Israel is waging a holy war against Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, according to Dan Cohen, a journalist who has been monitoring Israeli violence.
Speaking to The Electronic Intifada on Thursday, 30 October — one day after the assassination attempt on Yehuda Glick, a prominent US-born extremist and leader of a group that seeks to replace the al-Aqsa mosque with a Jewish “Third Temple” — Cohen detailed the absurd and disturbing sentiments expressed to him by violent settlers on the front lines of the Temple Mount movement.
Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, attempted to storm al-Aqsa after Glick was shot but he and his band of Temple Mount extremists were denied entry. Feiglin has made a habit of encouraging genocide against Palestinians.
In an interview with Cohen, Feiglin tried to compare himself to a raped woman and a victim of the 11 September 2001 attacks.
“[Feiglin] told me that Jews being prevented from reaching the Temple Mount is the same as 9/11” and “he described himself as a raped woman because he was prevented from reaching the Temple Mount,” recalled Cohen. The journalist described Feiglin as a “hyper-extremist” who “sees himself on the front lines of the struggle for Western civilization against Islamic extremism.”
“He’s trying to start a holy war,” Cohen, a regular contributor to the website Mondoweiss, added.
Most of the “holy warriors” that accompanied Feiglin that day were US-born settlers who openly declared their desire to demolish al-Aqsa. Among them was “a 22-year-old kid from Long Island” who told Cohen that Palestinian rock-throwers, including children, should be shot on sight.
Cohen tweeted some of what he witnessed that day.
In a photo taken by Cohen, an older US-born settler can be seen standing behind Moshe Feiglin, waving an Israeli flag and sporting a Lehava t-shirt.
Lehava is a fanatical anti-miscegenation group dedicated to preserving Jewish “purity” in the Holy Land. Its sister organization, Hemla, receives Israeli state funding to “rescue” Jewish women from romantic relationships with Arab men.
Hatred of Arabs is not isolated to Temple Mount and Lehava extremists.
Cohen recounted how weeks ago a Jewish Israeli taxi driver said to him, “I don’t like Jews who like Arabs” after learning that Cohen had been to Gaza. The driver warned Cohen that his son, who lives in Miami, would kill Cohen if he were present.
“It shows how normalized the violence and the racism is where you can get in a taxi and the guy says, ‘I hate you I’m going to kill you’ or ‘my son will kill you,’ and you pay your fare and be on your way and that’s that,” said Cohen.
“Confirming the kill”
Hours after Glick was shot, Israeli police stormed the home of 32-year-old Mutaz Hijazi, the Palestinian that Israeli occupation forces accused of shooting Yehuda Glick.
Witnesses said that the Israeli police dragged an unarmed Hijazi onto the roof of his home where he was shot over twenty times by an assortment of weapons. The bullets “deformed and crushed” his bones, according to the autopsy report.
Cohen, who spoke to several witnesses and visited the execution site, said that “After [Hijazi] was shot by multiple police officers, one police officer shot him point blank with a pistol in the head, which is a tactic known as ‘confirming the kill.’”
He added; “then the police attacked the neighborhood with tear gas and the typical combination of rubber-coated bullets and these sorts of things for hours on end. Numerous family members and neighbors were arrested and beaten. This is the violence that we’re seeing that is really just not enough for the rightwing.”
It was “a brutal operation that is really more typical of the West Bank,” added Cohen, leading him to conclude that “Israel is importing the military-style tactics of the West Bank into East Jerusalem.”
Hijazi is one of three Palestinians shot dead by Israeli occupation forces in Jerusalem in the last three weeks.
The first, Abd al-Rahman al-Shaludi,was shot and killed by Israeli forces after driving his car into Israeli pedestrians at the Jerusalem light rail, killing a baby and a woman. Shaludi was shot in the back twice after exiting his vehicle and therefore did not pose an imminent threat at the time he was killed.
Hijazi was the second. The third and most recent was Ibrahim al-Akkari, shot dead by Israeli police after driving his vehicle at high speed into pedestrians at the Jerusalem light rail, killing an Israeli border policeman and injuring thirteen others.
Missing from most mainstream media accounts of recent bouts of Palestinian violence is the ferocious and suffocating Israeli violence that preceded it.
To cite just one example, since Israeli settlers kidnapped and burned alive sixteen-year-old Muhammad Abu Khudair in July, Israeli police have arrested more than nine hundred Palestinians across East Jerusalem, including children.
