Rights Report: Israeli Army Tolerates Settler Violence

THE founding father of the Jewish settlement movement was forced to appear in court here on two-year-old charges on March 15, as the Israeli government continued its crackdown on extremist political leaders.

At the same time, a leading human rights organization accused the Israeli authorities of tolerating violence by settlers against Palestinians and creating the atmosphere in which Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinians in a Hebron mosque Feb. 25.

Rabbi Moshe Levinger, who in 1968 founded the settlement of Kiryat Arba where Goldstein lived, was remanded for trial on April 12 on charges of ignoring Army orders to stay out of a section of Hebron in 1992.

Meanwhile, the Israeli human rights watchdog, B'Tselem, presented a report to the commission of inquiry into the Hebron massacre, accusing the Israeli government of showing ``utter disdain regarding the lives of Palestinians.''

``Goldstein's act did not take place in a vacuum but was a result of ongoing incitement to hurt Palestinians,'' by extremist settlers, charged Gila Svirsky, B'Tselem's chairwoman.

Although Israeli civilians have killed 62 Palestinians since the intifadah (uprising) broke out six years ago, only one of the killers has been convicted of murder, the report finds.

Rabbi Levinger for example, was sentenced to only five months imprisonment in 1990 for killing a Palestinian and actually served only three months.

The B'Tselem report slams the Israeli Army for ``protracted impotence in dealing with violence perpetrated by settlers.'' TV viewers here were shocked last January to see film of Israeli soldiers running away as settlers shot at Palestinians in Hebron. The commander of the Israeli border police unit in Hebron told the commission March 10 that his men had orders never to shoot at Jews.

The report also accuses the police of often refusing to accept complaints from Palestinians, losing files, and dropping cases even when there was solid evidence against a suspect. The courts, meanwhile, are accused of being ``extremely lenient where the punishment of Israeli civilians convicted of crimes against Palestinians is concerned.''

Neither the Army nor the Justice Ministry could respond to the report at press time. Police spokesman Eric Bar-Chen said the police ``reject the sweeping accusations,'' and insisted that ``citizens of Israel and Palestinian residents are treated in an equal manner with regard to investigations.''

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