'Toothless' Amona committee report released

The findings of the Knesset committee investigating the violence during the evacuation of the Amona outpost in Samaria on February 1 focused more on the politics behind the scenes than on the operation itself, critics from across the political spectrum charged Tuesday. Right-wing parties said the committee had failed to examine the responsibility of the Kadima government in undertaking the evacuation in an "irresponsible manner," while left-wing MKs said security officials were being used to further political ends. Neither security officials nor the protesters at Amona were spared by the report released Tuesday, which found fault with nearly every aspect of the evacuation. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra were lambasted for their decision to ban officers from testifying before the committee. While the security forces as a whole were found to have used excessive force, the committee also blamed settler leaders and right-wing politicians for inciting protesters at the scene and failing to maintain calm among the youths in Amona. The Knesset committee did not, however, issue any recommendations or cite individual security officials for scrutiny. The police and IDF continue with their own inquiries into the evacuation, while the legislature's investigation will be closed unless the next Knesset votes to renew the committee's mandate. Ezra and Mofaz defended their decisions to appear in lieu of their subordinates and repeated assertions that the Knesset committee was acting as little more than a campaign machine. While the establishment of the committee and the decisions made by Ezra and Mofaz aroused controversy, the report issued Tuesday met with little fanfare. Many said it would have little practical impact. "It has no teeth," a committee spokesman said of the report. "It was an official opinion on the evacuation." The spokesman said, however, that the committee had uncovered several contradictory statements indicating that there had been little coordination between police, army, and political officials present during the evacuation. Ezra told the committee that soldiers had marched to the settlement because the roads were blocked by settlers, while Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said the decision to have the troops undertake the lengthy walk was made the night before, when it was not yet known if the roads would be open. In a second case, security officials said the area had been declared a closed military zone, while MKs who were present during the evacuation swore to the committee that they had had no idea their presence in Amona had been illegal. In its report, the committee also criticized security officials for failing ensure that there would be enough female officers to evacuate the women protesters. Following the evacuation, several female protesters said they had been sexually and verbally assaulted by male officers at the scene. The four-member committee was headed by MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), and included MKs Matan Vilna'i (Labor), Ilan Shalgi (Hetz) and Uri Ariel (National Union-National Religious Party). During the committees month-long existence, it heard testimony from Mofaz, Ezra, Halutz, police chief Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officials, settler leaders and legal experts.