanwhile, he tries to explain to anyone who cares to listen, what the Occupation is and why it must be ended now, not later. Assaf is webmaster for the Israeli human rights organization "Villages Group"

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One Response to "UPDATED with Video and more Commentary: Israel Settlers Nearly Lynch Activists with Police Looking on."

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