The government's response to a bunch of right-wing radicals holed up in a Gush Katif hotel proves that neither politicians, IDF nor police have really learned anything from the siege of Uzi Meshulam and his militant group in Yahud 11 years ago.
In hindsight, law enforcerment officials acknowledged that they had made mistakes during that confrontation. They delayed action until the situation became complicated and reached a boiling point. The end result was an exchange of gunfire in which one person was killed and another injured.
The obvious lesson - to nip the current standoff in the bud - is not being applied to the hotel in Neveh Dekalim.
Meshulam and his band barricaded themselves in Yahud, under circumstances similar to those of Itamar Ben Gvir and his mates in Gush Katif. Meshulam demanded that a state commission of inquiry probe the disappearance of the "children of Yemen" in the `50s. He founded Mishkan Ohalim, an organization that made considerable efforts to get a commission created, but failed. In despair, Meshulam resorted to a flamboyant and violent course to raise the issue to the top of the national agenda.
Meshulam found the excuse he was looking for when a contractor started to build a house near his home. To protest the noise and inconvenience cause by the construction, Meshulam and the group gathered around him blocked roads, set fire to tires, threw a fire bomb at a police car, shot at policemen and threatened Tel Aviv police chief Gabi Last with a rifle.
The wild group barricaded itself in Meshulam's home and refused to obey police orders. With the arbitration of MK Avraham Poraz, an agreement was reached between the rebels and police to resolve the conflict peacefully, but Meshulam changed his mind, claiming that police had failed to keep their commitments.
For more than 40 days, the rebellious cadre in Meshulam's house grew, as dozens of followers thronged to it, mainly from West Bank settlements. Meshulam and his men behaved as if intoxicated by power. They harassed neighbors, openly paraded the grounds with guns, challenged the police and threatened to employ force.
The police were already ready to break into the house at the beginning of the affair, but operative indecision and hesitation on the part of the government (Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister and Moshe Shahal police minister) delayed action. Finally, after seven weeks of the rebels' delirium, police broke in and liquidated the resistance cell. Meshulam was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The radical right-wingers barricading themselves in Neveh Dekalim seem to have a legitimate ideological motive for their behavior. They want to foil the disengagement plan. Their socio-cultural and emotional profile, as far as this can be judged, is similar to that of Meshulam and his band. These are people with hot tempers and short fuses. The frustration is similar in both cases; the rebels see the state as a body that is causing them injustice and is oblivious to their pleas. The conditions are also similar - people prepared to use weapons barricading themselves in a building.
The trouble caused by this conduct needs no elaborate explanation. Harassment of neighbors - in the case of Gush Katif, violent clashes, sometimes with weapons, with Palestinians - defiance of the rule of law and the state's authority, and preparing for armed conflict with police and the IDF.
The obvious lesson is not to wait until the hotel turns into a fortified stronghold, providing shelter for hundreds of hot tempered zealots. The authorities would do well to deal with them firmly now, when their numbers are relatively small. The expectation is that police and the IDF will muster the courage required to block those thronging to the hotel, work to make contact with its tenants and take all legal measures against them for alleged violations of the law.
There is no choice but to take harsh steps against them and others who object to the disengagement and disrupt public order. These include the teenage girls who boasted of kiddush hashem - the sanctification of God's name through martyrdom - in Ma'asiyahu Prison, and the members of Habayit Haleumi (The National Home) who are about to disrupt road traffic today.
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