Press Briefing by Brigadier Benny Ganz, Head of IDF Division, Judea and Samaria

Jerusalem, 7 October 2000

During this night, a decision was made by the Prime Minister and Chief-of-Staff and the head of the Security Service to evacuate, under an arrangement with the Palestinian Authority, the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus (Shechem). The act, in coordination with the Palestinians and together with them, was conducted around 4:00 this morning. A meeting of more senior officers than myself was held with the most senior Palestinian officers and head of organizations of the West Bank, and it was arranged that they will undertake to fulfill their responsibility, as it was before, to secure the Tomb on the outside, and we will pull out our equipment and troops in order to lower the tension in Nablus and the whole area during the last few days.

Senior liaison officers escorted two Israeli trucks that moved in around 3:00 this morning. We took most of the equipment, especially the valuable equipment, and the holy materials – books, Torahs – out of the place, and we moved out around 4:00 in the morning. On the way

out, shots were fired and one of our officers was injured. He is in the hospital under medical treatment now. I hope he will be all right. A very short time later, things around the Tomb went on the wrong side, the catastrophic side, of "delivering the goods" under the terms of the arrangement. Civilians penetrated the site and damaged it, I believe badly, and it looks as if the Palestinian side didn’t do enough.

I must say that even though this is my first week in the Judea and Samaria division, I have been here quite a lot in the past. I’ve never seen such a severe situation before.

We have been suffering lots of attacks by hundreds a day, including several dozen fire attacks per day. We tried the best we can to react only in cases that our forces, Israeli citizens, Israeli settlements or military bases have been fired upon and put under danger. I know that the Palestinians have suffered casualties, but I also know that they would have suffered much more if we weren’t so cautious. Honestly, I doubt if we can maintain this. It went beyond any border I can imagine.

The Tomb of Joseph is not a military post – it’s a holy place. It wasn’t simply a military move to change your position. It was an arrangement with our so-called partners, that they will take responsibility – which they didn’t. Now we are assessing the whole situation, and I’m sure that in a few hours we will decide how to react or whether to initiate.

Q: [inaudible]

A: The entire operation in the Judea and Samaria area, or at least most of it, is based on the fact that we have co-partners. If we can work with the co-partners, and indeed several times they showed that we can; but if we cannot cooperate with them, then we will have to choose our method. In case the firing will go on, I’m not sure how patient we can be, and I’m sure that we are strong enough to secure and to ensure the fulfillment of our mission to defend the Israeli citizens in Judea and Samaria. I see them like anyone else, and I don’t see why I should bear this tension, this danger, for them, and for my troops as well.

Q: [inaudible]

A: We pulled out from Joseph’s Tomb not because of the military pressure – I must say that. We have been there for the last four, five days, fighting from inside and from outside, because we were told to do so. We pulled out because that was the order we got. It came out of an arrangement that was achieved. We will follow our orders. In the same way that we stayed there for several days, we could have chosen to do it differently. We thought we have partners – it seems that we don’t.

Q: [inaudible]

A: Basically, the arrangement was that they will fulfill their own duties that were theirs before. According to the agreement they are responsible for the external areas of the Tomb, and we are responsible for the internal security of the Tomb, and that was the way it was done. They had some difficulties, but I think that they didn’t try enough to fulfill their mission in this area. There were several days, several hours, that we saw better success from them, and I think that we know that if they really want, they can show better results than they did. The arrangement was to lower the tension by us pulling of this area of friction and allowing them to control their people more easily. Unfortunately, they didn’t do it.

Q: My question is about the decision taken at the beginning of last week to use helicopter gunships both in your area and in Gaza. Was that decision made at the political level, by the Prime Minister, or was it made at the level of the IDF? I also wonder if you can talk a little bit in broad terms about how your experience of these last eight days, your observation of the tactical situation that you have faced – how it compares to what you remember from the intifada?

A: First of all, those decisions are being made in different chains and reports, so I’m not always sure how far the reports go. However, in cases that we launched helicopters, it was a military decision on the ground at a very senior level, and it was conducted only in those cases that we felt that the danger is too big. I must say, at least in Judea and Samaria, that I cannot recall one time that we really hit someone with those helicopters. It was just a sign, and I’m sure that it can hurt much more if we will decide to shoot somebody. We were very selective in what we were doing, we were very cautious. We don’t want to cause casualties just for having numbers of casualties. If they are pushing us to the wall, then we don’t have a choice. And even then, we tried to be very careful and most selective. I hope, though doubt, that we can maintain it.

As to your second question, this is not the same case. I’ve been here in intifada times. We have organizations in the area, hierarchies in the area that can give orders, so even though basically you can think it can be worse, if you have organizations that control them, you can control the area. Unfortunately what I’ve seen for the last eight days wasn’t too good.

Q: I wonder if we can broaden it a bit. Are you or is one of your colleagues able to give us information about events in your terrain this morning on the Lebanese border?…

A: I don’t know the details. However, I do know that there is an escalation there, on the Lebanese border. Here is another simple, unfortunate example of us doing an agreement, fulfilling a United Nations resolution to the very smallest details of it, and the firing is still going on.

Q: [inaudible]

A: I can take you to a place called Psagot. It’s a settlement east of Ramallah, and you can see the kindergarten on the lower level and the rest of the buildings being shelled. It’s been going on for days and days. So far, we tried to react against the very specific sources of this fire.

There were cases that people came and either closed roads, threw fire bombs. I really suggest that we remember that those bottles can kill someone, and they did before. Shootings – you got it all.

Q: [inaudible – about the arrangement at Joseph’s Tomb]

A: The arrangement was that it’s a temporary withdrawal, and we will go back to the very same agreement that was signed in the past once the tension is lowered. It was in both sides’ interest to lower the tension. Unfortunately, as I said before, someone is not delivering the goods.

Q: You said that you were shot at while you were withdrawing at 4:00 in the morning. Were there Palestinian security forces there at the moment?

A: Yes, and I don’t know whether those shots came directly from a military officer or police officer of the Palestinian Authority or whether it was one of those that doesn’t belong to this organization. However, there was lots of fire, and they all came from around Palestinian positions, so I doubt that there is no linkage there.    

 Press Briefing by Brigadier Benny Ganz- Head of IDF Division- Judea and Samaria-07-Oct-2000
 Press Briefing by Brigadier Benny Ganz- Head of IDF Division- Judea and Samaria-07-Oct-2000
Outbreak of Violence in Jerusalem and the Territories – Sept/Oct 2000