Students at extremist yeshivas in West Bank settlements have been involved in a large number of violent confrontations with security forces there recently and in throwing stones at Palestinian cars, say military sources. Senior Israel Defense Forces officers are reportedly furious over the lack of effective legal measures against rioters and because the government is taking no steps against yeshiva teachers who incite to violence.

The officers' remarks followed last Thursday's wave of unrest in which settlers in the area used beepers to call residents to the roads to attack Palestinian cars and confront security forces. The settlers' move followed the destruction of a structure at the outpost of Adei Ad.

This is not the first such reaction in recent months. The intent is to "extract a price" and create a kind of balance of fear vis-a-vis the security forces. Each time an outpost is evacuated or even a single structure in one is destroyed and settlers do not have enough time to mount significant opposition, they will respond somewhere else so as to harass the security forces and make clear that such acts will lead to general escalation in the area.

Security forces have determined that students from the Od Yosef Hai yeshiva in Yitzhar (formerly located at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus) are taking an active role in the violence. Students from the yeshiva in the Gilad Farm outpost and the girls high school in the settlement of Ma'aleh Levona are also said to be involved.

"This is a regular method," a senior officer told Haaretz. "When they want to riot, they stop classes and send the students in an organized fashion onto the roads. The frustrating side of all this is that teachers are involved. These are government employees."

After disengagement in the summer of 2005, the IDF attempted to act against the heads of hesder yeshivas (which combine religious studies with army service) who took an active part in the violence or preached refusal to follow orders. However the move went only so far as a recommendation by then chief of staff Dan Halutz to cut off relations between the IDF and the yeshiva at Eilon Moreh. Then defense minister Shaul Mofaz opposed the recommendation and his successor Amir Peretz did nothing about it.

The army believes action must be taken against the ringleaders and not the youths. "There is no value to harsh treatment of high-school students," one officer said.

Security officials have long been critical of the helplessness of the legal system to deal with violent demonstrators in the West Bank, both leftist and right-wing.

The officers point out that demonstrators are quickly released from custody and usually return to their violent activities. The problem has come up in demonstrations against the separation fence, first at the village of Bilin and now at Na'alin. The officers say no more than 50 Israeli leftists and 50 foreigners participate regularly in demonstrations, and note increasing violence against security forces who have suffered dozens of injuries in recent months.