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Israeli Government Tries to Head off Settler Extremists Ahead of a Pullout

July 6, 2004
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Fears of a civil war are haunting Israel once more, and each side is accusing the other of fomenting it. Referring to increasingly vocal calls by extreme right wingers in Israel for settlers to resist evacuation under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter told the Cabinet on Sunday, “There is certainly a trend of radicalism in the far right.”

Last month, one rabbi suggested that Jews who cede parts of the West Bank or Gaza are akin to killers on their way to a murder — and must be stopped at all costs.

With these echoes of rabbinical edicts that preceded the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Knesset lawmakers scheduled a discussion of anti-incitement regulations for later this week. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz planned to hold deliberations on whether laws against Jewish ideological vigilantism s! hould be more strictly enforced.

Settler leaders cried foul, viewing it as an attempt by the government to discredit right-wing opposition.

“Avi Dichter wants to incite against an entire electorate, to blacken the name of the settlers and thus lend legitimacy to evacuation by presenting them as lawbreakers,” said Yishai Ba’abad, secretary of the Yesha settler council’s rabbinical wing.

A warning against settler violence came this week from Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi. Yona Metzger said Monday that Jewish law prohibits settlers from violently fighting Israeli security services.

The Shin Bet regularly issues details on the number of Palestinian terrorist alerts, but not so when it comes to terrorist threats from far-right Jewish groups.

The reticence of the domestic intelligence agency’s Jewish division stems from the sensitivity of its spying on fellow citizens.

But in his briefing to government ministers, Dichter cited a salient example of the infig! hting so feared in Israel.

A military chaplain who oversaw the dis mantling of an illegal outpost outside the West Bank settlement of Tapuach earlier this year paid for it personally, Dichter said. The rabbi, a lieutenant colonel in the military’s Central Command, was physically assaulted while walking with his wife in a fervently Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Dichter blamed the outlawed right-wing group Kach for that incident. As if to offset the accusation and show that they were planning nonviolent protests, Kach did some public relations work of its own, allowing an Israeli television crew to tape a discussion by activists of how to foil the planned evacuation of all 21 Gaza settlements and another four in the West Bank.

“Follow [Defense Minister Shaul] Mofaz, day and night, for a week,” Kach leader Itamar Ben-Gvir was seen advising a dozen or so followers. “Wherever he goes, you should be there shouting. And not just against Mofaz — against all the mafia, against all the dictators.”

One of the junior activists suggest! ed deliberately causing traffic jams — the sort of nonviolent protest for which the pro-settler group Zo Artzenu, or This is Our Land, became notorious after the 1993 signing of the Oslo peace accords.

But Rabin assassin Yigal Amir spurned such non-violent protests. By all accounts, Amir acted with the help of a small and discreet circle of accomplices.

“We are looking for those lone extremists who are willing to pay the ultimate price for what they see as God’s will,” a senior security source said Monday.

As for the more mainstream pro-settler opponents of government policy, Sharon hopes an appeal to common sense — and cents — will work.

According to political sources, Israel may condition its relocation packages of some $300,000 per settler family on its beneficiaries evacuating willingly, without threatening security personnel by resisting.

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