Amid growing concern in the government over unchecked violence by extremist settlers, the six living former chiefs of the Shin Bet security service commented publicly on the attacks, calling the attackers “Jewish terrorists.”
Speaking to Yedioth Ahronoth on Thursday, the ex-directors — Avraham Shalom (1981-1986), Yaakov Peri (1988-1994), Carmi Gillon (1995-1996), Ami Ayalon (1996-2000), Avi Dichter (2000-2005), and Yuval Diskin (2005-2011) — urged Israel to do more to combat the trend, with many insinuating that the security services were being too soft on settler violence in the West Bank.
“There are no results because the government doesn’t say to Yoram Cohen, the head of the Shin Bet, to get results, despite the massive damage this is causing us,” said Gillon. “They are handling these rioters with kid gloves, so they are refusing to talk during interrogations — but there are interrogation methods, and even the worst Hamas operatives talk in the end…Therefore we need to deal with rioters as we dealt with the Jewish underground and like we dealt with Kach terrorists — to come down on them with force, to put them into prison for many years and create deterrence.”
“First of all, we need to define what is happening in the territories as Jewish terror,” Ayalon said. “ All of the other definitions coming from the prime minister, from the ministers, or the president — ‘hate crime,’ ‘bad seeds,’ and such — are meaningless. Laundered words. And until they do this, they won’t solve the problem. The Shin Bet knows what it’s supposed to do, but it can only do it once things are described as they are.”
But Yaakov Peri, currently science minister, did not agree that the police need to adopt a drastic new approach. “There is no mincing of words here — Israel Police is already handling these incidents, and if it needs the help of the Shin Bet, I believe it would receive it. We are not talking about a complicated crime here, and we don’t need to use sophisticated forces to catch a few dozen rioters whom everyone knows. Something severe was done, but we need to keep things in perspective — they are much more simple than what is being presented. There will be consequences. I heard they already started making arrests.”
Avraham Shalom concurred with Peri that the Shin Bet does not need to make major changes in its approach, but does think it needs to get more results. “What happened in Yitzhar is indeed Jewish terror. It’s terror, because it wasn’t done for money, or as part of fight between neighbors. This is terror that serves a political idea in a violent and dangerous fashion, and the Shin Bet needs to deal with it as it deals with everything that undermines the security of the state. Do I see hesitation in the way the Shin Bet is operating? From my familiarity with the people there, the answer is no. I don’t know why there still aren’t results, because I am not an expert on the details, but the Shin Bet doesn’t need to wait for the government’s instructions on this — just like the police doesn’t wait when it’s fighting thieves. This is the Shin Bet’s mandate, and this is what it needs to do.”
Dichter, however, called for major changes.
“There are no results because the system is forgiving and the punishment in the court is a joke,” he said. “We need to differentiate between the cases: Not every person who disturbs the peace and punctures tires is a Jewish terrorist, but an attack of dozens of youths, and an attack on an IDF position is certainly …True, they didn’t killed the soldiers and didn’t take them captive, but they did exactly what terrorists are doing: Took the law into their own hands, spread destruction and hurt people in order to force the state to obey their wishes, in an undemocratic and illegitimate way.”
Diskin feared that the extremists would become more violent if determined action weren’t taken. “Beyond the necessary law enforcement measures, the most effective treatment is a complete denunciation of the behavior, and especially of the people involved — well-known to the settlers, and not only to the Shin Bet, army, and police. The people involved in actions like this against Palestinians and Arab Israelis or against the IDF could become in the future a lethal weapon against soldiers and against leaders.”
The comments of the ex-directors come after three days of increasingly violent confrontations between Yitzhar settlers and security forces that culminated early Tuesday morning with residents raiding an IDF command post near the settlement after security forces pulled down a number of illegal buildings.
By Thursday morning, the Israel Police had arrested seven settlers who were suspected of taking part in the assault on the IDF post.