Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

The unsettling story that “hits you in the face”


 Sometimes we journalists speak of stories that are so compelling, so important to tell that they “hit you in the face”. In the West Bank these days, we’ve begun to take that literally. In the past couple of weeks, Palestinian journalists working for international media, including Reuters, have become the targets of Jewish settlers in a way that has highlighted what many see as a violent trend among that community which has caused alarm not only among ordinary Palestinians but among Israeli leaders and their international allies, most recently the European Union . The EU noted an upsurge in violence during the annual harvest of olives, a key crop in the hills of the West Bank. The statement came out just hours after settlers had again attacked journalists, as well as Israeli police.  


A couple of weeks ago, one of my colleagues, photographer Nayef Hashlamoun, was among journalists hurt when young Jewish religious settlers set about them in Hebron as they tried to cover efforts by local Palestinians and Israeli and foreign activists to pick olives. Israeli troops stepped in disperse the attackers and to offer medical aid to the journalists. But the soldiers’ actions were not enough to spare them criticism from fellow Israelis in the media. The incident led major television news bulletins in Israel that evening, with the channels questioning why the soldiers, part of the conscript army Israel deploys across the West Bank to protect some 300,000 settlers, had not arrested the assailants. 


The incident and its coverage in Israeli media highlighted the extent to which the settlements, undertaken following Israel’s seizure of the West Bank in the war of 1967, remain not just, in the words of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an “obstacle to peace” with the Palestinians, but also an focus of discord within Israeli society. On Tuesday, the day Americans choose  the president who may try to succeed where Rice and George W. Bush have failed in bringing peace to the Middle East, Israelis will mark 13 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. His Jewish killer remains unrepentant and a hero to some Israelis for his attempt to stop Rabin and his government from handing the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Yasser Arafat’s PLO after the Oslo peace accords. The assassin, Yigal Amir, sparked a furore last week by giving secretly taped television interviews in prison. It provided a reminder of the continued divisions over Rabin’s ‘land-for-peace’ strategy and revived painful memories of internal violence. 


Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who will finally step down after a February election after formally resigning over a corruption scandal, warned of the emergence of radical underground Jewish groups  after a bomb damaged the home of an Israeli academic in Jerusalem who has spoken out strongly against the settlers, who choose to live in the occupied West Bank in defiance of international law. Olmert has also lambasted “pogroms” against Palestinian villagers. Palestinians and their international allies complain, however, that Olmert has failed to remove settlers, despite Israel’s international commitments to do so. Indeed, his government has overseen an expansion of settlements.