This number is likely to rise following the passage of an amendment to Israel’s penal code allowing for a sentence of up to twenty years in prison for throwing a rock, regardless of whether or not there is intent to injure.
“This is what Shaludi went to prison for, where he was tortured and came out with these psychological problems that potentially led to the deaths of these Israelis,” stressed Cohen. “So it’s these kinds of things that are the cycle that Israel creates for Palestinians — to beat them and torture them until occasionally one loses it and does something awful and then Israelis use it to crackdown even more.”
Below is a transcript of the interview with Cohen, which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Rania Khalek: I’m here with Dan Cohen of Mondoweiss who’s been on the ground in Jerusalem off and on over the last couple weeks as things have gotten increasingly chaotic. So what’s happening now? What are you seeing?
Dan Cohen: Right now Jerusalem is becoming more and more intense, especially over the last weeks.
Last night there was a hardcore rightwing rabbi who has been one of the main people pushing for Israel’s takeover of Aqsa in an attempt to destroy it and replace it with the Third Temple. He was shot last night. He’s recovering now and the suspect was shot and killed this morning in a really brutal operation that is really more typical of the West Bank. But now with the increase in violence over the past weeks, Israel is importing the military-style tactics of the West Bank into East Jerusalem.
Today settlers led by Moshe Feiglin — who’s a deputy speaker in the Knesset and one of the main figures in trying to take over Aqsa — he staged a protest in being prevented from reaching al-Aqsa.
I was able to interview him this morning and he described himself as a raped woman because he was prevented from reaching the Temple Mount.
RK: Which is like the same thing, right?
DC: I’m not a woman so I can’t exactly say but as a white man I’m pretty sure it’s exactly the same.
RK: As a woman I can say that other women who’ve been raped would be totally fine with that comparison.
DC: Not offensive at all.
RK: Moshe Feiglin, one really obnoxious thing is he’s kind of been the person that people are relying on — by people I mean the news media in the US — are relying on his account of what happened to Yehuda Glick, saying a man with an Arab accent shot him. They’ve been describing [Feiglin] as a rightwing lawmaker, which is funny because I’m pretty sure that he’s routinely incited to genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. So he’s like a really extreme guy, right?
DC: Yeah, he’s a hyper-extremist. He sees himself on the front lines of the struggle for Western civilization against Islamic extremism.
Today [Feiglin] told me that Jews being prevented from reaching the Temple Mount is the same as 9/11.
So this is the world that he’s operating in, where the Old City of Jerusalem, which is occupied — this is in East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied and annexed in 1967, so they don’t have any legitimacy there — this is the epicenter of the battle for the world, for civilization.
RK: That’s a terrifying way to think.
DC: He’s trying to start a holy war.
I met numerous Americans today. The vast majority, all but one settler I met today, were Americans. They all had these maniacal ideas, just fanatical in what should happen. Some of them called for straight demolition, Israeli-style with weaponized Caterpillar bulldozers, of al-Aqsa mosque.
One of them had a Freudian slip. I said, “Okay, so you want to demolish it?” He said, “Well, we don’t want to blow it up,” which is exactly how they’ve been demolishing houses. They blew up the Qawasmeh home. The two guys who were suspected of kidnapping and killing the three Israeli settler teenagers over the summer, they blew their homes up even though they weren’t there, just to punish the families.
RK: I saw you tweeting about another American settler, who has moved to the Jewish State of Israel and the Levant (JSIL) out of ideological reasons, told you that rock-throwers even as young as seven should be shot and killed.
DC: Yes. This was a 22-year-old kid from Long Island who said this is how we have to deal with it. Basically what we’re seeing with the Israeli right wing, I’ve interviewed a dozen right-wingers of various sorts over the last few days. I went to an Im Tirtzu demonstration, which is the grassroots rightwing neo-Zionist, really fascist organization that operates throughout thirteen Israeli universities in which they were demanding more police violence. This is the thing that is stunning to me because in the US police violence is obviously becoming more visible and the militarization of police, we’re seeing major protests like that you covered in Ferguson, the situation there, where people are protesting against police violence. But Israelis are demanding more police violence.
RK: Against Palestinians obviously.
