Mofaz, Ezra testify before Amona inquiry

Mofaz admits ordering zero tolerance for those who attack security personnel.

mofaz 298 88 (photo credit: Knesset channel)
mofaz 298 88
(photo credit: Knesset channel)
Two of Israel's highest-ranking security officials came out swinging Wednesday during a dramatic first meeting of the Knesset's investigative committee into the violence at the Amona evacuation. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra used their opening statements to attack both the Left and the Right, as MKs Yuval Steinitz (Likud), Uri Ariel (National Union), Matan Vilna'i (Labor) and Ilan Shalgi (Arrow) prepared to attack the officials for their roles in the evacuation. In a highly contested move, both ministers arrived in lieu of those who commanded in the field. "We will not be a punching bag, not for the Left or the Right. And not for leftist information leaders like [former Police Investigative Department head] Moshe Mizrahi and his friends," said Ezra during his opening statement. "Mizrahi is a representative of the Left, leaking information from within the police and an officer who should have been fired long ago. The police have turned into a punching bag." Ezra dismissed Mizrahi from his position as head of PID in 2004 after allegations arose regarding illegal wiretaps of Knesset members and businessmen. Police spokesman Yigal Habshor put out a statement saying that Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi had given his full backing to Mizrahi, but declined to comment on Ezra's criticism and how it affected the relationship between Ezra and Karadi. When asked about the use of force against MKs who resisted evacuation at Amona, Ezra expressed regret that they were injured, and said that their complaints would be investigated. "I had not expected the MKs to be so deeply involved in escalating the situation," Ezra told the committee. Mofaz, who spoke after Ezra, also criticized the participation of MKs in the Amona evacuation. Mofaz told the committee that, when security officials on the scene asked the MKs for help influencing the situation, the MKs replied, "We can't help you, we have no control here." Mofaz vehemently denied Ariel's claim that he had told security forces to use zero tolerance with the settlers. "I never said to treat the settlers with anything outside of what procedure dictated," said Mofaz. "I did say that for resisters who acted violently towards security officials there should be zero tolerance." The much-debated investigation into the events that occurred during the evacuation of the Amona outpost a month ago drew a number of MKs that were not part of the committee, including MKs Effi Eitam (NRP) and Arye Eldad (National Union). Both of these MKs said that they would not take part in the meetings and that they were present to observe the investigation. Ariel, who was also present at the Amona evacuation, announced at the start of the meeting that if security officials present in the field agreed to appear in person he would recuse himself from certain committee meetings due to the conflict of interest. Mofaz and Ezra, however, remained firm in their position that they appear in place of their officers. "We must leave the IDF out of political discussions and any issue pertaining to politics, particularly right before elections," said Mofaz. Several times, however, the MKs charged that Ezra and Mofaz were not equipped to answer all the questions the committee would have liked to pose. "There are many questions that need to be answered by those physically present, such as the details of the communication between police officers and the IDF," said Steinitz, who, as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, also heads the investigative committee. "Should I ask you [Ezra], how the internal security minister's orders were received?" Ezra said that those who commanded the police forces at Amona - Cmdr. Yisrael Yitzhak, the chief of the Judea and Samaria police, and his deputy, Lt.-Cmdr. Meir Bokovza - did not have a protection detail and, citing threats already made against them, said he was concerned for their safety if they testified in an open hearing. However, he offered to allow the two to testify during a closed-door session of the committee. Mofaz said that the night before the evacuation several ministers had a very long phone conversation with Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Olmert asked whether the demolition should be delayed. Mofaz said they all recommended letting it go forward. Ezra informed the committee that police had underestimated the number of forces that would be needed at Amona. "When we saw how the people were acting," Ezra said, "we realized we needed more." The internal security minister also defined for the committee the four levels the police use to define public disturbances and what the police were allowed to employ at each level. Ezra said that the police at "fourth-level" Amona used mainly responses to third-level disturbances. A fourth-level disturbance, Ezra said, justified the use of tear gas. Police considered the option, he said, but chose instead to comply with requests to avoid spraying tear gas on the protesters. "We used the best and the most highly trained forces at Amona," Ezra asserted, and stated that the police internal investigation would be completed within a week. Mofaz told the committee that, instead of interrogating security officials, they should examine the root of the violence in Amona. "The youngsters who came to Amona wanted to erase the shame of Gush Katif," he said. "I think everyone who sent their children there should sit in judgment upon himself." Right-wing parties marked an important achievement in February, when they garnered a majority and established the investigative committee on the violence surrounding the evacuation of nine buildings in the West Bank outpost of Amona. More than 200 people were injured in clashes during the evacuation and demolition of the buildings. Yigal Grayeff contributed to this article.