Scathing attack: Jews who have made a habit of uprooting Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank pose a greater danger to the Jewish people than terror acts, a senior IDF official told Ynet Thursday.
"Those who are uprooting the Palestinians' trees are a subversive group…bordering on terrorism. This is a group of very, very extreme people, and there is nothing I would like more than to capture them," he said.
"I am speaking both as an officer and as a Jew. With the estimations pointing to a Jew as the person behind these acts (tree-cutting,) I am not relaxed," he said.
The senior officer added that "some of the radical phenomena emerging among those extremists endanger us as a people more than nationalistic sabotage (terror) activity."
The issue of extremist Jewish teenagers in the West Bank must be viewed as a national problem, the army official warned.
The year 2005 saw a rise of 50 percent in clashes between settlers and security forces. About 1,200 trees belonging to Palestinians were uprooted, and the IDF mostly encountering problems around the settlements of Kedumim, Yitzhar and Elon Moreh.
"It's time to deal with the problem in a different way, in a more focused way," the officer told Ynet.
'Leftist groups also to blame'
However, the officer not only extreme right-wing activists are to blame for the rise in the uprooting of olive trees. Left-wing organizations, he said, have violated the existing status quo opposite the Palestinians.
All the incidents where tree were uprooted took place in areas of friction, where the Palestinians arrived accompanied by left-wing activists, the official said.
He explained that the arrival of Palestinians at the olive harvest had been coordinated with the IDF in the past. However, the left-wing organizations and the Palestinians ignored the need for coordination and arrived at the area on their own more than once.
Wherever this happened, the officer said, settlers reacted by cutting down trees.
"What happened is that the Palestinians wandered around those disputed areas and the settlers saw it as illegitimate. They said that 'if the army can't deal with this phenomenon, we will deter them once and for all,'" the officer charged.
"The settlers' reaction was the law of the jungle – to prevent them (Palestinians) from wandering around the area," he said.
IDF officials explained that without intelligence, "the ability to capture such a person (tree cutter) red-handed, without real evidence for the court, is very low."
According to the officer, it is time to change the way the extremists are being dealt with.
"We have to adopt a different kind of treatment, and I'm talking about a focused approach…are exerting great efforts, but nonetheless have not succeeded in filing indictments. I admit that we have failed…and therefore must change our ways," he said.
The senior officer also referred to the Yesha Council, saying that "it's bringing injustice upon itself."
"These acts are committed by extreme settlers. These are criminal acts, and they (Yesha Council) are not coming out strongly against the phenomenon," he said.