In November, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi met with commander
of the Israel Police’s Judea and Samaria District Amos Ya’acov to coordinate the
planned evacuations of a number of illegal outposts in the West Bank.
important decisions were made at the meeting. The first was that border
policemen would carry out the actual evacuation and IDF troops would set up
positions along the outer perimeter to prevent right-wing reinforcements from
trying to reach the outposts and to protect against potential Palestinian
The second decision was also significant: while
policemen had come armed to previous evacuations, this time Mizrachi and Ya’acov
decided, they would come without weapons, not even batons.
“We told the
forces that they would have to manage without weapons since we wanted to send a
message that we did not want violence and preferred to retain national unity,”
one senior officer who had been involved in the discussions said
That was in November. On Monday, following the settler attacks
against IDF soldiers at the Efraim Regional Brigade base near Kedumim,
everything changed. For example, on Wednesday night, when border policemen and
IDF troops entered the illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yitzhar to evacuate it, they
were carrying bats, pepper spray and tear gas.
National unity, is
important, a senior IDF officer explained on Thursday, but so is protecting our
So-called “price tag” attacks, in which settlers commit
acts of violence in order to make Palestinians or Israeli security forces pay a
“price,” are not a new phenomenon and have been around for some years now but
were widely ignored. This strengthened the group, which is now believed to
number around 500 core activists who within hours can grow to several thousand
with right-wing reinforcements from within Israel.
On Monday night, the
series of incidents – which included the crossing of the Israeli-Jordanian
border fence by a group of far-right activists, the stoning of Palestinian cars
and the attack against the Efraim Brigade base – was set off by a mass text
message sent out by settlers urging their supporters to immediately come to
Ramat Gilad to prevent the outpost’s evacuation.
The text message claimed
that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had dismissed Likud Minister Benny Begin’s
efforts to broker a deal between the government and the residents of Ramat Gilad
and that the evacuation was imminent, set to take place in the coming hours. It
didn’t matter to activists that the IDF was not planning to evacuate the outpost
and that Mizrachi had yet to receive an order to do so.
departed the center of the country and Jerusalem packed with activists on their
way to Ramat Gilad. The Central Command received a warning about the buses but
did not make much of it since it wasn't planning to evacuate the
Even when the 50 or so activists descended on the Efraim
Regional Brigade base at the entrance to Kedumim, the IDF soldiers and officers
stationed saw Jews, heard Hebrew and did not expect the evening to develop into
anything more than a demonstration. Suddenly, though, the IDF found itself under
What was interesting about the buses was that they were not the
bulletproof ones usually used by Israelis traveling in the West Bank, which
belong to the local settlement councils.
This was understood within the
IDF to mean that settlement councils do not want to be directly connected to the
activists and as a result, the organizers have to rely on Israeli bus companies.
The police are now looking into the bus companies to try and get to the people
who are supporting the hilltop youth and their violent
Mizrachi is extremely frustrated with the lawlessness in the
West Bank and the lack of deterrence in preventing settler attacks. While there
was criticism this week of the IDF’s failure to apprehend any of the attackers,
Mizrachi told subordinates that soldiers are not policemen and that if the
government wants to stop the growing settler violence in the territories there
is a clear way to do so.
The first step, according to Mizrachi, would be
to beef up the police’s Judea and Samaria District with more manpower and
resources as well as the Shin Bet’s Jewish Division.
The next step would
be for the legal system in Israel – particularly the courts – to understand that
“Muhammad is a pig” spray painted on a mosque is not the same as graffiti spray
painted in downtown Tel Aviv. Currently, both fall under the category of
defacing public property.
Because the legal system does not distinguish
between the two types of crimes, “it would not have made a difference if we had
arrested the attackers since they would have been back out on the street the
next day,” a senior officer from the Central Command said.
tried to do what he can to change the legal situation. Last year he went
together with Hagai Dotan, Ya’acov’s predecessor at the Judea and Samaria Police
District, to meet with the president of the Jerusalem District Court.
The purpose of the meeting was not to influence a court decision – there were no
relevant cases on the docket at the time and anyway that would have been
unethical – but to explain the difficulties the police and the IDF encounter in
collecting evidence that can stick in court when trying settlers and far-right
Since that meeting, though, nothing has really changed – even
though the price tag attacks have not only continued but escalated.
the past three months alone, attacks included the infiltration and subsequent
vandalism of the Binyamin Regional Brigade base, the firebombing of a mosque in
the Israeli-Beduin village of Tuba-Zanghariya and the burning of a mosque last
week near the Ariel settlement.
This is not strictly the court’s, fault
since the directive needs to come from above; from the government and
particularly from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud
The problem is that for both Netanyahu and Barak, the price tag
attacks – as bad as they are – are somewhat politically
Neither one wants to confront the settlers, particularly as
elections loom on the horizon and as they both prefer to stay focused on the
real challenges and threats that Israel is facing.
The outposts have been
a thorn in Israel’s side since the early 2000s, but then-prime minister Ariel
Sharon and his successor Ehud Olmert were able to get the Americans off their
backs when it came to evacuating them, since both were negotiating a
comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.
Today, there is complete
disconnect between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and, as a result,
Netanyahu, the so-called leader of the Right, cannot argue with the Americans
that he will evacuate the outposts together with the rest of the West Bank,
since there aren’t even negotiations going on.
The IDF is also not
pinning its hopes on Netanyahu’s recent announcement that he is ordering a
system-wide crackdown on settler violence. His announcement on Wednesday night,
for example, that pricetag perpetrators could be tried in military courts was
not even known to senior officers in the Central Command on Thursday.
although Netanyahu announced that soldiers would be given the authority to
arrest suspects, they have always had this authority in cases when the Central
Command declares an area a closed-military zone. Either way, Chief of Staff
Benny Gantz does not plan on ordering his troops to begin
arresting settlers. This would take away from their focus on preventing
Palestinian terrorist attacks.
The problem is that the government’s
failure to stop the attacks is essentially what is empowering the extremists who
are behind them. Instead of sending a message that their action will not be
tolerated, the feeling within the IDF is that the government is sending them a
different message. That needs to change.