Describing Tuesday's break-in to a West Bank army base by Jewish settlers, GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi said, "In 30 years of service, I've never seen Jews express such hatred toward our soldiers."
Mizrahi made the remarks hours after extremist settlers lit fires, vandalized vehicles and hurled stones at a senior Israel Defense Forces officer. The event came on the heels of a similar incident in which another group took over an abandoned building in a closed military zone on the border with Jordan.
"We will do whatever it takes to apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice," Mizrahi added. "This is a premeditated act, not a sporadic one, in response to a government order to evacuate all settler outposts by the end of this year. I patrolled the area and I saw the extremists hurling stones and cursing at our soldiers and commanders – I was shocked."
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Mizrahi emphasized that the IDF is there to protect the very people who attacked them, saying, "We don't protect IDF bases from Jewish attackers; we protect bases from hostile terrorist activity, from terrorists who plot to hurt us." He then voiced disappointment with the settler bodies' failure to adequately condemn the event. "I haven't heard an unequivocal condemnation, without any qualifications from them," he said.
He explained the military's real-time response to the event, saying, "These were Israeli Jews and that is why we acted the way we did. We very well may toughen the orders next time. Our officers displayed a great deal of restraint."
"A deputy brigade commander got hit in the head with a rock. It wasn't thrown – someone hit him with a rock and called him a Nazi," he added.
In this context, Mizrahi explained that the commander in question was especially insulted by the slur, as his grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. "Lines have been crossed here," said Mizrahi. "We as an army will continue to carry out the will of our elected government. We will enforce the law in spite of those who think they can intimidate us. If the government orders us to evacuate [the outpost of] Ramat Gilad, we will evacuate Ramat Gilad – period. What needs to be done will be done."
The events that took place overnight between Monday and Tuesday were apparently sparked by rumors among right-wing activists that the IDF was planning to evacuate several West Bank outposts in the near future, despite discussions underway in the Knesset involving efforts to legalize these makeshift settlements. A wave of text messages called upon activists to rush to Samaria to block the main routes leading to the outposts and impede the movement of military forces.
While this was happening, several dozen right-wing activists were busy storming the border fence between Israel and Jordan and infiltrating a closed Israeli military zone. The activists barricaded themselves in an abandoned structure and declared the establishment of a new outpost – Metzudat Zeev – named after Zeev Jabotinsky. They explained that they were protesting Jordanian involvement in the heated debate over the Mughrabi Bridge, the ramp that connects the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. The bridge was supposed to be closed last month due to safety concerns, but the operation was put on hold after Egyptian and Jordanian government officials reached out to their Israeli counterparts expressing concern that the move would ignite violent protests in their countries.
Military and police forces were deployed to the area, conducting hours-long negotiations with the settlers in efforts to convince them to voluntarily evacuate. When they refused, force was used to remove them.
Meanwhile, hundreds of activists responded to the text messages and gathered at the main road leading to Ramat Gilad, hurling rocks at Palestinian and IDF vehicles alike.
"They threw huge rocks at our brigade commander's Jeep," said one of the soldiers. "At one point one of them opened the Jeep door and threw a rock into the vehicle. Luckily it didn't hit [the driver]. Then the GOC Central Command arrived - in a civilian vehicle, so they didn't throw rocks at him."
While the commanders held an impromptu evaluation of the situation on the main road, a bus full of extremist settlers arrived at the nearby base hurling rocks and paint bombs, burning tires, breaking windows and slashing the tires of military vehicles. One of the officers present at the base recounted that when deputy brigade commander Lt. Col. Tzur Harpaz arrived at the base he was accosted with paint bombs and settlers calling him "Nazi" and "British officer," while striking at his head.
The IDF troops refrained from using protest dispersal weapons on the settlers. "We wanted to disperse them with a minimum of injuries," said the officer. "We have no desire to hurt them. We are an army, not a police force."
A female soldier serving at the base said, "I was very afraid when they entered the base. At first we didn't understand what was happening. There was extreme chaos, but they were pushed out relatively quickly."
The perpetrators were removed from the base by force when police officers arrived to assist in the evacuation. Only one assailant was arrested, a 20-year-old resident of Beit El. His remand was extended by 24 hours on Tuesday. Meanwhile the remand of 17 activists arrested in the incident at the Jordanian border was also extended, and they were to remain in custody until Thursday.
Surveillance videos of the incident at the army base are being studied by the defense establishment, and further arrests are expected in the near future.
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