To the honorable Defense Minister, Ehud Barak:
I was surprised to hear your response to the pipe bomb placed outside the home of Professor Ze'ev Sternhell. You said you would not allow any element within Israeli society to harass people who express their opinions.
Your position is clear, and I assume that most members of Israeli society, both on the Right and Left, would agree with you. Yet in your capacity as defense minister, who has been serving for two years now, you are not merely another concerned citizen. The incident that took place is under your direct responsibility; and it is most certainly not a unique or new act.
As defense minister, you're not supposed to be surprised. The organization I'm active in, Breaking the Silence, has been holding tours in Hebron for years, and we have been harassed by settlers for a long time now.
Hebron, as you know, is the lab where far rightists test the limits of the Israeli government's tolerance. The Jewish terrorism originating in the town, terror that is directed mostly at Palestinians, is known to all. We too, Israelis calling for the law to be enforced, have suffered the abuse of this group. The hurling of eggs and stones, shouts, swearwords, threats, and even physical violence have become a part of our tour routine. The police do not arrest the rioters. It is easier for them to remove us from town.
Recently the police canceled yet another planned tour. The reason: Police officials claim that they are concerned for our safety and fear that radical settlers are coming to the city from all across the territories. The police fear these settlers because they do not have the tools to deal with them. You, Mr. Barak, are not providing them with those tools.
Hebron is not the only focal point, as you know. In the past year we have witnessed many incidents in the south Mount Hebron area, in the Yitzhar region, and elsewhere. Violence is no longer directed only at Palestinians, or even leftists, but rather, also at soldiers and police officers.
In recent weeks we saw soldiers and a military outpost being attacked. Soldiers and police officers are scared to approach some Jewish communities. All the talk about the deterioration of the rule of law in the territories has become banal.
"We won't let any element within Israeli society to harass others," you say resolutely, Defense Minister Barak. Yet you've let those things happen from your first day on the job. Instead of making declarations, you should face the public and say: "On this front, I failed."
Yet more importantly, you must act. After all, any Israeli who has been following the events of the recent year knows that the deterioration has merely started. The explosive device directed at Professor Sternhell is not a new incident; it's merely closer to your home.
No need to be shocked; just do your job.
Michael Mankin is a Breaking the Silence activist