March 21, 2011 Edition 7 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
The aftermath of the Itamar attack
It's just as well the world is busy elsewhere  - Yossi Alpher
The total absence of a peace process explains in part why Netanyahu's protests sounded so hollow.

Two wrongs don't make a right  - Ghassan Khatib
The Palestinian Authority has shown a firm and long-standing commitment to non-violence.

Murder in Itamar: terrorist warfare and political warfare  - Amnon Lord
The Itamar massacre renewed the debate about the death penalty.

Under guard of the soldiers  - an interview with Qays Awwad
The settlers took over 15 dunams of Awarta in the most strategic location.

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It's just as well the world is busy elsewhere
 Yossi Alpher
The brutal murder some 10 days ago of five members of an Israeli family in the settlement of Itamar, presumably by Palestinian terrorists, has to be seen in several contexts. They seemingly form concentric circles of ramifications, beginning with the local and reaching the regional and even global.

The local context is one of ongoing settlement expansion and increasingly lawless behavior by extremist settlers, some of them from Itamar and the "illegal" outposts it has spawned, who attack their Palestinian neighbors. This, even as the overall security situation in the West Bank has improved immensely in the last few years thanks to the success of Palestinian security forces and close cooperation between them and Israel and the international community. The improved security situation explains at least part of the shock caused by the Itamar attack: not only was it unusually brutal; it was simply a rarity. Nothing the settlers had done could in any way rationalize it. The reactions of the West Bank press and "man on the street" interviews in Nablus underlined just how inexplicable Palestinians there found the attack. Only in Rafah in the Gaza Strip did we witness disgusting scenes of rejoicing.

Since the perpetrators have not yet been found, we cannot explain the specific genesis of the attack. But the next circle of ramifications takes us to two significant contexts. One is the total absence of a peace process: it is almost axiomatic that the status quo of relative peace and quiet in the West Bank cannot long be maintained in the absence of some sort of movement toward peace (although it must be acknowledged that progress toward peace also produces acts of terrorism on both sides).

The second context is intra-Palestinian relations in the shadow of regional revolutionary turmoil. Youth circles in both Ramallah and Gaza have been demonstrating in favor of reconstituting a unity government that embraces the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Fateh and Hamas. Moderate politicians on both sides have expressed an interest. Could the Itamar attack have been intended to torpedo these efforts by generating an escalatory spiral? Last weekend's heavy mortar attacks from Gaza against nearby Israeli towns and kibbutzim would seem to support that thesis.

Next is the broader regional and even global context. Not many people in the world care about the murders in Itamar when revolution is overflowing throughout the Middle East and the international community is transfixed by the natural and nuclear disaster in Japan. Against this backdrop, the attempt by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to leverage the Itamar attack into a frontal assault on alleged Palestinian incitement was pathetic three times over.

To begin with, while there is plenty of Hamas incitement to condemn, Netanyahu focused instead on the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. There, with a few significant exceptions like tolerating the glorification of past terrorist "heroes", huge strides have been made by a responsible leadership to silence incitement. And all the while, Israel's right-wing government is rife with its own brand of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian incitement, disseminated mainly by supposedly respectable and even esteemed religious figures like Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and rabblerousing jingoists like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his associates.

So Netanyahu should clean up his own house first. But he should also recognize that, right now, the world is simply not interested. The lesson was repeated last week when the Israel Navy intercepted a ship carrying concealed Iranian weapons bound for Gaza and invited an indifferent and otherwise preoccupied international media to document the evidence. When the Saudis and other Gulf forces are entering Bahrain out of concern over Iranian inroads there; when demonstrators are killed daily in Yemen and Syria; when the western powers, with tacit Arab support, are attacking the Gaddafi regime in Libya--the world is preoccupied with other affairs.

Finally, while the Itamar attack renders a renewed peace process less likely, the truth is that it wasn't likely before Itamar. Netanyahu is really not interested and his coalition is incapable of sustaining even minimal concessions. This factor, too, explains why the prime minister's protests about incitement sounded so hollow.

Since Netanyahu has nothing to offer, it's just as well the world is busy elsewhere.-Published 21/3/2011 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Two wrongs don't make a right
 Ghassan Khatib
The horrible murder that took place in the Israeli settlement of Itamar in the West Bank and the killing of a family, including three Israeli children, by an unknown assailant was condemned in the strongest possible language by many Palestinian officials, opposition and opinion leaders and journalists.

