The parliamentary commission of inquiry into the evacuation of the Amona outpost held its first session yesterday in a very charged atmosphere - on the backdrop of the refusal by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra to allow several senior security officials to appear before the panel.
Mofaz and Ezra arrived with their gloves off, and made no attempt to conceal their displeasure with the fact that a political panel, in the guise of an objective commission of inquiry, is conducting deliberations in public on the eve of elections.
Their principal gripe concerned the fact that they are being urged to allow senior Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police officers appear before the commission and respond to questions.
Ezra opened his testimony by criticizing the panel members, who summoned to the opening session police Brigadier General Meir Bokovza, who was in charge of the evacuation operation. "I was very surprised to learn that the very first witness was none other than Brigadier General Bokovza, who, just 10 days ago, was visited by hooligans seeking to torch his car," Ezra said. "The man is in danger, and he is the one who is being asked to appear here.
"The commander of the Judea and Samaria police district, Major General Yisrael Yitzhak, has also been threatened by hooligans," the public security minister continued. "The police have become a punching bag."
Mofaz told the panel he had chosen to appear before it in person "on behalf of the officers and soldiers who were involved in the evacuation. It saddens me that you wanted to place IDF officers in the dock. The IDF must be removed from any political argument on the eve of elections. The IDF is adept at investigating itself. It would have been appropriate and proper to allow the IDF to complete its inquiries."
Commission chairman Yuval Steinitz (Likud) countered by saying that as is the case with any parliament around the world, Israel's cabinet does not manage the Knesset. He stressed that the commission would insist on hearing testimony from senior IDF and police officers involved in the operation.
"The officers won't come," Ezra interjected. "The police officers do not want to appear before you. There is no desire here to get at the truth. Instead of summoning the police officers, you should have summoned the rioters."
Steinitz said in response. "I have no doubt that the officers will eventually appear."
Ezra responded. "Doubt it... Knesset regulations explicitly stipulate that the minister can appear in place of the officers."
The public security minister finally consented to the senior police officers appearing before the panel in camera.
"On the day of the evacuation, a red line was crossed - and it should worry all of us," Mofaz said. "It was not a democratic protest, but riotous criminal behavior that cannot be brushed aside... We have to denounce the intolerable violence against the security forces. The settlers were sent to Amona with a clear message to clear away the shame of Gush Katif."
When asked by MK Uri Ariel (National Union) why he had ordered soldiers to show "zero tolerance toward the settlers," Mofaz responded angrily: "Don't put words I didn't say into my mouth," the defense minister said. "I said that zero tolerance should be shown toward law-breakers."