Activist assaulted protecting Palestinian herders says he feared for his life

Alex Povolotsky was severely beaten while protecting the tiny northern Jordan Valley hamlet of Farasiya — he says by extremist settlers who want to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the area

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Alex Povolotsky, an activist with the Jordan Valley Activists group, bleeds profusely after being assaulted, allegedly by extremist settlers, in the Palestinian hamlet of Farasiya in the West Bank, December 4, 2023. (Courtesy Jordan Valley Activists)
Alex Povolotsky, an activist with the Jordan Valley Activists group, bleeds profusely after being assaulted, allegedly by extremist settlers, in the Palestinian hamlet of Farasiya in the West Bank, December 4, 2023. (Courtesy Jordan Valley Activists)

An Israeli activist who was severely beaten, allegedly by extremist settlers, while helping protect a rural Palestinian community in the northern Jordan Valley has said he feared he was going to be beaten to death during the incident.

The attack took place before dawn on Monday in the tiny shepherding hamlet of Farasiya which has been subject to repeated attacks by extremist settlers from the region, activists say.

Alex Povolotsky, 39, was kicked in the head and chest and pelted with rocks, leaving him incapacitated on the ground and bleeding profusely from a head wound. His fellow activist, 70-year-old Gavriel, not his real name, was pepper-sprayed and severely beaten.

Povolotsky, Gavriel, and fellow activist Tamar, also not her real name, have been assisting the community of Farasiya for several weeks, since the October 7 atrocities perpetrated by Hamas in Israel and the beginning of the war in Gaza. These events have sparked a huge rise in attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank by extremist Israeli settlers, as documented by activist groups.

These attacks, which have been especially severe in the northern Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills region, have led more than 1,000 Palestinians from 15 rural communities to abandon their homes, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Farasiya is a tiny hamlet in the northern Jordan Valley near Route 90 and usually inhabited by eight or so families of shepherds and goatherds, though some are not present all year round. Following attacks against them in the days after October 7 the families fled the hamlet, although since that time, seven of them have returned.

Alex Povolotsky, an activist with the Jordan Valley Activists group, and fellow activist “Gavriel” in the aftermath of an assault, allegedly by extremist settlers, in the Palestinian hamlet of Farasiya in the West Bank, December 4, 2023. (Courtesy Jordan Valley Activists)

Povolotsky, Gavriel and Tal are part of a group called the Jordan Valley Activists who stay in rural Palestinian communities in an attempt to ward off settler attacks by their presence. The IDF and the Israel Police are more likely to respond to reports of attacks by Israelis than Palestinians, they say.

The three were in Farasiya on Sunday night when they were woken up at around 2 a.m. by the noise of a tractor plowing a stony field outside the hamlet.

A group of Israeli youths, some of whom the activists identified as residents of the nearby settlement of Rotem and the Asa’el Farm illegal outpost, accompanied the tractor and began throwing rocks at the dwellings in Farasiya, Povolotsky told The Times of Israel.

“Gavriel went to ask them what they were doing,” said Povolotsky.

“One of the settlers sprayed Gavriel with pepper spray at point blank range right in the eyes, and then kneed him repeatedly… I ran to him and threw myself over him to protect him, covering his head especially, because they were throwing rocks at us.”

The two were pelted with stones and Povolotsky was kicked repeatedly in the head and torso, opening up a gash above his right eye.

Povolotsky phoned the Magen David Adom ambulance service while Tamar, who had remained indoors, called the army and the police. The assailants fled.

A small IDF force arrived along with a police officer who took testimony from Gavriel. A Magen David Adom ambulance came, but refused to enter the hamlet despite the presence of the IDF.

Povolotsky said he had to crawl part of the way to the ambulance since the operators refused to leave the main road, but eventually a stretcher was brought to carry him, and he was taken to HaEmek Medical Center hospital in Afula, where his head wound was stitched up.

Gavriel did not go to the hospital because he did not want to leave Tamar by herself.

Povolotzky filed a complaint at the Maale Adumim police station in the  Benjamin Police District on Monday.

“It was very frightening. I thought they were going to lynch us,” he said. “This is a part of Palestinians’ lives all the time. We are the privileged ones, we are part of the hegemony. These families experience this threat on a daily basis.”

Povolotsky charged that the goal of the ongoing attacks against Palestinians was to “ethnically cleanse” the area.

“I feel a sense of personal responsibility to do what I can under such terrible circumstances. I can’t stand aside and see this abuse, and the expulsion of these families… otherwise the situation will be irreversible, they won’t be able to come back. They’re ethnically cleansing the whole region,” he said.

“This is why were are here 24/7, because as soon as we leave they’ll attack and there will be no one to protect them or call the police.”

An Israeli settler attacks and shoots an unarmed Palestinian man at point blank range during an incident in the Palestinian village of A-Tuwani village in the South Hebron Hills, October 13, 2023. (Screenshot courtesy of B’tselem, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Yesh Din organization, which lobbies against the settlements and tracks settler violence, says it has recorded 242 attacks by settlers against Palestinians in over 80 towns and villages since October 7.

Documentation of these attacks is done by the organization’s five field researchers in the West Bank, who interview eyewitnesses or victims of attacks, or receive reports from associates on the scene, according to Yonatan Kanonich, head of research at Yesh Din.

Kanonich said that the majority of incidents are documented in video footage, although in some cases cellphones used by Palestinians to video the attacks have been broken.

He added that despite reports of a decrease in attacks against Palestinians in recent weeks, there were some 17 attacks last week.

A police spokesperson said that an investigation had been opened into the incident in Farasiya but that no one had been arrested.

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