Reservists stationed in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar were powerless to stop the Jewish mob that attacked their headquarters before dawn Tuesday, an initial IDF probe of the violent incident showed.
More details emerged in the afternoon about the clashes that took place around 5:30 a.m. between residents of the hard-line settlement and Israeli security forces, revealing that the reservists stationed in the settlement failed to turn back a rioting mob of dozens of settlers that went about demolishing their headquarters and equipment.
The settlers were protesting the demolition of five illegal buildings in the West Bank community overnight. The attack began just after the five structures were demolished by soldiers and policemen, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
“After they’d finished, several dozen settlers began throwing stones, injuring six border guards,” she said.
Some 50 Jewish rioters then attacked the military headquarters in the settlement in an attempt to tear the structure down.
According to a military source, the settlers threatened the soldiers, all reservists, telling them to stand aside to avoid getting hurt. They then began to destroy army property in the settlement.
Eight people, including six border guards, were injured. All of the military equipment at the site was destroyed, including tents, heating equipment, a toilet, and a water tank.
Police responded with “riot dispersal means,” injuring two settlers, Samri said.
It quickly emerged that the troops on duty were unprepared to respond to violence and rioting.
Hebrew news outlets quoted some of the soldiers as saying the attack was a “stab in the back.” They said they had left their families, studies and workplaces to protect the settlers during their reserve duty, but had suffered “violent humiliation” for their troubles.
It was “just a matter of time” before the next violent attack against an Israeli soldier or policeman, they said.
Following the incident, Israel Police announced that it was mulling the establishment of a police station in the settlement to prevent the recurrence of such violent incidents.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consulted with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and asked that law enforcement “act with all of the [necessary] force against these outlaws’ acts of bullying,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Tuesday morning’s incident came hours after an IDF vehicle parked in the settlement had its tires slashed, thought to be an act of Jewish nationalist extremists.
Rights group Yesh Din said the army was not doing enough to clamp down on the settlers, and had been emboldening them by allowing them to attack the area’s Palestinians.
“Israeli security forces have ignored gross violations of the law and serious acts of violence against Palestinians in the vicinity of the settlement of Yitzhar,” the group said in a statement. “It comes as no surprise that the ‘monster’ the security forces have created… has now spun out of control and has begun to attack the security forces themselves.”
On Sunday, in another attack by extremist settlers at Yitzhar, tires on a car of the Israel Defense Force’s regional commander were punctured for the second time in months, drawing condemnations from Netanyahu, Ya’alon and other officials, who vowed to fight Jewish extremism.
On Tuesday, Ya’alon lashed the residents of Yitzhar for their behavior toward Israeli security forces, warning that such violence would be dealt with “harshly.”
Speaking at a Golani Brigade drill in northern Israel, he said Yitzhar residents had set themselves apart from other settlers with their violent behavior, extremism and disregard for the rule of law, giving the entire settlement project a bad name.
“These elements are hurting the settlement enterprise with their violent and extreme behavior… they will have to obey the law, like every other Israeli citizen,” Ya’alon said.
Yesh Atid faction chairman MK Ofer Shelach on Tuesday denounced the violence, calling it an “affront” to the state “by people who are convinced they rule the land.”
He added that coping with an “incensed Jewish mob” was no job for reservists, and that only the police and Shin Bet security service would have known how to handle the situation.
He called on the authorities to act “resolutely” to show extremists that Yitzhar was not a no-man’s land.
“Any act of Jewish terrorism that is left unsolved, and whose perpetrators are not caught, hastens the next act, which is bound to be worse,” Shelach said.
Yitzhar, a settlement of some 200 families nestled deep in Samarian hill country south of Nablus, is known for being home to a number of Jewish extremists, and for frequent clashes with local Palestinians and, at times, with Israeli forces.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.