IDF goes hi-tech to protect Hebron Jews

Exclusive: Army to use lasers, thermal cameras to police settlers, Palestinians.

Hebron 298 (photo credit: ahmad gharabli )
Hebron 298
(photo credit: ahmad gharabli )
Utilizing state-of-the-art laser and fiber optics technology, the IDF's Central Command is revolutionizing security for the Jewish community of Hebron in an effort to minimize friction between the settlers and local Palestinians. The plan, drafted by the Central Command's Settlement Protection Division, includes constructing a roof for parts of the Palestinian Casbah in the section of the city under Israel's control. The marketplace, which has several hundred stores, was closed in 2002 after a number of terrorist attacks were launched from the area. On Sunday, the B'Tselem NGO and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel released a report charging that military policy in the city had led to economic destruction, loss of jobs, poor nutrition and psychological damage to the Palestinians who lived and worked near the Jewish community. Because it is spread across four sites, the Hebron Jewish community poses a particular difficult security challenge for the defense establishment, which is to be met in part by innovative use of the proposed laser-radar system. Defense officials said the security system being planning in the city was unprecedented in size and, at a cost tens of millions of shekels, would include never-before-used hi-tech laser radars. The system will use a revolutionary camera system capable of broadcasting thermal pictures - both during the day and at night - to small IDF operations rooms in the city. The army has already begun laying fiber optic cables in the areas surrounding the various Jewish community sites. The roof over the Casbah is intended to minimize contact between the settlers and Palestinians. In the past, settlers have thrown objects into the marketplace from nearby rooftops. "The less they see each other the quieter things will be in the city," a top officer in the Central Command said. Hebron Jewish community spokesman David Wilder said it was the Jews of Hebron who needed to be protected from the Palestinians. He added that he knew of the security plan and hoped that it would protect Hebron's Jews against Palestinian attacks. "I certainly hope that it is [successful], because if not it will cost people their lives," said Wilder. "Today, another two Palestinian terrorists were caught with knives at the entrance to [the city's Cave of the Patriarchs.] They were apprehended before they were able to use them," Wilder said. Also Monday, officials said security forces were preparing for the possibility that Defense Minister Amir Peretz would order the evacuation of Beit Hashalom, a four-story, 3,500 square meter building in an area of Hebron that is populated by Palestinians. Settlers say they spent $700,000 to purchase the structure, which is located on the road that links Kiryat Arba with the Cave of the Patriarchs. Palestinians have rejected the claim. Peretz has said that he will evacuate the building's Jewish residents because when they moved in on March 29, they failed to obtain the necessary permits. Settlers have since responded to a demand by the Civil Administration that they produce documentation to support their right to live there. Security officials said that orders - distributed by the Civil Administration - declaring the settlers' presence in the building illegal would expire next week and that Peretz would have to decide whether to have them removed by force. According to Wilder, the Civil Administration has rejected their appeal to remain in the building, but the case has been moved to a military judicial panel that is set to hear it next week. He added that the military panel was not the last step in the appeal process and that it was unlikely that the structure would be evacuated before the matter had been resolved in a judicial forum. In addition, he noted, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has already said the issue should be decided by the cabinet and not by the military. In light of the Labor leadership primary on May 28 and the announcement by Peretz that should he win, he will seek the Finance portfolio, Wilder said he didn't believe that Peretz was in a position "to give such a consequential order."