Four Palestinian guests who attended a Jewish holiday celebration on Wednesday at an Israeli settlement in the West Bank have been arrested by Palestinian security forces, family members said Friday.
Palestinian authorities released no information on the arrests, including why the four men were detained late Thursday.
Relatives of the Palestinians say they were taken into custody after photographs appeared on social media and news websites about the unusual celebration in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in which Jews and Muslims gathered together.
Relatives of the detained men said they would likely be held until Sunday and they were being interrogated.
They said it was not the celebration at the house of Efrat’s mayor, Oded Revivi, that got them into trouble with Palestinian authorities. Instead, they believe it was the presence at the gathering of senior Israeli army officers, including a general, alongside top Israeli police officers.
[The event went well until the Palestinians guests headed home]
“The problem is the photos of the soldiers and us,” said Asad Abu Hamad, 40, a relative of the arrested men.
“The mayor tricked them,” Abu Hamad said. “Instead of helping us, he destroyed us.”
The cousin of the arrested men said they went to the gathering in a gesture of friendship, but also to press their cases to end road closures into their villages and home demolitions by Israeli bulldozers.
Pro-Israel voices on social media pointed to the arrests as evidence that Palestinian authorities refuse to allow their Muslim citizens to meet peacefully with Jews.
Revivi, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the Israel army reserves, said he was in anguish over the arrests and was pressing for the men’s release.
“I understand they are upset. I understand what the relatives are saying,” Revivi said. “But was this a trap? This was no trap.”
He said his Palestinian guests spoke openly — and directly — with his Jewish guests and with the military and police officers in attendance.
Two reporters from The Washington Post attended the gathering. The relations among the guests were cordial and both Palestinians and Israelis took selfies and photographs and video.
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Some Palestinian guests felt comfortable enough to complain out loud about how they are treated. Some Israelis mentioned the wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks against them.
Ali Musa, 49, came from the village of Al Khader. He told the gathering on Wednesday: “I came for a reason. I came to talk about our relationship, between you and us.”
He reminded his hosts that there is a locked yellow gate that blocks the entrance to his village, a closure enforced by Israeli security forces.
“That gate should be removed,” Musa said.
He also complained about a sign warning Israelis not to enter his village because it was dangerous to their lives. He called the sign racist.
Reached on Friday after news of the arrests of four Palestinian guests, Musa said of the Palestinian security forces: “Let them come for me. I’m not afraid. I said what I said. I sent a message to the Israelis from the Palestinian people.”
One of those arrested is Riad Abu Hamad, who was detained and interrogated by Palestinian police earlier this year when he spoke out on Israeli television about his relations with Jewish settlers.
At the party, Riad Abu Hamad said, “I’ve never spoken out against the Palestinians. I’ve spoken out against closing [Israeli] factories in the West Bank. We need the work. Where are the Palestinian factories?”
Riad Abu Hamad said a gathering like the one on Wednesday should be encouraged, not discouraged. He said the setting offers a forum for Palestinians to seek redress from the Israeli army, which has occupied the territory for almost 50 years.
He said, “We can press for work permits, roads, more water, more rights.”
The mayor of the Jewish settlement said he felt love for his Palestinian guests and did not want to criticize their relatives. But he pointed out to a reporter, “You were there. Who was taking photos of who?”
Everyone was taking photos.
More than 1,000 Palestinians work at the Efrat settlement, a community that the United States calls “illegitimate” and “an obstacle to peace” in an ever elusive two-state solution.
Palestinians may work in Jewish settlements without social censure, but Palestinian society discourages its people from mingling with police officers and soldiers, ever wary of collaboration and a process that Palestinians call “normalization.” They see that as a way for Israel, little by little, to use people’s natural inclination to seek accord to legitimize the decades-long military occupation and surrender their struggle for their own state.