Border Police Redeployed From West Bank to Israel to Quell Rioting in Arab-Jewish Cities

Amid the fighting in Gaza, growing fears over an escalation in the West Bank, and despite the decline in Arab-Jewish violence in Israel, the redeployed forces are expected to remain in Israel for at least a few weeks

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Border police forces in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod, last week.
Border police forces in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod, last week.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The redeployment of Border Police forces to Israeli territory proper in the wake of the riots of the past several days left responsibility for the West Bank in the hands of the Israel Defense Forces, whose soldiers are less well-trained in handling civilian populations. The move comes as almost every day brings violent incidents in response to the ongoing military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Nearly all of the Border Police forces that had been in the West Bank are now within Israel. Most are in Lod, Wadi Ara and Acre. Only two companies remain in the West Bank, and one of them is assigned to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Border Police special forces were also deployed within the Green Line. These include the tactical brigade, which was assigned to Lod, as well as its undercover unit and its counterterrorism unit. “The West Bank worries us greatly, but the situation in Israel is more worrying,” said a police official.

The decision to deploy the Border Police was made jointly by Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, head of the IDF Central Command, and Border Police commander Maj. Gen. Amir Cohen.

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In light of the assessment that Hamas wants increased violence in the West Bank, the decision to move the Border Police from the area looks like a gamble. Since the fighting began last week, 16 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers there, four of them after attempting to attack soldiers. The redeployments also affect crime-fighting efforts. Nevertheless, the police stand behind the decision. “Even from a distance of a few days, this was a wise and correct decision,” a police official said.

Despite the decline in Arab-Jewish violence in Israel, the redeployed forces are expected to remain for at least a few weeks. The assumption is that the tensions in mixed communities will remain even after a cease-fire is reached in Gaza. “Lod won’t go back to what it used to be, and Acre and other cities are also sitting on a powder keg,” the police official said. A different official said police are needed to prevent friction between Jews and Arabs, “and also to close the circle in the face of anyone who thinks that we will accept anarchy.” One of the main tasks of the police after the Gaza operation ends will be collecting illegal guns so prevalent in Israel’s Arab communities.

The worst riots were in the Lod-Ramle area. According to the Israel Fire and Rescue Services, in the past several days about 70 apartments, 100 vehicles and a dozen synagogues and government institutions were set on fire in the two adjacent cities – overwhelmingly by Arabs. Over the holiday weekend, however, the police seemed to have restored a degree of calm. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Thursday with senior police commanders, Lod Mayor Yair Revivo and a representative of city residents. Since, then a shift is evident: The police stopped treating the violence as a series of unconnected crimes and began viewing the riots as part of a nationalist struggle. They moved from merely reacting to gathering intelligence and initiating arrests with the help of residents and the Shin Bet Security service.

In addition to having to account for last month’s Lag Ba’omer celebrations at Mount Meron that ended in 45 fatalities, national police chief Kobi Shabtai will also have to account for the force’s lapses regarding the collapse of bleachers in a Givat Ze’ev synagogue on Sunday, in which two people died and dozens were injured.

Jerusalem District chief Doron Turgeman was not even aware of the Shavuot celebrations at the synagogue before the disaster. He was called to the scene while at the site of a car ramming incident in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in which seven police officers were injured. On Monday Turgeman denied accusations against the police, saying that it was up to the local government to prohibit the celebration. Shabtai, who had drawn up proposals for increasing the efficacy of policing in Israel’s Arab communities and strengthening public confidence in the police, knows that most of these will have to be shelved for now in favor of efforts to restore calm on the ground.

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