Thursday, November 26, 2009

Evacuating the Settlements by Ami Pedahzur & Arie Perlinger

Already in late 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon started to devise a plan for the evacuation of the Jewish settlement and IDF forces from the Gaza strip. The disengagement plan also included the removal of four settlements that were located in the northern part of the West Bank (northern Samaria). At his point, Israel was still embroiled in the Second Intifada, and Sharon, similar to many other Israeli policymakers, felt that Israel, along with its military offensive, should present conciliatory steps in order to break the deadlock between the two sides and also encourage moderate Palestinians to resist prolonging the violence.

In early May 2004, the disengagement plan was approved by the Israeli government, and on October 26, 2004, the Knesset ratified the resolution. As was the case in the early 80's with the Camp David Accords, as well as a decade later after the signing of the Oslo Accords, the main resistance to the evacuation came from the settler movement and various religious Zionist streams and groups. They had organized countless rallies, demonstrations, and assemblies against he plan in order to mobilize public support. Rabbis once again insisted that the plan was an intolerable violation of the Jewish heritage and rules of the Halakha (Jewish Law) and that the evacuation had no moral or other legitimacy. The called on IDF soldiers to disobey the orders of their commanders, and some of them even urged more extreme steps such as illegal resistance. In consequence, the protest increasingly began to involve illegal activities whose intent was to disrupt the public order, such as blocking the main highways by crowding them with demonstrators or by putting sharp nails on the road. However, some of the initiatives went a step further and eventually developed into terrorist activities.

The first act of organized terrorism in response to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria came to light in early May 2005. There were three members in the cell: Rabbi Mordeci Levinstein, his brother Elitzur and a yeshiva student Avraham Levkowitz.. They had intended to pack and douse vehicles with flammable materials and ignite them near a busy interchange on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. It was a simple but potentially lethal plan. During the same month another daring plot by two Orthodox militants to shoot anti-tank missile at the Dome of the Rock Mosque, attack police responding to the explosions with hand grenades and then commit suicide by means of a pistol shot to the head. Just a day later Eden Natan- Zada, an Israeli army deserter, boarded bus no. 165 going from Haifa to the Arab city of Shfaram and at the end of his journey shot four of his fellow passengers to death and wounded thirteen others.

Never-the-less, the determination shown by the Israeli government in the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria settlements, and the fact that disengagement opponents were not able to prevent the process but at most confronted soldiers and police several hours before their eviction, sideline the news of Zada's murder spree. The overall impression was that the evacuation of the settlements was completed in a calm fashion and that Jewish terrorism was not able to rear its head once again.

About a half a year later, the government of Israel engaged in the removal of the settlers who illegally occupied structures in the settlement of Amona. Against all expectations, the confrontations between the settlers and the police during this evacuation were far more violent than those during the disengagement from Gaza. By the morning of the evacuation, it was clear that the process would encounter difficulties. The security forces learned that during the night hundreds of youths had made their way to the outpost and occupied the roofs of the buildings earmarked for destruction. In the area of the outpost itself, dozens of youth accompanied by Israeli right-wing members of parliament gathered and also tried to protest the impending evacuation.

At 10:00 A.M., police officers on horseback armed with clubs began to force their way into the outpost. The people on the roof responded with a barrage of rocks, metallic objects, and water mixed with paint. The protesters on the ground tried to prevent the manned horses from advancing towards the structures by blocking them with their own bodies. The police, who were themselves surprised by the intense response, countered with equal force and determination. They began to club the protesters. As the result of the fierce violence, more than forty police officers and demonstrators were injured at this stage of the incident. Member of Parliament Effi Eitam was hit in the head with a truncheon, and Member of Parliament Arie Eldad's hand was broken after being struck by one of the horsemen. Although some of the demonstrators tried to lie down in front of the tractor that was about to raze the buildings, by noon the police forces were able to reach the structures. Next, with the use of cranes and ladders, Special Patrol officers climbed onto the roofs and began to forcefully remove the protesters who tried to stop them and threw rocks at them. After four hours, the evacuation of all the buildings was completed; however the price was high: More than 200 were wounded, and 80 of them were members of the security forces.

The Israeli public was shocked at the violence. A doctor from the emergency room at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, where most of the injured were taken, said, "I have been working for 20 years at the emergency room and I have never seen anything like this before in my life. Terrorists in Nablus are removed with less violence than that which I saw today. I saw 14-and 15-year-old boys beaten hard; it's a miracle that none of the people I treated were injured more severely." The comanders in the field were taken aback by the violence and the need to deploy thousands of police officers. The chief of the Border Police said that for years he had not seen such ferocity: "The violence they used against the police was unlike anything we had ever seen...the police who climbed the ladders were in genuine risk of their lives. They threw boulders, rocks and pieces of iron at them."

The message that the government received at Amona was sharp as a razor. The helplessness displayed during the Gaza disengagement took the settlers completely by surprise. Up to the very last days of Israeli control of Gaza, many believed that divine intervention would halt the process. Others were afraid to confront soldiers of the army in which they themselves had served or were destined to serve. They also realized that the organization of the resistance left a lot to be desired. They had put their faith in the leaders of the veteran settlers, who had disappointed them. The events at Amona reflected the trauma they had suffered in the summer of 2005 and the degree of hate that burned in their hearts towards the government, which had cleared out strips of land dearest to them.

The events further confirmed our observation in regard to the struggle against the disengagement plan: that in the last decade a large counterculture collective has taken shape that encompasses formerly different counterculture streams. This new counterculture collective is a combination of hilltop youth, radical Jewish Zionists holding near-Kahanist ideology, Rabbi Kahane followers themselves, and various ultra-Orthodox groups, primarily from the Chabad movement. This collective is gradually detaching itself from the state, alienating itself from its symbols, heritage, and institutions, and even willing in times of crisis to act against its legitimate proxies. Based on these developments and the scenes and voices broadcast from Amona in the winter of 2006, we estimate that the soldiers and police who will be sent to evacuate settlements in the future will run into a level of violence that the State of Israel has not yet seen.

1 comment:

  1. 'Jewish Terrorism in Israel" by Ami Pedahzur & Arie Perliger, Columbia University Press, 2009.

    The book demonstrates that the main antagonists in the contest over Palestine stand as mirror images each to other in terms of religious fervor, ideology, countercultural perspectives as well as willingness- within the context of small, informal, loosely organized but mutually supporting affinity groups alienated from society and formal political institutions at large- to engage in terrorist acts to further their ends.

    " After long years of studying Jewish terrorism in Israel, and in light of our journey to many of its focal points, we must conclude in a pessimistic tone. Despite the fact that in recent decades an almost absolute correspondence is evident between Jewish terrorism and the territorial conflict with the Palestinians, this is not a guarantee that this dependency will go on forever. The potential for Jewish terrorism will remain even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict finds some sort of resolution. It is possible to assume that, as in the past, Jewish terrorism will continue to be a real thorn in the side of the State of Israel; however, it's won't prove to be a strategic challenge. This conclusion should nevertheless be taken with a grain of salt. Harm- and it need not be severe- to the mosques on the Temple Mount by redemption seekers could open the doors to hell."

    Ami Pedahzur: PhD in political science from the University of Haifa, senior fellow at the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs, Univ. of Texas at Austin.

    Arie Perliger: Phd from the University of Haifa, visiting assistant professor in the Dept. of Political Science at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.