Rioting Jews to be tried in army courts

Netanyahu rejects calls by ministers to class suspects as terrorists; recommendations include immediate arrest warrants.

police settler violence 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
police settler violence 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu provided security forces and police with several new legal tools on Wednesday designed to enable them to stamp out radical nationalist attacks.
According to one of the recommendations Netanyahu accepted a day after the vandalism and rock-throwing incident at an IDF base, Jews rioting in the West Bank will now be tried in military courts like Palestinians.
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The move was immediately criticized by both members of the settler movement and left-wing groups such as B’Tselem, who claimed that such measures stripped the national radicals of the democratic right to due process afforded all other citizens.
The prime minister, moving swiftly to develop a more aggressive “tool box” to be used against so-called “price-tag” rioters in the West Bank, declared that “those who raise a hand against IDF soldiers or Israel Police personnel will be punished severely.”
He likened the rioters at the Ephraim Brigade army base to the Palestinian and left-wing extremists who clash regularly with the IDF at Bil’in over the security barrier’s route.
Netanyahu did, however, stop short of labeling the price-tag extremists terrorists, saying that in his eyes they were more anarchists than terrorists. This distinction ran contrary to comments from some members if his cabinet, such as Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i, who referred to what happened on Tuesday as terrorism.
The distinction is not only a linguistic one, but also has legal implications, such as regarding the ability to block bank accounts.
Netanyahu took pains, as he had the day before, not to paint the entire settlement enterprise with the brush of extremism.
“It is important to me to emphasize that this is a small group that does not represent the public that lives in Judea and Samaria, who are loyal to the state and its laws and who condemn the rioting,” he said.
Netanyahu had convened an urgent meeting of top security and justice officials on Tuesday, immediately after the incident at the IDF base, to come up with recommendations for dealing with the surge of right-wing violence that has been given the name “pricetag” attacks because they are generally carried out in response to – or as a “price” exacted for – government action against the illegal settlement outposts.
On Wednesday, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman formulated the recommendations, after meeting with representatives from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), police, prosecutors and the army. The ministers also called for greater resources to be made available for investigations.
The new steps include:
• immediately issuing administrative detention orders against rioters.
• increasing the number of Jews barred from entering the West Bank.
• giving the IDF the authority to detain Jewish rioters, and not having to wait for the police to do so.
• adding investigation teams from the Shin Bet, police, IDF and State Attorney’s Office to deal with these incidents.
The Shin Bet has joined several police investigations into farright arson and vandalism attacks across the country, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
The agency’s increased involvement underlines growing concerns over the lack of intelligence, which has prevented law enforcement from moving to stop the attacks before they occur.
“The Shin Bet is working with local and national police districts on the investigations.
Coordination between police and the Shin Bet will continue to expand in the coming days,” Rosenfeld said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak backed calls to label the suspects terrorists.
“As far as [ultra nationalists’] behavior is concerned, there is no doubt that we are talking about terrorists,” he told Army Radio.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) criticized the idea, saying that the “hilltop youth” were not a structured organization that could be prosecuted.
“Any attempt to define an amorphous group as a terrorist organization will lead to repeated and continuous harassment of innocent residents of Judea and Samaria,” he said.
Ariel advised the public security minister to enforce existing laws instead of “seeking out headlines with unrealistic plans.”
On Wednesday, MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) said the IDF should have shot at the activists who attacked soldiers earlier this week.
“The gang of criminals took a brick, threw it at an officer’s head and almost killed him,” he said during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting with the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, Maj.-Gen. Orna Barbivai.
“Too bad the IDF didn’t arrest anyone; too bad they didn’t shoot; too bad they didn’t react,” Ben-Eliezer declared.
The former defense minister said that if someone tried to kill an IDF soldier, it shouldn’t matter whether the person was Jewish or Arab.
“Whoever comes to kill you – kill him first. This is terrorism. I was witness to such terrorism in 1995, which ended in a prime minister being killed,” he said, referring to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. “If I were [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu], I would be very concerned.”
The Labor lawmaker called for a “lethal reaction” from the IDF and Shin Bet to stop the price tag phenomenon.
MK Arye Eldad (National Union) responded by saying that there were clearly too many crazy people and that the IDF must stop price-tag activists from harming soldiers and innocent Arabs. However, he said, some sanity must be brought into the situation.
