Tears and tear gas

The Gush Katif experience taught the defense establishment that locals are rarely to blame for physical opposition to security services

masked settler hebron 88 (photo credit: )
masked settler hebron 88
(photo credit: )
This week, the defense establishment was given an opportunity to study the new makeup of settlers in Judea and Samaria and prep itself for the year ahead, which, according to political assessments, will involve additional land concessions - perhaps even a second disengagement. In Hebron, policemen and IDF troops faced off against an old adversary - the "Hilltop Youth." Claiming to be following the word of God to safeguard the land of Israel, the youths donned masks similar to those worn by Palestinian terrorists and - in scenes reminiscent of the first intifada - hurled rocks at soldiers and set nearby Palestinian stores on fire. The riots in Hebron demonstrated to the defense establishment what it already knew: that the actual residents of Hebron were not taking part in the violence. To prevent the arrival of additional outside instigators and reinforcements, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz ordered OC Central Command Yair Naveh to declare the Jewish neighborhoods in the city a closed military zone. Last week, defense officials announced that they did not plan to evacuate the eight shops taken over by Jews in the Hebron market for at least another two weeks - until after the Palestinian parliamentary elections. But neither the residents nor the outsiders were comforted by the delay, and promised to fight the eviction orders with all their might. Senior police and IDF brass who were in Hebron this week spent a lot of time drawing comparisons between last summer's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the upcoming evacuation from Hebron and dismantling of the illegal outpost of Amona, near the settlement of Ofra. The surprisingly swift and non-violent evacuation of Gush Katif, they agreed, taught the settlers that a well-tuned military - backed by a determined government - was a difficult machine to bring to a halt. On the other hand, the Gush Katif experience also taught the defense establishment that locals are rarely to blame for physical opposition to security services. Instead, it is the Hilltop Youth who, one officer said, "can always be found where the action is." According to the police and the army, these youths belong to a tight-knit group of far-Right activists who do not heed any type of formal leadership. They live scattered among the various Samarian hills, where they spend their time farming the land and studying Torah. Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi said this week that the police knew who the groups of provocateurs were. "We met them in Gush Katif and we met them again this week in Hebron." THE ASSESSMENT within the defense establishment is that any evacuation within Judea and Samaria will be met with far greater violence than the occasional egg and paint throwing that security forces encountered over the summer in Gaza. For one thing, sources say, following their defeat in Gush Katif, anti-pullout strategists now know that if they plan to stand the slightest chance of beating the evacuating forces, they need to come up with new tactics. Working on this assumption, the police and the army are taking extra caution. This is why on Tuesday, even after a majority of the rioters had already left Hebron, policemen stood outside the Avraham Avinu neighborhood dressed in full battle gear - backed up by tear-gas canisters and a cavalry unit - though they ended up not needing any of it. The official leadership of Hebron admitted its mistake this week, acknowledging that hosting the groups of young rioters had hindered their legitimate struggle. Hebron Jewish community spokesman Noam Arnon said that while he sympathized with the youths' pain over the planned evacuation, they were "out of control." On Monday, after three days of clashes, Arnon gathered the youths and instructed them to leave the city. BUT, IN a city where the evacuation of Jews from settlements is compared to the Biblical slavery of Jews in Egypt, a real dialogue between the government and the settlers was difficult to come by. "There is no such channel between us and them," one senior Hebron police officer said. "They call us only when it is in their interest - if they want someone who was arrested released, or if they need us to protect them. They are not really interested in what we have to say." Arnon tells a different story. He claims that the local leadership has an "outstanding" relationship with the various government ministries, and attributed the sparking of the riots to police and military presence in the city. "We instructed everyone to leave, and then suddenly the police and the army came in as if they were about to blitz the neighborhood," he said. For now, the army and the police are keeping extra forces in the city until Sunday, when the military closure order will expire. IDF officers said Thursday that even if the city remained quiet over the weekend, they would still consider keeping the order in place until they complete the evacuation, now scheduled for the end of the month.