Settler violence and harassment in Sheikh Jarrah

SHEIKH JARRAH, EAST JERUSALEM (28 April 2003) — They do it in the middle of the night. On dark nights. Quietly, stealthily. In large groups. Well organized militias - armed and all. A crowd of about 50 religious settlers. Came in the night to two houses in Israeli-annexed, Arab East Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah, over the Green Line. They threw a child out of the broken window they’d entered by. A two-year-old flying baby, falling from the 2nd storey window, five meters high, ending up in hospital traumatised. They hit a man so badly he was driven away unconscious in an ambulance; I saw him go. Three others also hospitalised. Blood everywhere, broken doors, broken windows, chains and padlocks they put on gates to stop the neighbours coming to help.

They were organised like a small army brigade and came even though the court has yet to rule finally on this matter. Two even reconnoitred earlier that evening, arriving at 7.00 pm at the houses, lying to the people living there that they were from the Municipality: “How many people live here? We just want to know if the water’s running and electricity switched on?” The residents wouldn’t let them in, knowing at that hour no one comes officially.

By the time I arrived, summoned from sleep by the phone, the baby was in hospital. Thankfully, a resident phoned a diplomat, the police and a peace activist. A small handful of us gathered to witness the aftermath, to learn the truth, to show support and solidarity; while Saudi TV got it down on film.

And the Police and Border Police called for help let the settlers (these “so called” religious men) go with no arrests, despite the injuries they’d inflicted. No arrests, no handcuffs .. the police just let them trickle out of the houses with their skullcaps neatly in place and their sleeping bags stowed neatly in their backpacks. Each one’s hand-gun neatly out of sight, though witnesses later told how every single one was armed. We hurled insults at them in Hebrew, they looked amazed and the police verbally abused us instead. They offered the police chocolate, these covetous colonials. Stood in small clusters chatting with them by the four police jeeps as if there’d been no crime, no criminal activity. “Moshe, where’s my water?” one called to another, as if nothing unusual was going on. And huddled there, defying outraged, silent Arab neighbors, reorganizing strategy, before loading into their parked vehicles which drove away. For now. They will be back … As if there’d been no crime.

Since one of them was a Cabinet Minister (Minister of Tourism, Benny Elon), one must suppose they felt protected by the law and even above it… They are his gang, his followers, this group of thugs: “Homat Shalem” activists - an organization he runs. Maybe they’d even obtained rabbinical sanction for their acts, like Yigal Amir before murdering a Prime Minister. Benny Elon is also a rabbi. He who denied, recently in court, knowing of Rabin’s murder in advance. Contrary to what Amir claims.

Today is Monday, 28th April 2003. There is a Road Map initiative under way in which settlements should be vacated, the Occupation ceased and land returned to its owners. Are these the last desperate acts of ethnic cleansers? Or is this their business-as-usual, arrogantly obscene gesture at the peace process?

No doubt they’ll be back, they’ll keep on trying, using every trick as they always have. Hebron was such a case. Ras al Amud, Silwan, the list goes on… Even now, today, the country’s main newspapers deny the flying baby, talk of a compromise forced on local residents by police, an eviction order, a lawyer’s escort with the gang and a lawyers’ compromise. But the lawyer for the residents tells me all such reports are lies. Whatever the truth, it’s another hotspot, another bloody thorn in the side of peace. Created by sneaky people, armed thugs and sundry terrorists, who come in the dark of night, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Stealing someone else’s birthright. Stealing people’s homes. Creating refugees. Creating occupation. Using terror. I called one, to his face, a Nazi. It seemed the fitting word.

Annabel Frey is an Israeli peace activist and alternative tour guide who volunteers with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Rabbis for Human Rights, Women for Human Rights (Machsomwatch) and other Israeli peace organisations. She lived in Sinai, Egypt for four years, immigrated to Israel from South Africa in 1981 and is originally British.