Israeli President Herzog comments on West Bank violence against Palestinians
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
An update now to a story we brought you last month. It is the story of a Palestinian olive farmer named Ayoub Abuhejleh. My team and I were in the Middle East, and even as the world focused on Gaza, we were hearing reports of violence in the other Palestinian territory - the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which is why we traveled to meet Ayoub at his home in a town called Deir Istiya. He told us what his olive trees mean to him, to his family.
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AYOUB ABUHEJLEH: I am raising these olive trees like my children. So it's not the issue of income. It's our land, you know? The connection of the trees, the soil, the stones - this is the important.
KELLY: But Ayoub told us that Israeli settlers and the IDF - Israel's military - had blocked him from his land since the October 7 Hamas attack. Ayoub offered to take us to a hill overlooking his olive trees. And as we walked with him, first a drone appeared...
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KELLY: ...Then Israeli soldiers.
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UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: (Speaking in Hebrew).
KELLY: It was just one moment, one day in the life of one person. But it has stuck with me because of how it captured the tension in the West Bank and how it confirmed a pattern of behavior documented by NPR and other news organizations that can make daily life a humiliation for Palestinians.
Well, yesterday I got the chance to put Ayoub's story to the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog. I was interviewing President Herzog for an event hosted by the Atlantic Council. I told him about Ayoub, about how he tried to show us his olive trees.
And then about a dozen Israeli soldiers appeared and pointed their guns at us and shouted at us and separated the farmer from us, detained him, handcuffed him, blindfolded him and questioned him for hours. Why is the IDF doing this?
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG: So I would be very cautious in generalizing Israeli activities on the ground. But we have to understand what we went through as a nation. What we've gone through as a nation - and I think that is what is missing in the entire discussion about the day after - is a major, major national trauma. Israelis who believed in peace throughout their lives, Israelis who are neighbors with Palestinians, woke up one day and found the Palestinians - the same Palestinians that they were working in or with or living with or supporting - coming with knives and hatchets and guns and killing and burning and torturing them. And this has impact the entire situation on the meeting points between Israelis and Palestinians all throughout until things calm down. And yet, there is a major scar within the Israeli national psyche. Can anybody trust his or her neighbor? That is why there was such a major alert in the West Bank. And I can tell you that with respect to complaints about violence in the area, the Israeli authorities - the legal authorities - have clamped down dramatically.
KELLY: When President Herzog speaks of major national trauma that Israelis have suffered, remember that when Hamas attacked Israel, some 1,200 people were killed. But that day, when we met Ayoub, he wasn't armed, wasn't trying to hurt anyone, was just trying to glimpse his land.
I suppose the basic question here is just, is Israel doing enough to stop Israeli settler violence in the West?
HERZOG: So there's a major, major clampdown, and the trajectory has been a substantial reduction of events of that nature. But I also would be very careful on generalizing Israelis who live in the West Bank. There are about half a million of them, and 99% of them are not involved in any of this.
KELLY: That was the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, speaking with me at a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council. You can find more perspectives and our full coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas at npr.org.
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