DC: Against Palestinians, of course. In terms of the assassinations, that’s what happened this morning, it’s an extrajudicial assassination.
Israelis like to talk about “we’re a liberal democracy, we don’t have the death penalty.” Instead you just have extrajudicial assassinations.
RK: Explain what happened this morning.
DC: Early in the morning a bit before sunrise Yasam police units [the Israeli special patrol unit] in plain clothes arrived in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor and they were backed up by regular police units. Basically they invaded this home and took this guy to the roof and assassinated him right there. This is the suspect from last night’s shooting. They attacked his family. This is the stuff that we see regularly in the West Bank, not as much in East Jerusalem. After he was shot by multiple police officers, one police officer shot him in the point blank with a pistol in the head, which is a tactic known as “confirming the kill,” regularly used.
And then police attacked the neighborhood with tear gas and the typical combination of rubber-coated bullets and these sorts of things for hours on end. Numerous family members and neighbors were arrested and beaten. This is the violence that we’re seeing that is really just not enough for the rightwing.
RK: There are settlements that snake between these Palestinian neighborhoods, right?
DC: Yeah, right next to Abu Tor is Silwan, which has been under heavy attacks. This is the neighborhood that Abd al-Rahman al-Shaludi, the man who was the suspect in what appears to be an attack on the Israeli light rail platform last week, that’s where he’s from.
If you walk through this neighborhood [Silwan], in addition to being invited for breakfast into homes like I was today you’ll see Israeli settlers in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods with their flags on display in order to taunt and terrorize and you have soldiers on top ready to attack at any moment.
RK: I do notice that it does seem like there’s more of a pushback from the people there than you see in the West Bank. Is that true?
DC: There is. Since the summer and the brutal murder and burning alive of Muhammad Abu Khudair, there have been regular demonstrations and resistance especially in Shuafat, the neighborhood he’s from. But it’s kind of spreading to different areas, which involves stone-throwing, very basic forms of resistance.
And a lot of the young people have taken out some of the colonial light rail infrastructure. The Israeli occupying authorities have used this as pretext to have massive crackdowns where in East Jerusalem they’ve arrested 900 people including children since the summer. So essentially they’re trying to pour gas on this. This is what Feiglin and his ilk are trying to capitalize on in order to gain popular support among Israelis who view it as fighting terrorism in East Jerusalem. Feiglin is trying to use this popular support to start the holy war.
RK: They really think that rocks are violent, that rocks are a form of terrorism?
DC: They say “rocks kill.” That’s the standard line that you hear — “rocks kill.” [Benjamin] Netanyahu after a high-level security meeting last week he’s trying to expedite passing these laws that would expand the definition of stone-throwing, where they don’t even have to prove intent to injure when you throw as well as increasing the punishment up to twenty years in prison for throwing a rock. This actually is what Shaludi went to prison for where he was tortured and came out with these psychological problems that potentially led to the deaths of these Israelis. So it’s these kinds of things that are the cycle that Israel creates for Palestinians — to beat them and torture them until occasionally one loses it and does something awful and then Israelis use it to crack down even more.
RK: After talking with all these rightwing people, how do you see the environment there? Does it feel safe? You’re not Palestinian and you can probably blend in pretty well if you wanted to with the settler community. They do seem to have a lot of violent hostility. Do you think it’s going to explode into violence like it has in the recent past?
DC: I think we’re there. Whether the settlers are going to start attacking more remains to be seen. I kind of float seamlessly throughout the Palestinian population and the Israeli population.
Being a white American Jew, Israelis in general really take to me.
In a very disturbing incident about a week or two weeks ago, I was in Tel Aviv and I got in a taxi and this taxi driver starts asking me the typical questions that any American Jew gets around Israelis, where he asked me, “How long have you been in Israel? What do you think of it?” And I told him that I was in Gaza. I wanted to see how he’d react.
I told him I was in Gaza and he immediately shifts his tone and says, “I don’t like Jews who like Arabs.” I just kind of talked to him about this and then he told me that his son is in Miami in the mob and if he heard what I said, he would kill me.
RK: What kind of mob is his son in?
DC: He’s in the mafia. This guy is married to an Italian woman and he said his son is in the mafia.
RK: So he’s a criminal?
DC: Yeah, exactly. The mafia and Israel — shared values.
RK: And he said his son would kill you?
