Finally! Settlers film one instance Showing What they have been up against.
On Wednesday 15 December, a video was released showing Arabs angrily pulling up young olive trees next to the Jewish community of Avigayil in Judea-Samaria. It was unique in having been one of the few instances of Arab harassment against Jews that was caught on film.
פלסטינים עוקרים עצי זית ששתלו תושבי היישוב אביגיל. באור יום, מול המצלמות ובפנים גלויות. הם יודעים שלא יעשו להם כלום pic.twitter.com/gM2cT5NR6i
— יהונתן גוטליב Yonatan Gottlieb (@yonatanGottlieb) December 15, 2021
What follows is one part of a longer article, slightly modified here, that was first published on United with Israel. It comprises an interview conducted with a member of the Jewish community involved, something that has rarely been done following altercations with neighbouring Arabs.
This videotape above shows what residents of Judea-Samaria have been trying to tell the rest of the country regarding daily occurrences as Palestinian Arabs engage in efforts to exert their dominion over Area C, the region assigned to Israeli control in the Oslo Accords.
Much more familiar than this are videos claiming to show settler violence against Arabs in Judea-Samaria. These have featured in the mainstream news and social media for a long time, gathering increasing steam over the past few months. The anti-Israel propaganda has been repeated by the country’s own government ministers such as Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev.
It is only recently that an increasing number of articles have been published pointing out that a double standard exists whereby “’routine’ terror attacks, including murder by Palestinian Arabs against Jews, are downplayed or treated as justified.” This is, perhaps, because little documentation has reached the public regarding the daily harassment of settlers by Arabs. A common trick played by the Arabs is to attack or relentlessly badger Jews and then film them in the instances when they fight back, ignoring the times they do not.
On Tuesday, however, the Jews did not provide photogenic propaganda for the Arabs. Quite the contrary, in fact. Three Arabs were caught on film pulling up olive tree saplings that had been planted by the community of Avigayil. But this short film-clip does not tell the whole story.
Just like media consumers should insist that articles documenting Jewish attacks on Arabs put the entire incident in context, telling the story from beginning to end, we should expect no less when it is an Arab attack on Jews. With the entire story told, readers can think for themselves about what truly happened and not simply accept the spin provided by the particular outlet uploading the so-called evidence of violence.
In order to get the whole story, I spoke with Yehuda Bazak, a resident of Avigayil who witnessed the incident of last Tuesday almost from the beginning.
Q: Please tell us how you came to witness the events last Tuesday.
That morning my wife went off to work and I stayed at home with our baby. I went out with him for a walk because he was fussy. Then I saw in the distance that something was happening.
I go out for walks often, just to experience the desert, to hike. I feel safe to go for walks in the hills surrounding Avigayil. My wife and I go for walks with the kids. It is perfectly safe. Avigayil does not have a border fence around it.
I don’t go to places where I know there may be danger. About a 3-4 kilometer circumference around Avigayil is safe for walking. I go into valleys, wander around. A lot of people do this. So I walked.
What I saw was someone tilling the land. The Arabs know that it is state land. There is no doubt about that.
Q: Do you know the man who was working the land?
Yes, it was Mohammad Hamamdi.
Q: You mean the Hamamdi from el-Mufaqara who has been featured on anti-Israeli propaganda social media sites over the past few months? There was a huge demonstration after the violence there on Simchat Torah and a big show was made of bringing water to his family. Is that the one?
Q: OK. So you saw Hamamdi tilling on state land. What happened next?
I walked toward him. The Civil Administration inspector had already arrived. The inspector told Hamamdi to leave and he refused, continuing to cultivate the soil. The inspector told him he would take his tractor. When they threatened to take his tractor, Hamamdi said that he would come the next day with a mule and continue to work the land.
Hamamdi kept the argument going, taking his time in order to give his friends a chance to arrive. Within moments we saw fancy jeeps coming up from the desert, a few Europeans came right away, two Israeli Jewish leftists who live in the near-by town of a-Tawani and are present at every incident. [NOTE: UWI has seen videotapes documenting this.]