“Jews shouldn’t throw rocks at IDF soldiers, and IDF soldiers shouldn’t, God forbid, shoot at Jews,” he said. “Whoever calls to shoot settlers is trying to light a fire in the hope that he can build his future on the ashes.”
Other lawmakers in the National Union, the party most identified with settlers, also slammed Ben-Eliezer for his remarks, with MK Michael Ben- Ari saying this was “yet another sign of insanity from the hatemongering Left.”
Ariel said the Labor legislators’ words were “blatant incitement,” and called for him to take back what he’d said.
However, he added that the IDF and the police must work to implement the law and put the attackers on trial.
Later, in an interview with Israel Radio, Ben-Eliezer clarified that most of the settlers, who were loyal to the law and served in the IDF, should be the “eyes and ears” of the state in the West Bank, and should not be afraid to raise their voices to stop rioters.
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) opened his committee’s meeting by criticizing the violence against soldiers, saying that the committee would defend them and ensure that those who tried to harm them would be stopped.
The Kadima MK asserted that price-tag attacks endangered democracy and the rule of law, as well as IDF soldiers and officers, and that the small group of rioters must be stopped.
“I call on the prime minister: The time for condemnation is over. Now is the time for action,” Mofaz said. “Put an end to this criminal, terrorist activity.”
Later on Wednesday, Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor said that the “wild, violent attack is not the first time red lines have been crossed.”
Responding to a question in the Knesset plenum, Meridor explained that the attacks had begun under the “strange name ‘price tag,’” with the explanation that they were only aimed at Palestinians and were just a matter of political opinion.
“Now, it’s come to harming our soldiers, raising a hand to our army and our police and challenging the state,” he said.
He urged that the perpetrators be “punished to the full extent of the law,” adding, “We must stop this fire – it may only burn the edges of society now, but it could burn us all.”
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) pointed to the defacement of a mosque in Jerusalem on Wednesday – an incident she called “a hate crime” – as part of the same wave of violence that led activists to throw rocks at IDF officers on Tuesday.
“This isn’t a small group. It’s a group of Israeli extremists that is constantly growing and trying to forcefully turn Israel into a different country – a country in their extreme, nationalist and violent image, without laws and courts, and Judaism is twisted,” she said.
Livni called for “the Zionist majority to take back the country, and prove that some lines can’t be crossed.”
She also said the government must arrest all of those involved in this week’s incidents and punish them harshly, and that it should continue evacuating illegal outposts to show that the law was enforced.
Meanwhile, settlers received a show of support Wednesday from an unusual source: B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
Among the issues on which the group has focused is IDF infringement on Palestinian rights.
However, B’Tselem spokesman Sarit Michaeli declared that stopping settler violence should not come at the expense of the human rights of Israeli West Bank residents.
In particular, she rejected calls to classify perpetrators of the price-tag attacks as terrorists.
Similarly, she said, she strongly objected to Netanyahu’s decision to make use of administrative detention orders against them or to try them in military court.
Their rights to due process should not be denied, she asserted.
The IDF and the Border Police have not done a good enough job in upholding the rule of law in the West Bank, continued Michaeli. “What we would like to see is real law enforcement and not draconic measures that would restrict settler rights,” she said.
Peace Now also disapproved of Netanyahu’s announcement.
Its executive director, Yariv Oppenheimer, charged that law enforcement changes were “cosmetic” and would not change much on the ground.
“Netanyahu should stop fearing right-wing violence and should instead evacuate the outposts that have become a home for the hilltop youth,” he said.
Ben-Ari, meanwhile, wanted to know if Netanyahu planned to use these same measures against Israeli left-wing activists who participated in West Bank demonstrations against the IDF.
Settlers and right-wing attorneys also objected strongly to the use of administrative detention and military courts.
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel warned that changing the rules of the game only for certain citizens opened the door to dictatorship and would be a nightmare for those who cherished human rights.
“Criminals should be investigated and brought to justice,” it said, but not through “draconian measures that bankrupt democracy.”
Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said, “The struggle against the violence is of the utmost importance. However, there is no doubt that the basic democratic rules of the game should be kept.”
There was “no real alternative to indictments and trials,” Dayan said.
Michael Omer-Man contributed to this report.