Ma'an News Agency
December 15, 2011 - 1:00am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said he would not define violent Jewish extremists as terrorists after a string of attacks on mosques and Israeli army bases.

Israeli ministers formed a list of recommendations for the prime minister, including defining the ultra-nationalist attackers as terrorists.

While Netanyahu rejected the definition, he accepted other recommendations including issuing Jewish rioters with administrative detention orders, trying them in military courts and allowing soldiers to arrest them. The measures are commonly employed against Palestinians.

While soldiers arrest dozens of Palestinians every week -- often during night raids on their homes -- until now Israeli police had to be called to a crime scene to conduct arrests of Israelis, giving perpetrators time to flee.

Netanyahu compared settlers who went on a rampage Monday at an Israeli military base, threw rocks at a commander and his deputy, smashed windows and slashed vehicle tires, to Palestinian activists who hold weekly protests in Bilin against the confiscation of their land.

But, he added that the Jewish rioters were "a small group that does not represent the public that lives in Judea and Samaria," the name used by the Israeli government for the West Bank.

Security sources said the radical settlers, frequently known as the "Hilltop Youth" for their rogue outpost-building and pioneer rhetoric, number several hundred but enjoy wider, tacit support among the 500,000 Israelis living in the West Bank.

On Wednesday, radical Jews burnt the facade of a Jerusalem mosque not recently in use and scrawled "Death to the Arabs" on its walls, an assault blamed on a group that has vandalized other Muslim houses of worship over the past two years.

In an unusually swift response, Israeli police said they had arrested five Israeli men suspected of involvement in "nationalistically motivated crime."

Human rights groups have long accused Israel of failing to arrest or try most settlers accused of involvement in violence against Palestinians. Israel has arrested settler suspects in the past but rarely put any on trial.

High birthrates among religious Jews look likely to perpetuate Israel's rightist tack and its grip on the West Bank, where the Jewish-only settlements are illegal under international law and viewed by almost all world powers as an impediment to Palestinian statehood.

One settlement leader, Shaul Goldstein, said the radicals were marginal, contrasting their behavior with his community's record of volunteering for the military's top combat units.

Some zealots are exempted from conscription because they have police records or are designated as psychologically unfit. But three soldiers were arrested last week on suspicion of involvement in pro-settler vandalism and arson.

Attempts to demolish unauthorized outposts have been resisted by settlers who scuffle with troops or carry out night-time sabotage against military garrisons to inflict what they call the "price tag" for "selling out" the settlements.

Hoping to provoke Palestinian reprisals that would divert the soldiers, settlers frequently desecrate mosques and Muslim cemeteries and destroy Palestinian olive trees and cars.

"These things both endanger human life and distract from the (Israeli army's) main mission," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio on Wednesday. "And they threaten the very sensitive fabric of our relations with our neighbors."

"In terms of their conduct, there is no doubt that this is the conduct of terrorists: terrorism, albeit Jewish."


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