'Amona inquiry should probe army'

Ezra: Army should have done more to prevent protesters from reaching outpost.

gideon ezra face 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
gideon ezra face 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The commission of inquiry that will examine the behavior of the police during the evacuation of Amona last week should also scrutinize the army's performance, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra said Thursday. "The body that has control over Judea and Samaria is the army and not the police," he said. "The police was at the service of the army. The commission needs to examine everything." The Knesset voted on Wednesday to establish the commission to look into the violence at Amona, when police clashed with demonstrators who were trying to prevent the demolition of nine houses. The Police Investigative Department said earlier this week it would conduct its own inquiry. Ezra agreed with the police officers' opinion that the army should have done more to prevent protesters from reaching the outpost, but said this was something for the commission to examine. Ezra and the police said they respected the Knesset vote, but privately, officers were unhappy that all the focus had been placed on them. "The army was responsible for the evacuation. They should also be criticized," said one officer. "Why didn't the army ensure that those who arrived were barred from entering?" he added. "If the army had done its job properly, these people wouldn't have entered and there would have been less of a mess." Before the police carried out the evacuation of the houses, army units had taken up positions on the perimeter and were supposed to prevent protesters from arriving in Amona. In addition, soldiers set up roadblocks on the approach to the outpost. However, the officer said this was not enough. "The army should have closed the place earlier," he said. "They knew that they were going to carry out an evacuation on that Wednesday. They should have closed the area two or three days or even a week beforehand in order to stop people from arriving... "Roadblocks aren't closing the place off. They shouldn't have allowed them to get to the area where the houses were located." Another officer expressed his resentment at the creation of the commission. "There is a lot of anger among officers who were in the field," he said. "It gives legitimacy to those who want to use violence against the police. If a policeman did do something wrong, then the PID will investigate." The army declined to comment on Ezra's statements and those of the police, saying it was a political matter. However, senior IDF officers said last week that the strategy of Central Command was to disturb as little as possible the routine life of the thousands of settlers living in the area. "The main road serves thousands of settlers living in the region, and the decision not to set up checkpoints earlier was measured against the disturbances they would be forced to endure had such measures been taken," one army officer said. Ezra said last week that it was very difficult to close off the area. "The place was open from all four sides," he said. "They came by foot from the wadis. It wasn't possible to stop all of them. It is impossible to close an area for a long time." Following the Knesset vote, the Knesset House Committee will take up the issue and define the commission's brief, after which the plenum will carry out a second reading. The commission is expected to be charged with examining complaints that the police used excessive violence and that officers physically, verbally and even sexually abused settlers and their supporters at the scene. However, Ezra doesn't believe the commission should have been set up in the first place. "I don't think the Knesset should be the PID," he said, adding: "The police were carrying out a court decision, and there is therefore no reason for a commission of inquiry. I will give my full backing to the police. They predicted that there would be violence and prepared for it beforehand." Internal Security Ministry spokesman Yehuda Maman said the commission should also examine the role of the protesters. "If you are already carrying out a probe, then investigate the leaders who encouraged the evacuees to use violence," he said. "It must not be forgotten that the protesters prepared for this with blocks and iron." Around 250 people were injured in the clashes, including 82 policemen. Of the latter, 54 were hospitalized and all but two were discharged the same day. A teenage demonstrator's skull was fractured, and his mother said he had been hit by a police baton. One border policeman, Alon Madar, 19, almost lost his sight after being hit by a piece of glass, while cavalry officer Peretz Margalit was injured in the leg by a stone. Both were hospitalized and released earlier this week. A border policeman was stabbed with a makeshift weapon and lightly injured, as were policemen who were hit on the head by blocks and large stones. According to Judea and Samaria Police spokesman Supt. Shlomi Sagi, riot gear prevented their injuries from being more serious. "The blocks hit them on the head, but they were wearing helmets, so the blows were only light," he said. "But they were still injured, and if they hadn't been protected by helmets and body armor, people would also have been killed."