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Tuesday, March 1, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Israel military to get tough with 'violent core' among 300,000 West Bank Jews

TEL AVIV — The Israeli military has escalated operations against Jewish dissidents in the West Bank in what could ignite tension in the area.


Military sources said the General Staff as well as the Defense Ministry have approved new anti-riot measures against Jewish demonstrators and unlicensed homeowners in the West Bank. They said the measures were one of the first decisions taken by the new chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.

"There's been a decision to take a harsher approach toward what is regarded as the violent core of [Jewish] settlers," the source said.

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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 well 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.

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