Contrary to the popular impression, there has been no recent increase in attacks along Route 443, one of the two main highways linking Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer said Tuesday.
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His statement came just a week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the army to consider relaxing the rules of engagement against Palestinians who throw stones or firebombs at cars on this road. The instruction was issued at a special meeting on the security situation in Jerusalem and on Route 443, attended by cabinet members, defense officials and other figures.
Netanyahu also called for an examination of the possibility of legislation setting minimum sentences for individuals convicted of throwing stones or firebombs. According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the changes will be examined because of the legal system’s difficulty in dealing with stone-throwing by minors.
Netanyahu also “ordered that units along Highway 443 be reinforced, that intelligence and observation efforts be stepped up and that the possibility of adding cameras and lighting along the entire length of the highway be examined,” the statement said.
But the Central Command officer, speaking at a media briefing on Tuesday, said attacks on Route 443 had not increased. In 2014 there were 119 incidents on the road, and in the first eight months of this year there were 96.
“The average is 10 to 15 incidents a month,” he said. “We don’t see any change.”
As a main artery, Route 443 is considered strategically important, so “a lot of resources are invested in protecting it,” he added.
Most of the incidents on this road involve stone-throwing. The IDF said there were 14 such incidents in August, compared to 13 in July, 11 in June, 14 in May, 8 in April, 13 in March, 13 in February and 11 in January.
The officer also discussed an incident in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh last month, in which Palestinian women kept a soldier from arresting a 12-year-old boy who threw stones during a demonstration. The officer praised the soldier’s conduct, adding that the incident was the result of a tactical error by the soldier’s commander.
The officer said the mistake was to send the soldier on the arrest mission alone.
As for the soldier’s behavior, the officer said, “He could legitimately have opened fire if he felt his life was in danger, but he opted not to do so. He deserves praise for this.”
Asked about the media uproar the incident generated, he said, “You need to drink a glass of water and not rest our national honor on a single incident.”
He said the soldier wouldn’t have been sent to arrest the boy, who had his arm in a cast, had the troops realized he was a minor. And after the women surrounded the soldier to prevent the arrest, the commanding officer ordered the boy freed.
Eyewitnesses said the soldier treated the boy roughly. Jonathan Pollak, a Haaretz employee who was there, said the boy did not throw stones and that the soldiers should have been able to tell that he was a minor.