Since 2007 the U.S. has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training and equipment for Palestinian Authority security forces. Reports of rampant torture in the prisons run by these forces, and warnings by Israeli military and other figures of the danger posed to Israel, have gone unheeded.
Early Sunday morning the danger grimly materialized. At least one PA policeman opened fire on a group of Israeli worshipers in Nablus in the West Bank, killing one and wounding four, including one seriously.
It appears to have been little short of an ambush. The worshipers, who were from the Breslav Hasidic sect, were driving back in a three-car convoy from Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus — a site where, according to Jewish tradition, the biblical Joseph is buried.
According to one report, the convoy:
… encountered a surprise checkpoint and [was] met with a hail of gunfire from a Palestinian jeep. The fire continued even after the vehicles turned back in an attempt to escape. Two of the three vehicles were hit.
As one of the Hasidim put it:
The police shot at the vehicles, they were screaming “Allahu Akbar.” It was crazy, they were shooting to kill. I screamed at the driver to drive out of there quickly.
The Hasid who was fatally hit was Ben Yosef Livnat, 25, married with four children, and nephew of Israeli Minister of Culture Limor Livnat. Eulogizing him at his funeral the same day, she said:
My brother’s son was murdered by a terrorist masked as a Palestinian police officer.
Shortly after the attack a crowd of Palestinian youths set fire to Joseph’s Tomb (report and video here). It was hardly the first time, the tomb having been burned to the ground by a Palestinian mob in a famous incident in 2000, early in the Second Intifada, and desecrated many times since then including with graffiti drawings of swastikas.
Among the reactions by Israeli politicians, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the fact that the worshipers did not coordinate the visit with the Israeli army could hardly justify the attack, and demanded that the PA swiftly investigate it and punish the perpetrator(s). Based on the PA’s record going back to the days of its former Chairman Yasser Arafat, it’s impossible to be optimistic.
Member of Knesset Danny Danon:
… called on the U.S. to reconsider its funding of the Palestinian security forces, as well as the training exercises that it does with them. He passed this request on to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
This incident comes at a time of mounting terror and brutality both in Israel and the region as a whole. Since last month Israel has witnessed the Itamar massacre of five members of a family, a bombing of a Jerusalem bus stop that killed a tourist and wounded about 50 other people, and numerous projectile attacks from Gaza including the firing of an antitank rocket at a school bus that killed a 16-year-old Israeli boy.
In the region, severe violence particularly in Syria and Libya has been grabbing headlines. Although many Westerners react by supporting “rebels,” reports of repression and strengthened extremism in Egypt suggest that merely replacing one Middle Eastern regime with another hardly guarantees the flowering of democracy.
The Middle East indeed poses difficult dilemmas for the West, but the chances of avoiding mistaken policies are higher if it is understood that violence and repression are endemic to the region for deep-seated cultural reasons. In that light, for instance, the U.S. and its European allies might have thought twice before jumping in to support Libyan “rebels” who are no less barbaric than the regime they hate.
But whereas Western forces eventually leave hotspots like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, Israel is in the Middle East to stay, and has to live for a long time with its own and others’ blunders. To Israelis who are more attuned to the region and less to Western hopes and visions, it has seemed all along that building a Palestinian military force is one such blunder — especially when such a force is eventually supposed to assume security responsibility in a sovereign state squeezing Israel into indefensible borders.
While it would be nice to see Sunday’s murderous incident as a fluke, again, an awareness of the Palestinian culture of extreme anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic incitement suggests the opposite. In fact, in another incident last year an Israeli soldier was stabbed to death by a PA police officer, and the Second Intifada began when a Palestinian officer shot his Israeli counterpart dead on a joint patrol — amid other such cases.
It’s to be hoped that MK Danon’s initiative to get Congress aware of the problem will bear fruit.