by Nadav Shragai
The terrorists from the Sarona shooting belong to the Mahamra clan, one of the biggest families in the Palestinian town of Yatta. The clan is actually descended from Jews and for generations kept some Jewish traditions. Now they have embraced terrorism.
The Palestinian town of Yatta in the south Hebron Hills, the starting point for Khaled and Mohammed Mahamra's killing spree at the Sarona Market complex last week, was the first Arab community in Judea and Samaria to be connected to the water supply and electricity grid after the 1967 Six-Day War. The veteran members of the Civil Administration recall that Yatta was given that boon after town officials approached Israeli army officers a few months after the war, carrying an ancient gold Hannukah menorah and making a surprising claim: They, the Mahamra clan, were the descendants of an ancient Jewish tribe.
The Mahamras, one of the biggest clans in Yatta, who have produced a number of murderers and terrorist cells in recent years, still cling to their tradition that their roots are Jewish.
Historian Itzhak Ben-Zvi, who would later become Israel's second president, researched the history of the Mahamra clan about a year prior to the 1929 riots and was determined to have some foundation. Ben-Zvi visited the town accompanied by Yosef Mani, one of the elders from the Jewish community in Hebron.
Tsvi Misinai, who investigated the Jewish roots of some of the Palestinian population, also reached similar findings, as did a research delegation from Midreshet Hebron, which had visited the town earlier. For many years, many members of the Mahamra clan observed the circumcision rite, and the older women of the clan would light candles on the eve of the Shabbat.
But the fascinating history of the residents of the village, particularly the remains of an ancient synagogue located there, has not prevented the recent generations from becoming Israel's bitterest, most radicalized enemies. Today, the residents of Yatta see themselves as Muslims in every aspect and take an active part in the struggle against Israel. Eleven generations after their ancestor Mahimer and his tribe moved north from the desert in the 18th century and conquered the town, the extended family has been inculcated in incitement and terrorism, which as we know has become an integral part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And possibly because of their unique history, the residents of Yatta in general and the Mahamra clan in particular have become especially extremist in their animosity toward Jews and Israel.
Head of the Yatta Local Council Moussa Mahamra stressed this week that the two Sarona murderers, Khaled and Mohammed, who are part of the extended Mahamra clan, did not have any record of security-related offenses. Mahamra might be right, but in the atmosphere in which they were raised there was no need for direct involvement to "come up to speed." For many years now, the Mahamra clan has been infected by incitement, hatred, and terrorism. The two "bad apples" who killed four people at Sarona didn't fall far from the tree.
Taleb Mahamra, a close relative of Khaled and Mohammed, was part of the terrorist cell that murdered Yaakov and Hannah Dickstein and their 10-year-old son Shuvel 14 years ago, as well as Staff Sgt. Elazar Leibovitch in a shooting in the south Hebron Hills. Taleb is still serving seven life sentences in an Israeli prison.
The Sarona shooters are also related to another Khaled Mahamra, a Hamas member, who was sentenced to life in prison and released as part of the exchange deal to free captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. He was again arrested in Yatta in March 2012. That operation met with stiff resistance; in the ensuing battle, an IDF soldier was wounded, a terrorist was seriously wounded and another terrorist was killed.
Another Mahamra clan member who was involved in terrorism was killed in November 2013 during an exchange of fire between the Israel Police and the Shin Bet security agency and a Salafist terrorist cell that had ties to members of the Islamist Palestinian Freedom Movement. The cell had been planning a series of terrorist attacks against Jews. Three of the cell members that were killed were Mohammed Fuad Jamal Nayrook; Mohammed Khaled al-Najar (a Yatta resident who had prepared safe houses for the group members); and Moussa Mohammed Moussa Mahamra, also from Yatta, who had purchased weapons for the group.
Another member of the clan, Mohand Issa Mahmad Mahamra, took part in a complicated terrorist attack five years ago that entailed setting off a ring of bombs against Israeli vehicles near Yatta. The attack was carried out, but no one was wounded.
