Settler youth
Youth barricading entrance to a West Bank settlement to protest demolitions. Photo by (Archive)
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The internal probe conducted by the Israel Defense Forces' Samaria Brigade into the events at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus last month paints a picture of the inefficacy of the state when it comes to dealing with disturbances by right-wing Israelis. While security and legal entities generally operate like a well-oiled machine in their dealings with the Palestinians, illegal actions on the part of Jewish settlers usually fall between the cracks.

Alongside structural difficulties, the failure stems also from a problem of motivation: Many office-holders in the territories are fearful of confrontations with the political echelon, and some also identify with the ideological viewpoint of the right, whose more extreme members do not always balk at taking illegal actions.

Samaria Brigade commander Col. Nimrod Aloni does not reveal anything new with his observation that the courts fail to play their part in dealing with right-wing crime in the territories. Over the past two years, GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi has been consistently warning that the courts are the weak link in the chain.

Time after time, the so-called hill-top youth appear in court on suspicion of involvement in criminal activity - and walk away scot-free. In part, this stems from the high evidentiary bar set up by the judges when it comes to Jewish offenders - as opposed to the leniency in this realm which military courts display when the suspects are Palestinians.

However, there is no reason to place all the blame on the judges: Aloni rightly points out that there is an ongoing conflict between the army and the Shin Bet security service with regard to handling unrest on the part of Jewish individuals. Partly out of the fear of undermining the freedom of expression, the Shin Bet's Jewish division focuses its efforts on the hard-core, violent element among the extremists.

But sources at Central Command believe that such efforts on the part of the Shin Bet are insufficient - and that the leniency shown some of those who disturb the peace instills confidence among the hard-core elements.

Aloni's probe also points out deficiencies in the way such incidents are handled by the army itself, but the problem in this regard is more extensive. After all, who envies IDF commanders in the territories? On the one hand, they need to preserve a good relationship with the broader settler population, most of which is law-abiding; on the other hand, they cannot allow the extremists to run wild.

The last officer to get entangled in this mess was Aloni's direct superior, Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon, IDF commander in the territories. In recent weeks, Alon has been the target of an ugly smear campaign on the part of the right-wing extremists, as a result of an order not to include hill-top youth sympathizers in the forces sent out to evacuate illegal outposts - a perfectly logical directive.

Similar campaigns have been mounted against other senior IDF officers in the Central Command, including Alon's predecessor, Brig. Gen. Noam Tivon. However, contrary to Tivon, a resident of Tel Aviv, Alon is from a moshav, and some of his neighbors have already declared that any further harassment near his house will end in violence.