Left-wing activists say security forces trying to ban them from West Bank

Say security forces kicking them out of area precisely at time when they are most needed due to rising settler-Palestinian violence.

BTselem vid 2 224 88 (photo credit: B'Tselem)
BTselem vid 2 224 88
(photo credit: B'Tselem)
Left-wing groups held an emergency meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon to plan an offensive against recent moves by security forces to curtail their West Bank activities. Sitting in a circle in the basement office of Peace Now, they complained that in a growing number of instances security forces had stopped them from either helping Palestinians in the West Bank or entering settlement areas such as Hebron, the South Hebron Hill and the area around the settlement of Yitzhar. Security forces are kicking them out of the area, the activists complained, precisely at a time when they are most needed because violence between settlers and Palestinians is rising. "We have to organize now," said MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz) who called the meeting. He suggested that as a first step representatives from the groups should meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter. "We see that what is happening in the field is more serious than it was before," said Beilin, in reference both to settler violence against Palestinians and to the security forces's treatment of activists. Beilin said that rather than recognize the ways in which the Left- wing groups were acting to help the situation, the security forces were treating them as if it was their presence which was causing the violence in the West Bank. He accused the settlers, particularly in Hebron, of attacking both Palestinians and activists. The Jews who live in Hebron are the "dregs of Israeli society," Beilin said, adding, "what is happening there is intolerable." Mikhael Manekin of Breaking the Silence said he had seen a change in the attitude of the security forces against them in the last six months. The heads of the security forces in the Hebron area, he said, "are doing as much as they can to stop us from entering. It is not just that, but they are going out in the media and turning us into demons. I get the feeling that our blood is cheap there." As a former soldier who served in the army there, he said, now that he was a civilian he had as much of a right to be there as anyone else. They group did not present any facts and figures but rather relied on their impressions from the field. After the meeting Hagit Ofran of Peace Now told The Jerusalem Post that the police had stopped some 250 of their activists from entering the section of Hebron under Israeli control on July 18 for an event that security forces had initially approved. Worse, she said, was that when they made the decision to close the Hebron area at 8 a.m. they had not informed Peace Now. Instead they met them at 11 a.m. in Jerusalem and escorted them to Hebron, and it was only once they arrived that they were told they couldn't enter, Ofran said. Breaking the Silence had initially been barred by security forces from entering Israeli-controlled areas of Hebron this past spring. They were allowed to return only after an appeal to the High Court of Justice. Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights said that three international activists they had sent out into the field to help a Palestinian family were arrested after trouble broke out between the Palestinians and nearby settlers. Border Police denied that they were singling out the activists. "We don't blame any one group for anything. We look at each incident separately. We make no generalizations - we deal with incidents. Look at the latest example of the Yitzhar minor who was arrested [for attacking a Palestinian mother and her child]. I will not say, based on this incident, that Right-wing activists are disturbing the peace. There is one rule for everyone," said the Border Police spokesman. The spokesman added that there were times when Right-wing groups were also denied activity requests. Hebron community spokeswoman Orit Struck said she supported the move by security forces to ban the Left-wing groups from their city, where some 800 Jews live among some 30,000 Palestinians in an area under Israeli control. The situation is very sensitive and volatile and when Left-wing groups enter they often provoke and instigate incidents, said Struck. Just like it would be wrong for Right-wing activists to demonstrate in the streets of the Israeli Arab city of Umn El Fahim, so too Left-wing activists should not be in Hebron. Just last Saturday, she said, Left-wing activists had come to the park where children were playing and frightened them. Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report