Behind Closed Doors, Police Admit 'Turning a Blind Eye' to Settler Violence

Security forces report recent increase in incidence of 'intentional, planned' settler attacks on Palestinians.

Police, soldiers and military officers prefer to "turn a blind eye" instead of handling incidents in which settlers attack Palestinians in the West Bank.

In a meeting held by West Bank precinct operations officer Ronen Yefet last week, participants - including a Shin Bet security service representative and a senior police and army officers - reported a recent increase in the number of violent incidents involving settlers.

The Shin Bet representative stated in the discussion that settler violence has been "intentional and planned," adding that any Israel Defense Forces operations against settlers (eviction or demolitions) now comes with a violent "price tag."

Police officers at the meeting criticized the IDF for reportedly saying they do not want to act against settlers, and purported comments like "Leave me alone, don't get me mixed up with those guys."

In response, chief of the West Bank precinct patrol unit said police also prefer not to confront settlers. "Sometimes cops also avoid acting against Jews. There are also instances where police have looked the other way in order to say 'I didn't see anything.'"

Palestinian actions were also criticized during the meeting. Police said Palestinians do not coordinate their farming plans with the police, which ends up causing friction with the settlers.

In the first half of 2008, particularly in the Samaria and Binyamin districts, there has been an increase in "disturbances of the peace" - the term used for harm caused by Israeli citizens to Palestinians and their property, as well as harm to Israeli security forces. Data presented in the meeting indicated that there were 429 such incidents in the first half of this year, compared with 587 incidents in all of 2006 and 551 in 2007.

At the end of the meeting, the Shin Bet representative expressed the opinion that discussions should be held with the settlers to decrease the instances of disturbing the peace. Security officials are also looking into restraining orders against known disturbers of the peace. Also, the police and IDF agreed to hold joint situation assessments. They will inform all command functions ahead of any police or military operations against settlers, in order to prepare for violent responses.

West Bank precinct spokesman Danny Poleg said in response that "In January-July 2008, 340 cases of Israelis (both right and left-wing) disturbing the peace were opened, compared to 313 cases in the parallel period last year."

Poleg said the data covers case files, not incidents. Regarding the criticism voiced at the meeting, Poleg replied "This was a meeting, one of many held by the precinct with other entities with which police are in routine contact such as the IDF, so we have no intention of commenting on things said in internal discussions." An IDF spokesman said "The IDF performs its role in cooperation with the police and Shin Bet."

A military source added that "irregularities uncovered in police or soldier performance are handled appropriately."