The police unit that handles far-right extremism in the West Bank has been split in two, in an effort to enable a faster response to an increasing number of attacks by settlers against Palestinians and their Jewish allies.
One unit is now responsible for the Judea region of the West Bank, including Hebron and the South Hebron Hills. The other has been assigned to Samaria, which includes the area around the settlement of Yitzhar and the unauthorized settlement outposts of Givat Ronen and Homesh.
The directive was issued by the commander of the Judea and Samaria District of the Israel Police, Maj. Gen. Uzi Levy, and it went into effect last week.
The unit had been stationed at district headquarters, in the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. Following the change, only its intelligence desk remains there. The Judea part of the unit is now stationed in the Hebron area, while the Samaria part is stationed at the base of the army’s Samaria Regional Brigade, near Nablus.
Splitting the unit is supposed to provide a quick response to violent incidents, such as those that have occurred recently in the West Bank. It follows a similar division of the district’s SWAT team, also in order to enable a faster response to developing violence.
The nationalist crimes unit of the Judea and Samaria District was established at the end of 2011, and has about 100 police officers – whose entire job focuses on the actions of far-right activists mostly in the West Bank, including “price tag” attacks in revenge for Palestinian violence.
Police officials, speaking among themselves and not for attribution, have harshly criticized recent remarks by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, according to which the police, and not the army, are responsible for preventing and dealing with settler violence.
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No one has enough resources, police officials say. “We are taking every possible action to reach the scene of the incident and every call, but to say the police aren’t there? The police are the first to arrive and there is excellent cooperation with the [IDF’s] Central Command, there are those in the General Staff who are trying to shirk responsibility because they don’t want to have to deal with Jews,” says a senior police officer who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
Defense officials expect the violent incidents by settlers against Palestinians to continue over the next few weeks too, because of the question of the evacuation of Homesh, along with the closing of the cases against the police officers who were involved in the incident that caused the death of the teen Ahuvia Sandak, as well as the dispute over the outpost of Evyatar, which has yet to be solved.
Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz toured Samaria accompanied by senior defense officials. He told military leaders that soldiers must not stand aside in the face of settler violence. Soldiers have the authority to detain and arrest when necessary in the West Bank, said a senior officer.
Last Friday, the police arrested a 75-year-old man who was suspected of attacking a soldier during a left-wing protest in Samaria. But the main fear in the defense establishment is of violence on the part of far right extremists, and especially in the area of Yitzhar and Givat Ronen – as well as Mitzpeh Avigail in the South Hebron Hills.