The head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, has decided to halt the demolition of illegal Palestinian structures the West Bank until he is able to obtain better enforcement of court demolition orders against illegal settler structures, Army Radio reported Monday.
In an unprecedented move against illegal Jewish construction in the West Bank, Almoz sent an internal email to senior Civil Administration officials drawing a red line against illicit settler structures. “Summer camp is over” for the settlers, he reportedly said, adding, “We are very far from reaching the equal enforcement of demolitions.”
Illegal structures, be they Palestinian or Jewish, must be treated with the same force, Almoz wrote. “Until we feel that we are operating also against illegal Israeli construction, I am asking that we stop all demolition activity against Palestinian construction,” he said. He said he would try “to convince the rest of the senior officials that it is necessary to take difficult steps, with strong force and without fear -- even if there is a backlash.”
The publication of the email comes one day after hundreds of security forces demolished three structures in the illegal West Bank outpost of Migron and clashed with settlers who tried to block the demolition.
The High Court of Justice on Aug. 2 accused the state of dragging its feet and ordered it to dismantle the West Bank outpost, which it said was built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land, by the end of March 2012.
The settlers have rejected the High Court ruling, claiming that they own the land on which the outpost was built.
In what is being seen as potential retaliation for the early morning demolition in Migron, settlers were accused of torching a mosque south of Nablus on Monday, hurling burning tires toward it and breaking several of its windows.
The Civil Administration issued a response to Almoz's email on Monday, telling Army Radio, “The overall policy and the starting point in the treatment of illegal construction in the West Bank does not distinguish between illegal Israeli and Palestinian buildings, and focuses on the enforcement of law and order. [Almoz's] correspondence was written in an informal manner, and was intended for internal use with specific instructions relating to the period of time during which it was written. The head of the Civil Administration will continue to act professionally and with dedication under the policy of equal and transparent enforcement.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority on Monday condemned the attack on the Nablus mosque.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad blasted the attack as an act of terrorism, Reuters reported.
“These acts are what threaten to pull the region into a cycle of violence,” Fayyad's office was quoted by Reuters as saying in a statement. He added that the Palestinians themselves would not revert to violence.
“The prime minister holds Israel completely responsible for the continuation of these terrorist acts because of its failure to pursue the perpetrators of this type of attack on previous occasions and bring them to account,” the statement said.
Ramallah also called on the international community to “act against repeated settler harassment of mosques and Palestinian places of worship.”
The demolition of three structures in the Migron outpost on Monday also drew a volley of criticism from Israeli officials. Yesha Council leaders directed their anger toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that his government was “weak” and “has no courage to fight for our right to build in Judea and Samaria, while remaining helpless against illegal construction by Bedouins in Israel.”
Right-wing MKs also criticized the Migron demolition. MK Yaacov Katz (National Union) said, “The state of Israel was acquired through tribulations, and the greatest tribulations are brought on by prime ministers from Likud.”
MK Danny Danon (Likud) directed his criticism at Defense Minister Ehud Barak, saying, “This foolish decision (to demolish illegal buildings) is a continuation of the ridiculous line of thinking expressed by Barak.”
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor), condemned the settlers who clashed with security forces in Migron as well as those responsible for the attack on the mosque, saying, “Because of their unrestrained behavior, we may soon find ourselves in a violent conflagration.”
Yori Yalon, Itsik Saban, Mati Tuchfeld and Daniel Siryoti contributed to this story.