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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=4&datee=08/13/00&id=88888

Please note, Mr. President

By Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz 08/13/2000

So, we finally have an apolitical president who has promised to keep his mouth shut on controversial matters. Yet he has been in office only a week, and already we have a battery of controversial comments and steps, of a more extreme nature and coming faster than those of his impetuous, leftist predecessor. These comments and steps place our new president not just at the heart of the religious right, but occasionally even at its extreme margins. Kedouri and Ovadia Yosef are one thing, but Hebron forever?.

"Can you envisage a situation in which Jews would not be able to live in Hebron?" asked President Moshe Katzav, responding, "I see no diplomatic, political or security problem in the continued existence of the Jewish settlement in Hebron. The Palestinians can accept it."

Let's start from the end. The Palestinians cannot accept it. No seeker of peace can accept it. No reasonable person can accept it. But how could the president know that? One can only assume that he has never heard what Palestinian residents of the Hebron he so loves have to say on the matter.

Perhaps he should ask the child, Hazm Al-Shrakati, who was beaten by settlers a few weeks ago, or his sister Smakh, who was also hurt. Let him ask Shirin Abu Aiysha. No, she is still unable to speak; she was only nine months old when rocks thrown by settlers - children - hit her in the head. Her brother, Mohammed, was also hit by the stones.

Why doesn't the president come and see the wall of fences their father has erected around his home-citadel in Tel Rumeida, out of fear of his Jewish neighbors? Why doesn't he have a talk with Fahed Salhab, who was asked by settlers in the street this week, "Why are you looking at us?" and was then beaten to the point that he required hospitalization?

Let him listen to Abed Abu-Srah, father of four, who can tell the president about how he was beaten with clubs. He can also speak to Mohammed Muhathsab, father of seven - the settlers made a shambles of the souvenirs he sells near the Cave of the Patriarchs. Or perhaps Karem Masouda will manage to convince the president that the Palestinians cannot agree to the continued presence of the settlers in the city, although he was only spat on by women settlers.

Perhaps the president should read the testimony of press photographer Amr Al Joabri, about how he was beaten by settlers; or that of his two colleagues, Naji and Mazen Dana, who were also beaten and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. Let him speak to the B'Tselem human rights organization, which has collected dozens of complaints from Palestinians concerning the violence of the settlers, some from the last few weeks. Let him speak to foreign and local correspondents who know what is going on in Hebron, or to the soldiers who have been beaten and humiliated there recently, also by the setters. He can also speak to the few foreigners living in the city.

Perhaps he should go there and see with his own eyes what Shabbat in Hebron looks like and how the settlers stir up trouble and provoke quarrels. Let him see how the settlers slowly march down the streets on Shabbat, deliberately holding up Palestinian drivers, who - humiliated and submissive - do not dare to even honk their horns. Instead, they absorb the indignity and nurture understandable feelings of revenge and hostility.

Let the president see how the settlers strut through the market with their terrifying dogs. Let him read the posters with which they cover the Palestinian walls and let him take a good look as they overturn stalls in the marketplace. Let him note how they swagger through the streets, armed, and how the police and soldiers do almost nothing. Mr. President, all these things are sights that any occasional visitor to Hebron encounters daily.

"We are the landlords and they are the babysitters," explains the settlers' doctor, Dr. Yaakov Ben Triya to me at the weekend, "and they should be treated the way one treats a babysitter when one returns home." This is the point of view, and not the most extreme or violent one, of the settlers' doctor, who believes with all his heart that only God, or Abraham - and this is what he told me in all seriousness - can change the status of the city. How then can one expect any other behavior from a tiny minority in a city that does not want them - and justifiably so - in its midst?

The Palestinians, whether they seek peace or not, cannot accept the continuation of this situation. The president of the state, who has decided not to voice any views on political matters - or has he? - should not have expressed his support for the continuation of this state of affairs. Each day, more and more seeds of destruction are being planted in Hebron and they may eventually ignite a huge conflagration. The chief of staff defined the fruits of these seeds last week: This is where the next confrontation will erupt, he said. The makeup of the settlers in Hebron, or at least some of them, does not make for any other possible pattern of relations.

One can assume that most Israelis realize this. They know that the Jewish settlers in Hebron will remain there for another year or two, for another interim agreement or two, or perhaps even for another prime minister or two. In the end, however, they will be evacuated.

Who knows? Perhaps even the president realizes this. Nonetheless, he does not even consider the possibility of criticizing their behavior. Not a word. Why not? Even the law-enforcement agencies refrain from coming out against them and continue to turn a blind eye to their actions. (Even Dr. Ben Triya admitted that appropriate steps are not taken against those among the settlers who behave improperly. He says that this is because they are really agents of the Shin Bet security services.)

Instead, the president declares that we have no choice but to allow the continued warmongering presence of the settlers in the territories. A short time later, we were told, he hosted a "meeting for national unity" in his residence. A nation with a president who thinks that the provocation of the Jewish settlement in Hebron must continue forever cannot create unity, and should not unite, even after a thousand such gatherings


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