A small story from the Wild West. Two months ago, D., a lieutenant in the reserves, completed 30 days of service in the Hebron area. As part of protecting the residents, his commanders ordered him to assign two guards to a place called "Caleb's Field" every evening until the morning.

D. was not thrilled with the mission. The place is a vineyard with a private winery, surrounded by a "smart" fence. Next to it is a facility of the Mekorot Water Company, guarded by a private security firm, and the reserve unit was shorthanded. Why, D. asked, didn't the winery's owner also hire guards from a private firm? Not the same situation, he was told. This owner has been harassed and needs special protection. D. was even given the owner's cellphone number to coordinate the guard duty.

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office said the army carrie out guard duty in Judea and Samaria "according to security needs," and that there has been no permanent post at Caleb's Field. But a senior security source told Haaretz that matters are a little different. Guarding the winery at night is improper, and it has been stopped, he said. Asked how a junior officer would deal with the settler's firm demands, the source replied that he expects an IDF officer to stand up to pressure.

D. tried, and indeed protested the use of his soldiers for private needs. He was so troubled by it as a matter of principle that he didn't even bother to look into the winery owner's identity. Too bad, because that is significant. The Web site of the Jewish community in Hebron depicts him as a respected vintner, and recounts the history of the "rioters' attacks" on his land.

The vintner is Menachem Livni of Kiryat Arba, defendant number one of the Jewish underground, who in 1984 was convicted of murdering three Palestinian students, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit a crime, possession and transport of a weapon, terrorist activity and deliberate damage to army property. He was sentenced to life in prison, but was released after less than seven years.

In June 2003, Livni aimed an M-16 rifle at a Palestinian truck driver, and when he failed to stop, shot at his tires and a headlight, demanded documents, left the scene and did not report the shooting. He was convicted, given a suspended sentence of four months, appealed to the Supreme Court, and Justice Edmond Levy, who refused to accept his appeal, wrote that his behavior "threatens the foundations of society." Despite all this, the army for a long time obeyed his demand for protection of his private vineyard and winery. Now that the guarding has stopped following D.'s complaint, Livni is surely disappointed.

The settlers are accustomed to assuming that the army is the contractor that carries out their goals in the territories, and they know that the boundaries between them and the military were breached long ago. No wonder, therefore, that they are stunned when a body charged with maintaining security suddenly acts against them. Both the state and the public have gotten used to their undisputed rule. In 1984, the attitude toward the detainees of the Jewish underground was mixed. Now, the support for Chaim Pearlman from the settlement of Tekoa, who stands accused of murdering Palestinians, is drowning out the shock at the deeds attributed to him. They are accepted as a legitimate part of the struggle for survival in the Wild West of the territories.

That's why ever since the arrest was made public, spokesmen for the extreme right have been attacking the Shin Bet's Jewish Division and depicting Pearlman as the victim of an improper interrogation. Their desire to weaken and even destroy the Jewish Division is understandable. What is less understandable is the impression this charade, which cynically uses liberal terminology, has made on the human rights purists on the left.

This is dangerous confusion. In the current reality it is virtually impossible to catch and convict Jewish terrorists. In contrast to the Palestinians, they are heavily protected legally, politically and personally, while their interrogators have to use wile and artifice. The court, not rightist activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, will judge whether the evidence against Pearlman was obtained legally, and in bad times the priorities have to be clear: The vineyard owner is the real danger to democracy, not those who guard him.