JERUSALEM –Palestinian Authority security forces have arrested and detained four Arabs for visiting Efrat mayor Oded Revivi in his succah on the Jewish festival of Succot as punishment for “normalization,” or fraternizing with the “enemy.”
“It is absurd that having coffee with Jews is considered a crime by the Palestinian Authority,” said Revivi, who is the Chief Foreign Envoy of the Yesha Council, the administrative body representing Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
The four, who have been detained since Thursday, were part of a group of 30 Palestinians from the Bethlehem and Hebron area who came to Revivi’s home on Wednesday in the West Bank settlement of Efrat. Relatives of those arrested said security forces came to their homes after photos of them drinking coffee with Jews appeared on social media.
The initiative, called the “Succah of Peace,” was intended to bring Jews and Palestinian neighbors together to engage in dialogue and build bridges. Revivi said he believes peace will come from the grassroots, with people from both sides engaged in dialogue.
Representatives from the Israeli military and the police, including Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, participated in the event.
“When we meet and talk, it is possible to overcome many challenges, even security ones,” Alon said.
One of the arrested, 41-year-old Noman Othman, said that although he had worked in the Efrat settlement for years, this was the first time he had been invited as a guest.
“This is good,” he told the Washington Post at Wednesday’s meeting. “Our relationship is evolving.”
Othman said he bore no hard feelings regarding the expansion of settlements, which the Obama administration has slammed as being “an obstacle to peace,” the report noted.
Othman also stated that he had no problem with Efrat, home to some 10,000 Jews – many of whom are also American citizens. He said that the establishment of a Palestinian state should not affect the Jews living in Efrat who “should stay on their land” – even if that land becomes part of a Palestinian state.
“These are their houses. They bought them with their own money. We should have no problem living together — if there is peace,” Othman said.
Revivi had visited Othman’s village of Wadi al-Nis to pay a condolence visit to the family of a six-year-old girl killed in a car accident involving a member of the Efrat community.
Revivi managed to get speed bumps put up in the area to prevent future accidents. Revivi’s efforts prompted the victim’s grandfather, Mohammed Mahmoud Musa, to visit the “Succah of Peace.”
“The mayor came and paid his condolences. That is why I am here,” Musa told the Washington Post.
The PA’s Deputy Governor of Bethlehem Muhammad Taha said the “normalization” visit to the Succah was being investigated. The government in Ramallah, in coordination with PA security forces, will hold these people accountable according to Palestinian law, he told Wattan TV.
“All Palestinians condemn the [visit], and visiting settlers is completely unacceptable,” he said.
Khaled Tafish, a parliamentarian in the Palestinian Legislative Council, added, “If they knew that there would be a punishment and that they will be pursued for doing that, then the incident would not have happened.”
Revivi called on the PA to immediately release the detained Arabs.
“Initiatives that seek to foster cooperation and peace between people should be encouraged, not silenced. It’s time the Palestinian Authority asks itself whether it would prefer to fan the flames of conflict instead of working to bring people together,” Revivi said.
“I’m sorry that human rights organizations have not spoken out about this situation,” he said.