A Saturday shootout in Jenin that left three Palestinians dead is overwhelmingly the central story being told in the Israeli print press Sunday morning, though each of three main dailies sees the story through a slightly different lens.
For Yedioth Ahronoth, the clash in a West Bank refugee camp is part of the larger story of peace talks and the slated fourth prisoner release, which is currently being held hostage under a demand for continued talks.
The paper reports that Israeli officials are making that much clear to their Palestinian counterparts, despite expectations in Ramallah that the 28 prisoners will be released at the end of March as agreed upon before talks began in August: “If the Americans don’t guarantee the extension of talks for another year, not a single prisoner will be released from prison,” in the paper’s words.
Among the biggest bones of contention surrounding the release is the fact that 14 people on the list are Arab Israelis, as the paper lays out. But officials are also concerned that just after Israel sends the prisoners home, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will cut off talks and head to the UN to start filing official complaints against Israel, something he has refrained from doing as part of the US-brokered negotiations.
“It’s not acceptable we’ll free the prisoners and two weeks later Abbas will destroy everything and go to the UN,” one source is quoted saying. “If he wants us to free them, he needs to put money down.”
Israel Hayom connects the fighting to a wider story of Palestinian terror, specifically a tunnel discovered running between Gaza and Israel and revealed by the IDF on Friday. The paper quotes a senior Israeli military officer who calls Hamza Abu al-Hija, the Hamas operative the raid was targeting before it got out of hand, a “ticking time bomb.” Killing Hija, though, may have set in motion some other bombs, with the paper reporting on threatening text messages from Hamas received by hundreds of Israelis, a hack attack on the Israel Defense Forces website, and plans for a “day of rage” in Jenin.
The paper paints the discovery of the Gaza tunnel, one of the biggest ever, according to the IDF, as a huge blow to Hamas, in the words of one defense official quoted in the paper. But analyst Yoav Limor says that the weekend’s events prove actually that Hamas is “alive and kicking.”
“From Israel’s perspective, these operations prove that there is no alternative to constant pressure on terror operatives: The Palestinian Authority hasn’t for a long time controlled the refugee camps, and the only way for Israel to prevent attacks is to carry out operations on 100 percent of the ground 100% of the time.”
For Haaretz, the shootout leads to troubling questions about Israeli military policies in the territories that led to the deaths of Hijaz and two others.
Writer Gideon Levy, whose lack of love for the Israel Defense Forces is legion, writes that he was in contact with Hijaz, who didn’t seem like a wanted fugitive, as the army has painted him (and has a picture of Hija, smiling with a small child and taken by a Haaretz photographer, to prove it).
He gives the camp’s version of the events, writing that Abu al-Hija, or Hamzi as he calls him, was shot unarmed along with two other people, challenging the IDF’s account, which stated that troops were fired upon by Abu al-Hija and that the other deaths came when Israeli forces were confronted by a Palestinian mob.
“According to eyewitnesses at the camp, Hamzi was with a few friends in a house at the top of the hill on which the camp is situated. At around 3 a.m. soldiers stormed the house while firing at it. Hamzi, who was armed, returned fire, but when his ammunition ran out he came out toward the soldiers, who shot him to death. That was the story going around in the Jenin refugee camp Saturday,” he writes. “But the more serious story going around was about the circumstances under which the other two men with Hamzi were killed: According to these testimonies, they were killed as they were carrying Hamzi’s body to his family home, which is a distance from where the gun battle had occurred. Sharpshooters in the camp killed them, even though they were not armed.”
Is the price right?
Israel Hayom writes on another “problem” with the army, though where the problem lies depends on who you are. The paper reveals pension figures for retired officers for the first time, showing that one lucky veteran has been getting some NIS 63,000 a month for the last 20-odd years just to sit around and watch “The Price is Right.” However, the vast majority of army pensioners bring home less than NIS 20,000 a month, with 55% falling below the NIS 10,000 mark. While some have complained that retired soldiers are rewarded much too handsomely, army officials tell the paper that the numbers prove the opposite, with 47% of soldiers making below the average wage in the country, as opposed to only 14% in the rest of the public sector.
“For years there have been claims of salaries run wild, but in actuality, the number prove that the army is the most efficient operation in the public sector, and in practice, those who serve have benefits worse than other public workers,” a source is quoted telling the paper.
Yedioth reports on the strange case of the maintenance worker suing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah, which only got stranger over the weekend. Trying to defend his friends, lawyer Yossi Cohen went on Channel 2 and swore up and down that a previous case against Sara Netanyahu, by housekeeper Lillian Perez, resulted in an out of court settlement in which Perez didn’t get a dime, even offering to take a polygraph and pay a billion shekels if he was wrong. Hope he’s got his checkbook out, because the paper reports that Perez’s lawyer said that Cohen himself offered Perez money to drop the lawsuit, under the condition that Sarah Netanyahu never find out, and had his posse hint that going ahead with the lawsuit could result in the closure of a certain law office (those involved deny the claim). However, when Cohen asked the lawyer to drop lawyer-client privilege and detail how much Perez got, he refused. “Lawyer-cleint privilege is absolute and cannot just be dropped without the client’s okay. If Lillian went before a polygraph and they asked her if she got money, she would come out a truth teller.”
The Netanyahu fiasco isn’t the only one making headlines. In Haaretz, Amir Oren writes about the arrest of two former IDF bigwigs, saying it’s yet another police misstep in the long and winding Harpaz case, going so far as to compare it to the Malaysia Air disaster, in which over 200 people are presumed dead. “Someone – and it doesn’t matter who was captain and who was first officer – programmed the investigation’s automatic pilot so that it drifted off course and crashed. The police brass has already conceded that it was a mistake to use the term ‘danger to public security’ as a pretext for the arrest of the two army officers on Wednesday morning. There is talk there about a form where an unnecessary line was marked. The investigators deny it: no form and no mistake. What’s to be done, that is the wording of the clause of the law.”