Israel Defense Forces GOC Central Command Major General Gadi Shamni has leveled harsh criticism against extremist West Bank settlers who have attacked Palestinians and IDF soldiers in recent weeks.
In an interview with Haaretz over the Rosh Hashanah holiday, Shamni said the radical behavior among rightists has grown in light of encouragement they receive from the settler leadership, rabbis and public. As the officer heading Central Command, Shamni is responsible for the entire West Bank.
"There has been a rise in Jewish violence in Judea and Samaria. In the past, only a few dozen individuals took part in such activity, but today that number has grown into the hundreds. That's a very significant change. These hundreds are engaged in conspiratorial actions against Palestinians and the security forces. It's a very grave phenomenon," he said.
In recent weeks, settlers have let a dog loose on an IDF reserves company commander, broke the hand of a deputy battalion commander and punctured the car tires of a reserve soldier. In Hebron, a Golani Brigade officer was attacked after trying to prevent Jewish children from hurling stones at Palestinians.
"What does a reserve soldier say who comes to protect Israeli citizens and discovers that masked Jewish youths have punctured the tires of his vehicle?" Shamni asked during the interview.
"And this happens today, when Judea and Samaria is a relatively secure area. The roads are open. There is friction [with Palestinians], but the feeling of the Jewish population overall is excellent," he said.
"The majority of people here act normally. We're talking about a hard core of a few hundred activists among some 300,000 Jews who live beyond the Green Line. But what this bunch does is causing tremendous damage, both to the image of the IDF and to the state of Israel," he added.
"This is harming our ability to carry out security missions in the territories. We have to divert our efforts to there from other issues. The margins [in the settler community] are expanding, because they are enjoying a tailwind and the backing of part of the leadership, both rabbinical and public, whether in explicit statements or tacitly."