At least two Palestinians were allegedly shot and wounded by Israeli settlers during clashes in the south Hebron Hills in the West Bank late Wednesday, witnesses said, adding that both men were hit in their hands.
In videos from the scene, Israel Defense Force soldiers could be seen standing between the settlers and Palestinians in the dark countryside, lit only by flashlights.
“A report was received about a violent confrontation between Israeli settlers and dozens of Palestinians,” a spokesperson for the military said. “Israel Defense Force units are operating to separate the sides.”
No arrests were made, either of settlers or of Palestinians, the spokesperson added.
Three Palestinian cars were damaged by stones throwed by the settlers, witnesses said. Another two Palestinians were also allegedly wounded by stones, rather than live fire.
Itay Feitelson, 26, a left-wing Israeli activist at the scene, said the clashes were sparked when Israeli settlers from the area set up a tent near a small Palestinian farm by the shepherding hamlet of Khilet al-Daba.
According to a statement by the Hebron Hills Regional Council, the Israeli shepherd had set up the tent purely to create shade as his sheep grazed. Palestinians in the area saw the tent as an attempt to create a foothold for a new illegal settlement outpost in the area.
Tensions ran high all day, and the army had been at the scene since morning. According to local Palestinian resident Basil al-Adra, the Israelis brought in a flock of sheep that started grazing on crops in the area.
“The settlers built [the tent] right on top of them. They can’t have had any purpose except to spark a confrontation,” Feitelson said.
The tensions rose as the day went on. When Feitelson returned at night, some settlers had already attempted to set parts of the Palestinian farm ablaze, he said.
“The Palestinians yelled at the army to do something, and at first it seemed that the army was going to put out [the fire],” Feitelson said.
But then the Israeli soldiers — in around three or four jeeps, in total — drove away, despite the tense situation, according to Adra.
“Even though they saw someone trying to set the building on fire, the army just left the situation as it was,” he said.
Soon after, both sides began throwing stones at one another again from various sides of the hilltop, Feitelson said.
“The stone-throwing suddenly turned into insane gunfire from the settlers. We felt the bullets whistling past us,” the activist said.
The Hebron Hills settler council said that dozens of Palestinians had arrived on the scene, hurled stones and burned tires. In a statement, the council alleged that shots were also fired at the settlers, although no injuries were reported.
Two Palestinians were wounded, both in their hands, by live bullets, Feitelson and Adra said. One was evacuated to a hospital in nearby Yatta, while another, in more serious condition, was sent to a larger medical center in Hebron.
Soldiers returned around half an hour later and sought to separate the two sides.
“The army arrived, declared it a closed military zone and kicked us out. But they didn’t kick out the settlers or take down the tent they put up today,” Adra charged.
The rolling hills south of the West Bank city of Hebron regularly see high tensions between settlers, Palestinians, and the military. Palestinians regularly clash with settlers who live in the outposts — illegal under Israeli law — that dot the hilltops.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has declared much of the area to be a military training zone. With the exception of the main town, al-Tuwani, Israeli authorities contend that most of the Palestinian hamlets are therefore illegal; the High Court of Justice is set to discuss the matter in March.
In late September, dozens of Israelis entered al-Mufaqara, a small hamlet in the south Hebron hills, hurling stones, smashing windows, and flipping over cars. A three-year-old Palestinian boy was wounded, allegedly when a stone thrown by a settler struck his head.
Senior Israeli politicians, including Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, condemned the attack as “terror.”
On Saturday afternoon, dozens of Israeli settlers entered a playground inside the Palestinian hamlet of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills. According to left-wing Israeli activists at the scene, the settlers expelled Palestinian children who were in the playground.
In videos from the scene, the settlers can be seen milling about in the playground, surrounded by the army, with little evidence of a struggle. The settlers reportedly remained in the playground for around half an hour before police officers dispersed them.
The army said that the settlers entered the playground as part of a “confrontation” in the area. It said the clips were “not reflective of how the incident unfolded.”