Violence by extremist settlers in the West Bank has drawn attention following statements by Israeli leaders, but it has also been discussed with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan here in Israel. Before that, in her meeting with Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland raised the issue.
Palestinian terror from Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, is still a tangible threat. As commanders there in the past, we took part in resolute action by security bodies, above all the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service, against these threats – action that’s even stronger today.
But violence by Palestinians can’t justify ignoring, either politically or operationally, lawbreakers on the Jewish side. The movement IDSF-Habithonistim – IDSF stands for Israeli Defense and Security Forum – more than 300 senior veterans of the security services including these three writers, has warned ministers and legislators of four dangers inherent in violence by extremist settlers.
Regarding security, which is the main factor, we must ensure that an uncompromising law enforcement system is operating in the West Bank. Grassroots Jewish violence impairs security personnel’s ability to do their main duty – battling Palestinian terror and preventing the area from becoming another front. Untrammeled violence by extremist settlers erodes the IDF’s deterrence, forces soldiers to police at the expense of their missions, and puts soldiers and officers in situations where they don’t belong.
Also regarding security, the Israeli extremists show Palestinian society that there is no sovereign on the ground to protect them, making the Palestinian Authority appear weak in the areas under its control. This development also subverts our ability to justify our security coordination with the PA forces, which is essential to the PA’s survival and to the security of Israel’s citizens. This coordination was illustrated again, recently, when Palestinian security forces rescued two Israeli civilians who found themselves in the middle of an incensed crowd in Ramallah.
Regarding values, violence by Jews against Palestinians, Israeli humanitarian activists and the security forces in areas under our control breaches the values of Judaism and Israeli society. As citizens of a law-abiding country, we’re obligated to ensure that Israelis don’t break the law in a way that impairs security and other national interests.
The lawbreakers commit organized group violence, challenge the state’s sovereignty and laws, the IDF’s standing and especially the state’s monopoly on the use of force. Such dynamics don’t recognize green lines or separation barriers, and will eventually undermine the foundations of Israel’s social order.
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On the political level, international attention on this issue has reached a critical point, and Israel’s ability to cope is being tested. The violence has sparked harsh criticism not only from adversaries but also from clear friends including the government and Congress in Washington and the American Jewish community. In our region, chaos and violence in the West Bank will require friendly Arab leaders, from Egypt and Jordan to the Gulf, to respond. This also slows the trend toward normalization with Arab and Muslim countries farther afield.
If this destructive phenomenon isn’t dealt with immediately and uncompromisingly, it will get out of control. If it continues, we could see severe results including harm to security coordination and a strengthening of extremists, above all Hamas. The Palestinians could despair to the point of launching self-defense efforts – a development that could deteriorate into a third intifada.
We could also see expressions of identification among Arab Israelis with implications for public order and this community’s involvement in public affairs. And in the end, we could see an increase in violence on both sides of the Green Line, threatening the personal security of every citizen and resident.
The violence by extremist settlers is intolerable morally, undermines stability in the West Bank, erodes the security of Israel and its citizens, and damages strategic interests in the area and beyond. Political and security officials, from the prime minister, cabinet members and on to the people making decisions on operations, must immediately join forces to uncompromisingly end this phenomenon.
Nitzan Alon, Avi Mizrachi and Gadi Shamni, reserve major generals and former heads of IDF Central Command, are members of Commanders for Israel's Security (CIS).