A pair of assaults by West Bank Jewish settlers on Israel Defence Forces installations has shocked Israelis and propelled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take action to halt the growing number of such incidents.
“I will fight this phenomenon with all my force until it is eliminated,” Mr. Netanyahu was quoted as saying Tuesday. The extremists involved “crossed all the lines” when they attacked the country’s military, he said following an emergency meeting with the heads of the security and legal establishment.
The assaults on Israel’s iconic armed forces by mostly young Jewish settlers, known as “hilltop youths,” have grown in number over the past few months as settlers prepare to counter legal rulings to evacuate several settlements found to be illegal. The youths’ defiant actions have so far met with little legal consequence. IDF soldiers are not authorized to arrest Israelis, only to protect them, and Israeli police have been slow to respond to such incidents.
The Prime Minister’s Office announced that Mr. Netanyahu had asked Defence Minister Ehud Barak to come up with a “heavy-handed” plan within a week to combat this “calamity.”
Before dawn Tuesday, about 100 settler activists came to the area of the Ephraim military base near Qalqilya in the northern West Bank. About half the group entered the base, burning tires and vandalizing military vehicles. An IDF officer was injured when his vehicle was hit by rocks.
The other half of the group proceeded to block the highway outside the base, throwing rocks at passing Palestinian vehicles and Israeli soldiers.
But this was hardly the first time such incidents have taken place.
In October, outside the nearby Jewish settlement of Shiloh, a patrol of IDF soldiers was ambushed and beaten by such a gang.
And, just a few hours before the Tuesday morning incident at the Ephraim base, about 20 settler youths cut through a military fence and occupied a chapel and other abandoned buildings on the Jordan River near Jericho.
The invasion of the site known as Qasr al-Yahud, believed to be the place Jesus was baptized, took place in a restricted military area adjacent to the border with Jordan. It was apparently in response to Jordan’s insistence on having a role in a dispute concerning the Haram as-Sharif, or Temple Mount, in Jerusalem.
A settler, Hananel Dorfman, told Israel’s Army Radio: “It was a message to Jordan: We are not suckers, stop intervening in our internal affairs … or we will intervene in yours.”
As Anshel Pfeffer commented Tuesday on the website of the Haaretz newspaper: “The only ‘red line’ that has yet to be crossed is a scenario in which an Israeli citizen would open fire on IDF soldiers.
“There are those in Israel’s security forces who fear that that day is not so distant,” he added.
Brigadier-General Nitzan Alon, who ended his stint as commander of the IDF’s West Bank division in October, warned recently that the army will be forced in the future to embark on an “escalating conflict with an extremist and growing fringe of Israeli society.”
“An extremist minority, small in number but not in influence, could bring about a major escalation via acts that … amount to terrorism.” These acts, he said, “should not just be condemned for their inherent injustice and stupidity; they must be stopped, and their perpetrators arrested, more effectively than we have succeeded in doing thus far.”
Indeed, even as Mr. Netanyahu issued his condemnation and plan of action Tuesday, one of the leading figures in the virulent settlement of Yitzhar published a “personal letter” to IDF soldiers calling on them to sabotage the army’s equipment and prevent evacuations of settlements.
In his letter, published on “The Jewish Voice” website, Boaz Albert ironically warned soldiers not to take certain measures against the army, thereby providing them with practical advice.
“Dozens of vehicles move through your base every day,” Mr. Albert wrote. “You must take care that their wheels don’t get accidentally damaged by sharp tools. … It is important that the roads be clear of screws and nails.”
“Every vehicle has a switch that is essential for its operation,” he added. “It is very important that toothpicks or wooden chips do not get stuck in the switch, and glue must not be poured on it.”
Also within hours of Tuesday’s attacks, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s own Likud party, led a delegation to promote student trips to the settlement of Shiloh, the same Shiloh at which IDF soldiers had been assaulted in October.
Mr. Sa’ar said his department’s initiative was “to provide the younger generation with access to our historic roots.”
“Jews will always be in Shiloh,” the Education Minister said. “We should not delude the Arabs that one day there will be no Jews here. Jews will always be here, and any other illusion will bring obstacles on the road to peace.”