Barak: Lawless settlers punished lightly

Right says settlers get raw deal already; Left slams defense minister's "small" evacuations.

Hebron evacuation woman 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hebron evacuation woman 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on the judicial system to hand down harsher sentences against Jewish lawbreakers in the West Bank, saying at Sunday's cabinet meeting that light sentences damaged the state's ability to fight the phenomenon. "The disturbances in the West Bank are an attempt by a small extremist group to undermine the authority of the state to apply law and public order within its boundaries," Barak said. His comments came some two weeks after he ordered the evacuation of the disputed home in Hebron, a move that sparked violence there against Palestinians. In the event's aftermath, settlers allegedly set fire to a nearby Palestinian home and shot two Palestinians. The settler allegedly involved in the shooting has claimed he acted in self-defense. "We must be more severe in punishments meted out to lawbreakers in Judea and Samaria," he said, citing as an example what he called a lenient sentence against Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, who received a two-month suspended sentence for assaulting IDF OC Human Resources Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern earlier in the year. "This is only one example of countless rulings that point to a trend of light sentences for lawbreakers. This damages our ability to deter potential offenders and prevents us from eradicating the phenomenon," Barak said. According to Barak, it is critical that the state maintain its authority with its citizens, and the IDF, police, state attorney and judicial system all need to be involved. Barak briefed the ministers on what action the IDF, police and Defense Ministry were taking to enforce the law in the territories, saying that the IDF had taken a determined stance against illegal settlement outposts and that in the last two years, not one illegal outpost had been established. He said that three outposts - at Yatir South, Mevo Horon North and an unnamed one in the area of Ofra - had been evacuated, and attempts to reestablish them had quickly been quashed. He added that Migron was in the process of being evacuated, something that would be done within two years, when it would be moved to another location. In addition, he said the IDF had destroyed 90 structures in the West Bank, both Jewish and Palestinian, including the Federman ranch in Hebron. Barak said the manner in which the settlers had been evacuated from Hebron's Beit Hashalom "sent a clear and unequivocal message from the state to its citizens. We know this is not the end of the phenomena, but this is a good example that demonstrates that determination and force, together with good planning and implementation, achieves good results with the lawbreakers." Barak said he had directed appraisers to go to Hebron and assess the damage to Palestinian property resulting from the Jewish violence following the Beit Hashalom evacuation, to pave the way for possible compensation payments to Palestinians. Barak said further that a number of IDF units were currently dispersed throughout Judea and Samaria to ensure the "best and most effective" olive harvest in the last few years. But his statements irked both the Left and the Right, which accused him of twisting the facts to make himself look good. Orit Struck, a spokeswoman for both Hebron's Jewish community and the Judea and Samaria Human Rights Organization, said security officials were already treating settlers more harshly than lawbreakers in the rest of the country. Out of the investigative files opened against settlers, 38 percent lead to indictments, compared to 14% in the rest of the country, she said. But when the cases go to court, a guilty verdict is issued in 54% of the cases against settlers, compared to 97% in the rest of the country. In other words, she said, police are less thorough when they compile cases against settlers and are more likely to race to assume guilt. The indictments they then file against settlers are more likely to be thrown out of court, she added. However, Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said she believed exactly the opposite - that under Barak's watch, settlers had been allowed to attack Palestinians, including in Hebron over the last few months, with fairly few consequences. In addition, she said, in spite of Barak's assertions to the cabinet, he had done little to stop illegal settlement activity or to remove the 103 unauthorized outposts. While it's true that no new outposts have been built since Barak took office in 2007, according to the group's aerial photographs, in that same time 31 permanent structures have been built in unauthorized outposts and at least 100 new caravans have been added. In addition, at least 330 new caravans have been added to settlements, many of which are unauthorized, said Ofran. All three of the outposts Barak said he had removed were very small; one of them, located in the Ofra area, was just one dilapidated caravan. At the Yatir South outpost, only two of the four caravans there were removed, said Ofran. In Mevo Horon North, three of the caravans were destroyed and another three were transferred to the nearby Mevo Horon settlement, according to area residents. "These are not real evacuations," said Ofran.