Internal Report: IDF Must Take Strong Stance on Settler Violence

IDF official warned last year that settlers see 'opportunity' in army hesitation to punish lawbreakers.

A good part of recent settler violence resulted from the fact that extremists among the settlers saw an "opportunity" and were not met with a determined enough response by the army, according to a report by the Israel Defense Forces' organizational consultant.

In a report prepared last year by Major Yotam Amitay for GOC Central Command Gadi Shamni when he took up his post, Amitay warned against giving in to settler leadership.

"Reality also demands that we adopt a unified, clear and determined policy against law-breakers, [involving] preventive action against the leaders of violence, such as significant penalties," he wrote.

Amitay, who is leaving his post soon, wrote the Central Command must clearly define its relationship with the settlers' formal leadership, and that, "as long as good will on our side is perceived at best with indifference and at worst with dismissal, then perhaps we should make do with fulfilling our security duties and conducting a relationship that is fair but more functional" vis-a-vis the settlers.

"We must especially stop working to strengthening the present leadership, because that is not our job," the report adds. "It is important to maintain a measure of reciprocity, to avoid groveling and to clearly define the relationship with the formal settler leadership."

The report analyzed the weakening of the formal settler leadership and the entrance into a leadership vacuum of extreme elements "who encourage violence and determine facts on the ground through willingness to confront the security forces to achieve their goals."

The report states that attempts over the past year to create discussion groups between the army and the settlers sometimes seem to have had the opposite effect.

"The more the army engages the formal leadership, the more the leadership loses the faith of its public. "We must be aware of this and avoid taking steps that will weaken the leadership more in the eyes of its public," Amitay wrote. The report identifies as a "worrisome phenomenon," what it calls "the rise of political groups and bodies from within the settlement movement itself that are trying to take advantage of public pressure against the elected leadership and be a more relevant and militant alternative."

He noted that the elected leadership is forced into a sense of irrelevance unless it adopts more extreme positions in line with those of the alternative leaders.

The relationship between the Central Command and the settlers in the West Bank is still tense, Amitay wrote, due to the disengagement, which resulted in pent-up anger against the state and its institutes and suspicions among settlers against the IDF and its soldiers as the instruments of government police.

"There is no doubt that the wounds of disengagement have not healed," the report states, noting that the violence during the evacuation of Amona in February 2006 were "an example for all of us of the great anger among the settlers, at least some of whom still have difficulty finding normative outlets."

Amitay said that after the evacuation, the army and the settlers held a number of meetings to reduce tensions, but these petered out, perhaps because it seemed things had quieted down.

He pointed to the Second Lebanon War as having a calming effect on relations between the settlers and the army, with them reconnecting with Israeli society in support the war effort.

However, the report states, relations turned sour again after repeated attempts within and outside of the settlement movement to repopulate the settlement of Homesh in northern Samaria. According to Amitay, these attempts should be seen as a "mere prelude" to more complicated events that might result from government decisions regarding the future of settlements.

"The events of recent months [in Hebron and Homesh] prove that the anger and suspicion...have not calmed and make it continually difficult to hold on-going dialogue," he wrote.

Amitay recognized settlers' pain as "sincere and deep." In recent years, he noted, the settlers have been placed in a situation of "impossible conflict between their obligation to the state, its army and its laws and their loyalty to the ideological path they have walked for many years."

The significance for the Central Command is that it could be dragged into endless friction with the extremists, while continuing to commit increasing personnel and resources to the conflict. Soldiers, Amitay stated, will become exhausted and pressured by the process, will be taken away from their training, and become less effective in fighting terror.

Amitay recommended acting firmly against instigators of violence, which he said will transmit a clear message to prevent the violence from spreading.