Israel braces for settler violence in wake of Hebron house evacuation
Settler leader tells Haaretz: Someone will pay a very high price for the crime committed at Hebron.
The Israel Defense Forces and police are preparing for a wave of violence by extremist West Bank settlers against Palestinians after Thursday's evacuation of Hebron's so-called House of Contention.
Settler violence erupted Thursday in protest against the eviction. Settlers torched fields, olive groves and yards in a wadi between Hebron and the settlement of Kiryat Arba. They also opened fire on Palestinians, wounding three.
Settlers hurled stones at Palestinian vehicles on a number of roads in the areas of Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron. In Bitin, north of Ramallah, settlers broke into a home and vandalized Palestinian property, and in several other West Bank villages, anti-Muslim graffiti was sprayed on mosque walls.
In the northern West Bank, security forces closed some 10 junctions and roads around Yizhar, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron, Hawara and Kochav Hashahar. Other intersections were blocked around the central West Bank settlements of Beit El, Shvut Rahel, Ma'aleh Levona and Hashmonaim.
At one junction in the northern West Bank, soldiers opened fire to disperse a rightist demonstration, but no one was injured. Settlers also attacked Palestinians near the village of Burin, and Palestinians said cars were set alight near Tel Rumeida, a village near Hebron.
In the afternoon, around 100 rightist protesters sat in the road on Route 1 at the entrance to Jerusalem, blocking the main road to Tel Aviv.
Police dispersed the protesters and detained 20 of them. Smaller, quieter demonstrations were held next to Yoseftal Junction near Bat Yam, next to Bar-Ilan University and on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv.
Brigadier General Noam Tibon, the head of the IDF's West Bank division, declared all of the southern West Bank a closed military zone in order to prevent Israelis who are not residents of Hebron or Kiryat Arba from approaching the area.
One of the leaders of the settler group told Haaretz: "The price will be costly and painful. Someone will pay a very high price for the crime committed at the House of Contention."
The evacuation itself was carried out within one hour. Around 100 officers from the police's special forces surprised the 200 or so people staying at the house, including families and teenagers, who were dragged from the building.
Six people were detained, including Daniella Weiss, formerly the head of Kedumim council. Twenty-five people were injured including two police officers, one of whom was in moderate-to-serious condition after acid was sprayed on his face, the police said.
A number of blunt instruments were found at the house, including glass bottles, piles of stones, tires and potatoes filled with nails.
Commander Avshalom Peled of the police's West Bank division said the incursion was carried out by surprise to prevent the settlers from using their homemade weapons. Thursday morning, members of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office met with settler leaders, who asked that families be allowed to stay in the house and other individuals evacuated.
In return, the settler leaders offered to abide by a recent court decision allowing the house to be held temporarily, even if the court eventually rules to evict the settlers completely. Barak rejected the offer and said that only after the evacuation could alternative solutions be discussed.
Rabbi Moshe Levinger, considered the father of renewed Jewish settlement in Hebron, met with Barak and offered a number of alternatives. After conferring with military officials, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and senior police commanders, Barak authorized the incursion.
Orit Struk, one of the settler leaders in contact with Barak, condemned Barak's decision. "He knew there were legal solutions that fit with the High Court decision that would have prevented violence, and decided in light of the timing, with his party primary coming up, to storm the house," she said.
Noam Arnon, a settler who lives in Hebron, said that with the eviction, Barak was destroying not only his Labor Party, but the State of Israel. Other protesters at the evacuation said the decision not to allow Jews to buy property in Hebron reminded them of Nazi Germany's Nuremberg Laws. According to prominent settler rabbi Dov Wolpe: "The fathers will avenge the eviction of the sons."
The IDF and police bolstered their forces around the West Bank and in particular around Hebron on the expectation that violence would spread over the weekend. Sources at the Shin Bet security service, meanwhile, are concerned that settlers may try to attack a mosque.
Security forces believe the violence will continue for at least a few more days.
"I have serious criticism for parents in Judea and Samaria who send their children to places where lives are in danger," a senior IDF officer said. "I hope the leaders of the settlements act now to restrain the violence. Surely they understand the tremendous damage the rioters are causing the settlement enterprise with their actions in recent days."
"Difficult things were done here. When a grave is destroyed at a Jewish cemetery in Russia, the entire State of Israel is in shock. In Hebron Muslim graves have been defaced for several days now."