steinitz speaking 298 88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
After several weeks of rising tensions, the Knesset's investigative committee into the Amona evacuation canceled the appearance of Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra on Monday.
Ezra had demanded to appear in lieu of police officers who took part in the evacuation.
"We will not allow ministers to waste the committee's time and their own," said committee head MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), who called Ezra's move an "attempt to obstruct the committee's investigation."
Steinitz also issued an apology in the committee's name to the police and soldiers who would not be allowed to testify, as per Ezra's decision.
"There were a number of police officers who had information and wanted to appear," Steinitz said, adding that Ezra's decision had harmed the police's image.
"I notified Minister Ezra that the committee is forgoing further testimony from him. In consultations with the committee's steering committee, it was agreed we would not permit Ezra to further hinder the investigation and to humiliate both the Knesset and himself," said Steinitz at the start of the meeting.
"There is no doubt that the rioters in Amona pose a danger to democracy but the behavior of Minister Ezra... is shameful behavior for a minister in Israel," said committee member MK Ilan Shalgi.
In place of Ezra, legal experts Professor Emanuel Gross and Professor Ariel Ben-Dor were given extra time during their testimonies on Monday.
Although the professors were called to testify over the legality of the evacuation, they also fielded questions on Ezra's decision not to appear before the committee.
"The decision of Minister Ezra and [Defense Minister Shaul] Mofaz to appear at the committee instead of their officers has illegal aspects," said Gross. "It ridicules the democratic perception of Israel."
According to Gross, the law enables a minister to appear instead of his subordinates only under the condition that the minister would be a better authority and impart more information than the subordinate. Steinitz pointed out that in the cases of Ezra and Mofaz, it appeared unlikely that they could provide accurate descriptions of the mood of security officials on the ground, as neither minister was present at Amona.
Steinitz added that the committee would submit its interim report as early as next week.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Mofaz, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin have appeared before the committee, along with a number of settlers who were present at the Amona evacuation.
The committee has rushed its hearings in order to reach a preliminary decision ahead of the March 28 elections. The committee must seek the approval of the next Knesset in order to continue meeting.
Olmert has already stated he will not support reconvening the committee after elections.