The exploitation of the deaths of those children for a political agenda, however, is terrible.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the rest of his right-wing government launched a further expansion of settlements as a response to that murder. They used this human tragedy to justify further building illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, which is simply another wrong.

The other Israeli response to this murder was to accuse the Palestinian Authority of incitement, which Israel said was responsible for such an act. In fact, this is not a responsible attitude as much as it is itself a form of incitement against Palestinians by the Israeli government--incitement that has been leading to the increased settler violence that has marked the last two or three months.

The Palestinian Authority has shown a firm and long-standing commitment to non-violence. It has achieved a sustained period of stability, one acknowledged by the international community and, in many cases, by Israeli officials themselves. In addition, the Palestinian Authority has acted against incitement in ways mentioned by commentators in the international community.

Israelis need to be reminded that the most obvious and effective form of incitement for the Palestinian people is the Israeli occupation and its daily practices. The capricious Israeli control regime, the humiliation of the Israeli army, the continuous killing of innocent Palestinian civilians, the ongoing burning and uprooting of trees and other forms of restrictions and violence is the real contributor to increasing hostility and hatred.

There are two choices in front of the Israeli people and its leadership. One is to continue consolidating the occupation and encouraging and facilitating growing racism in Israel and among Israeli settlers in the occupied territories. This path means legitimizing the illegal and violent activities of the settlers, which will definitely contribute to further deepening the hostilities between the two sides and encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to pursue illegal and violent activities, attitudes and expressions.

The other choice is to adopt a strategy of rolling back the occupation and reeducating Israelis on the basis of the two-state solution and the need for mutual respect and recognition between Israelis and Palestinians. This means telling the Israeli public that Israel can have peace only within its own borders, not while infringing on the basic rights of the Palestinians.

Bilateral relations and negotiations have so far failed in this direction. And the tolerance of the international community for Israel's attitudes has contributed.

Incitement, a charge periodically raised by Israelis, is one example. The Israelis have their own definition of incitement that is applied to Palestinians without any acknowledgment of obvious Israeli policies and practices that incite Israelis (particularly settlers) and encourage aggressive and violent tendencies.

The Palestinian leadership has responded by challenging Israel to agree to the establishment of a committee that would include a third-party representative of the international community, with the task of developing incitement definitions and applying it equally to both sides.-Published 21/3/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Murder in Itamar: terrorist warfare and political warfare
 Amnon Lord
The massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar, an Israeli settlement east of Nablus, reminded Israelis for a moment of the horrors of the terror warfare that seemed to have ceased a few years ago. But it was perceived as an isolated event, not as part of a sequence of a new terrorist offensive. Thus it was possible for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to contain the shock and avoid reacting in a way that might have led to a loss of control over security stability in the West Bank.

In the past, there would have been a public outcry for retaliation--but retaliation as a strategy, not a primitive Pavlovian reaction of revenge. So at the short-term level, both the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership did the right thing so as not to let events get out of hand. This means the so-called peace process was not harmed.

Some would say that since the peace process no longer exists, there is no danger of it being harmed. But this is not entirely true. Although there are no ritualistic acts of "peace" negotiations, Netanyahu, Barak, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have actually achieved a great deal by changing the reality on the ground. It's not clear why the commentariat of the media assesses the political condition only in terms of diplomatic events.

But the massacre caused the Israelis to think again about the essence of Palestinian terrorism. Although the Itamar atrocity was perceived as isolated at a superficial level, there was also near consensus that it expresses something deep about the Palestinian struggle against Israel. A terrorist act like that always has some short-term causes, and the commander of Israel Defense Forces in Judea and Samaria, Brigadier General Nitzan Alon, said off the record that the settlers' acts of "price-tag" might have led to Palestinian retaliation. There is also a feeling that the Itamar act was calculated to create new tension that triggers clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, thus averting unrest within the PA inspired by the uprisings in the Arab world. But the horrific scene of the murder and the celebrations in Gaza, throwing candy in the streets, brought home some notions that seemed to have been forgotten.

