Outgoing general tells settler leaders to weed out extremists among them

Roni Numa says a small group of Israelis continue to challenge authorities, as settlers and Palestinians clash in northern West Bank

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Outgoing head of Central Command Roni Numa (L) speaks at his exchange of command ceremony in East Jerusalem on March 7, 2018 as IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot looks on. (Screen capture/Ynet)
Outgoing head of Central Command Roni Numa (L) speaks at his exchange of command ceremony in East Jerusalem on March 7, 2018 as IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot looks on. (Screen capture/Ynet)

The outgoing head of the IDF’s Central Command called on settler leaders to denounce radical lawbreakers among their West Bank constituencies on Wednesday.

“Regrettably, there is still a small handful of settlers challenging authorities as well as law and order. I urge you to continue to act and denounce this group,” Maj. Gen. Roni Numa said to West Bank council heads at an address marking his departure from the position.

Numa, 51, had built a close relationship with settler leaders who all fell under his jurisdiction over the past three years. Wednesday’s ceremony saw Numa, who is retiring, officially be replaced by Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, who most recently served as the head of the IDF’s teleprocessing and cyber defense units.

“I would like to say thank you for the sincere dialogue that maintained mutual trust, even in complex days and difficult events,” Numa told the settler leaders. “This is another opportunity for me to reiterate the uncompromising commitment we have to your safety.”

(From L-R) Incoming head of IDF Central Command Nadav Padan, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and outgoing head of central command Roni Numa stand at attention during the exchange of command ceremony on Marcch 7, 2018. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

In his first speech as head of Central Command, Padan said that he would approach Israel’s security with “great determination…enabling a (high) quality of life for both Israelis and Palestinians while maintaining the rule of law and the spirit of the IDF.”

Also present at the ceremony was IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, who praised Numa for his work and wished Padan luck in filling the post.

Last week, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman praised Numa for his work over the past three years as the head of the Central Command, which is responsible for the West Bank. Numa’s time at Central Command, which includes overseeing settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank, saw a spate of stabbings, shootings and car-rammings in 2015 and 2016, as well as more recent unrest following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

IDF Brig-General Nadav Padan (c) at a ceremony in his honor, attended by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott (r) and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on June 13, 2016. (Hadar Ben Simon/IDF Spokesperson)

Numa’s tenure also saw an uptick in administrative orders against dozens of far-right settler youth.

The Defense Ministry, under the advisement of the Shin Bet security service, IDF Central Command and Israel Police, signed off on a fresh batch of some 30 administrative orders in September.

Varying from detention, bans from entering the entire West Bank, bans on contacting certain individuals, or nighttime house arrest, the Shin Bet argued that they have helped substantially diminish the amount of hate crimes, notably “price-tag” attacks — offenses ostensibly carried out in retaliation for Israeli policies that are seen as unfriendly to radical settlers.

For the most part, the administrative orders against Israelis have targeted activists known as the “hilltop youth,” young people who move to settlement outposts, resist soldiers’ attempts to evacuate them, and have been known to carry out price-tag and other hate-crime attacks.

But the youth being targeted say that their rights are being trampled since the orders do not allow for due process.

The settler violence has been most rampant in the northern West Bank where Israelis have clashed with Palestinians on a regular basis over the past few months.

At roughly the same time as Wednesday’s transfer of command ceremony, a group of four settlers from the Givat Ronen outpost descended on the nearby village of Burin and began harassing and hurling stones at a Palestinian farmer, according to the Yesh Din rights group.

The farmer was said to have escaped, but a group of residents from the village returned in his place and began throwing rocks back at the settlers who eventually were joined by a group of IDF troops.

“The soldiers, who did nothing to protect the Palestinians, began firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and apparently live ammunition at the Palestinians,” a statement from Yesh Din said.

A 17-year-old Palestinian was evacuated to a nearby hospital after being shot in the leg with a live bullet. The source of the fire was not immediately known to the rights group as footage from the scene showed both soldiers and at least one settler firing in the direction of the Palestinians.

A spokeswoman for the IDF said that while both settlers and Palestinians hurled rocks at one another, the clash had been instigated by Palestinians who approached Havat Ronen to throw rocks at the Israelis.

The spokeswoman said that riot dispersal measures were employed by IDF troops to break up the clashes leading to 17-year-old Palestinian’s injury. She also claimed that no live fire was used by the soldiers.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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