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Monday, January 15, 2007

Police question Hebron woman on feud

Police question Hebron woman on feud

Hebron Police on Monday were questioning Yifat Alkobi, a resident of the town who was seen harassing a Palestinian woman on a video taken last June by the left-wing organization B'tselem.

Israel Radio reported that Alkobi, who had been summoned for investigation twice before and hadn't come, was escorted by 25 women from her neighborhood who protested the injustice against Alkobi.

Alkobi also filed a complaint against the Palestinian woman, who she said had provoked and attacked her.

The video, in which Alkobi pushes her Palestinian neighbor and calls her a slut, caused concern in the cabinet on Sunday, prompting the establishment of a committee to enforce the law in such situations.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz brought the issue up at the weekly cabinet meeting. He said that an IDF soldier was seen in the video standing to the side, which gave the impression that the harassment was taking place with IDF approval. Peretz said that the IDF does not have the authority to implement the law there but that this was rather the police's purview.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was embarrassed by what he saw in the video.

"This was a malicious provocation, brutality, arrogance and contempt that it is impossible to come to terms with," he said. Olmert called upon the settlement leaders to condemn the action. In addition to Peretz, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter will sit on the panel.

The left-wing activist group B'tselem, which helped distribute the video, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the incident highlighted the confusion regarding jurisdiction, which hampers the enforcement of law against the settlers in Hebron.

The minute-long video shows a fight between two neighbors - a Palestinian woman with a white head covering and a Jewish woman, Yifat Alkobi, whose head is covered with a scarf - in the Tel Rumaida neighborhood of Hebron.

Initially Alkobi is seen demanding that the Palestinian woman from the Abu Isha family close the door and remain inside the cage-like structure that encloses the Abu Isha yard. The two women exchange insults and possibly blows. At one point, Alkobi enters the Abu Isha yard and closes the door.

Toward the end of the video, as the Palestinian woman appears to be retreating, Alkobi puts her face close to the fence and taunts her by yelling out, "Slut, slut" in a slow, drawn-out voice. A soldier standing nearby does nothing to stop her.

"Our critique is not of the settlers but of law enforcement and the way the military and the police have failed to protect the Palestinian residents of Hebron," said B'tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli. For example, she said, the soldiers in Hebron are often under the misconception that it is not their job to protect the Palestinians, she said.

To underscore the fact that the more important issue here was lack of law enforcement, B'tselem last week asked that Alkobi not be made into a scapegoat.

Following the release of the video on Ynet last week, Hebron police summoned Alkobi for an investigatory meeting to answer questions about the incident.

Police told The Jerusalem Post that they had been unaware of the incident until they saw the film on Ynet.

A police spokesman added that their forces work in conjunction and in partnership with the soldiers stationed in the city. But he added that Peretz's panel could help empower them to act more effectively.

Michaeli said that while she welcomed the cabinet's decision, she was not optimistic that it would succeed in changing the situation.

"The facts of this issue have been well known for years, so we are not very hopeful regarding the new panel," Michaeli said.

In Hebron, where approximately 500 Jews live amidst 130,000 Palestinians, tensions often run high between the two groups. Palestinians and non-governmental organizations contend that attacks by settlers, such as stone throwing, assaults and verbal harassment, are almost a daily occurrence.

Hebron settlers, in turn, point to the number of Jews and soldiers who have been killed by Palestinians in Hebron in the last six years. Included among them is 10-month-old Shalhevet Tehiya Pass, who was shot by a sniper in 2001 as her mother stood holding her at the entrance to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. In 2002, Yitzhak Shapira, 48, was killed when a Palestinian gunman shot him in the same neighborhood. In 2003, Gadi and Dina Esther Levy were killed by a suicide bomber in Kikar Gross in Hebron. In addition, three civilians and nine soldiers were killed on Worshipers Way between Hebron and Kiryat Arba in 2002.

A spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, David Wilder, said that last week Palestinians unsuccessfully attempted to infiltrate a Jewish home in the city.

He described Alkobi as a mother of five children who has lived in the Tel Rumaida section of Hebron for at least a decade. Alkobi's daughter had narrowly missed being hit by a Palestinian bullet when she was playing outside one day a number of years ago, said Wilder.

Eight years ago Palestinians entered a caravan in the Tel Rumaida neighborhood, where they stabbed to death Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan.

Wilder dismissed both Olmert's comments and the creation of the panel as political moves by two leaders who needed to deflect attention from their own failures. "Politicians have to stop using the public as a means to escape their own problems," said Wilder.

He chalked the video up to a dispute between neighbors that could occur anywhere in Israel when two neighbors erupt in anger and shout at each other. "Maybe her choice of words was undesirable; but believe me, I've heard worse," said Wilder. Is it now going to be the case that "anyone who yells at a neighbors is going to be investigated by a cabinet committee set up by the prime minister?" Wilder asked.

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