Olmert rules out official Amona inquiry

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February 6, 2006 00:31
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Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruled out a commission of inquiry to investigate charges of police brutality at Wednesday's evacuation of Amona, saying on Sunday these calls were politically motivated. "There will not be a governmental committee of inquiry," Olmert told the weekly cabinet meeting that heard briefings from security officials about the Amona evacuation. "I will not allow a resolution like this to be raised, it is politically motivated." Olmert's comments came just hours before a massive rally in Jerusalem called for the establishment of a committee of inquiry. Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz also came out against the establishment of a committee of inquiry, telling the cabinet such a move would effectively stymie the government's efforts to dismantle other unauthorized outposts for a number of years. Mazuz said that those who thought the police acted with undue force could lodge a complaint, and that their complaints would be investigated. "Everything is transparent," said Mazuz, adding that there were numerous cameras on the scene that filmed the events. Mazuz did however voice some criticism of the police's handling of the evacuation, saying that other operational alternatives should have been considered. Everyone else at the cabinet meeting, however, gave full backing to the police and security forces. Both Olmert and Mazuz stressed that the evacuation of Amona was simply the government enforcing the law, and not a political act of disengagement. Olmert said that it was "insufferable" to knock the security services. Echoing what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said before the disengagement from Gaza, Olmert said that the security forces should be "outside the political debate," and that criticism should be directed at him, not the police or IDF. During the meeting the cabinet was shown film of the events at Amona, focusing on the actions of the Knesset members at the scene, especially Effi Eitam, Benny Elon and Arye Eldad. Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), said that the demonstrators who went to Amona wanted to "fix the shame" of the evacuation of the Gaza Strip. The message they wanted to send was that that only through confrontation, not through the type of understanding that was shown during the Gaza evacuation, would the settlement enterprise be saved. Diskin said that the demonstrators had no visible leadership at Amona, and that Pinhas Wallerstein, of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said after the second house was torn down on Wednesday that he had no control over the events. Diskin said that the protesters did not listen to the Council of Jewish Communities, and that their rabbis were also not on hand at Amona. Diskin also said that it was too easy to dismiss those at Amona as "extremists," but that they were no longer extremists but have turned into "heroes" for a large part of the settlement population. Diskin said that those who accused the police of brutality should keep in mind that those demonstrators who went to Amona prepared in advance cement blocks, rocks, glass shards, bags of paint, oil, flour and metal wedges. Those who prepared this type of arsenal were coming with a clear intention of engaging in violence, Diskin said. He said that among the settlement community there was opposition to tearing down the nine homes in Amona, even though they were part of an illegal outpost built on private Palestinian land. He said that there was great polarization among the different segments of Israeli society as a result of a lack of dialogue following the disengagement from Gaza. OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh said that the youth at Amona had a subjective feeling of being betrayed. "The evacuation at Amona was a difficult and sad day for me personally," Naveh said. "What surprised me was the intensity of the violence and the hate we saw in their eyes. I didn't see a public that was weeping over the destruction, but rather I saw hatred." Naveh said it was imperative to keep talking with the moderate settlement leadership, even if their influence on the extremists was limited. The extremists, he said, needed to be isolated. Olmert also said that further dialogue was necessary. He said that the majority of the settlers have done important things for the country and for the security of the state, and that he did not want a sense of alienation to develop inside the settlement community. "This is an important element of the Israeli public and it is important that they feel this way," Olmert said. But at the same time, he added that the government would enforce the law and implement the government's decisions. Naveh said that all told 173 protesters were wounded during the evacuation, all of them suffering "light" wounds, except for one who was listed as in serious condition. Fifty-four members of the security forces were also lightly wounded, and two suffered moderate wounds. Meanwhile, the Police Investigative Department (PID) has opened an investigation into police violence at Amona, the Justice Ministry said on Sunday. However, the ministry declined to provide further details other than to say that the PID has not received any complaints from demonstrators who were there. On Thursday, Judea and Samaria Police Cmdr. Yisrael Yitzhak said the police would carry out debriefings at the regional and national levels, and with the army. "It wasn't a simple event and there were a lot of cooperational units and operational forces. We want to learn from this," he said. The police carried out an initial debriefing on the same night as the evacuation and are undertaking a more detailed study this week. Yigal Grayeff contributed to this report.

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