Settler leaders mount tent protest outside PM’s house, demand security funding

Relatives of Israelis killed in terror attacks on West Bank roads join demonstration calling for money for bypass highways, security cameras

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

Settler leaders protest outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, demanding security improvements to West Bank roads on October 24, 2017. (Courtesy: Miri Tzachi)
Settler leaders protest outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, demanding security improvements to West Bank roads on October 24, 2017. (Courtesy: Miri Tzachi)

Settler leaders launched a tent protest outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem Tuesday, demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately allocate funds for bypass roads and other security improvements for residents of the West Bank.

Joined by two chairmen of local settler councils as well as members of bereaved families who lost relatives in terror attacks on West Bank roads, Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan called on Netanyahu to transfer the NIS 300 million ($85 million) that he had promised the settlers two years ago in the form of a security package.

“Mr. Prime Minister, you think that sourpusses exist only on the left. I regret to inform you that there are another half a million sourpusses in Judea and Samaria as well,” says Dagan, a reference to Netanyahu’s Monday speech opening the Knesset’s winter session, in which he labeled his opponents “sourpusses” (literally, “pickles”) for downplaying the country’s many successes.

“[West Bank] residents do not receive the basic right to security. The nationalist camp won the elections [with a promise] to pave these roads and build up the settlements,” Dagan said sternly.

Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan (R) hangs a sign that reads ‘Do not stand idly by as the blood of your neighbor is spilled’ at a protest tent outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, demanding security improvements to West Bank roads on October 24, 2017. (Courtesy: Miri Tzachi)

The bereaved family members and settler leaders specifically called for the installation of cameras along roads throughout the West Bank, the installation of cell phone towers to improve reception for Israelis who may need to call for help, and the paving of bypass roads around Palestinian towns and settlements to allow the populations to avoid each other.

Hadas Mizrachi, whose husband Baruch was gunned down in a terror attack near Hebron while en route to a family Passover Seder in April 2014, directed her plea at Netanyahu directly.

“I ask you, Mr. Prime Minister, look me in the eyes, look at my children in the eyes, look at the bereaved families in the eyes… How many more should be murdered in this country on the roads of Judea and Samaria?” she asked, pounding the table with her fist.

“My children and I will sit here on this sidewalk until a solution is found. We are not prepared for another family to be hurt like us. You promised, Mr. Prime Minister. Now please keep that promise,” she said.

Settler leaders and members of bereaved families hold a press conference outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem on October 18, 2017. (Credit: Miri Tzachi)

Beit Arye Local Council chairman Avi Naim told the prime minister his constituents were “very disappointed.”

״You know, we worked very hard to put you in power and for there to be a right-wing government. The entire settlement movement was mobilized for this purpose. And we are sitting here today very disappointed,״ he said.

Last Wednesday, roughly the same group of settler leaders and bereaved families gathered at the same spot adjacent to Balfour street in Jerusalem for a press conference, in which they threatened a tent protest if the security funds weren’t immediately allocated.

The press conference last week came less than a day after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s announced his office’s plan to roll out a security package for West Bank settlers next month worth NIS 3.3 billion ($939 million). The package is expected to include many of the demands being raised by the settlers and bereaved families outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.

While Dagan said he was pleased about the plan, he emphasized that funds for it still had not been allocated. “Security is not ensured through these announcements, but through actions,” he said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, center right, visits construction of the new Amichai settlement in the West Bank on October 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“If we do not see real change in the next week or two, I will return here [to protest] with my children because this is the only way to prevent the next attack. I am now raising five children on my own and nobody else should have to go endure what I have [endured],” said Mizrachi during Wednesday’s press conference, representing the bereaved families present.

They appeared to have lost patience, launching the tent-protest six days later.

For his part, Liberman emphasized that such infrastructure improvements take time. Speaking to reporters Thursday at the construction grounds of the new Amichai settlement for Amona evacuees, the defense minister insisted his office is working to gather the money for the West Bank security project.

“These things don’t happen overnight, but this security package is the first all-inclusive one that will address a broad range of needs for residents in Judea and Samaria,” Liberman said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

Three days prior, Netanyahu pledged to pave additional bypass roads for West Bank settlers, even if it meant skimming funds from the budgets of all the ministries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on October 1, 2017. (AFP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Speaking at a meeting with ministers from his Likud party, Netanyahu promised to promote a plan for the roads’ construction as soon as possible, an official close to the prime minister told The Times of Israel.

The comments were believed to be made in response to criticism from Likud ministers and settler leadership over what they perceive as insufficient settlement construction in the West Bank.

The bypass roads create separate routes for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Settlers say these routes are integral for their safety, citing terror attacks that have taken place on roads that run through Palestinian villages. They also argue that they benefit all residents of the West Bank — Jewish and Arab alike — by reducing traffic congestion.

But opponents of these pathways call them discriminatory and argue that they lead to the establishment of illegal outposts that run along these new roads, which are sometimes paved on private Palestinian land.

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