Surviving a Pogrom: Palestinian in Huwara Decries Israeli Settler Attack as “Ethnic Cleansing”
Written by GRB on 02/03/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
A top Israeli official has called for the Palestinian village of Huwara to be “wiped out” or “erased,” just days after hundreds of Israeli settlers attacked the city, setting cars and homes on fire and killing a Palestinian man who had just returned from Turkey, where he was helping with relief efforts after the earthquakes. Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Smotrich made the shocking comments on Wednesday.
BEZALEL SMOTRICH: [translated] The Palestinian village of Huwara should be wiped out. The state needs to do it, not private citizens.
AMY GOODMAN: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh visited Huwara Wednesday to meet with families who survived the violent attack.
PRIME MINISTER MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH: [translated] What we’ve seen here in this house is evidence of how big the crime carried out by the settlers, and covered and protected by the army, is. It is clear that this move is supported by a political decision from the Israeli government. Therefore, three sides are partners in this crime: the government, which takes the political decision, the army, who is protecting, and the settlers, who are implementing. This is what we saw here.
AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem accused Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of backing a pogrom in Huwara. In a statement, the group said, quote, “The Jewish Supremacist regime carried out a pogrom in the villages around Nablus yesterday. This isn’t ‘loss of control.’ This is exactly what Israeli control looks like. The settlers carry out the attack, the military secures it, the politicians back it. It’s a synergy.” On Wednesday, Israeli army commander of the West Bank, Major General Yehuda Fuchs, admitted what happened in Huwara was a pogrom.
MAJ. GEN. YEHUDA FUCHS: [translated] The incident in Huwara was a pogrom carried out by outlaws. We were prepared, as we prepare for every terror attack. There is a phenomenon of outlaws taking to intersections to throw stones and block Palestinian roads in the area. I don’t think that collective punishment helps to combat terrorism. On the contrary, I think it might even cause terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: The settler attack in Huwara began hours after a Palestinian gunman shot dead two Israeli brothers from a nearby settlement.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is continuing to face mass protest from Israelis opposed to plans to overhaul Israel’s legal system. On Wednesday, Israeli police fired stun grenades and water cannons at Israeli protesters taking part in a so-called day of disruption as thousands protested in Tel Aviv.
We’re joined now by two guests. Gideon Levy is with us. He is an award-winning Israeli journalist and author, columnist with the newspaper Haaretz, member of its editorial board. His latest piece is headlined “Israeli Settlers’ Hawara Pogrom Was a Preview of Sabra and Chatila 2.” Gideon Levy is also the author of the book The Punishment of Gaza. And Saddam Omar is with us, a resident of Huwara who witnessed the attacks by Israeli settlers.
Let us begin there. Saddam, can you talk about what happened on Sunday? Where were you in Huwara? And describe where Huwara is in the occupied West Bank.
SADDAM OMAR: First of all, good morning to you and to everybody.
I want just to let — let me remind you and everyone that this tragedy started not on Sunday. This started for more than 106 years, 1917, and our suffering is going on since that time. Actually, Israel, as you know, occupied West Bank, Palestine and Gaza Strip since 1967. And since that time, they’ve violated international law by moving hundreds of thousands of Jewish-only squatters, colonists into the Palestinian occupied land. As response, Palestinians have been resisting the occupiers.
For Huwara and what happened on Sunday night, it was not the first time, and it was not only for killing of two Israelis in Huwara. What happened really was, a few days before, when Israeli army did a massacre in Nablus, they killed 11 people, including two old men in their late seventies and two children. This terrorism, led by the Israeli army, is a continuous action since 1967 and before that time. The campaign that happened in Huwara on Sunday night was protected, planned, organized by the Israeli army. Those squatters held, protected, organized the settlers to do what they did. The army prevented any citizen to defend himself.
And you saw what happened with Sameh Aqtash, a 37-years-old man who recently came back from Turkey helping people there after the catastrophe of the earthquake. A few days later, those squatters, barbarian settlers, attacked him. He was trying to defend his wife, mother, sisters, children. But they prevented him and killed him with cold blood.
The army now has hundreds [inaudible] control by Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, who are already settlers. This massacre, this accident happened in Huwara, supposed to making the settlers to take control of the whole West Bank. The Israeli occupation army is complicit in a drastic surge in terrorism committed by Israeli colonists against Palestinian civilians. The recent terrorist attack against the residents of Huwara was preplanned, preprepared by the occupation army and the settler militias. We all heard what Smotrich said: “Huwara must be wiped out.” It’s not a new thing. The previous militias of those settlers already wiped out more than 500 villages and towns of Palestine when they occupied lands of ’48 and ’67. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were evicted from their houses and homes to the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and worldwide. The extreme government of Israel is a threat to Palestinians, to Israelis themselves, to the region and to the whole world. This is what I believe.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Gideon Levy, could you talk about what happened in Huwara and also the massive increase in settler violence since this far-right government came into power?
