'Army made no moves to enhance security'

IDF lax despite attacks, Bat Ayin residents claim; settlers deny entering Arab village for revenge.

bat ayin 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
bat ayin 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
No improvements have been made to enhance security around Bat Ayin since a 13-year-old boy was killed by a terrorist there last month, residents told Brig.-Gen. Nir Solomon, commander of the IDF's Etzion division, who met with them Sunday night. The residents also denied they had sought revenge in a series of incidents since then. The settlement's 150 families, located on a hilltop in the Gush Etzion region, have refused to erect a security fence around it for ideological reasons. They also argued that it was better to rely on technology for security, such as adequate cameras and radar, which it said the IDF had yet to provide. Their complaints were widely publicized after a resident of the nearby Palestinian village of Hirbat Tzapa, infiltrated Bat Ayin on April 2 and murdered Shlomo Nativ, 13, by hitting him on the head with an ax. A seven-year old boy was also wounded in the attack. "After all the promises for improved security for Bat Ayin that were made then, we got nothing," said Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein. "We asked for an appointment with [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak and we did not get it yet. So nothing has happened," he said. It was a complaint echoed by Bat Ayin spokesman Daniel Kohn, who said, "We expected a more serious response." In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, he denied that members of his settlement had tried to avenge Nativ's murder by firing on Hirbat Tzapa on Saturday. A week after the murder, clashes broke out between Bat Ayin residents and those of Hirbat Tzapa, when settlers went to an adjacent hill known as Givat Muhtar for the Birkat Hahama prayer. Settlers said Palestinians stoned them. The Palestinians claimed settlers had entered their village and shot in the air, damaging property. On Saturday clashes erupted again when Bat Ayin settlers returned to Givat Muhtar, a place that they hope to turn into a new settlement. The army said the group ignored their orders to leave, headed toward Hirbat Tzapa and opened fire. Two soldiers on leave who used their guns in the incident were arrested. Kohn said since the Birkat Hahama ceremony, settlers have been going to Givat Muhtar to pray. They have renamed it Erzei Shlomo in memory both of Shlomo Nativ and of Erez Levanon, 42, a musician and father of three who was killed by two Palestinians in February 2007 as he prayed just outside the Bat Ayin settlement. Sometimes the army had stopped Bat Ayin residents from praying at Givat Muhtar and sometimes it had not, said Kohn. According to Goldstein, on Saturday a group of settlers returned to Givat Muhtar and walked around the area. They got close to the village while they were hiking, but did not attempt to enter it. They were stoned by a group of Arabs from the village and two men from the group who were armed fired into the air, he said. At that point, the IDF arrived, he added. There is no interest in Bat Ayin in carrying out a revenge attack against Hirbat Tzapa, said Kohn. What the residents want to do is create a new settlement on Givat Muhtar in memory of the two victims of terror, thereby increasing protection for Bat Ayin, he said. Almost immediately after Nativ's murder, the press started asking questions about revenge attacks, Kohn said. There has been a pre-disposition to paint the community in a bad light, he charged. "I think it derives from the basic attitude that there has to be a reason why the Arabs hate us," he said. "So very quickly, the murder of an innocent young boy becomes a story centered on our violence." Bat Ayin also made headlines in 2003 when three of its residents were convicted of attempting to bomb an Arab girls' school on the Mount of Olives. But Kohn said that did not mean that the entire community should be tarnished. There are people from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in jail, and those cities do not receive a bad reputation as a result, he noted. "We love our land and we are here to stay. Our intention is to create a spiritual environment that is a real glory to the Jewish people. "It is my personal mission in life and it is our community's mission to add light and enlightenment to the world, and that is what we are there for. We are looking to live here in co-existence and righteous respect for one another," he said. Rebecca Wolf, an American volunteer for a group called Palestine Solidarity Project, said she saw the settlers come through the valley and up the hill toward the village. When they were within 70 meters or so, she said, they started shooting in the direction of the buildings. They backed off when the IDF showed up, she said.