MKs condemn Hebron violence

MK Steinitz: Those who attack soldiers belong in jail, but Barak must work to avoid another Amona.

masked settlers 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
masked settlers 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Five days after the dispute over the Beit Hashalom house in Hebron turned violent, officials throughout the political spectrum have begun to voice their frustration, lashing out at settler leaders and security personnel alike, and trading blame on which party is most responsible. MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that he identified with struggle of the settlers but not with the violence, Israel Radio reported. He added that those who attack IDF soldiers belong in jail, and he praised Defense Minister Ehud Barak's efforts to reach a compromise with the settlers that could possibly avoid a recurrence of Amona, a West Bank outpost which was violently evacuated in February 2006. On Wednesday, MK Arye Eldad (National Union) warned that an evacuation would be a mistake, as the youth who had arrived in Hebron to thwart it were out of control and would not heed him or many of their leaders and rabbis. "I am afraid that if the government is vicious enough or stupid enough to go with force to evacuate the house, there will be bloodshed. People will be killed there," Eldad said. He spoke as right-wing activists clashed with security personnel in Hebron for the fourth day in a row, causing border policemen to don riot gear and throw stun grenades at those who had lobbed stones at them. In recent days, clashes have also erupted between settlement supporters and Palestinians, and a 16-year-old Jewish boy suffered a serious head wound. Activists in turn vandalized a Muslim cemetery, homes and cars. President Shimon Peres sharply chastised activists' violence when he spoke in Sde Boker at the annual memorial ceremony for prime minister David Ben-Gurion and his wife, Paula. "What is happening today in Hebron does enormous damage to the State of Israel and its laws," Peres declared. "Whoever casts a stone at a soldier is as someone who casts a stone at the state, striking at its very heart and head. It must stop immediately!" In an interview with Channel 2, Barak warned that the violence could spread to other parts of the West Bank. Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni also condemned the activists, calling the area the "Wild West." "We have here a group that does not recognize the authority of the government, the authority of the court, or the authority of the army or police to act," Livni said. "Israel cannot be a state that has areas that are like the Wild West." "We will not allow this lawlessness to continue," a senior defense official told The Jerusalem Post. "We will obey the High Court's order and will evacuate the settlers in the house, with force if needed." Tensions over the future of the contentious Beit HaShalom house in Hebron have also caused a fissure between leaders in the West Bank, with a deal proposed by the head of the The Council of Jewish Communities, Dani Dayan, as a compromise to avoid an imminent evacuation being openly criticized by former Kedumim mayor Daniella Weiss. "The council is not in the picture. It's irrelevant," Weiss said. "It has lost the right to lead the people." The battle for the building is being led by a forum of 12 people, and only that forum, which includes Weiss, representatives from Beit Hashalom, Hebron's Jewish community and right-wing groups such as The Land of Israel Faithful and Homesh First, can make relevant decisions, she said. Dayan in turn had sharp words to say about Weiss, whom he said had instigated some of the violence that has occurred around the building in the past week. "I called on Daniella and the people of Hebron to take back control from Daniella Weiss and her colleagues," Dayan said. In contrast to Weiss, there were many leaders in Hebron and Kiryat Arba who were more responsible, he said. It was that leadership which should take command of the situation, he said. He echoed Peres in saying that the violence had harmed the battle both for Beit Hashalom and for keeping Judea and Samaria within Israel. It come at a time when public support was needed to fight the larger issue of a possible withdrawal from the territories. The behavior of activist leaders such as Weiss "has done tremendous damage to our cause," Dayan said. His words were given a surprising boost by Eldad, who has often been at odds with the council in his support for right-wing protests. Eldad agreed with Dayan that there was a split in the community that had rallied to support Beit Hashalom's cause, between the regular leadership and the more extreme young activists who had rallied to the building. These activists were out of control, Eldad said. "They do not respect any laws. They have no leader who they obey. They do not fear God himself," he said. If this activist leadership took control of the fight, Eldad warned, he would refrain from taking part in the protests. "If they are allowed to throw metal bars or stones from the roofs on the heads of soldiers, or if they want to create all kinds of provocations in the area, I won't be there as a representative of my voters," he said. "I do not want to be responsible for these kids, because they will not obey me. They will not take orders from me or anyone," he said. Maximum pressure should be put on the government to avoid a confrontation, he added. Weiss and Hebron Jewish community spokesman David Wilder said they were sorry that Eldad, who had often stood with them in the past, felt this way. "He is mistaken," Weiss said. Wilder said it was the security forces who had inflamed the issue and provoked violence, and not the activists, who were simply defending themselves and the natural right of Jews to live in Hebron.