The Itamar massacre renewed the debate about the death penalty. Although the Israeli leadership did not express it bluntly, Palestinian terrorism falls in the category of genocidal policy. In Israel the death penalty is applied only under the 1950 law on the prevention of genocide and punishing the crimes of genocide.

In his book, "Supra-state International Law" ("HaMishpat HaBeinleumi HaAlMedinati"; the following is translated from the Hebrew), Professor Yoram Dinstein wrote, "the principle in the definition of genocide is not the actual extermination of a group of people, but the intention to annihilate it partially or in its entirety. This has a double implication. First, if a group is annihilated without the intention of a total or partial annihilation of it, there is no genocide. Secondly, and in contrast to the first point--the murder of one single person can be considered genocide if it is committed as part of a series of similar acts that target the group in which the victim is included. Therefore, the murderous attacks by Arab terrorists like the ones in Kiryat Shmona and Maalot in 1974, which were carried out with the express intention to annihilate Jews in Israel, are in fact genocide under the [international] accord, even though those acts did not end in the final solution in the spirit of Hitler."

No one understood the depth and essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict better than David Ben Gurion himself. The best-kept secret is that after the Six-Day War, when the terrorist war intensified, the great leader who was by then five years into retirement supported the death penalty for terrorists under the 1950 law for the prevention of genocide.

"Is it not understood that there is a great and fundamental difference between a murderer who out of hatred or moral or mental disturbance killed one person--and a murder organization that does not aim at a specific person or persons but at members of a certain people--against Jews being Jews--like the Nazis or Fateh members?" Ben Gurion asserted that the terrorist organizations have the ambition, with the help of the Arab rulers, to achieve total or partial annihilation of the Jews in Israel and not only the Jews of Israel. "Even Robert Kennedy was assassinated because his Arab murderer considered him a friend of the Jewish people," wrote Ben Gurion in Haaretz on December 31, 1968.

The current international offensive of so-called de-legitimization of Israel, which means the denial of its right to exist, is, to paraphrase Clausewitz, the continuation of genocidal policy by "other" ideological means. A true peace process will eradicate that ideology and those aspirations that feed the incessant political warfare against Israel.-Published 21/3/2011 ©

Amnon Lord is a senior editor with Makor Rishon daily newspaper.

Under guard of the soldiers
an interview with Qays Awwad
bitterlemons: Can you describe for us the Palestinian village of Awarta?

Awwad: The village of Awarta is located eight kilometers southwest of the town of Nablus in the West Bank. It has approximately 6,000 residents and is surrounded by the Israeli settlements of Itamar, Yitzhar and Bracha.

bitterlemons: Can you describe what happened in Awarta last week after the killing at Itamar?

Awwad: On Saturday, March 13, a large Israeli force entered Awarta and closed the village's four entrances and announced that it was a "closed military zone". Police and undercover forces entered homes, searching them, and arresting young men between the ages of 13 and 40 years old. The total number arrested and taken for investigation was about 50, some of whom are still in undisclosed locations.

On the third day [of the curfew], settlers entered the village and started attacking homes on the eastern side of the village. They also "claimed" several dunams of land. This is what happened in the four days of curfew.

bitterlemons: What did the Israeli military do when the settlers entered the village?

Awwad: They did nothing. The settlers entered under guard of the soldiers.

bitterlemons: And what is the situation today?

Awwad: Today the settlers are calling on websites for the invasion of the village [over the coming days].

bitterlemons: Is there any sign that the Israeli forces caught the person who carried out the attack in Itamar?

Awwad: No, whoever carried out this attack cannot be Arab, or Palestinian. He can't be from Awarta. What the Israelis did here is part of a campaign against Awarta.

bitterlemons: What do you mean?

Awwad: Who did this cannot be Palestinian or from Awarta. Our Islamic religion does not allow us to butcher children.

bitterlemons: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says that the guilt for this crime lies with Palestinian incitement in mosques and schools. What is your response?

Awwad: This talk is inconsequential.

What happened on the ground is that the curfew placed on the village allowed for its destruction, and the settlers were able to take over 15 dunams of the village adjacent to the settlement of Itamar in the most strategic location.-published 21/3/2011 © bitterlemons

Qays Awwad is head of the local council of the West Bank village of Awarta.