Israeli Army Disciplines Netanyahu's Military Secretary Over Handling of West Bank Outpost Eviction

The army's action follows a complaint from Netanyahu that the order to halt the eviction was not passed along by Military Secretary Avi Bluth

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his military secretary, Col. Avi Bluth.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his military secretary, Col. Avi Bluth.Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO

In a disciplinary proceeding on Friday, the Israeli army found that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's military secretary, Col. Avi Bluth, had failed to carry out the premier's instructions to halt plans to evict settlers from the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Amona on Thursday. 

The hearing followed a complaint by the prime minister, who said Bluth had failed to relay Netanyahu's order in a timely fashion to halt plans for the eviction.

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The eviction of settlers from the Amona West Bank outpost, Jan. 3, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

A disciplinary notation was made in Bluth's personal file over the incident and the army issued a statement indicating that army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot "made it clear to Col. Bluth that he had erred in handling the incident and that it would have been expected that he would have conducted himself more professionally."

Bluth had failed to inform the relevant army personnel "in real time" of the prime minister's instructions, said the statement, which added that Bluth acknowledged his error and said he would learn a lesson from the incident.

When Netanyahu returned from a state visit to Brazil earlier this week, he learned of plans to evacuate Amona and ordered his military secretary to put a halt to the operation. The eviction went ahead anyway early Thursday.

Residents of the Amona site, north of Jerusalem, had been evicted in February 2017 following a court ruling that the outpost had been built on privately owned Palestinian land.

Dozens of settlers reentered the area last month and installed two mobile homes there. The settlers claimed they had bought the land on which the structures had been built and filed a petition seeking to block an eviction action. On Wednesday, the Jerusalem District Court denied the petition and ruled that there was no legal basis to bar the removal of the mobile homes.

On Thursday morning, the army removed the two mobile homes at the site as well as the dozens of settlers who had barricaded themselves at the outpost. Seven settlers were arrested for assaulting security forces but were later released.

Avidgor Lieberman, the head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, who resigned as defense minister last month and withdrew his party from the governing coalition, said the prime minister's complaint against Bluth was akin to a hazing. "The embarrassing attempt by Netanyahu to deflect blame for the evacuation of Amona onto his military secretary is contemptible at least," Lieberman said, adding that it should be viewed as an effort to evade responsibility and to find a scapegoat.

In a Facebook post, Lieberman noted Bluth's ties to the West Bank, including childhood years spend in the settlement of Halamish, pre-army coursework in the settlement of Eli and Bluth's service in what Lieberman called "the sensitive position of brigade commander in Hebron."

For his part, Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich of the Habayit Hayehudi Knesset faction, which has close ties to the settlement movement, tweeted that Netanyahu's order to halt the eviction "sounds like an excuse after the fact." Smotrich, who was involved in the installation of the mobile homes at Amona, called on the prime minister to make it possible for a legally recognized farm to be established there. "If he doesn’t do so, I simply don’t believe him," he said.

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