BANI NA’IM, West Bank (Reuters) - Israel has ramped up security in the occupied West Bank since a Palestinian killed a 13-year-old Jewish girl in a settlement last week, deploying more troops and setting up checkpoints near the city of Hebron.
Attention is on Bani Na’im, a town to the east where the girl’s killer, a 19-year-old who stabbed her as she slept, came from. He was shot dead.
But a day after her death, a Jewish father driving nearby with his daughters was shot and killed. His attacker, who remains at large, is also suspected of coming from Bani Na’im.
Security clampdowns are common in the West Bank, yet they illustrate a delicate problem for the Israeli army: how to impose strict measures that reassure settlers while not being so harsh that they fuel further Palestinian anger and violence.
To settlers in Hebron, the army’s response is welcome, even if they worry it will not last. To the residents of Bani Na’im, the restrictions are collective punishment that has ruined the Eid al-Fitr holiday that follows Ramadan.
“Collective punishment is not something that’s immoral or illegal,” says Uri Karzen, the director of the Jewish community in Hebron, where around 1,000 settlers, protected by Israeli troops, live among around 230,000 Palestinians. “It has to be done when you’re dealing with a real threat to life.”
At the entrance to Bani Na’im, an Israeli soldier kicks open the legs of a Palestinian man and pats him down against the side of an armored vehicle. Another soldier signals to traffic to turn around and leave.
Residents now have to take a circuitous route to get to Hebron, dropping off their vehicles at checkpoints and walking, unless they have a four-by-four.
“These closures affect everyone,” said Raad Nassar, 49, stopped at a checkpoint as he carried home a TV, an Eid gift from his Jewish employer. “This is not the way to peace.”
Since last October, there has been a surge in Palestinian attacks on Israelis, prompting fears of a new uprising.
Nassar’s words were mild by comparison with younger Palestinians, some of whom look up to those who carry out attacks, calling them martyrs. The Palestinian Authority has not condemned the girl’s killing.
“A youngster sees a martyr or a female martyr and he feels he has to do more, he has to kill,” said Khaldoun Manasra, 19. “The older generation saw how Israel treated us and grew used to it, but when a teenager learns about it he has to defend his people like martyrs in the past.”
The Israeli army has occupied the West Bank for nearly 50 years. At times it has pushed back against settler demands for tougher measures. But some government ministers, especially those with settler supporters, want it to go further.
“We need to understand that we are in an all-out war,” Transport Minister Israel Katz told the Haaretz newspaper.
Near Bani Na’im, Palestinians could be seen trudging across a field carrying Eid gifts from Hebron. Nearby, Israeli bulldozers dug up dirt to block traffic.
“Who can think of peace in these conditions,” said Ali al-Azzi, 23, interrupted as he spoke by a bulldozer dumping dirt where he was standing, forcing him out of the way.
In the heart of Hebron, where a hard-core of settlers has lived since Israel seized the West Bank in 1967, the concern is that the army’s clampdown will only be temporary.
“Afterwards life goes back to normal,” said Karzen, the community leader. “The Arabs don’t get the message that attacking Jews and stabbing a 13-1/2-year-old in her bed isn’t going to advance their cause.”
Reporting by Sleiman Jad; editing by Luke Baker/Jeremy Gaunt