Security: Sticks and stones

The evacuation of Amona was bitter and bloody. The fear is that next time will be even worse.

amona riot gear 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
amona riot gear 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Violence erupted immediately and blood followed suit. Stones, batons, paint and words were the weapons of the day, as thousands of policemen clashed with thousands of civilians in and atop nine permanent homes in the outpost of Amona. Both sides were determined. Activists rejected attempts by moderates among the opponents of the evacuation to try and reach a compromise with the security forces.
The security forces didn't exhibit any of the compassion, sympathy and patience they had shown towards Gush Katif residents during the withdrawal from Gaza. Whereas during disengagement in August, security forces were asked to operate "with determination and sensitivity," in Amona on Wednesday, they were ordered to arrest anyone who got in their way. And Amona may be only the beginning. Hamas's landslide victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections last week has the defense establishment seriously considering carrying out a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank after the Israeli elections in March. If Israel thought PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has been a less-than-reliable partner - the thinking goes - just wait for Hamas to be running the show. Senior IDF officers no longer talk about a second disengagement as a far-off possibility. In Amona, they were already making predictions about the next evacuation - even though the "where" and "when" have yet to be specified. Defense officials said this week that it no longer really matters who wins the upcoming elections - Ehud Olmert, Binyamin Netanyahu or Amir Peretz. The direction has already been set, they said, and the momentum from disengagement is still running strong. Even if the only evacuations carried out by the next government are those of illegal outposts, IDF officers warned this week, the Amona precedent of having to unleash a force of 6,000 soldiers and police to evacuate nine homes could backfire. According to attorney Talia Sasson's in-depth outpost report, there are currently 105 illegal outposts throughout the West Bank, some of which - Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz announced this week - are already in line for evacuation. But with the level of violence escalating from evacuation (Gaza) to evacuation (Amona), according to defense predictions, the next evacuation will only be worse. If security forces were met with stones in Amona, officers said, gunfire is not far behind. OC CENTRAL Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh said he fears that extremists such as the "Hilltop Youth" - who participated in the showdown this week - are in the process of disengaging from the state and creating their own government based on Torah. "We are losing an entire generation," Naveh told reporters, with the sound of bulldozers plowing the Amona homes in the background. Referring to claims that security forces had used excessive force, Naveh said: "In past incidents we shared mutual interests [with the settlers]. In Amona, however, those who were here came for violence." The events at Amona gave credence to the defense establishment's assessment that evacuations in the West Bank will be far fiercer and more violent than they were in Gaza. For now, the army is trying to come up with solutions to prevent having to bring 6,000 policemen and soldiers to the next evacuation. One high-ranking officer said Israel needed to treat the settler leaders as if they were the "Jewish Hamas," and should cut off the funding to the regional and local councils in the West Bank until all the illegal outposts are evacuated by the settlers themselves, without military intervention. "When they see they don't have money they will begin to obey the law," he said. But not everyone believes in such extreme measures. Minutes before the evacuation on Wednesday, Cmdr. Berti Ohayun - the current head of Israel Police Operations and a leading candidate to head the Central District - explained why so many troops were deployed: "Amona is a symbol for the settlers and their struggle. When it crumbles, they will learn a lesson for the future." But for Pinhas Wallerstein - the man who built Amona - the home demolitions on Wednesday elevated fears that it is the police, with its "fierce brutality," who would never learn a lesson. "I have never seen such violence in my life," said the head of the Binyamin Regional Council as he leaned on his trademark cane in front of the razed Amona homes. "Now I am afraid that people will die."