Descent into violence

Amona supporters and their leaders seem to have been engaged in a dangerous form of brinksmanship.

amona clashes 298.88  (photo credit: AP [file])
amona clashes 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Yesterday's violence in Amona was worse than anything Israel witnessed during the whole of disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria. Both sides had anticipated a high level of protest over the past couple of weeks. Senior commanders had already decided last week that a large force would be needed to demolish nine permanent houses illegally built at the outpost, next to the West Bank settlement of Ofra. At the same time, settler and religious leaders had begun calling on their supporters to prepare for a protest there. While 6,000 members of the security forces began training for the mission on Sunday, protesters began packing bags. Clashes erupted Tuesday as the two forces arrived in the area. Protesters blocked the Hawara junction temporarily and punctured the tires of security and news vehicles. A last-minute petition to the High Court was submitted Tuesday night, whereby settler leaders promised to peaceably allow the houses to be moved to Ofra. When the court rejected their petition - and after Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly rejected an offer from settler leader Hanan Porat, under which the nine structures would be moved peaceably to Ofra in a week or destroyed by the settlers themselves - the settler leaders did not accept that the battle was over, and the stage was set for a violent confrontation with the security forces. Protesters took to the rooftops yesterday, in scenes reminiscent of the Gaza evacuation. Stones and paint-filled light bulbs were thrown at troops. Members of the security forces charged in on horseback, batons swinging. Over the next four hours, approximately 150 protesters and 86 police were injured. A young protester was badly hurt, his skull fractured, apparently by a baton strike. In other egregious instances, a policeman was seriously wounded by a cement block dropped from a rooftop. Another was reportedly stabbed in the stomach. Security forces eventually cleared all the houses and the nine structures were demolished. Protesters have claimed that police used excessive force to disperse them. The use of batons, water cannons and horses - tactics for the most part eschewed during the disengagement from Gaza - may not have been the right tools for the mission. Yet if the protesters had restricted their actions to non-violent civil disobedience, it is unlikely that there would have been significant violence at Amona yesterday. Amona supporters and their leaders seem to have been engaged in a dangerous form of brinkmanship. Not content with nonviolent protest, they attempted to calibrate the level of violence. Is it permissible to throw paint-filled light bulbs as opposed to rocks? Can one actively resist when the police come to take you away? These are the wrong questions. It is not a matter of how much violence can be gotten away with; the use of violence of any sort against security forces is unacceptable. In a democratic society, civil disobedience is a time-honored form of protest. Streaming to a closed military zone to protest the legal actions of the state is perhaps understandable. However, when security forces arrive, protesters must go willingly or at least not violently resist arrest or removal. That is how citizens of democracies protest government decisions. MKs Effi Eitam, Arieh Eldad and Benny Elon were injured during the clashes yesterday. We wish them a speedy recovery, but the purpose of their presence in Amona must be questioned. Representatives of the state engaged in making laws should not be on the side of the lawbreakers. By participating in the protest, they were effectively undermining the rule of law they are sworn to uphold. Their place is on the floor of the Knesset, not the roof of an illegal house in Amona. The impression left by this terrible incident is that the settler leadership was bent on "achieving" more violent scenes than occurred last summer, and that the government may not have exhausted every effort to find alternatives to a violent confrontation. Such a descent into violence should be a source of shame and deep concern to us all. The scenes of security forces charging the crowd on horses and swinging batons are difficult to accept, particularly in contrast with the seeming gentler approach employed during the evacuation of Gush Katif. But the use of force by Israeli citizens against Israeli security personnel is unacceptable. In a democracy, the government retains, and must always retain, a monopoly on the use of force.