DC: Yeah, because I was in Gaza. Simply for that. This guy put words in my mouth that I like Arabs. I said I like Arabs and Jews and he said no. It’s so bizarre because it shows how normalized the violence and the racism is where you can get in a taxi and the guy says, “I hate you I’m going to kill you” or “my son will kill you,” and you pay your fare and be on your way and that’s that.
RK: It sounds like you’re surrounded by the Israeli equivalent of Minutemen except the Minutemen (in Israel) are in control and they’re basically most of the people around you. And by the Minutemen I mean the people in Arizona who like to [hunt] immigrants.
DC: Yeah, the Minutemen in my home state of Arizona who patrol the US-Mexico border in order to hunt people fleeing poverty and violence that is a result of American policy in Central and Latin America, that’s pretty much who’s running the government [in Israel], that kind of mentality.
RK: The people that you’ve been speaking to, a lot of them are, or maybe not a lot of them, correct me if I’m wrong, but at least some of them are activists, Temple Mount activists they call them?
DC: Yeah, the people I spoke to today, they staged a protest at the entrance by the Western Wall. They staged a protest demanding that they be let in and somehow they managed to open this gate that there’s a padlock on and a bunch of them rushed in and then the police were able to stop them. Of course, the police had all of their weapons and foam-tipped — these weapons, they basically shoot, it’s like a hard piece of plastic with a little bit of foam on it that can cause serious damage — they all have these, they have all of these weapons that are basically reserved for Palestinians. And they just kind of gently brought these settlers out of the Aqsa compound, the bridge leading up to it.
RK: Over here, you’ve got The New York Times describing this group of people as rightwing activists who are agitating for Jewish rights at the Temple Mount, that’s all. Can you square that with the reality of what they’re actually doing? Because it’s more than just going there to be like, “can’t we just pray together?” That’s how it’s being described here.
DC: The very first part of initial context that a lot of our mainstream media misses out on is that Israel illegally occupies East Jerusalem so it has no legitimate power to actually, as it’s going to, vote on dividing Aqsa between Jews and Muslims. That’s an important fact that they miss out on.
The dream as was so well articulated to me today is to demolish it, to demolish the al-Aqsa mosque and build the Third Temple, which is about the worst thing possible for Palestine and really of course would have major impacts around the world and throughout the Middle East and would surely contribute to the rise of groups like ISIS because you basically have the counterpoint to JSIL, which guys like Feiglin who are on the other side of that coin are empowered. So that’s what Israel is trying to do.
RK: So what happens in this messianic fantasy with the “Third Temple”? What’s the point of all that for the religious zealots?
DC: I don’t have a deep theological understanding of all this because I wasn’t really raised with a lot of theology being Jewish. I was just raised to support Israel. But my understanding is basically Jews will then rule the world. That’s the short answer.
RK: That sounds very religious in general. That is the purpose of them all.
DC: Maybe it’s for my benefit in the end, I’ll get a cool spot or something.
RK: That would be great because I’d love to have somebody on the inside.
DC: I don’t know if they’ll allow the “leftists” to be a part of it. It’s like a dirty word in Israeli society. If they call you a leftist, they might as well be calling you an Arab.
RK: You’re stripped of your Jewish card?
DC: It’s like calling someone a communist in the US in the ‘50s. It’s not a descriptor. It’s a slur.
RK: After everything that’s happened in the last couple weeks, it does feel like things are escalating and exploding. Do you think that’s going to happen? Do you think there’s going to be more violence? Obviously there’s always more violence towards Palestinians, that’s the status quo. I mean the kind of violence that is being provoked, where like a Palestinian reacts.
DC: That’s certainly a possibility. We don’t actually know what happened last night because of course Israel’s not actually interested in dealing with facts and being the democracy that it claims to be. So we don’t know who’s actually responsible for that attack or what the nature of it is.
RK: But Israeli police said!
DC: They got all the proof they need. They shot the guy in the head. Who needs anything more than that, right?
RK: There is something to be said about the fact that there has been no evidence provided at all aside from talking points that have been delivered to the media by the Israeli authorities. And on top of that there is some suspicion that this could have also been another rightwing Jew because last week comments were made specifically by Glick saying there may have to be violence towards Jews to get the Israeli government to build our Temple or whatever.
