Olmert calls settler violence a 'pogrom'

Dichter slams PM, says word should be removed from lexicon; Shas MK: There's no even a whiff of a pogram.

olmert 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday called arson and shooting attacks by settlers against Palestinians in Hebron last week a "pogrom" and said that "as a Jew, I am ashamed that Jews could do such a thing." The violence followed Thursday's eviction of settlers from the city's four story apartment building known as Beit Hashalom. "Immediately after the eviction, there were acts that cannot be described other than as an attempted pogrom by Jews from the Hebron area, and other areas, against Palestinian residents in Judea and Samaria," Olmert said at the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting. "I say this after much thought," he continued. "I formulate these words with the greatest care that I can. We are the children of a people whose historic ethos is built on the memory of pogroms. The sight of Jews firing at innocent Palestinians has no other name than pogrom. Even when Jews do this, it is a pogrom." After settlers and right-wing activists were evicted from Beit Hashalom, clashes broke out between them and Palestinians living in the valley that lies between the building and Kiryat Arba. In some cases, settlers and activists with cloths wrapped around their heads descended into the valley, allegedly to exact revenge for the eviction and out of frustration that the IDF and the government appeared to be preferring the rights of Arabs over their own. In another incidences, activists were attacked by Palestinians as they walked through the valley from Kiryat Arba to Beit Hashalom to avoid security forces' roadblocks. In the midst of the fray, a Palestinian home in the valley was set on fire. In another incident two settlers shot and wounded two Palestinians, a father and son, living in the valley. The two settlers said they were defending themselves from being lynched, while the Palestinians said they were innocent bystanders and were attacked for no reason. Olmert said that he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had asked law enforcement authorities "to take aggressive and sharp action to bring those responsible to justice" and to ensure that "the intolerable leniency toward lawbreakers from among the settler community will come to a complete halt." "We are instructing the security forces to do their utmost to prevent illegal and violent actions by Jews toward Palestinians in all areas under the responsibility of the State of Israel," the prime minister said. He said a decision to clear Beit Hashalom in the event that dialogue with the settlers failed to get them to leave voluntarily had already been taken last Sunday. "I think that the government's restraint and our determination in implementing the decision were correct, justified and worthy of esteem," Olmert said. The prime minister was not the only one to term the events a "pogrom." Already on Friday, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann made similar statements. Even before Thursday's events, Border Policemen had told The Jerusalem Post they felt the Hebron settlers were executing a pogrom against the Palestinians. In an interview Sunday to Israel Radio, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter took issue with Olmert's terminology, and said the word "pogrom" should not be used to describe what happened in Hebron. "I suggest that we take this word out of our lexicon," Dichter said. "We know what a pogrom is, we have felt it from other nations in other places. "The events perpetrated by Jews in Hebron were bad, but I don't think we have to use the word pogrom to describe them, because pogroms describe events that were much worse. We can go back to the pogrom in Kishinev in 1903, where 50 Jews were killed - there the word pogrom fits." MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas), who had moved into Beit Hashalom a few weeks ago to protest the state's decision to evict the settlers, also took issue with Olmert's use of the word. "There is not even a whiff of a pogrom," Ze'ev told the Post. "The pogroms against Jews in Europe included atrocities such as burning babies alive," he said. "The alleged attacks by a few right-wing activists against the Palestinians do not even come close to reaching that same level." Ze'ev and MK Arye Eldad (Hatikiva) said they most certainly did not condone the violence, but that the true blame for it lay with Olmert and Barak's "needless" decision to evict the settlers before the Jerusalem District Court determined who owned Beit Hashalom. "It was a political eviction that heated up the area at a most sensitive time," Ze'ev said. Settlers had first moved into the structure in March 2007 after claiming to have purchased it from its Palestinian owner, who has since denied that such a sale ever took place. The clashes in Hebron began after Barak announced his intention to evacuate the structure last month, Ze'ev said. Eldad also attacked Olmert's use of the word pogrom, particularly since it was his understanding that the two settlers who shot at Palestinians did so in self-defense. Eldad alleged that video clips of the incident had been carefully edited to make it seem as if innocent Palestinians were being attacked. Olmert was aware that by using the word pogrom "he is creating a blood libel, and he doesn't care. He knows that these people [the two shooters] were almost lynched to death by the Arabs, but he still enjoys the opportunity to portray them as killers," Eldad said.