West Bank Neighbors: Chronicles of Death

March 11, 2011

On Friday night, two men—presumably Palestinians—entered the West Bank Jewish settlement of Itamar. The settlement of 1,000 was established in 1984, deep in occupied land (28 km from the Green Line). It is named after the son of the biblical Aharon, Itamar, whose grave—according to a 13th-century legend—is located in the adjacent Palestinian village of Awarta (population 6,000), 8 km southwest of Nablus.

The men entered the home of the Fogel family. Using knives, they murdered in their sleep Udi (37), his wife, Hadas (36), and three of their children: Yoav (10), Elad (4), and Hadas (3 months old).

The slaughter, especially appalling because of the children massacred, was condemned by the Palestinian Authority and many common Palestinians. The usual suspects—Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, Al-Aqsa Brigades—have all denied involvement, giving rise to all kinds of rumors on the Palestinian side.

The Israeli government immediately exploited the atrocity to announce the construction of 500 new houses for settlers. The barbarian slaughter could have been an excellent propaganda asset—especially now that terror attacks are so seldom and Israel is in desperate need of pretexts for entrenching its colonialist project—were it not for the catastrophes in Japan that started the very same day. In its frustration, Netanyahu’s government even tried to feed the international media with snuff-style pictures of the murder, photos so horrible that the Israeli media refused to show them (though they did become a  hot commodity among smart phone users). The international news agencies said the pictures were tampered with (the faces were blurred), and rejected them.

Following the slaughter, dozens of settlers from Itamar went out to Awarta to seek revenge. A far-right Hebrew website reported that some of the soldiers sent to protect the Palestinians from revenge-seeking settlers actually instructed the settlers on how to bypass the army presence on their way into Awarta. One soldier gave the settlers a iron baton, wishing them good luck. 

March 20, 2010

At Sunday noon, two Palestinian men from the West Bank village of Awarta were shot dead by Israeli soldiers. Framed as “a thwarted terrorist attack,” the story was reported by all major Hebrew news channels following army briefings. These claimed the two men either “suddenly approached a temporary army checkpoint” or “were detained by soldiers for a routine check”; that they were carrying a pitchfork (or pitchforks) and a bottle (or a broken bottle); that they declined to show identity cards and “acted suspiciously”; that one of them assaulted the soldiers and was consequently shot twice and killed; and that after that, the other man assaulted the soldiers and was also shot and killed. The soldiers “felt they were in danger” and “reacted properly to the threat” from the Palestinians, who had “both the intention and the means” to harm the soldiers, an army source said.

Some of the reports added that the soldiers were in fact protecting Palestinian farmers when they were assaulted by the two, “yet more evidence for the Palestinians’ rascality,” an army officer was quoted as saying. Violent Jewish settlers regularly assault Palestinian farmers in order to destroy—or steal and sell—their crops and eventually take over their lands, as uncultivated land can be confiscated by Israel. The army has been ordered by the courts to protect Palestinian farmer workers.

Another channel suggested the attack could be retaliation for an event that took place the day before, when two other unarmed Palestinians had been killed by soldiers during a demonstration near Nablus.

Only YNet (Hebrew) bothered to talk to Palestinian sources. They said the two youngsters, both 19, were relatives on their way to work in the field, carrying tools. YNet was the only venue in which the two had names: Muhammad and Salah Qawariq.

CNN reported the event from both sides: they gave the army version, but they also spoke to residents in the area who said the two were innocent farm workers, as well as the head of the Palestinian medical relief services, who said they were both shot in the back. 

Late August 2010

The bodies of the two dead teens were brought to a hospital in Nablus. According to the medical exam, Muhammad was hit by seven bullets and Salah was hit by three, apparently from very close range. The Israeli army considered taking action against the soldiers involved in the incident, but failed to begin an investigation.

In August 2010, the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice calling for an investigation into the killing of two Palestinians five months before. According to Yesh Din, “The circumstances of the incident, in which the two teens were killed from IDF fire, raise the suspicion of a grave criminal offense. The details of the incident were not clarified, and there’s a risk they will never be clarified, as long as the military advocate-general continues to refrain from deciding on the matter.”

Yesh Din’s petition is still pending.

How Time Passes

The settlement of Itamar is surrounded by a fence. As a 2005 appeal by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Hebrew) reveals, parts of this fence run on the private land of Awarta farmers, effectively annexing them to the settlement.

Last week the murderers jumped over the fence. The movement was noticed by the local security forces, but the alarm was ignored. The area had been quiet for a long while, so the guards were not on high alert. Israeli intelligence did mark up the upcoming anniversary of the Awarta killing—next week—as a dangerous period. However, someone has forgotten to take into account that the Muslim lunar year is 11 days shorter than ours.

Author: Ran HaCohen

Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in computer science, an M.A. in comparative literature, and a Ph.D. in Jewish studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English, and Dutch). HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter From Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.