Settlers use differing testimonies to discredit probe, urge broader investigation.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
The Amona investigative Committee uncovered its first contradiction as it questioned chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz and Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi Wednesday.
While Halutz told the committee that the decision to approach Amona on foot was part of the initial evacuation plan, Interior Security Minister Gideon Ezra said that the all-night march had been forced on the troops due to roadblocks set up by protesters.
The question of the decision to approach the settlement by foot was raised by committee MKs, as part of an evaluation into the security officials' state of mind during the evacuation.
"If they were marching on foot, then fatigue, stress and ill-will towards the settlers would have been heightened," said MK Yuval Steinitz, who heads the committee.
Following the meeting, Ezra denied that there was a contradiction. "Before they finished the planning, they said we cannot be sure that the main roads will be open and therefore they decided to travel by foot," said Ezra.
The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip said the contradiction between the testimonies underlined the need for a broader official investigation.
"Olmert's responsibility for the incidents and the unreasonable use of police force in violation of the law should also be investigated," said a council spokeswoman.
Halutz told the committee that while he had banned the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, he had sanctioned the use of force in Amona. He stressed, however, that only police officers with the rank of assistant commander or higher had been authorized to use batons against protesters.
"I anticipated that the resisters in Amona would try to present us with new challenges and would dictate more difficult game rules than those we experienced in the Gaza evacuation, and that's what happened. Despite this, I ordered the commanders not to alter the rules regarding the use of force, out of the understanding that most of the settlers are law-abiding and that only a minority were interested in conflict," said Halutz.
"I totally support the way the police operated. The evacuation was carried out under very difficult circumstances," he said. "However, we must investigate why such a high number of people were injured during the events."
Karadi briefed the committee on methods used by security officials, but warned he could not give the official report until the results of an internal inquiry were completed.
"The use of batons was preferable," said Karadi. "Gas is unpleasant to breathe. The use of gas might have endangered people's lives and so we decided not to use it. If we had used gas inside houses it would have caused panic."
The MKs also questioned Halutz as to why women soldiers were not used to evacuate women settlers, as had been organized during the Gaza evacuation.
"Amona was a small evacuation in comparison, but female officers did take part to my knowledge," said Halutz.
On Tuesday, women evacuees gave accounts of sexual harassment and verbal assault by security officers.
Karadi said at a conference Wednesday that there had been no complaints of sexual harassment lodged with police from the Amona evacuation. "If it's true, it's terrible, but if it's not true it's even more terrible," he said.
"In no way can you compare the Amona evacuation to the Gaza evacuation," Halutz added. "The Gaza evacuation was an operation conducted against legal settlements, while Amona was about enforcing the law regarding illegal construction.
"Therefore I see no room to compare the two events at their base level."
Halutz also discussed the growing hostilities between security officials and the settler movement. He said that security forces "acted justly," but that the evacuation resistors "used unauthorized force."
"There is a lot of bitterness in the air. Mutual bitterness. Soldiers who are beaten repeatedly by settlers begin to ask themselves questions," said Halutz, adding that the army was searching for ways to improve dialogue with the settlers.
Karadi also told the committee that police officers who took part in the Amona evacuation were "scarred."
"The results of the evacuation and the use of force were not easy for us," he said, after being shown a video of security officials acting violently in Amona.
"I regret not bringing our own video... this does not show the overall picture," said Karadi, adding that in his opinion, the videos looked as though they had been edited to show the police in the worst possible light.
Karadi also gave the committee details of the evacuation.
At least 1,700 police officers, 600 of which were "special forces," were involved in the operation, he said. Nine buildings were evacuated and dismantled during the operation and 89 police officers were hurt and received medical treatment, Karadi said, while 130 civilians were taken to medical facilities.
On Tuesday, the committee discussed compromises raised by the settlers prior to the evacuation.
Halutz said that the settlers' offer to relocate the buildings themselves was given at the last moment, although they were aware that such an operation would take up to six weeks.
Yigal Grayeff contributed to this report.
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