After masked settlers attacked a Palestinian community as soldiers looked on last month, the response in Israel has been to attack and silence the messenger.
Basil al-Adraa, a Palestinian journalist and human rights defender, documented the violence in the South Hebron Hills of the occupied West Bank on 28 September. The incident “received wide media coverage,” according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.
Al-Adraa’s report on the settler rampage, co-authored with Yuval Abraham, was published on the Israeli website +972 Magazine under the title “Scenes from a Jewish pogrom” (the attack occurred on the final day of the Jewish holiday of Simhat Torah).
In the report, Palestinian residents described the terrifying assault on their community that left a toddler with a fractured skull after a settler threw a stone at his head.
The attack began when settlers assaulted a shepherd and slit the throats of three of his sheep in Mufaqara village.
“Soon after, several dozen more masked settlers arrived armed with handguns, stones, clubs and sticks,” according to the report in +972.
“At least 60 Israelis participated in the attack on Mufaqara, which has been a target of settler violence before — but never like this,” the writers add.
Settlers severed pipes supplying water to homes and ransacked their contents while “others turned over vehicles belonging to the residents and tried to roll them down into the nearby valley.”
A settler, one of several carrying a gun, fired at a Palestinian who threw stones to defend his home. The man defending his home “was unharmed,” according to +972.
Instead of stopping the violent settlers, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at Palestinians attempting to repel the attackers with stones.
The military’s defense of the violent settlers didn’t end there.
Two weeks later, al-Adraa was subjected to a defamation campaign, with a reporter on Israel’s most popular news program claiming that the Palestinian journalist had attempted to set fire to a home to frame it as “a Jewish crime.”
Channel 12’s claims rely entirely on a brief clip of video recorded by a soldier’s body camera. It shows an Israeli soldier approaching al-Adraa and accusing him of setting fire to a home so that he could blame it “on the Jews.”
Channel 12’s Ofer Hadad repeated the soldier’s baseless allegation as the truth, providing no evidence to support his claim. By doing so, Channel 12 attempted to suggest that the settler violence plainly evident in al-Adraa’s video documentation of the pogrom is not what it seems:According to al-Adraa, the fire was in fact started by a tear gas canister fired by soldiers.
The soldier’s accusation was motivated by “a personal grudge” after al-Adraa recently recorded him beating up Israeli protesters, the journalist said.The soldier’s false accusation against al-Adraa and its amplification by a major media outlet have broader implications.
“This ordeal is not just a case of fake news – it is a desperate attempt to stop me from documenting the violence of the occupation, and to intimidate other Palestinians from doing the same,” al-Adraa states in a piece he wrote about the smear campaign against him published by +972.
Al-Adraa also records videos for the human rights group B’Tselem.
Occasionally his reportage and documentation and that made by other Palestinians penetrate the wall of impunity surrounding the occupation. For that, they are vilified and harassed with no protection against those who wish for their silence.B’Tselem published additional footage demonstrating al-Adraa’s reportage as truth, and the soldier’s accusation against him to be a lie: As B’Tselem observes, “Channel 12 News did not run a basic fact check before sharing the footage and the unfounded allegations against al-Adraa – nor was he asked to comment.”
Instead, the outlet joined “Israeli soldiers, settlers, bureaucrats, government ministers and judges” in carrying out their “harsh violence against Palestinians.”
Truth is no protection
The truth, even when there’s video evidence, provides little protection to Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and settler terror.
The Israeli military has done nothing after a settler was shown on video firing at Palestinians with a soldier’s gun in June in the South Hebron Hills:The military has also ensured the impunity of a soldier who was recorded opening fire toward Palestinians while masking his face with his shirt in Urif village in the northern West Bank during May.
Nidal Safadi, a resident of that village, was killed during the incident in which both settlers and soldiers fired towards Palestinians.
There is no line between Israel and its settlements. Settlers advance the state’s goals by creating a coercive environment to force Palestinians off of their land.
Settlers and soldiers are partners in the same goal of colonizing Palestinian land. It is of little surprise that the military would whitewash settler violence against Palestinians.The Israeli government, media and advocacy groups – some funded by the state – attack individuals and organizations that expose the violence that colonization entails.
Anti-Palestinian groups such as Ad Kan and NGO Monitor weaponized Channel 12’s lies about al-Adraa to attack B’Tselem and its funding from European governments:Following the pogrom in the South Hebron Hills last month, a coalition of Israeli human rights groups launched a bus ad campaign calling on Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, and Omer Bar-Lev, the minister of internal security, to stop settler attacks against Palestinians.
The ads, which show the Palestinian toddler hospitalized after the Mufaqara assault, state: “A three-year-old child was wounded in a terror attack. It is time to stop settler violence.”
The ads were pulled after right-wing activists threatened violence against the bus companies.
“First you hit a child on the head with a stone, and then you threaten to burn buses so it wouldn’t be mentioned. This is what terrorism looks like,” Avner Gvaryahu, from the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence, stated (translation by Yossi Gurvitz in Mondoweiss).
Settler violence against Palestinians is on the rise amid “a permissive atmosphere” as the military seeks to avoid confrontations with settlers, Israeli officials recently told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz.
Basil al-Adraa, 25, grew up with settler violence in the South Hebron Hills. The assaults by settlers have become more frequent and severe.
“Over the past two months, since the latest war in Gaza, the settlers’ attacks have become larger and more coordinated, and have started to involve guns,” he wrote in Haaretz in August.
“The Israeli settlers’ attacks are not random, nor do they reflect some kind of penchant for violent outbursts,” he added.
“They do what they do in order to create facts on the ground. They’re after our land.”
And they have the full backing of the state on whose behalf they act.