Palestinians form ‘civil guards’ to defend mosques

Groups defending against extremist settler attacks unarmed, but top IDF officer voices concern over possible clashes.

price tag at Deir Estya_311 (photo credit: Aatef Abu Roub/Betselem)
price tag at Deir Estya_311
(photo credit: Aatef Abu Roub/Betselem)
A number of Palestinian villages have established “civil guard” units to protect their homes and mosques from attacks by Jewish extremists, raising fears within the IDF over possible violence in the West Bank.
The civil guard units consist of men who rotate shifts throughout the night to protect mosques and homes inside the villages from so-called “price tag” attacks by settlers and right-wing extremists.
Price-tag attacks saw a sharp rise in 2011, with more than 2,000 olive trees either burned, chopped down or poisoned in the West Bank, in addition to a number of mosques that were vandalized or fire-bombed.
The IDF Central Command recently held a number of surprise inspections of the civil guard units and discovered that the villagers were unarmed and that there were no grounds to dismantle the units. The units have been established in dozens of villages.
“These are people who are simply trying to protect their homes,” a senior IDF officer said. “Our concern is what happens if a group of Jews enter the village and are caught by the units.”
The IDF believes that most of the price-tag attacks are carried out by just a few dozen youth, who mainly come from outposts and settlements in northern Samaria.
In addition to concern that perpetrators of an attack will be caught by the civil guard units and then beaten or murdered, there are also fears that an attack will spark a new wave of Palestinian violence throughout the West Bank. The IDF is on high alert in the West Bank due to intelligence that Palestinian terrorists are plotting to kidnap a soldier or settler, murder him and then use the body as a bargaining chip to negotiate for the release of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
In 2011, the IDF recorded 12 attempts to kidnap soldiers or settlers in the West Bank, and believes that following the deal to release kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit in October and the release of some prisoners to the West Bank, the threat has grown.