Originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post on March 16, 1998
There is something pathetic about the praise which some quarters have given the Palestinian Authority (PA) for their supposedly moderate response to the shooting incident in Tarkumiya.
Let's get something straight right up front: What happened in Tarkumiya has nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict or itchy IDF trigger fingers. If a van waiting for the US Customs inspection on the Detroit side of the Windsor Tunnel were to suddenly bolt the line and plow into a customs inspector, there is every reason to expect that the police on the scene would draw and fire their weapons in an attempt to stop the vehicle. And just as a sticky gas pedal in Detroit would have spelled death, that mechanical defect killed three innocent Palestinian workers.
The official, repeat - official - Palestinian response to the incident was a series of incendiary statements and claims against Israel. Murder charges which could but only be seen by the Palestinian street as a call to arms.
And with the details of the incident so clearly pointing to a case of tragedy rather than crime, Yasser Arafat's call for a murder trial adds only fuel to the flames.
Yes, the PA prevented the crowds - which it whipped up - from reaching Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. But, if anything, this only shows that the rioting, firebombs and shootings which did take place in other locations under the watchful eyes of the PA "police" could have been prevented.
Last Friday's Haaretz features two photographs by Yoav Lemmer which symbolize the situation. The front-page photo shows a Palestinian in a clash with IDF soldiers in Bethlehem, about to shoot his slingshot. Behind him we see hunched down a Palestinian "policeman" of the same age in combat dress, with his Kalashnikov assault rifle and two magazines at the ready.
Lemmer told me that the Palestinian with the slingshot was shooting rocks at IDF soldiers and the latter were responding with rubber bullets. "What was the Palestinian policeman doing?" I asked Lemmer, thinking that perhaps the policeman acted to stop the slingshot assault.
"He was protecting him. The distance between rubber bullets and live ammunition is very little. His presence stops the soldiers from responding with more than rubber bullets. And if the rock shooter is hit by a rubber bullet he will help him." The same Palestinian "policeman" can be seen on an inside page providing cover for a masked rock thrower.
If this is considered a praiseworthy or moderate response by some, then what happened in Hebron this past week should come as no surprise. For days the Jewish community there has been under assault. They have been hit by rocks, firebombs, explosives and weapons fire from the Abu Sneinah area which is now under Palestinian control as per the Hebron Accord.
And the Israeli response? Hebron Jewish community spokesman Noam Arnon told me that he has no complaints against the soldiers in the field who work day and night to protect the community. The problem is higher up, where the decision has been made not to exercise the right of hot pursuit or to insist on the implementation of the buffer areas which were supposed to provide some protection for the Jewish community.
Now the Jewish community is being criticized for walking into the Palestinian-controlled H-1 area to draw attention to their plight. But unfortunately, this seems to be the only way to get action from the government.
It is highly doubtful that the situation in Hebron would have been even raised at the weekly cabinet meeting if not for the headlines.
Unfortunately, it seems that as far as the policy makers are concerned, as long as no one is killed, the bombs and bullets raining on the Jews of the Hebron area, or for that matter anywhere, are at most a nuisance. Now don't get me wrong. It's not that the government has picked the settlers for special treatment. This is just the way things are in Israel. Unless a wheel really squeaks it is ignored.
Consider the criminal delays in the closing of the Hiriya garbage dump near Ben Gurion Airport. Each morning, birds fill the skies over the dump as they wait for the garbage trucks to deliver their breakfast. The danger presented by the birds is far from theoretical. They are regularly slamming into planes. Luckily - so far - the birds haven't yet managed to find their way into the engines of a 747.
So, in the face of a real and present danger the government has dragged its feet. But if a jet had crashed into Tel Aviv last October, it would be safe to say that the Hiriya dump would have been closed that very same day. Since it didn't, the government procrastinated, not wanting to face a fight with those in alternate dumping areas.
That's not to say it is any comfort to know that this cavalier attitude is not specifically aimed at Hebron's Jewish community. But does neglecting the PA's cynical manipulation of the Palestinian street promote the peace process? Far from it. Rewarding street violence today would only encourage it in the future.
Dr. Aaron Lerner is the Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)(mail POB 982 Kfar Sava) Tel 972-9-7604719/Fax 972-9-7411645 INTERNET ADDRESS: firstname.lastname@example.org