ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 63

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Five former police commissioners demand Netanyahu remove Ben Gvir from office

Ex-law enforcement chiefs say national security minister overstepping his legal authority, exploiting position for political gain

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits members of the Yamam unit who were injured during an operation in Jenin, at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, March 8, 2023. (Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits members of the Yamam unit who were injured during an operation in Jenin, at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, March 8, 2023. (Flash90)

A group of former Israel Police commissioners has demanded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remove National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir from his post, saying the far-right lawmaker is acting outside his position’s legal purview and risks igniting violence with Palestinians.

As national security minister, Ben Gvir oversees the police, Border Police and the Prison Service.

Five former police commissioners, three former senior officials from the Prison Service and dozens of other ex-law enforcement officials signed the Tuesday letter to Netanyahu.

The signatories included former police commissioners Roni Alsheich, Shlomo Aharonishki, Assaf Hefetz, Rafi Peled and Moshe Karadi.

They said they plan to attend Saturday night anti-government protests in Tel Aviv under the banner, “Save the police from Ben Gvir.”

Channel 12 had reported parts of the letter on Tuesday.

“The minister, who from the start did not have the experience required for such a complex role, is acting against the authority granted to him by the law, intervening in operational decision-making processes,” the letter said of Ben Gvir, adding that he “exploits events and the police for political purposes.

“As people who have been in charge of dozens of events and know the sensitivity and responsibility required of a police commander, we must take this unusual step in appealing to you,” the officials told Netanyahu.

Ben Gvir dismissed the letter’s signatories, saying “all the failed officers have come together after they destroyed the police and ruined national security.

“I was chosen by the people of Israel, they are the only ones I serve,” Ben Gvir said.

Former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich arrives to testify before the Meron Disaster Inquiry Committee, in Jerusalem, January 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The former senior police officers are especially 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 March.

The letter stated that 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. Demolitions often set off clashes between residents and security forces in tinderbox neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Ynet reported that the signatories compared the planned demolitions to “throwing a lit match into a barrel of gunpowder, which could in the best case bring about a third intifada, and in the worst case ignite an unnecessary fire in the Muslim world.”

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir in the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben Gvir has also told police to crack down hard 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 on Tuesday 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.

Mounted police are seen during a protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Ben Gvir has reportedly clashed with both Netanyahu and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai over his demand to step up the home demolitions. Media reports say the premier has 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 past 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. He never served in the military due to his extremist activities.

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.

In addition to the planned protest by the former police officials, a series of high-profile statements and actions by reserves soldiers from top military units opposed to the coalition’s judicial overhaul have rocked the government and sent top officials scrambling to contain the fallout.

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