‘Helpless” – that’s the word we kept hearing last week.
The Israeli army reservists serving in Yitzhar, a settlement in the northern West Bank, were woken at dawn by a group of marauding boys and men and told to leave their tents immediately or the army gear they slept in, and the position they manned, would be burnt to the ground.
The soldiers – nearly every media outlet in Israel told us – were “helpless” in the face of this demand. Startled, lacking clear orders, they complied. The gear was ransacked. And the army, much as with the ongoing plague of “price-tag” attacks, was bared before all as a security force incapable of restraining the most radical elements of the society it has been sent to protect.
This is not the first time this has happened. In December 2011 several hundred Jewish Israeli youth blocked Route 55 near Qalqilya, threw stones at passing cars, forced open the doors of the regional brigade commander’s jeep, threw stones inside, lightly wounding Col. Ran Kahana and his deputy, and then stormed into the Efraim Brigade’s central base, slashing tires and splashing paint every which way. How did they get in? The front door. They just charged through, and the armed soldiers, so utterly untrained in the policing of their own, stepped aside.
There are several dynamics at work here. One, Israeli society continues to treat soldiers as children. They are not boys and girls. Not when seeking prisoner exchanges; not when sending them to war to protect civilians; and not when sending them to man a post in the West Bank. They are adults. They carry machine guns. They should not be seen as helpless, nor should they think of themselves as such.
Two, the IDF-Israel Police relationship is not working. The theory is this: the Shai District of the Israel Police, founded in 1994 and covering the entire West Bank, operates in tandem with the army, the Shin Bet and the civil administration but it, primarily, handles all police work for Israeli civilians in the West Bank, outside greater Jerusalem. And yet, while it may be doing its job protecting Jewish civilians, it has proven stunningly inept in curbing Jewish crime. From 2005-2013 it has launched 992 investigations into complaints of Israeli violence against Palestinians; thus far only 7.8 percent of those cases have led to an indictment, according to the Yesh Din human rights group.
The army, quite understandably, prefers for the police and the Shin Bet to handle these investigations. But the ineffective prosecution of crimes, and the manner in which the criminals are increasingly willing to turn on the army itself, means that either a shake-up in the Shai Police is required, or the army, as it recently did in Yitzhar, must activate the Border Police to eradicate violent Jewish crime in the West Bank.
MK Elazar Stern (Hatnuah), a former IDF general, applauded the IDF’s rare decision, in the wake of last week’s attack, to station a company of Border Police at the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in the settlement. “Now is not the time merely for laundered words calling for the police and security forces to fulfill their roles,” Stern wrote on his Facebook page on Friday. “True, they need to do just that, but the fulfillment of their role can only be done if the community of Yitzhar is marked as a locale from which attacks stem, and is appropriately treated: with roadblocks at the entrance (it is clear to me that some wonderful and loyal citizens living in Yitzhar will pay the price – but nothing can be done), along with searches conducted in Yitzhar and, if necessary, arrests, even in the middle of the night, just as would happen in any other place from which there was a suspicion of terror attacks against the citizens of Israel and the soldiers of the IDF.”
He warned that, unchecked, the current atmosphere could lead to bloodshed.
In an interview on Sunday, IDF Chief of the General Staff Benny Gantz called Jewish extremist violence a threat to national security.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was equally severe. “As far as I am concerned, this is terrorism. And we need to treat these occurrences as terror. It is a most grave and insufferable phenomenon and it must be brought to an end.”
Ya’alon linked violence against IDF officers to violence against innocent Palestinians. This is not the first time he has made such associations – he has long held that “price-tag” attacks are a form of terror – but the placement of the Border Police in Yitzhar marks a new, and long overdue, display of resolve.