On Feb. 28, at least 15 people were injured in an army-police operation
on the Jewish community of Havat Gilad in the northern West Bank. The
security force of about 100 specially-trained troops fired rubber bullets
and smoke grenades toward residents, who responded with stones.
More than 300,000 Jews live in the West Bank, a community with a birth
rate that is three times that of other Israeli Jews. The government, which
has frozen Jewish construction in the West Bank and most of Jerusalem since
2009, has not offered alternative housing to residents of illegal
communities, some of which were established nearly 20 years ago.
"I made an effort to serve in the Israel Defense Forces to defend the
people of Israel," Shimon Weisman, a combat soldier whose home in Havat
Gilad was destroyed, said. "While I was doing that, the IDF sent forces to
destroy my house and shoot at my friends."
The sources said the new policy against Jewish dissidents followed U.S.
complaints that the demolition of unlicensed homes was ineffective. They
said U.S. diplomats were tracking the restoration of demolished buildings as
as the construction of new homes in the Jewish communities.
"The Americans have complained that every home that is destroyed is
rebuilt within days and other buildings are also put up," the source said.
The police operations against Jewish communities have divided the
Cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Hours after the pre-dawn raid,
Likud ministers demanded that Netanyahu halt such actions and approve Jewish
construction throughout the West Bank.
"We are currently in a very difficult international situation, and the
American veto in the Security Council [on Feb. 18] was achieved only with
great effort," Netanyahu told the ministers.
"This order will cause Israel to deteriorate to [Libyan ruler Moammar]
Gadhafi's level of insanity," the Committee for Human Rights in Judea and
Samaria said. "Those who do not understand that destroying structures does
not justify fire on civilians must not serve in Israel's security forces."
The sources said the previous chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi,
opposed draconian measures against Jewish dissidents. But they said Gantz
has been cooperating with the new policy of Defense Minister Ehud Barak,
responsible for the Jewish community in the West Bank.
The sources said the police, particularly the Border Guard, has trained
hundreds of officers in operations meant to demolish unlicensed Jewish homes
and communities in the West Bank. They said the training was intensified
over the last year amid U.S. pressure on Israel to demolish more than 100
Jewish communities deemed illegal.
The police denied that the force fired rubber or plastic bullets. But
some of the civilians recovered rubber bullets, which they said were fired at
nearly point-blank range.
"These means are not deadly and were intended to stop the rioting," a
police statement said.
Under the new policy, the sources said, police and army troops would be
allowed to fire rubber bullets at Jewish stonethrowers. They said the police
and Army were expected to employ rubber and perhaps plastic bullets as part
of a government plan to destroy at least three illegal Jewish communities in
the West Bank over the next month.