As coalition bickers, hundreds of soldiers to help police confront settler violence

With government rightists bristling at notion Jewish extremism is an issue, Gantz and Barlev agree on greater police presence in West Bank to tackle attacks

Settlers from Homesh hurl stones at Palestinians on March 26, 2020. (Yesh Din)
Settlers from Homesh hurl stones at Palestinians on March 26, 2020. (Yesh Din)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev have agreed to draft hundreds of Israel Defense Forces soldiers into the police so that more police officers can be redirected to the West Bank and help combat extremist settler violence.

The IDF soldiers will perform routine, daily police tasks while the police officers work in the West Bank against extremist settlers and on other problems there, Channel 13 reported on Tuesday, without giving further specifics.

In response, settler leader Oded Revivi said Wednesday, “At the same time IDF officials are complaining that they don’t have enough manpower to cope with increasing Arab violence against Jews… the defense minister volunteers soldiers to the Public Security Ministry to deal with incidents of Jewish violence.”

He asserted that attacks by settlers against Arabs have declined in the past two years, a claim that is not borne out by the facts.

Right-wing lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich called Barlev’s actions “frightening.”

“He’s now drafting the IDF but not to fight terror,” Smotrich said.

(L) Public Security Minister Omer Barlev during a meeting at the Knesset, September 13, 2021 and (R) Defense Minister Benny Gantz during meeting at the Knesset, October 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi; Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Barlev sparked a coalition dustup this week after announcing that he had discussed “settler violence” with a visiting American diplomat. The current government’s right wing accused Barlev — a member of the center-left Labor party — of generalizing the actions of a few extremists to condemn an entire community.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday tacitly joined those criticizing Barlev.

“Settlers in Judea and Samaria have suffered violence and terror, daily, for decades,” Bennett tweeted, referring to the West Bank. “They are the defensive bulwark for all of us, and we must strengthen and support them, in words and actions.”

Other right-wing coalition members, and opposition lawmakers, criticized Barlev for the remarks.

On Tuesday morning, Barlev pushed back, saying his critics were having difficulty “looking in the mirror,” and that settler violence was becoming an issue on the international stage.

The Palestinian Authority praised Barlev on Wednesday, saying “This recognition is an initial step in the right direction, but it is not enough.”

Barlev’s initial remark and the subsequent pushback follow a noted rise in violent attacks by Israeli extremists against Palestinians compared to previous years.

Last month, Gantz held a high-level meeting with top representatives of the country’s security forces to discuss the problem, calling for the military to intervene before someone was killed.

While no official figures have been released, the Shin Bet has reported a 50% rise in extremist Jewish attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank over the past year.

Pro-Palestinian rights groups say the assailants are rarely prosecuted, reporting that the vast majority of cases are closed without indictments.

The issue was also raised by the US ambassador to the United Nations during a recent Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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