Jericho, again

A decision by the PA to stamp out terrorism and incitement against Israel would constitute a huge step on the road to independence.

February 22, 2010 19:18
3 minute read.
IDF soldiers detain a Jewish settler after he was

jericho settler soldier arrest 311. (photo credit: AP)


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About a hundred settlement activists trampled across eggplant fields and around date trees Sunday evening – grappling with IDF soldiers and border police along the way – to force their way into Jericho’s Na’aran synagogue. Thirty-five activists were arrested for violating the prohibition against Israeli citizens entering Palestinian-controlled territories without permission.

Ostensibly, the move, which saw activists barricading themselves inside the 6th century synagogue, was aimed at “renewing the Jewish presence in Jericho.”

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Organizers claimed the move was loaded with symbolism.

“Rabin and his associates said ‘Jericho first’ as code words for surrender, during the Oslo accords,” declared MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), who was among the activists. “Now we’re saying ‘Jericho first’ as code words calling for a return to our land.”

Right-wing activists: Infiltration of Jericho ‘first step'

Another activist noted the historical significance of infiltrating Jericho, the first city conquered by the Jews under Joshua, on Adar 7, the anniversary of the death of the biblical Moses, who never merited entering the land.

The activists might have added the symbolism of Purim’s imminence: All of the cities that were walled at the time of Joshua’s conquests – such as Jericho – read the Megilla one day after cities that were not.


Notwithstanding our appreciation for historic symbolism, however, a more rational set of criteria should guide political action. It is foolish and potentially dangerous to put a drain on limited IDF manpower operating in the Jordan Valley by traipsing into a closed security zone.

As one soldier reportedly put it while accompanying the activists into Jericho (having failed to block them and opted instead to ensure there were no confrontations with local Palestinians), “Instead of catching rock-throwers in [the nearby town of] Ujah, we are out here with these people.”

And it is naive, at best, to expect to garner public support by using force and ignoring law and order. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak pointed out at the beginning of Monday’s Labor faction meeting, “In Judea and Samaria there is only one authority – the state.”

If access to Jewish holy sites located in Palestinian-controlled areas is what settlers want, the IDF and the Civil Administration regularly coordinate visits by Jews to the Shalom Al Yisrael (Peace on Israel) synagogue inside Jericho – as it does to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, to Joshua’s Tomb near Ariel and to other holy sites no longer under Israeli control. (Similar arrangements are made for Christians and Muslims interested in visiting their religions’ holy sites.) Visits to the Na’aran synagogue could be coordinated as well.

MOST HEBREW media coverage has focused on the “good fortune” that there were no casualties among the wayward settlers who dared enter Palestinian-controlled territory. And indeed, there is reason to be fearful of entering Palestinian towns. Etched deep into the Israeli collective memory is the brutal murder of Yossi Avrahami and Vadim Novesche, two reserve IDF soldiers who in October 2000, at the beginning of the second intifada, mistakenly wandered into the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Ramallah. PA police did nothing to prevent a huge crowd from beating the two to death, throwing one of the bodies from the window of the PA police station, dragging them both to Manara Square and holding a “victory celebration” there.

Just two weeks ago, meanwhile, a Palestinian Authority policeman stabbed to death an IDF staff-sergeant near Tapuah junction in Samaria. Thus the IDF must take into consideration worst-case scenarios.

Still, assuming, as many in the Israeli media apparently do, that Palestinians will react in a violently Pavlovian way to any Jewish “provocation,” is exaggerated and counterproductive.

There have plainly been marked improvements in the will and capacity of the PA’s security forces, many of whom have now been trained within US-funded frameworks. Strikingly, they helped prevent an upsurge of violence against Israel in the West Bank during Operation Cast Lead a year ago. Senior security officials describe cooperation of late as relatively strong. Just yesterday, PA forces helped foil a rocket attack from the West Bank, notifying the IDF of the location of a Kassam positioned ready for firing near Modi’in.

A strategic decision by the PA to stamp out terrorism and incitement against Israel, of course, would constitute a huge step on the road to independent statehood. It would also obviate the need for concern when Jews sought to visit holy sites in Palestinian-controlled territory – a sadly improbable scenario, and hardly the one envisaged by the organizers of Sunday’s mission to Jericho.

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