An end to double standards

Editorial

Haaretz

Tevet 24, 5765

There is no reason for surprise at the violent clash between settlers and security forces Monday in the hills near Yitzhar. For years the settlers managed to prevent any attempt to enforce the law, always with the assistance of politicians, with regard to their activities. Never was the law for a Palestinian murderer the same as the law for a Jewish murderer among the settlers, neither in terms of investigating fully and certainly not in terms of punishment.

The law for a trailer illegally brought to Havat Gilad was never the same as that for a Palestinian house destroyed in the blink of an eye by a bulldozer - not because the house was illegally constructed, but because it blocked the line of vision for IDF soldiers. The state never behaved similarly toward protesters from the left as toward protesters from the right. Leftist activists who sought to help in the olive harvest near Yitzhar very often had to turn back because the IDF feared a confrontation with violent settlers. Very often the path of leftist demonstrators was blocked by the senior regional commander who declared the area a closed military zone.

Those who threatened the olive harvesters lived in that closed area and went on acting violently when they chose to. Just a year ago, settlers from Yizthar cut down 650 olive trees around the village of Inbus. To this day it is not known if anyone was convicted.

The government's double standard toward demonstrators from the right and the left can also be seen with regard to the matter of refusal to serve. Conscientious objectors on the left - the signatories to the pilots' letter and the letter of the members of the elite Matkal unit - were summarily drummed out of the IDF even before they had actually refused orders.

Meanwhile, those on the right who signed a petition of refusal to participate in evacuation enjoy a response that is soft on the one hand and panicked on the other. No settler who has announced his intention to disobey an order has been thrown out of the IDF, not even military rabbis who have stated their intention to follow the dictates of halakha (Jewish law) issued by civilian rabbis, and not their commanding officers.

The empathetic attitude toward the breaking of the law by settlers stems from the mistaken concept that every protest or despicable act they carry out is done for the sake of heaven and Zionism. The double standard used with the settlers even now as they strike soldiers, burn military jeeps and cut off a post from its water supply raises the question whether the silence of ministers in the face of the violence this week toward soldiers, especially that of Ariel Sharon and Shaul Mofaz, does not forebode the complete failure of evacuation. Without political backing and unequivocal leadership that speaks out clearly, all the exercises, operational plans and preparation of the security forces will be for naught.

Soldiers and police, especially the veterans among them, know the policy of the double and mixed message from experience, and today too they fear being the vanguard of the naive.

A symbiosis has developed over the years of occupation between the brigade commanders in the territories and the settlers, which has allowed the latter to feel as if they own the soldiers. The soldiers cannot be asked to change their spots in a moment.

This is the time, therefore, for political and public leadership. It must transmit a sharply focused message both in word and deed announcing change, the use of force when necessary, and the unflinching enforcement of the law. Any weakness will encourage the settlers to go even further.