GIDEON LEVY: You shouldn’t start with this violent government, because the last year, with the so-called moderate government, was not any better. There were almost 200 Palestinians killed in this year, more than than in any other year in the last 15 years. So, we couldn’t put all the blame on this government.
I came to Huwara on the morning after. Huwara was practically under a curfew. And what I saw there, I saw very few times in 35 years of covering the occupation. It really looked like a town after a pogrom. There’s no other way to describe it. Quite horrified people and shocked people sitting in their homes, afraid to get out. All the shops closed. And only traffic of — you won’t believe it, Amy — the only traffic that was allowed was obviously the settlers, who came back to see what they have done the night before and what they didn’t complete. They did it in a very brutal way, as they always do. Don’t forget, there were 400 settlers in Huwara the night before, according to the army, which means they might have been even more. And nobody stopped them. And this is maybe the core issue. The fact that nobody stopped a raid of 400 settlers on an innocent village tells you the whole story.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Saddam, could you describe now what the situation is in Huwara today? You said that immediately after the massacre, a curfew was imposed. What’s the situation now?
SADDAM OMAR: It’s a total closure. And shops, supermarkets are totally closed. Nobody is allowed to open his shop or supermarket, or whatever it is. If you try to open your shop, you will be arrested immediately. Yesterday, a citizen called Omar had been arrested for trying to open his shop, and he was violently [inaudible].
According to what we witnessed, the occupation army did not take measures to block the settlers’ path to Huwara, nor did it stop them from systematically attacking Palestinians and their properties. Nor did it carry out appropriate arrests. They claim they have arrests, but ’til now we saw nothing. The occupation army sought to let the settlers vent their anger. Following the settlers’ terrorist campaign, the occupation government of Israel didn’t take any significant actions to address the settlers’ lawlessness. Instead, some occupation officials, just like Smotrich, publicly supported the settlers by saying words like “Huwara should be wiped out.”
The Israeli settlers took advantage of the situation by inflicting millions of dollars of damage onto the town of Huwara by destroying, burning anything in sight. There was no specific target of their attacks. Rather, it was whatever happened to cross into their line of sight — I mean, trees, cars, car spare part shops, homes, livestock, markets, stores, shops, supermarkets. Whatever they saw, they destroyed. They were being guarded by the Israeli army, who trailed behind them a few meters as protection. Hundreds of residents were injured from the barbaric method they utilized. They lit homes on fire while the residents were still inside. They used tear gas. They threw stones. They used iron rods.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask —
SADDAM OMAR: And they were — yes, please.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Gideon Levy back into this, because we’re seeing massive protests in the streets of Tel Aviv of Israelis now hit with stun grenades and water cannons. But they’re not protesting what’s happening in Huwara. They’re protesting the Israeli — Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to gut the Israeli judiciary. Are these protests morphing into protests of what has happened in Huwara, or are they just two completely different issues for Israelis?
GIDEON LEVY: They are not two completely issues at all, because both deal with democracy. The problem is that the protest movement in Israel wants to keep an eye closed and not to see the occupation as part of the problem of the Israeli democratic regime, or nondemocratic regime. This is really outrageous, because it’s not that they don’t deal with Huwara; they do anything possible to break away from dealing with Huwara, with the occupation, with all those issues which are part and parcel of Israel’s regime. And therefore, these protests, which I cannot participate, by all means, is a protest over democracy for the Jews in the state of Israel — nothing but this. And anyone who really looks for equality and democracy cannot participate in this protest, as impressive as it is, as powerful as it is. But we have to remember, they are concerned only about themselves, only about democratic regime for the Jews in Israel, not for anyone else who lives between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Saddam, very quickly, we have just a minute. What do you think the international community should be doing? How can the Palestinians be supported now, given this massive onslaught of violence?
SADDAM OMAR: I want to add something, that it was a barbaric sight that you can only describe by an ethnic cleansing. It’s very sure that this is the proper description for what happened.
But for the international community, we need them to interfere and to bring peace and stability to the Middle East. Not the United States. The United States of America is a party to the conflict. The United States of America is a part of this conflict. It’s not a referee. U.S.A. is not the judge, is not the proper judge for this conflict.
AMY GOODMAN: Saddam, we have five seconds.
SADDAM OMAR: The United States of America — yes. The United States of America is providing the occupiers with full support. They have to stop, and the international community should interfere to protect the civilians of Palestine.
AMY GOODMAN: Saddam Omar and Gideon Levy, thank you so much for being with us. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.