Settlers, public security minister meet to ease tensions over freeze

Settlers, public securit

Leaders from the settler community met with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Monday in Jerusalem to try and ease tensions that have built up in recent weeks since the government imposed a freeze on new construction in the West Bank settlements. Violent clashes have erupted between security personnel and settler activists when police and army officials have arrived at settlements to enforce the ban. "We held the meeting to see how we can lower the flames," said Pinhas Wallerstein, chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The leaders told Aharonovitch that police officers had acted violently when dealing with peaceful settler protests due to a lack of senior officers on the ground to guide them. "They think their job is to break our bones," Wallerstein said. "We carry out sit-ins and non-violent protests. An exaggerated use of force is cynically used against us. They would not dare use this kind of force anywhere else in Israel, against either Jews or Arabs," he added. Aharonovitch responded that the police were subordinate to IDF command in the West Bank, adding that the government's decisions were "legal." "At the same time," he said, "this situation isn't easy for anyone." Aharonovitch said "no one will be allowed to take the law into their own hands," and expressed full backing for law-enforcement personnel. The public security minister said 411 visits to settlements have been carried out by police and officials of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria to look for violations of the freeze, and that 174 stop-work orders were handed out in communities where it was being disregarded. Five security personnel were injured in recent weeks, and five civil administration officials received threats. Judea and Samaria Police's chief prosecutor has also come under threat, Aharonovitch said. "With all due respect, we stay on the side of non-violence," Wallerstein told The Jerusalem Post. "But if the authorities want to use our sit-ins as a media weapon against us, they can do so. We're not defining the police's mission, but we came to discuss how it is being carried out," Wallerstein said. On Tuesday afternoon, settlers will pitch a protest tent outside the home of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. "We will present to the public and political echelon the significance of recent developments for us, and our exposure to terrorism," Wallerstein said. On Sunday, the settler leaders met with OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi and complained about the moratorium orders. The settler leaders asked Mizrachi to keep the IDF out of the operation. The settler leaders also complained that the border policemen who accompany the civil administration inspectors were overly aggressive. Referring to last Thursday's shooting attack along Route 57 that killed Rabbi Meir Chai, the settler leaders also argued that the IDF's removal of checkpoints in the area enabled the terrorists to move freely and to carry out the murder. Mizrachi said that soldiers were not directly involved in enforcing the freeze at present. He said that the IDF would remain on the sidelines unless the resistance to the stop-work orders escalates, at which point the army would have no choice but to get involved. Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.