Analysis: Settler unrest tests under-resourced police

So far, police have been unable to prevent 'price-tag' attacks on Palestinians.

settler riots cut olive trees 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
settler riots cut olive trees 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Tensions in the West Bank between settler activists and the security forces rose considerably this week, and with talk of wide-spread evacuations of unauthorized structures in the near future, the under-resourced Judea and Samaria police may soon find itself facing a major test. The notorious "price-tag" policy is pursued by a group of determined far-right activists who move in groups and attack Palestinians and security personnel. The activists also set fire to fields and stone homes and cars each time an illegal structure is demolished. It is an attempt to "deter" the state from destroying more unauthorized structures, and so far, police have been unable to prevent such attacks, which have the potential to ignite a wave of mass unrest in the West Bank. The Judea and Samaria police force is made up of approximately 1,000 officers, and 17 patrol cars are in service during any given shift (not including 10 Traffic Police vehicles). By comparison, the Sharon police district in the Central region, which encompasses a much smaller territory, has 1,100 officers. Judea and Samaria police are understaffed and under-resourced, though sources within the police insist the force suffers shortages that are no worse than other police districts in the country. Despite the shortages, Judea and Samaria police officers are confident in their ability to deal with future unrest and to prevent price-tag attacks, largely because of the unique alliance which exists between the police and the military in the West Bank. At any given time, police in the West Bank can in theory call on Judea and Samaria Border Police officers (who number 2,000 and are under IDF command) to come to their assistance, as well as soldiers from the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division. Under the arrangement, the soldiers and police are supposed to help one another in responding to crimes and security-related incidents. In theory, the forces, which work in conjunction with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the army's Civil Administration, are supposed to act as one. The police-army alliance was sealed with handshake two-and-a-half years ago by the then-Judea and Samaria police chief, Cmdr. Shlomi Ka'atabi, and the IDF's OC Central Command, Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni. The two men are good friends, and their deal aimed to turn the two security forces into close partners. It remains doubtful, however, that the well-intentioned arrangement is sufficient to mobilize the numbers of personnel which are needed to prevent (rather than respond to) the price-tag policy. Unless Judea and Samaria police are given sufficient resources and numbers of officers, the scenes we have grown accustomed to seeing after every outpost clearance are likely to play out across hot spots in the West Bank again and again, possibly triggering a chain of incidents which could deteriorate the overall security situation.