The Israeli military commander in the occupied West Bank said settler violence against Palestinians and Israeli soldiers was on the rise in what he called a "grave phenomenon."
"There has been a rise in Jewish violence in Judea and Samaria," Major General Gadi Shamni said in an interview with Israel’s Haaretz newspaper published on Thursday, using the biblical name for the West Bank.
"In the past, only a few dozen individuals took part in such activity, but today that number has grown into the hundreds. That’s a very significant change … It’s a very grave phenomenon," he said.
In recent weeks settlers have stepped up attacks against both the Israeli soldiers who protect them and against Palestinians.
In perhaps the most graphic incident, a mob of Jewish settlers rampaged through a West Bank village in September after an intruder stabbed and wounded a young boy and set a mobile home on fire in a nearby settlement.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sharply criticized the incident, in which several Palestinians were shot and wounded, vowing that Israel would not tolerate "pogroms" in the occupied territories.
Many in Israel were similarly shocked when prominent historian Zeev Sternhell, a staunch critic of the settlement movement, was wounded a week ago in a pipe bomb attack officials blamed on right-wing extremists.
On Thursday evening, several hundred people demonstrated in front of the academic’s Jerusalem home in solidarity with him.
Referring to the attacks in the West Bank, Shamni insisted that the territory is today a "relatively secure area" and that the "feeling of the Jewish population overall is excellent."
"The majority of people here act normally. We’re talking about a hard core of a few hundred activists among some 300,000 Jews who live beyond the Green Line," he said, referring to the frontier between Israel and the West Bank.
"But what this bunch does is causing tremendous damage, both to the image of the IDF (Israeli army) and to the state of Israel," he said. "This is harming our ability to carry out security missions in the territories."
The presence of more than 270,000 Jewish settlers in communities scattered across the West Bank is one of the main obstacles confronting the U.S.-backed Middle East peace process formally re-launched in November.
(AFP via Alarabiya.net)