IDF urges crackdown on settler violence

By Haaretz Staff The Israel Defense Forces’ General Staff believes that the time has come for the legal establishment to start cracking down on Israelis who use violence against soldiers and policemen in the territories. IDF officers also want the political establishment to take a stronger stand against such violence and against calls for soldiers to refuse orders, saying this will encourage the legal establishment to act. The IDF’s sense of urgency on the subject was sparked by Monday’s violent clashes between settlers and soldiers during the removal of two caravans from an outpost near the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar. Dozens of settlers threw stones at soldiers and policemen, vandalized military vehicles and called the evacuating forces „Nazis.” Three settlers and a border policeman were lightly wounded. A senior officer said that Monday’s events are a test case for the legal establishment, and necessitate a swift and severe response. Instead, police Monday night released all 15 of the settlers it arrested during the clashes, including two minors, and they have not yet decided if they will press charges. Police were similarly lenient when settlers blocked the Gush Katif Junction in Gaza last week, doing no more than writing a ticket for one of the demonstrators, army sources complained. The army later had to forcibly evacuate the protesters in order to reopen the junction. IDF officers said that they were also upset by the failure of the settler leadership to clearly denounce Monday’s clashes. In Monday’s incident, some 200 police officers, along with Border Police and soldiers from the Paratroop Brigade, clashed with about the same number of settlers, who tried to block the security forces and IDF bulldozers from entering Yitzhar and the outpost. The outpost, Shalhevet, also called Givat Lahava, is legal. Two months ago, however, settlers brought in two more trailers without authorization, and the IDF issued an evacuation order. The settlers poured oil on the road leading to the settlement and parked their cars to block the entrance to the community. Several army and police vehicles were damaged. Soldiers and settlers pushed and shoved each other, and settlers also threw stones at the soldiers and hurled insults at them. There were periodic pauses as Colonel Yuval Bazak, commander of the Samaria Brigade, attempted to negotiate with the settlers. When his efforts failed, soldiers and police approached the trailers on foot and destroyed them with hammers and axes instead of merely removing them as originally planned. Toward the end of the incident, a soldier fired in the air. He said that he had seen a girl trying to puncture the tires of an army vehicle and tried to stop her when he was jumped by about 10 settlers, some of them armed, who tried to take his weapon. One of the settlers pointed his weapon at him, the soldier said, and others hit him; he therefore felt threatened and fired to scare them off.

The settlers told a different story. They said that the girl was 12 years old, and when the soldier pointed his weapon at her, a Yitzhar resident, Ephraim Ben Shohat, jumped him. They said the soldier acted violently and endangered their lives by opening fire. Yitzhar Spokesman Yigal Amitai said that Ben Shohat acted correctly and prevented a stupid mistake that could have turned into a tragedy. The soldier’s commanders said that they believe his version of the incident. Amitai also said that a soldier threatened to shoot Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, a Yitzhar resident. He said that the threat was made in the presence of the brigade commander, who did nothing. One of those arrested during the clashes was an IDF soldier who lives at Yitzhar. He was on furlough from the army, but wore his uniform when he joined the other settlers in disrupting the evacuation. The soldier, Yossi Pilmet, apparently urged the other soldiers to refuse to participate in the evacuation. Army sources said that he will soon face disciplinary charges. After the incident, residents of Yitzhar issued a statement demanding that the soldiers leave the area immediately, removing all military equipment. The settlers said that if the army post is not removed, they will expel the soldiers themselves. They also said that any soldier who participated in the evacuation would not be allowed into the settlements. The IDF responded that it was already planning to transfer the soldiers from the post near Yitzhar to another base near the nearby settlement of Itamar, due to the increasing friction between settlers and soldiers at Yitzhar. The army said the soldiers would be transferred within a week. About two weeks ago, after soldiers attempted to prevent the hookup of the mobile homes at Shalhevet to running water, settlers turned off the water supply to the army post and punctured the tires of the company commander. But senior military sources told Haaretz that in spite of the attacks by Yitzhar settlers on soldiers and police, the IDF would continue to protect them. Attorney Aviad Visouli of Mateh Eretz Yisrael said that his organization would demand the trial of officers who participated in the destruction of the trailers Monday, „in light of the ruling by military courts that damaging the property of civilians is patently illegal and soldiers must refuse to do so.”