DC: That’s definitely an accepted part of the ideology. That was expressed to me today. I brought that point up to these settlers, that if you guys make it to the Temple Mount today, that basically what set off the second intifada is when [Ariel] Sharon visited the Temple Mount. Are you guys concerned about massive losses of life? They were like, “No, we accept that. That’s part of it.”
In terms of an overall outbreak of Palestinian violence, I think there are major differences between the second intifada and now, one of them being that there’s the PA [Palestinian Authority], which is basically the second occupation for West Bank Palestinians, Israel’s collaborator for which the PA President Mahmoud Abbas, his “security coordination” as he euphemistically calls it is “sacred.” So it’s a religious thing for him apparently.
RK: Do you think that plays into why we’re seeing more of a response from Palestinians in East Jerusalem than we are in the West Bank in terms of actually pushing back against the police presence?
DC: Yeah. In the West Bank the resistance is totally subdued. You see these false starts of resistance but it doesn’t really go anywhere and that’s because you have this neoliberal economy. Ramallah, where I am, is the center of it. It’s a foreign aid economy that West Bank Palestinians rely on for their income. So the choice is basically being suppressed by the Israeli military as well as Palestinian Authority security forces and having some kind of income to extreme violence from the Israeli military and poverty. So that’s the choice that’s left. It’s a terrible situation.
Not only that, there’s the apartheid wall, which separates Palestinians from reaching Jerusalem. So even if they want to access Jerusalem and join in and create a sustained resistance, if too many of them approach the wall or checkpoints Israel opens fire.
Earlier this summer when they did that, there was the 48K march in which at least ten thousand Palestinians marched on Qalandiya [an Israeli military checkpoint] and Israeli soldiers immediately opened fire and shot more than two hundred people.
RK: Jeffrey Goldberg has been agitating for Palestinians to just march to a checkpoint and get shot and then the world will be like, “Okay, end the occupation.” And that didn’t happen. And I didn’t see Jeffrey Goldberg comment on it. It’s strange.
DC: Amazing. It’s almost as if he has no clue what he’s talking about.
RK: It is really interesting to hear you talk about the situation in all these different places because Palestinians are so fragmented and you’ve been to Gaza, you’ve been to East Jerusalem, you’ve been to the West Bank, you’ve been able to do something that Palestinians cannot do. And you’ve been to obviously present-day Israel where Palestinians live as Israeli citizens. Seeing all these different fragmented areas, do you think that that is a major obstacle? Because people keep talking about a third intifada and it seems like a big obstacle to any kind of uprising that would be concerted and unified is the fact that everybody’s split into different sections.
DC: Right, and this is part of Israel’s divide and conquer strategy, it’s classic. And it’s absolutely true. That’s why Israel was so opposed to the Fatah-Hamas unity deal. As broken as that was from the start, as flawed as it was, that’s basically why Israel launched the massive crackdown, in order to make Abbas collaborate and just absolutely get rid of any tiny chance of the political parties coming together.
Gaza and the West Bank, there’s total separation and it’s really a major problem.
RK: Watching Palestinians be so helpless — I hate to use that word, but it’s true. They’re basically defenseless in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem — you understand why Palestinians in Gaza don’t want to demilitarize because look what happens.
DC: Right, exactly. There’s a point of pride in the Gaza Strip that “we got the settlers out of here”and this summer the resistance fighters were able to kill some Israeli soldiers who were invading. That’s definitely a point of pride.
Even today when I was at this home where they murdered this guy, assassinated him, I was talking to his neighbor and he says to me as border police are attacking his neighborhood and tear gas is forcing us off the roof, he says, “What can I do? Even if I got a gun, what can I do as one person? Nothing is going to change.”
That’s really I think the feeling for a lot of West Bank Palestinians and it’s not for lack of wanting things to change, but they’re completely forcefully subdued, where any amount of resistance of any sort, armed or unarmed is met with brutal violence backed by the world’s superpower.
- Yehuda Glick
- Moshe Feiglin
- Temple Mount
- Jewish extremism
- Dan Cohen
- East Jerusalem
- Mutaz Hijazi
- Ibrahim al-Akkari
- Abd al-Rahman al-Shaludi
- Israeli settlements
- Jerusalem light rail
- West Bank
- Tel Aviv
- Mahmoud Abbas
- Palestinian Authority
- Qalandiya checkpoint
- The New York Times
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Muhammad Abu Khudair
- Abu Tor