Pro-settler IDF troops mutiny on West Bank

On Nov. 16, a group of Israeli soldiers disobeyed orders to assist in the dismantling of two wooden structures that Jewish settlers had built without Israeli government authorization near Hebron. A military official said two of the soldiers were sent to prison for 30 days and permanently dismissed from command or combat positions. Several others are still being investigated. The area was secured by soldiers from an infantry battalion, some of whom “did not follow orders given to them,” the official told Reuters, declining to provide exact numbers. The YNet news service said six soldiers were relieved of duty.

Last month, a group of conscripts disrupted their swearing-in ceremony at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, calling for continued Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The military said two soldiers were sentenced to 20 days in jail for their actions at the holy site and removed permanently from the unit.

“Our security and existence depend on the Israel Defense Forces,” Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu responded to the mutiny. “If you promote disobedience, you will bring about the downfall of the state. There is no place for disobedience.” But chief of staff Lt-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi played down the significance of the protests. “This is not a political tidal wave washing through the military and the matter has not spiraled out of control,” he said. (Zaman, Turkey, Nov. 18; Reuters, Nov. 16)

The mutiny comes amid controversy over apparent extremist comments by Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, the IDF’s chief military rabbi. The Israeli daily Haaretz on Nov. 15 published statements Rontzki reportedly made last week in a lecture at a hesder yeshiva (which combines Torah study with military service) in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron. Quoting the medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides, he said that “in times of war, whoever doesn’t fight with all his heart and soul is damned—if he keeps his sword from bloodshed, if he shows mercy toward his enemy when no mercy should be shown.” He then immediately applied these words to the current controversy over Israel’s Gaza campaign, saying that in Operation Cast Lead, the IDF “fought with all their heart and soul” because “the people of Israel has united recently around the simple understanding of how it must fight.” Rontzki later denied having made the remarks. (Haartez, Nov. 17)

See our last posts on Israel/Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza.

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  1. 10,000 West Bank settlers protest
    Some 10,000 West Bank settlers and their supporters protested in downtown Jerusalem Dec. 9, pledging to defy a temporary building ban imposed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Protesters held signs and banners reading “We will continue to build” and “Stop Iran’s nukes, not our homes.” The recent decision to bar new housing development in the settlements for 10 months was meant to help the Obama administration’s efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The pause does not include East Jerusalem and allows for the completion of settler homes where construction has already begun. (AP, Dec. 10)

  2. Settlers suspected in West Bank mosque arson
    Fire was set to a large mosque in the West Bank Palestinian village of Yasuf, east of Salfit, the night of Dec. 10., with Hebrew slurs sprayed on the walls, including: “We will burn all of you.” The words “price tag” were also scrawled on the walls—the slogan adopted by extremist settlers who carry out reprisals against Palestinians in response to the evacuation of settlement structures by Israeli Defense Forces. (YNet, Dec. 11)

  3. Israel’s chief rabbi condemns mosque burning
    Israel’s chief rabbi visited the Palestinian village of Yasuf Dec. 14 to condemn the burning of a mosque there, saying the attack brought back memories of the Holocaust. The rabbi, Yona Metzger, said arson was especially troubling to Jews because their holy places were burned by the Nazis. “In the State of Israel, we will not allow a Jew to do something like this to Muslims,” he said. (AP, Dec. 14)

    Good, but please note that Yasuf is not in “the State of Israel.”

    1. Arrest in West Bank mosque burning
      Israeli police arrested Dec. 31 a teenage settler suspected of involvement in the arson attack on a West Bank mosque three weeks ago. In the Dec. 11 attack, vandals burned copies of the Koran and prayer carpets, and scrawled slogans in Hebrew such as “We will burn you all” on the walls. (Ma’an News Agency, Dec. 31)

  4. US cash behind extremist settlers
    As one reader writes, “I wonder if the Feds will seize funds of the Hebron Fund now as they did of Alavi Foundation…” Andrew Kadi and Aaron Levitt write on The Guardian’s Comment is Free page, Dec. 8:

    The US cash behind extremist settlers
    The Hebron Fund is raising vast sums for Israeli settlements that violate the Geneva convention, with little scrutiny

    Last month, a Brooklyn-based non-profit organisation called the Hebron Fund, which supports Jewish settlers in the Israeli-occupied city of Hebron, held a fundraiser at the New York Mets’ stadium, Citi Field.

    The fundraiser went forward despite calls for its cancellation from grassroots human rights organisations from the US, Palestine and Israel. The fact that the Hebron Fund likely raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for extremist Israeli settlers at a major US venue with little public scrutiny is a troubling sign for those who hope that the US can play a constructive role in achieving a just peace in the Middle East.

    Perhaps more worryingly, according to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius: “A search of IRS records identified 28 US charitable groups that made a total of $33.4m in tax-exempt contributions to settlements and related organisations between 2004 and 2007.” Some of the larger organisations, including Friends of the Ateret Cohanim and Friends of Ir David, both leading the Jewish settler takeover of Palestinian East Jerusalem, are based in New York City.

    Israeli settlements violate the Geneva convention’s prohibition against an occupying power transferring its population into occupied territory, and Israeli settlement expansion directly contradicts the US call for a settlement freeze.

    Hebron’s Jewish settlers, who are supported by the Hebron Fund, are openly fundraising in New York City. Under the protection of the Israeli military, they are expanding settlements in Hebron’s Old City and driving out the Palestinian residents.

    The Hebron Fund’s extremist positions are clear. Hebron Fund executive director Yossi Baumol told The American Prospect that “[d]emocracy is poison to Arabs”, “Israel must not give Arabs a say in how the country is run” and “[y]ou’ll never get the truth out of an Arab”. Hebron’s chief rabbi, Dov Lior, a featured participant in some Hebron Fund events, recently praised a new book that says it is permitted for a Jew to kill civilians who provide moral support to an enemy of the Jews, and to even kill young children, if it is foreseeable that they will grow up to become enemies.