There were about seven soldiers and a number of police. As the shouting was going on, some Arabs who don’t live here came and moved higher up the hill to where our olive trees were. The whole incident involved a lot of shouting and the uprooting of the trees. There was no physical violence at all.
Finally, Hamamdi and his friends left. So far, they have not been back to work the soil in that particular spot.
Q: Is there anything unique about this incident?
Not really. This kind of thing happens all the time. They cultivate a piece of state land when nobody is watching. If it is not disturbed, they continue. They erect new buildings. If one happens to be taken down, they put it up again. They will come and throw out an old sofa one day, a few dirty old rugs another day, then gradually build a hut, put up a fence, dig a well, and claim another piece of state land.
So what do I do as a private citizen when all around things are closing in on us. Every day they are building one building then another. It is faith that keeps me going. So I ask myself what I can do that is not against the law?
Q: Yes, what can you do?
In Avigayil, we respect private land. We do not build on private land. There was even the question if our playground was set up on private land so we moved it to land we knew was not owned by any individual.
On state land, people cannot build or cultivate land wherever they want. You have to get permits to do that. Even shepherds, Jewish and Arab, have leases of specific plots of land where they can let their animals graze.
We are making an attempt to protect the land around us amid the chaos. With that in mind, we try to do things that are not exteme – we are not just going to come at someone – we come with maps, the maps are not secret. We know where there is private land and we will not carry out any activity on private land. We do things in an attempt to protect state land. If the Arabs try to cultivate state land, we will come and take videos and photos of that.
The Arabs do not accept the concept of state land. From their perspective everything is theirs. I feel like we are the sheep and the Arabs are the wolves, preying on every piece of land that there is here.
We planted olive trees on state land next to Avigayil as part of our goal of protecting the land. I see around us that the Arabs put up new buildings day after day and the state does nothing against this. On the other hand, we know that the land where we planted trees is state land and planting trees does not turn the land into OUR land. It remains state land. If we plant here then it keeps the Arabs from coming and cultivating the land or building on it.
Q: What are your relations like with the Arabs of el-Mufaqara?
Relations with the Arabs are dynamic and change all the time. The general atmosphere changed dramatically following the violent Simchat Torah incident. But even now, some of the friendships among some Jews in Avigayil and Arabs in el-Mufaqara remain strong. In fact, when the inspector said he would take the tractor away and store it in a Jewish settlement, Hamamdi asked that it be taken to Avigayil, saying that in Avigayil the people are good.
Q: What is it like for you living here?
I am happy here. Personally, I do not get involved in politics and I have no social media. I live a private life and a life of faith.
Even though Avigayil is still not officially recognized, the state was involved in the establishment of our community because it is interested in us preventing the takeover of land by the Arabs. But the story is complicated when we get the message continually that the government does not care about us, allowing the Arabs to do what they would never let the Jews do.
The army does not seem to act from a sense that this is our land and we need to protect it. When there is an incident, they come to quiet things down again.
We try to operate delicately, obeying the law, and, most of all, living the faith that this is where we are supposed to be.
What is important in this interview is that we have a cohesive story from beginning to end. There is no attempt to demonize the Arabs, in fact Yehuda speaks of good relations even today, even after the violence that exceeded the “usual bounds” on Simchat Torah, just two months earlier. Compare this with the stories about settler violence as told by B’Tselem and other anti-Israeli activist organizations — the Jews are described in absolute and dark terms, there is no nuance; it is clear who is good and who is evil. And if you have the chance to talk with representatives of these organizations, ask them for the whole story from beginning to end and listen well. Is it a story that makes sense?
A section of this article is republished separately because it deserves special focus. See: Mohammad Hamamdi: I get paid for this
Feature Image Credit: screenshot from video in the Tweet shown in the article.