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Spy Chiefs: Call Settler Violence 'Terrorism'
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  • 07:04 13 April 2014
Spy Chiefs: Call Settler Violence 'Terrorism'
A firefighter tackles a blaze allegedly started by settlers near in 2013
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By Tom Rayner, Middle East Reporter

In the lexicon of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there's a Hebrew phrase now picking up some momentum - "machbesat milim" or "word laundering".

A person accused of "word laundering" takes an illegal or violent act and neutralises it through tame description.

That's the charge being levelled at the ranking players in the Israeli government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu included, over their handling of a series of violent attacks on Israeli soldiers by Jewish settlers.

Those pointing fingers are a group of former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal intelligence agency, tasked with co-ordinating counter-terrorism operations.

The men have become known as "The Gatekeepers", after they were interviewed in an Oscar-nominated documentary by the same title last year, which revealed their concerns over the implications of an absence of peace with the Palestinians.

As former heads of the Shin Bet, their views hold weight - not peaceniks, not liberals, but hardened men of the security establishment.

They have spoken out following attacks by Jewish extremists on an Israeli Defence Forces outpost, which theoretically protects the residents of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.

For three consecutive days this week, extremist settlers from Yitzhar have led violent confrontations targeting soldiers.

Eight people were injured, military equipment was destroyed, stones were thrown, tyres were burnt - all as a protest against the recent demolition of five buildings deemed illegal by the Israeli authorities.

Mr Gillon said: "There aren't any results because the government hasn't told GSS (Shin Bet) director Yoram Cohen to deliver results, despite the enormous damage that this is causing us.

"They deal with those agitators with kid gloves, and that's why they don’t talk during interrogation. But there are interrogation methods, and even the worst Hamas activists ultimately talk."

Yuval Diskin, who served as director between 2005 and 2011, went further still - alluding to the risk of political assassinations if Jewish extremists are allowed to act with impunity.

"The events in Yitzhar are another expression of the mounting separatism of communities in some of the settlements in Judea and Samaria," he said.

"The people who are involved in operations of that kind against Palestinians and Arab Israeli citizens or against the IDF are liable, in the future, to use live weapons against soldiers and against leaders."

The only member of "The Gatekeepers" group who offered a less critical view was Yaakov Peri - currently serving in Mr Netanyahu's governing coalition as science minister.

Mr Peri, who was director between 1988 and 1994, pointed to the fact the government has condemned the attacks clearly, and arrests have been made.

He said: "The government has spoken clearly - any attack on the IDF can be construed as terrorism, just as any price tag operation and any violent action that undermines the foundations of the state can be construed as terrorism. "There isn’t any word laundering here. The Israel police is already dealing with these events, and if it needs the GSS' assistance, I presume that it will receive it.

"After all, we’re not talking about a particularly complex crime, and there’s no need to use sophisticated forces to capture a few dozen hooligans, when everyone knows who they are.

"Something grave was done here, but we need to keep things in proportion - they’re a lot simpler than the way people are trying to cast them".

Jewish settlements in the West Bank are one of the central issues in the faltering negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, coordinated by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Deemed illegal by the international community and under international law, it is the continued construction of such settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories that many diplomats say poses a serious threat to the possibility of reaching a genuine two-state solution.

Even those Israeli politicians supportive of the settlements, such as deputy defence minister Danny Danon, have acknowledged that the violence in Yitzhar could be deeply damaging to the settler movement in the context of the negotiations.

This view was underlined by Israeli justice minister Tzipi Livni, who is the minister responsible for the talks with the Palestinian leadership.

She said: "Everything is connected. Therefore, we see a phenomenon that has risen from the fact that we have not arrived at an agreement.

"The events that occurred in Yitzhar are a good example of this ... The kinds of lines that are crossed in the West Bank make it hard to speak of democracy.

"As a result, an ideology has flourished that does not recognise the rule of law, that does not recognise us or what we represent.

"Anyone who believes in democracy, government and the rule of law cannot close their eyes to this problem or accept it.