Attorney General, Prof. Aharon Barak reports his failed attempts at law enforcement on Gush Emunim settlers on an August evening, 40 years ago
On Monday, August 2, 1976, a large contingent of members of Gush Emunim’s Jericho Settlers Group arrived in the vicinity of the Palestinian city of Jericho, for the express purpose of establishing a “symbolic settlement” near the city. The settlers brought supplies and equipment for a long stay, but they were evacuated by the police and the military in the evening.
The documents presented here revolve around that incident, and what Attorney General Aharon Barak and Prime Minister Rabin learned from it. In a letter to Justice Minister Haim Tzadok, Attorney General Barak recounts how at 7:45 PM, on the day of the operation, he received notification from the officer in charge of the Jericho sector in the IDF of the attempted settlement, and the evacuation. Barak went on to describe what he had done since receiving the news, including the difficulties he had had getting in touch with police commanders, until he found out that the settlers were released without being interrogated, and most of them also without being registered, about two and a half hours later.
Shortly after the Attorney General became aware of the incident, he tried to make sure that the settlers who were stopped near Jericho were brought, with their cars, to a police station, and interrogated, as expected when there is suspicion that the law has been broken. To that end, he tried to coordinate between the police and the military – and found out that the response to the attempted settlement was planned and coordinated by enforcement agencies even before the action began.
“According to the arrangement apparently made on Sunday between the [Ministry of Defence’s unit] Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories and the police”, Barak wrote, “It was agreed that [after the police halted the settlement attempt], the cars with the settlers would be brought to a police station in Israel, accompanied by military officials, who would give testimony about the incident. The settlers would be asked to provide their names and addresses and will be released”.
The Attorney General was not satisfied. He suspected law enforcement on Gush Emunim settlers had been botched by law enforcement insiders. Prof. Barak concluded his letter with a suggestion to “investigate and review” the aforesaid arrangement, “given the accepted principles and guidelines for police investigations in cases of suspected offenses”. Barak also advised to check why, with the exception of the passengers of a single car, the dozens of persons who participated in the attempted settlement were never taken to the police station. In a later note addressed to the Minister of Justice, Barak used clearer language to express his concern that “this was an attempt to prevent the police from collecting evidence, as per my instructions”.
Minister Tzadok gave a copy of the letter to Prime Minister Rabin, who shared Barak’s concern. A note exchange between him and the Minister of Justice illustrates Rabin’s concern over the expected proliferation of settlement activity by Gush Emunim, and the fact that law enforcement agencies failed to produce a deterring effect on the settlers.