Knesset OKs probe into Amona violence

Investigation wins by a vote of 37-32 after a day of fierce debates.

amona clashes 298.88  (photo credit: AP [file])
amona clashes 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Fierce debate raged in the Knesset Wednesday as MKs convened for a special session over the violent clashes between police and settlers during the evacuation of Amona. From the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Interior Committee and the plenum, to the less official forums of the Knesset halls and cafeteria, arguments raged over who was at fault for the violence.
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In the end, the Knesset voted in the first reading in favor of establishing an investigative committee to look into last week's violence. The new committee would be charged with determining whether police used excessive violence during the evacuation, and addressing charges of physical, verbal and even sexual abuse against the thousands of settlers and their supporters at the scene. The vote passed by a slim majority, 37 in favor and 32 against, and the issue will be passed to the Knesset House Committee before returning to the plenum for a second reading. The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip and the right-wing parties welcomed the vote, while other MKs from Labor and Kadima predicted it would not be able to muster a majority on the second vote. Last week, Labor MKs had joined in the widespread public outrage over the Amona evacuation and called for the probe. However, on Wednesday, Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz called a faction meeting in which he instructed Labor MKs to vote against the probe. "We never wanted an investigation launched against police," said MK Yuli Tamir (Labor). "The investigation has been twisted. The right investigation should be launched on why Ehud Olmert 'misplanned' the evacuation, causing such violence to happen, instead people are trying to target the police." In committee meetings, the police were already under heavy attack, as security officials began to present their data to MKs. At the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh admitted that the IDF had not foreseen the extent to which the settlers were prepared to resist in Amona. Naveh noted that had the IDF may have acted differently had they anticipated violence. MK Effi Eitam, who was injured in Amona, used Naveh's statement to blast the security forces. "As a former senior IDF officer, I would expect that when things get out of hand, an order would be given... to stop, step back and rethink [the plan]," Eitam said. Harsh words were exchanged between Eitam and security officials present at the meeting, after the two sides presented evidence supporting contradictory versions of the circumstances surrounding Eitam's injury. Eitam claimed to have been struck in the head by a police horse, and backed his statement with photographs of himself in close proximity to horses. Police, however, showed video footage which shows Eitam more than 20 meters away from the horses when they allege the incident took place. Police claim that the injury was caused by a rock thrown at him by demonstrators. Neither Eitam nor the police had time stamps on their images, so the exact moment, and therefore cause of Eitam's injury, could not be verified. The disagreement provided a launching pad for an even fiercer debate that took place several hours later. The Knesset Interior Committee convened for four hours at the request of MK Uri Ariel (National Union), who was also injured in Amona. Ariel brought various witnesses, including Nehemia Eyal, whose son was the most severely injured in the clashes. Eyal tearfully told the committee that his son had been unarmed and sitting with his hands above his head when he was struck in the head by a police baton. "Had my son not received immediate medical care at the scene, I would be here in a state of mourning," said Eyal. Judea and Samaria District Police Commander Israel Yitzhaki pointed out that despite the vocal complaints launched by settlers in the media, only three complaints were filed against police officers on suspicion of excessive violence during the evacuation. "The resisters there had prepared thousands of cinder blocks and tires on the roofs in advance," Yitzhaki said. "The settlers came for a confrontation and wanted to show police that they were not as 'weak' as the Gush Katif evacuees." In his nearly 20 years as a police officer, Yitzhaki said that he had seen his fair share of violence. But, "I've never seen the scope of riots we saw at Amona," he said. "We'll arrest those people, and they will pay for breaking the law." "We didn't want to hit or wound anyone," added Deputy Police Chief Benny Kaniak. "We didn't use force where force wasn't used against us. However, severe violence was used against us." Kaniak noted that riot gear worn by police, which included heavy helmets, vests and arm and leg pads, was severely damaged and often broken. "This is equipment that is built to withstand heavy force," said Kaniak. "Imagine the force of the blows being received by the police officers." When MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) spoke up in support of Kaniak, he was interrupted by a member of a terror victims support group, who screamed "liar" at Vilan. The man had to be forcefully evicted from the room, but Eitam took up his sentiment. "What is being presented by police here is nonsense, they do not want to own up to their violence," said Eitam. While Kaniak expressed regret over Eitam's injuries, he added that, "to some extent, the Knesset members incited civilians."