Israeli Settlers Split Over Local IDF Commander's West Bank Policies

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The murder of Israeli settler Evyatar Borovsky in the West Bank two weeks ago reignited a disagreement among settlers about the head of the Israel Defense Forces regional command responsible for the West Bank.

GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon is criticized by some settlers and defended by others.

Alon, who previously served as the commander of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division, has often come under fire for his policies aimed at containing rather than quashing Palestinian stone- and Molotov cocktail-throwing to reduce the number of Palestinians killed in rioting. Settlers criticize him, among other things, for allegedly lacking sensitivity to victims of terror and for his marriage to a member of the Machson Watch organization, a women’s group that opposes Israel’s occupation.

Some settlers are furious at Alon and the IDF for ordering the demolition of the illegal outpost established in memory of Borovsky even before the end of his seven-day “shiva” religious mourning period.

Before Borovsky's murder, Alon was invited to the festive Jerusalem Day prayer services held annually in the settlement of Beit El. But on hearing of the invitation, residents protested, with some threatening to “blow up” the service. Leaders of the settlement ultimately rescinded the invitation. After the murder, the head of the Shomron Regional Council, Gershon Mesika, called for Alon’s ouster.

At the forefront of the campaign against Alon are the “settlers’ councils” – or unofficial West Bank political organizations – representing the settlements of Shomron and Binyamin. At the same time, the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of the municipal councils of West Bank settlements, is trying to preserve good relations with Alon and the army. After Beit El canceled Alon’s Jerusalem Day invitation, the Yesha Council sent him a letter of support. In a meeting between Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the heads of the Yesha Council, Ya’alon told settlers to stop criticizing Alon and to direct their comments at him if they had a problem.

The settlers’ councils were established after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 to achieve political independence from the local authorities in the West Bank, which as official bodies are dependent on government ministers for their survival. Until recently, the local authorities were giving the settlers’ councils hundreds of thousands of shekels in funding from their budgets.

Four months ago, the head of the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, Avi Roeh, was appointed head of the Yesha Council. Roeh felt the setters’ councils’ militancy was harming the Yesha Council and stopped funding the Binyamin settlers’ council, which he had established five years earlier when he became the head of the Mateh Benyamin Regional Council.

At the time, Roeh chose Lt. Col. (res.) Yitzhak Shedmi to head the council, which operated for years to prevent the evacuation of the settlement of Migron, organize demonstrations and block roads when the army evacuated illegal outposts.

Tension between Roeh and the Benyamin settlers’ council peaked before the recent Knesset election, when it launched campaigns against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party. Senior government officials accused Roeh, who is a member of the Likud Central Committee, of not only failing to help his party but of hurting it. Embarrassed, Roeh cut off funding to his former council, which often criticizes and competes with the Yesha Council.

Sagi Kreizler, the head of the Binyamin settlers’ council, said, “Avi Roeh and the activists on the council work in cooperation and see eye to eye on the way to act to advance and encourage settlement in Binyamin.”

Roeh said there was no connection between the cessation of funding to the Benyamin settlers’ council and his election as the chairman of the Yesha Council.

Police carrying an arrested settler in the West Bank in clashes following the death of Eviatar Borovzky, April 30, 2013.Credit: Hadar Cohen
Brig. Gen. Nitzan AlonCredit: Tal Cohen
Mourners at the funeral of the slain settler Eviatar Borovsky, Kfar Hasidim, April 30. Credit: Nir Elias, Reuters

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