Suspected Jewish extremists set fire to a Palestinian olive grove near the West Bank village of Burin on Wednesday, burning hundreds of trees, the army said.
The attackers reportedly came from the radical settlement of Yitzhar. The suspects were spotted by an army lookout, but were able to flee the scene before security forces arrived to help extinguish the fire, the IDF spokesperson told The Times of Israel.
There have been a spate of violent incidents originating in Yitzhar over the last week, including attacks on Palestinians, Israeli security forces and an ambulance.
In a statement responding to the arson, the legal rights group Yesh Din slammed Israeli law enforcement, saying “violence will not cease if there is no real deterrence, protection for Palestinians, a thorough investigation, prosecution of offenders and an imposition of significant penalties.”
Responding to the recent surge in violence from settler youth, police said in a Wednesday statement that “these incidents are being viewed with the utmost severity… The Israel Police will continue to act to capture and arrest those who disrupt public order, throw rocks and injure security forces.”
The olive groves of the same Palestinian village were targeted in a separate incident on Sunday. Residents arrived at the scene to find dozens of trees uprooted and the Hebrew word for “revenge” spray-painted on a boulder.
Yitzhar features prominently in the public perception of extremist “hilltop youth” — young people from religiously observant families who move to settlement outposts and resist soldiers’ attempts to evacuate them. Some of them have been accused in “price tag” hate crime attacks on Palestinian, Christian and Israeli targets.
Late Tuesday night, police arrested two minors for throwing rocks at an ambulance in the settlement of Yitzhar earlier this month.
Along with the pair, a third minor was arrested for throwing rocks at security forces in the same northern West Bank settlement this week.
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Also Sunday, the IDF arrested three people during clashes surrounding the demolition of an illegal structure in Yitzhar. Residents pelted soldiers carrying out the demolition with stones and blocked roads used by IDF troops during the operation.
Reservists who had been stationed at the settlement when the melee broke out told the Ynet news site that they felt “completely helpless” trying to contain the situation. “Despite months of training in how to fight and when to open fire, no one taught us how to deal with some 15-year-old Jewish kids who come to throw stones at Arabs.”