Israel clamps down on violent settlers

ISraeli law enforcement agencies have begun a new crackdown on what it believes are "violent and inciteful elements" amongst extreme right-wing settlers.

On Monday, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, head of the Od Yosef Chai yeshivah and an influential figure, especially among the younger settlers, was arrested by the police for questioning on allegations of "severe incitement".

Last year Rabbi Shapira published la book, Torat Hamelech (The King's Torah), which discusses the question of when it is permitted by halachah to kill a non-Jew. The rabbi's house in Yitzhar, one of the more radical settlements in the West Bank, was searched and he was taken for questioning and released on bail a few hours later.

The arrest, carried out on the instructions of Assistant Attorney General Shai Nitzan, was criticised by many rabbis and religious politicians. In a petition signed by dozens of them, they wrote that Rabbi Shapira was arrested "for halachic-academic research".

At the same time as his arrest, Civil Administration officials came to Yitzhar to demolish two buildings that had been erected without a permit. The demolition was opposed by over 100 settlers who afterwards retaliated by starting fires in the fields of the neighbouring Palestinian village, Burin.

In the violent clashes between settlers and Palestinians, there were a number of wounded on both sides before the security forces could intervene.

In addition, the Civil Administration in the West Bank is planning to tear down the Od Yosef Chai yeshivah building in Yitzhar since it was built without a permit, a step that is almost certain to set off further clashes with settlers.

These moves by the Justice Ministry, the IDF, the police and the General Security Service (Shabak) against what is seen as the violent hardcore of the settlers' movement is part of a wider government strategy to take on those radical settlers who, they fear, could provoke a wave of violence on both sides, Jewish and Palestinian.

"Right now, my only fear of a violent escalation is one caused by settlers," said a senior IDF officer last week. "We have managed to almost totally prevent terror attacks by the Palestinians, thanks to years of work by the army and the Shabak and, over the last two years, the Palestinian Authority's security apparatus. They are as worried as we are about Hamas taking over in the West Bank and are helping us with information."

Meanwhile, the Shabak and police investigation of Chaim Pearlman, a former settler who is suspected of murdering four Palestinians, three of them in a series of stabbing incidents 12 years ago, is ongoing. Pearlman was arrested three weeks ago but was only allowed to meet with his lawyers this week.

Settlers have attacked the investigation methods used by Shabak which included an undercover agent who they claim tried to entrap Pearlman into making inflammatory statements and plan new attacks on Palestinians.

    Last updated: 11:56am, July 29 2010