IDF’s outgoing West Bank chief slams settler leaders for failing to rein in violence

Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox says minority adopted ‘ways of enemy,’ but leadership didn’t openly oppose it; new Central Command head Maj. Gen. Avi Bluth vows ‘zero tolerance’ for violence

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Outgoing head of the IDF Central Command Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox speaks during a handover ceremony held at the IDF Central Command headquarters in Jerusalem, July 8, 2024. (Oren Ben Hakoon/ Flash90)
Outgoing head of the IDF Central Command Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox speaks during a handover ceremony held at the IDF Central Command headquarters in Jerusalem, July 8, 2024. (Oren Ben Hakoon/ Flash90)

Outgoing IDF Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox on Monday lambasted settler leaders for failing to curb violence and attacks against West Bank Palestinians in recent months, saying that some Israelis have adopted the “ways of the enemy.”

Fox made the remarks at a ceremony handing over control of the Central Command to Maj. Gen. Avi Bluth at the unit’s headquarters in Jerusalem. The command is in charge of the West Bank region.

Fox said that while “the vast majority” of Israeli settlers in the West Bank are “moral, law-abiding citizens,” in recent months “nationalist crime reared its head under the auspices of war. It sowed chaos and fear in Palestinian residents who did not pose any threat.”

“Unfortunately, the local [settler] leadership, and the religious leadership for the most part, did not see the threat as we did. It is deterred and does not find the strength to openly oppose it. Even if the perpetrators are a minority, those who remain silent in the face of their crimes… thereby introduce criticism toward [all settlers],” he said.

“This is not Judaism in my eyes. At least not the one I grew up with in my father and mother’s house. This is not the way of the Torah. It is adopting the ways of the enemy,” Fox continued.

“It was my responsibility to act. And, unfortunately, I did not always succeed,” he said.

L-R: Maj. Gen. Avi Bluth, the incoming head of the Central Command, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, and the outgoing head of the unit Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, during a handover ceremony at the Central Command HQ in Jerusalem, July 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The concern for the lives of working Palestinian civilians… is not only the responsibility of the commander of the Central Command by virtue of law, and it is not only a moral value, it also serves the security interest of the State of Israel,” Fox said.

“Israelis and Palestinians drive on the same roads and live side by side. Despite the enormous challenge at this time, we must find the right way to guarantee life-affirming civilian life,” he said.

Of the Palestinian Authority, Fox said, “The Central Command’s ability to fulfill its tasks also depends on the existence of a functioning and strong Palestinian Authority, with effective security mechanisms that maintain law and order.”

“Proactively undermining the security reality on this front endangers the security of the State of Israel,” he said.

Settler leaders in the Knesset, particularly Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, have repeatedly worked to undermine the PA, which they accuse of fomenting terror.

Fox, who is retiring after a 36-year military career, has faced fierce criticism from settler activists during his time as regional commander, accusing him of favoring Palestinians over settlers.

Recent months have seen incidents of vigilante settlers rampaging through Palestinian towns and farming communities.

Settler violence spiked after the October 7 massacre carried out by the Hamas terror group in southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people were killed and 251 were taken hostage, but violence was already on the rise before then, according to watchdogs.

A Palestinian inspects the damage to vehicles in the village of Mughayir near Ramallah in the West Bank on April 13, 2024, allegedly set ablaze by Israeli settlers during an attack on the village. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP /File)

The ceremony was also attended by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.

Addressing Halevi, Fox said, “I see some of the challenges you are facing in recent months… I am ashamed and hurt as a commander, but first of all as a citizen, by the savage attacks you are experiencing.”

“There is a method that some have adopted here, terrible things are said, then comes a weak apology… and an embrace of the IDF, until the next wild and irresponsible attack,” he said.

Speaking at the event, Halevi said he wanted to “take the opportunity to thank [Fox] also on behalf of the minority, the minority that does not know how to be grateful, that does not know how to appreciate, that chooses to frequently condemn those who faithfully deal with public needs.”

“A minority who inappropriately chose to attack you, Yehuda, every day, even though you have not stopped your constant efforts to defend. You acted with a stable moral compass, and according to the order of the law, which some want to bend and some want to forget,” Halevi said.

Settlers hurling stones at Palestinians in the West Bank on February 12, 2024. (Screen capture/Yesh Din)

Also at the ceremony, Fox said that “today’s excitement is surrounded by feelings of failure and shame, that we did not fulfill our life’s mission,” referring to the October 7 onslaught.

“As a former commander of the Gaza Division, I carry with me deep sorrow and pain. These feelings will accompany me all my life,” he says.

Fox said that the Central Command has so far managed to keep violence in the the West Bank under control, keeping it from “becoming a main front and from diverting the IDF from the challenges of the war.”

“There are Iranian efforts… to carry out terror against the State of Israel. We must constantly prepare for the next threat, stay ahead of the enemy, and never underestimate it,” he said.

Bluth, the new commander, previously headed the Central Command’s West Bank division and is an observant Jew, making him a favorable choice for the role in the eyes of some.

The incoming head of the IDF Central Command speaks during a handover ceremony held at the IDF Central Command headquarters in Jerusalem, July 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Speaking at the ceremony, Bluth said Israel’s ongoing multi-front war “threatens to spill over” into the West Bank. “So far the axis of evil has failed to realize what it plans. This complexity requires a different way of thinking. The winds from the east are evil, and we as a command can definitely influence the road and the wind that will blow in our area,” he said, referring to Iran.

On settler violence, Bluth said, “We will not blink on the issue, and will do what is good and right for the State of Israel. We will win and remain human, and we will show zero tolerance toward manifestations of violence of any kind.”

Since October 7, troops have arrested some 4,200 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 1,750 affiliated with Hamas.

According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, more than 560 West Bank Palestinians have been killed in that time. The IDF says the vast majority of them were gunmen killed during raids or terrorists carrying out attacks.

During the same period, 22 Israelis, including security personnel, have been killed in terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank. Another five members of the security forces were killed in clashes with terror operatives in the West Bank.

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