Twenty-five former police chiefs and commanders have reportedly written to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to warn him that far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s policies will lead to a third intifada, or Palestinian uprising.
According to a Channel 12 news report on Tuesday, the former senior police officers are concerned by Ben Gvir’s demand to continue with the demolition of illegally built Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, set to begin at the end of the month.
The letter stated that in fact efforts should be made to reduce activity during Ramadan — as in previous years — in an attempt to calm tensions, noting that the sentiment was shared by a number of serving senior police officers.
The holy Muslim month has in recent years become a time of heightened tensions and violence in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Such demolitions often set off clashes between residents and security forces in tinderbox neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
The network did not publicize the names of any of the signatories of the letter, said to include former Jerusalem regional commanders, but noted that the group had decided to join the mass weekly protests against the government’s controversial judicial overhaul under the banner of “saving the police from Ben Gvir.”
And while the report focused on house demolitions, Ben Gvir has also reportedly clashed with police in recent weeks over other punitive steps against the Palestinians, like downgrading conditions for security prisoners or pushing for a broad police operation in East Jerusalem.
Ben Gvir has told police to crack down on anti-government protesters, emphasizing that, as minister of national security, he has the final word on police operations.
The minister responded to the report by claiming that some of those who spoke out against him had “destroyed the police force and made it political.”
Ben Gvir, of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, has a history of provocations, particularly in East Jerusalem where he is a frequent visitor during times of increased friction and has been accused of exacerbating tensions.
The ultranationalist minister has vowed to take a more aggressive stance against Palestinian homes that were built without the necessary permits from Israel in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He has framed the demolition of such structures as part of Israel’s efforts to combat Palestinian terror, even though there have been no links between the owners of the homes razed for a lack of permits in recent months and security offenses.
Palestinians say they are forced to build unauthorized structures because it is next to impossible to receive permits for construction, as the municipality ostensibly does not advance the expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods.
The UN’s Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted in an April 2019 report that in East Jerusalem “a restrictive planning regime applied by Israel makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits.”
OCHA says that only 13 percent of East Jerusalem is designated for Palestinian construction, much of which is already built up, while 35 percent has been allocated to Israelis for construction. Israel says the Jerusalem Municipality advances and approves building permits for Palestinians in East Jerusalem at a similar rate to Jewish neighborhoods in the capital.
Ben Gvir has reportedly clashed with both Netanyahu and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai over his demand to step up the home demolitions. The premier has reportedly asked the far-right minister to show restraint, fearing international backlash if high-profile demolitions were to take place.
Last month, Netanyahu ordered a stay on the razing of a 12-apartment, four-story building that is home to some 100 Palestinians. The building was built without a permit in 2014 and Ben Gvir had been pushing to carry out a court order to demolish it.
Ben Gvir, who has multiple convictions for supporting a Jewish terror group and for incitement to racism, lobbied for expanded powers as part of coalition negotiations for his National Security Ministry.
Last year, the incoming government passed a law to define the subordination of the Israel Police to the government, and affixed into law the understanding that the national security minister can set the force’s general policy.
Agencies contributed to this report.