Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday approved a series of steps to crack down on Jewish extremists responsible for recent violent attacks on IDF soldiers and other targets in the West Bank, but rejected a recommendation to label them a "terrorist organization."
Netanyahu accepted the recommendations of Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to deal with Jewish lawbreakers on the West Bank. The recommendations were formulated earlier in the day in discussions with representatives of the IDF, Shin Bet security service, police and State Prosecutor's Office.
On Monday night and early Tuesday morning dozens of right-wing activists infiltrated an IDF base in the West Bank and vandalized vehicles and equipment; at a nearby illegal outpost other extremists assaulted senior military officers, who escaped with minor injuries.
Netanyahu approved issuing immediate administrative detention orders for the Jewish rioters, as is usually done with Palestinians suspected of being a security risk. Moreover, the prime minister approved trying the Jewish activists in military courts in order to expedite their sentencing and make their punishment more severe. He also approved increasing the number of Jewish extremists to be banned from entering the West Bank.
Netanyahu also gave IDF soldiers the authority to carry out arrests in the West Bank.
In addition, Israel will expand Shin Bet and Israel Police investigation teams, and the State Prosecution and the IDF will receive more resources for investigations.
The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that Netanyahu has rejected recommendations by Israeli security forces to define Jewish extremists in the West Bank as terrorists.
"Whoever lays a hand on IDF soldiers or Israeli policemen will be harshly punished," Netanyahu said but assured, "These people are a small group that does not represent those living in Judea and Samaria - people loyal to the state and its laws and who condemn such behavior."
Netanyahu said the same law will apply to the rioters at the Efraim regional brigade as to those protesting the separation fence at Bil'in.
But the various so-called emergency measures announced by Netanyahu did not give the IDF and other authorities any powers they did not already have.
IDF soldiers already had the right to detain and arrest Israeli citizens in the West Bank. They do not do so now - but not for legal reasons. A security ordinance published in 2010 stated clearly that soldiers have the authority to "arrest, without a warrant, any person who violates this order if there is a reason to suspect they have violated this ordinance. Whoever is arrested will be transfered as soon as possible to a police station or place of detention."
As to the right to detain suspects, the ordinance states that a soldier can do so based on a "reasonable basis to suspect the person is violating security regulations, or is about to commit a crime that may endanger ... a person, public safety or security."
The use of military courts is also not new, and is unlikely to eradicate the violence from right-wing extremists. In the 1970s, a number of settlers were tried in military courts, but later the attorney general decided they would be transferred to civilian courts.
The real problem of trying the extremists is the police's inability to collect evidence against them. In any case, Israeli rules of evidence also apply to military courts in the territories, based on the military ordinances in place in the West Bank. Military courts may be able to levy heavier sentences, but they rarely apply the maximum sentence. For example, in Israel it is possible to levy a sentence of one year in prison for illegal assembly and two years for rioting. In the territories the maximum sentences are life imprisonment for "damaging IDF property," but it is unlikely such punishment will ever be meted out. In fact, the punishment for arson is more severe in Israel than in the territories.
As to administrative detention, this punishment has been used many times and the Supreme Court has approved its use dozens of times in cases where its use prevents damage to state security. It has been used in a limited fashion against the right, the last time being two years ago.
As for banning extremists from the West Bank, there are now 13 people under such a ban, most of them, since the Gaza disengagement in 2005. The IDF says it is an effective tool.
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