Not the only clan
The hostility of the Mahamra clan -- most of whom identify with the Fatah organization -- toward anything Israeli or Jewish is expressed in ways besides direct terrorism. About a week after the end of Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014, the Peres Center for Peace brought 80 Israeli and Palestinian children together for a soccer tournament. Children from the Israeli city of Sderot and the Palestinian town of Yatta took part. The kids took an active interest, expressing their hope that the unusual event would lead to greater closeness and peace, but the Fatah and PLO establishment in Judea and Samaria -- and doubly so in Yatta -- was spitting nails.
Jibril Rajoub, currently head of the Palestinian Football Association and at the time chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sport, decreed that "the field of sport normalizing the Zionist occupation is a crime."
Other senior officials called for the Palestinians who took part in organizing the tournament to be interrogated and tried, and secretary of the Fatah branch in Yatta, Dr. Kamel Mahamra, called the event "an individualistic act, a product of sick souls who agreed to be humiliated for a fistful of money." Mahamra made it clear that the tournament did not represent the residents of Yatta and called on them to "keep an eye on their children" and take care to keep them away from such events.
The Mahamra clan members are not the only ones in Yatta who have a hand in terrorism. Members of other extended families have also taken an active part in the terrorism activity that launches from the South Hebron Hills and have played roles in the recent wave of terrorism. Just this week, the Yatta home of the young terrorist who murdered Dafna Meir in front of her children at her home in Otniel five months ago was demolished. Morad Adais stabbed Meir to death after he was exposed to incitement through the Palestinian news outlets Maan and Felesteen. He was captured when IDF troops stormed his house while he was watching a movie with his family.
The family of the 13-year-old terrorist who was shot and killed this January when she attempted to breach the settlement of Anatot and ran at the security guard while brandishing a knife is also originally from Yatta. Amjad al-Jindi, 19, who last October made his way to Kiryat Gat, stole a soldier's gun, wounded him lightly, and then proceeded to break into the next-door apartment before being shot and killed by the police, is also among the Yatta residents who have recently turned to terrorism. Al-Jindi, like the two murderers from last week's attack at Sarona, entered Israel without a permit.
Another Yatta resident who was in Israel illegally who nearly managed to carry out a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv is a 17-year-old who was arrested last October on Haetzel Street carrying a screwdriver. He explained that he had intended to stab Jews.
One more terrorist from Yatta who found it easy to take advantage of the breaks in the security fence is the youth who stabbed Shlomit Ganon, a 65-year-old resident of Mishmar Hanegev, while she was shopping in the Bedouin town Rahat on a Saturday afternoon in February. This young man also had no difficulty slipping into Israel and even told his interrogators how a few of his family members who live in the Negev desert had helped him navigate the ragged fence.
Two weeks until the fence is patched
Palestinian infiltrators who don't locate the breaches in the fence -- and there are plenty -- use fake documents to enter Israel. Eight months ago, authorities exposed a workshop in Yatta -- again, Yatta -- that was producing fake Israeli ID cards and residential permits for would-be infiltrators.
Last weekend, following the Sarona killings, the government once again decided to close the holes in the fence in the South Hebron Hills area. The decision ran into two obstacles -- one budgetary, and the other legal.
The High Court of Justice and legal advisors have dealt with this issue more than once. The fence exists, and there are holes in it. Hundreds if not thousands of infiltrators cross it each week without any real difficulty. The Bnei Shimon Regional Council has warned about these breaches repeatedly. The defense establishment, under the recently replaced Moshe Ya'alon, announced that it would repair them, but did not follow through.
According to the cabinet decision after the Sarona attack, work to patch the holes in the fence in the Tarkumia-Meitar area will begin only on June 28, about two weeks from now. In the meantime, as they have for the past few years, hundreds of undocumented Palestinians cross it every day on their way into Israel to work. They do so independently, or pay 100 shekels ($26) for a ride on either side of the fence.
Many drivers, both on the Palestinian and the Israeli sides, earn a steady living off of infiltration. The various branches of Israel's security establishment are well aware of this. It has been documented in plenty of reports by the mainstream media, but even after the Sarona attack, it doesn't look like it's about to change significantly. Most of the people who cross the fence illegally are looking for work to feed their families, but there are also terrorists, as we saw in the case of Sarona and the attacks that preceded it.
