In the aftermath of an incident that saw a group of Israeli settlers beaten and held by Palestinians after the settlers allegedly attempted to carry out a “price tag” attack, dovish group Peace Now called Wednesday for the Israeli military to tear down the outpost the settlers call home.
The group was captured by Palestinians Tuesday, and held in a building in the West Bank village of Qusra near the city of Nablus. The settlers, some of whom were beaten by their captors, were handed over to the IDF after several hours.
They allegedly approached Qusra in an attempt to carry out an attack, in protest over the Israeli Civil Administration’s uprooting earlier in the day of a settler olive grove near the outpost of Esh Kodesh. The settlers, said to have come from the outpost, were reported to have clashed earlier with the Palestinian village’s residents.
On Wednesday, Peace Now formally requested that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Head of IDF Central Command Maj. General Nitzan Alon, and the head of the Israeli Civil Administration evict the suspect individuals and additionally remove all illegal buildings from the outpost.
Peace Now threatened to turn to Israel’s Supreme Court if its requests were not met.
The hilltop outpost, home to about a dozen families in caravans, has been the scene of a number of clashes between settlers, Palestinians and IDF forces. In January 2013, a series of tit-for-tat attacks between Esh Kodesh and Qusra left dozens of people injured.
Earlier Wednesday, Ya’alon spoke out vehemently against price tag attacks on Wednesday, condemning extremist Jewish violence as “terror.” In a statement, he vowed that authorities would pursue the perpetrators of such attacks.
“The unacceptable trend known as ‘price tag’ is in my opinion terror in every sense of the word, and we are acting and will act against the perpetrators, firmly and with zero tolerance, in order to eradicate it,” Ya’alon said. “It is a stain on Israel and it undermines the settlement enterprise.”
The IDF was on heightened alert in the West Bank on Wednesday as a precaution against a possible violent backlash to the incident. On Wednesday morning, two cars were torched in the Palestinian village of Madama near Nablus, allegedly by enraged settlers. Graffiti sprayed nearby proclaimed “Esh Kodesh,” “Revenge,” and “price tag” alongside a Star of David.
In its statements, the army supported the version of the events put forward by the Palestinians, who said that the settlers were stopped en route to Qusra, where they intended to carry out an attack.
Pinchasi Bar-On, one of the settlers who was involved in the incident, maintained that he and his companions were only hiking and had no ulterior motives in being in the area. “It’s very sad that the security establishment discounts the attack by claiming it was a price tag operation gone wrong,” he told Israel Radio.
Bar-On also rejected the Palestinian claim that the settlers were rescued from an angry mob by village elders, claiming that his friends were beaten by a group that included the mukhtar, or village leader, of Qusra and a Palestinian police officer.
While denying any knowledge of “price tag” attacks, he intimated that if authorities failed to arrest the Palestinians involved in the incident, there would be a backlash. “If the army doesn’t act to apprehend the rioters… there will those who take matters into their own hands,” he warned.
The settlers were held in a building in the village for several hours and were handed over to the IDF one by one after a Palestinian Authority liaison force came to the village. The AP reported that about 200 Palestinians had gathered by the time the troops arrived. People in the crowd kicked and spat at the settlers as they emerged one by one from the building under construction where they had been held. Police later arrested four of them for questioning, while three others were briefly hospitalized.
Ziad Odeh, a prayer leader in the village and one of the elders involved in the incident, said he intervened to protect the settlers and was among those who prevented an angry mob from killing the captives. “It’s wrong to kill a person; it doesn’t matter if they’re Jewish or Muslim,” he told Israel Radio, insisting that the settlers couldn’t have been hiking because they were carrying clubs and a sledgehammer and some had veiled their faces.
While not denying that some of the Palestinians present had beaten and injured the settlers, Odeh insisted that they only gave the same treatment that their captives had planned to dish out themselves.
In its statement, the IDF said that there had been “mutual rock-hurling” between Palestinians and settlers, and that several of the settlers were injured. “Initial inquiry suggests the confrontation erupted following a law enforcement activity which took place earlier today in Esh Kodesh,” the statement added, alluding to the Israeli Civil Administration’s uprooting of the settler olive grove.
Price tag attacks, acts of violence and vandalism usually performed against Palestinians and their property and typically carried out by Jewish nationalists as retribution for government moves, have become increasingly common in recent years. Mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and Israeli military bases have been targeted in such attacks.
In late December, a home and three vehicles in a West Bank refugee camp were vandalized, in a suspected “price tag” attack related to the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners and ongoing peace talks.
Israeli officials have vowed to crack down on the attacks.
Adiv Sterman and AP contributed to this report.