Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday castigated human rights groups for remaining silent amid reports that four Palestinians who met with Jewish settlers as a holiday goodwill gesture have been placed under arrest by Palestinian police.
The four men were arrested Thursday after they joined several dozen other Palestinians living near Efrat in visiting a sukkah in the settlement, along with about 30 Jewish Israelis, as part of a peace event. Four days later, the four are believed to still be in custody.
Netanyahu, in a Facebook post Sunday, noted that according to senior PA officials, they will be sentenced and jailed for the crime of “normalization with Israel.”
“Where is the outrage of human rights organizations? There is none. To their great shame, they are silent,” he wrote.
But the premier claimed that this silence was “neither new nor surprising” and was part of a pattern that ignores Palestinian transgressions while singling out Israel.
“These organizations are silent when the Palestinian leadership pays salaries to the families of terrorists, glorifies murderers and calls streets and city centers after them,” he said. “These organizations prove again and again that they are not actually interested in human rights, but only in shaming Israel and libeling it around the world.”
He urged the international community to press for the men’s release.
A senior Palestinian security official said Sunday that “any Palestinian cooperation with settlers is viewed as violating the law, as he cooperates with the enemy.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss the matter.
It is a Jewish tradition to host friends and associates in the temporary structures that are used during Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) to recall the structures erected in the desert by the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt.
The mayor of Efrat, Oded Revivi, has also called for the men’s release, saying: “It is absurd that having coffee with Jews is considered a crime by the Palestinian Authority.
“Initiatives that seek to foster cooperation and peace between people should be encouraged, not silenced,” he said.
After images of the Palestinians at the event circulated on social media, the four were summoned by Palestinian intelligence and asked about their meeting with “the murderers of babies” — a possible reference to an accident six weeks ago in which an Efrat resident ran over and killed a six-year-old Palestinian girl. The girl’s parents were also at the sukkah gathering, Channel 2 News said.
Netanyahu’s post comes just days after a UN Security Council session in which the chairman of human rights group B’Tselem, Hagai El-Ad, criticized the Israeli government for its West Bank policies. Netanyahu later called El-Ad’s organization shoddy and unhinged, and vowed to bar national service volunteers from working with the organization.
Coalition Chairman David Bitan later called to strip El-Ad of his citizenship, and said he would seek a bill to limit Israeli speech at international forums, though his propositions received blowback even from his own party members.
AP contributed to this report.