Rajoub as a symptom
The deadly Sarona shooting sparked a wave of celebration and exultation among Palestinians, which made it clear that the attackers weren't alone. The incitement toward hatred, terrorism and the delegitimization of Israel have had an effect.
In response to the shooting, sweets were distributed in Tulkarem, and a celebratory parade set out from the Dahaisha refugee camp. Messages went up on social media that highlighted the connection between the attack and the holy month of Ramadan. One message was posted on Facebook in the name of the murderers' families: "The family of the two mujahedeen Khaled and Mohammed Mahamra from the town of Yatta: We're proud of what the mujahedeen did. ... That effort was dedicated to our people and to our Al-Aqsa [Mosque] and to the banner of 'There is no god but Allah.'"
The closeness between the Mahamra clan and Fatah is also noteworthy. Supposedly, Fatah is not involved in terrorism, but consistently supports it. This time, too. A classic example of that support is the conduct of Jibril Rajoub, who is talked about as a possible successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Rajoub, who in addition to his other roles also heads the Palestine Olympic Committee, was very active in condemning the terrible "sin" by the Yatta children in wanting to play soccer with children from Sderot, and now he is preparing for the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
One person who is unwilling to accept Rajoub as chairman of a local Olympics committee is Hillel Appelbaum, the cousin of Dr. David Appelbaum, who was murdered along with his daughter, Nava, in a suicide bombing at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem in 2003. Appelbaum sent a letter to International Olympics Committee President Thomas Bach, in which he called the latter's attention to a series of statements by Rajoub in support of terrorism and inciting murder.
"The Olympic spirit seeks to build a world of brotherhood. Unfortunately, this is not the goal of your representative Jibril Rajoub," Appelbaum wrote.
President Reuven Rivlin was cc'd on the letter and responded almost immediately, calling Appelbaum's missive to the IOC "a moral appeal of the first priority." However, the IOC was less impressed. Paquerette Girard Zappelli, the chief ethics and compliance officer for the IOC, wrote back to Appelbaum, saying that Rajoub's statements had not been made recently, but rather between 2012 and 2014, and as part of his political role and not as head of the PRC. Appelbaum's appeal was in effect rejected.
Appelbaum does not intend to let the matter rest, and neither does the organization Palestinian Media Watch, which has documented (and translated) Rajoub's remarks in the past and is still doing so. Here are a few Rajoub gems from recent years: "All of Palestine -- from the river to the sea -- is occupied," and, "We still don't have nuclear weapons, but if we did, I swear, we would have used them this morning."
Rajoub has organized sports competitions in the name of terrorists who murdered Jews; justified the murder of Israeli settlers; praised the terrorist who planned the booby-trapped refrigerator attack that killed 15 people in Zion Square; called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "dog"; and more. Rivlin observes in his letter to the Appelbaum family about Rajoub that "it is regretful to learn about the serious acts of incitement coming from a member of the Olympic Committee," and that he "is convinced that the heads of the IOC will understand your touching, justified appeal and quickly find an appropriate way to comply with it."
But Rajoub is a symptom; plenty of the other leaders of Fatah and the PLO support terrorism. Following the attack at Sarona, Fatah's organization and enlistment section published an official statement justifying the attack, which it called a "natural response" to Israel's actions. Another senior Fatah official, Hassan Asfour, a former minister in the PA government, wrote that the latest Tel Aviv attack was a response by Palestinian youth to Rivlin's visit to settlements in the Binyamin region, as well as a response to the claim that the stabbing intifada was over.
The Fatah responses to the Sarona attack are not unusual. After the stabbing attack in Jaffa, in which American tourist Taylor Force was killed and 11 others wounded, the official Fatah Facebook page ran a drawing that encouraged stabbings and called the terrorist responsible for the Jaffa attack a "shahid." The Fatah Facebook page even published a picture of a dying female terrorist, whose blood forms a map of "Palestine."
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