Israel Must Crack Down on Settler Lawlessness

Criminal council heads must be put on trial; this would show that enforcing the law doesn't stop at Green Line.

The settler leaders' lawless behavior after the decision to temporarily and partially freeze settlement construction in the West Bank reminds us of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's metaphor of a "villa in the jungle" to describe Israel's place in the region. Only a few kilometers from Tel Aviv, the laws of democracy give way to the law of the jungle. Once again it turns out that only an ultra-thin layer separates the rebels and tree cutters in the illegal outposts from the core of the settler establishment.

The heads of the settlements' local councils, who receive their salaries from the public coffers to enforce the law, have taken the lead in the fight against the government. Senior public officials who block Civil Administration inspectors from entering their settlements and who threaten to continue building during the freeze are acting as if they were on their own private estates. This is why Talia Sasson, in her March 2005 report on the outposts, described the regional-council heads as the "moving force" behind the establishment and development of illegal outposts; her recommendations have still not been implemented.

But nothing could have moved in the illegal outposts without the support of the highest political levels, as Sasson wrote in her report. Through approvals, financing and glances the other way, the message trickled down to the lower levels of the civil service and army. The words of the Civil Administration officer who presented the freeze order to Shomron Regional Council head Gershon Mesika before Mesika proudly threw the order in the trash speak for themselves. The uniformed officer said he "apologizes for the contents of the document." The ministers of transportation and environmental protection acted the same way Wednesday when they refused to send out inspectors to help enforce the freeze.

The highest authority for enforcing the law in the territories and implementing the cabinet decision is the defense minister. Barak must order Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and the head of the Civil Administration to take all legal measures to implement the cabinet's decision to freeze construction in the settlements. The criminal council heads must be arrested and put on trial; this would show that enforcing the law does not stop at the Green Line.

A government that demands that the Palestinian Authority ensure law and order among the Palestinians in the West Bank is not allowed to be sympathetic to the organized lawlessness of the Jewish residents there.