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(photo credit: Jewish Community of Hebron)
A senior IDF officer warned on Thursday that the behavior and actions of extremist Jewish groups operating in Samaria pose a far greater threat than terror actions to the people of Israel. If left unchecked, the problem will continue to increase, he said, and turn into a matter of national concern.
In an unprecedented statement that revealed frustration at the failure of security forces to nab those responsible for destroying Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank, the officer likened the actions of the extremists to "a volcano waiting to erupt."
"We are talking about an entire group of youth, who in the past were considered the cream of the crop, the heart of the IDF leadership and the heart of Israel. Today we are witnessing an extremely worrying trend - youth are becoming more and more detached from the state and its institutions and symbols," he said. "Some of the extremist groups' actions endanger us far more as a people than the terror threats, which we know how to confront," he said.
Citing an example, the officer recalled the recent arrest of a group of settler youth who entered the former settlement of Sa-Nur illegally and had to be forcibly removed by the army. Those arrested were placed in a new armored vehicle and driven to the local police station. After the settlers had disembarked from the vehicle, officials were horrified to discover that the entire vehicle had been vandalized. Seats and electric wires of the air-conditioning system were ripped out, the floor torn up and the interior walls covered with graffiti stating "Kahane was right," "No to the State of Israel - Yes to the State of Judea" and "We succeeded with Rabin - Sharon, it is your turn."
In 2005 there was an increase of 92.4% in Jewish extremist attacks against members of the security forces and Palestinians, the officer said. There were 157 attacks on security forces compared with 83 in the previous year, and 74 attacks against Palestinians compared with 39 in 2004. According to the statistics, the main settlement trouble spots are Kedumim, Yitzhar and Eilon Moreh.
In an attempt to curb the situation, the officer said all the relevant enforcement agencies plan to embark on a range of new tactics, and take harsher measures against the lawbreakers. He said he hoped results of these actions would be seen in the near future. "We need greater enforcement tools if we are to be more effective," he said, noting that it was impossible to monitor the thousands of dunams of Palestinian lands.
The officer also expressed his frustrations over the failure of the law-enforcement agencies to bring the perpetrators to justice in the courts, noting that more often than not, the evidence collected against suspects is not enough to stand up in court, despite the fact that IDF jeeps and vehicles have had their tires punctured and IDF officers have been physically attacked.
In the past the IDF designated specific areas in which Palestinian farmers coordinated with the army to harvest the olive crop and were guarded by soldiers to prevent any confrontations. Because of this, said the officer, there were very few incidents. However, the intervention of organizations affiliated with the Left, who appealed to the courts declaring that such action had a detrimental effect on the sale and marketing of olives, caused the courts to change their approach and demand that the army stop designating specific guarded areas. "All the destroyed trees were in areas where leftist groups were in contact with Palestinian farmers," the officer said.
The leftists' actions encouraged the Palestinian farmers to operate in areas without coordinating with the IDF, thereby indirectly attracting the wrath of extremist settler groups, he said.
The officer also blamed the leadership of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (Yesha) for failing to recognize and deal with the problem. He refused to accept the insistence by Yesha leaders that in many cases the Palestinian farmers were destroying their own trees to receive compensation from Israel.
"Without a doubt, bands of extremists are responsible. It is a shame that the settler leadership fails to condemn such actions and deal with the situation instead of inventing stories," the officer said.
Ever since the disengagement from Gaza, the majority of rabbis in the settlements in Samaria refuses to meet with IDF officers. "They totally refuse to meet with us, and it is not due to our lack of initiating such meetings," the officer said. He added that while there was an ongoing dialogue with Yesha leaders and rabbis who were considered to be more pragmatic in their approach, the very rabbis who might have a greater effect on the extremist groups refused to meet with them.