Residents of the Yitzhar settlement rallied on Sunday in a show of support for Israeli troops after soldiers were attacked in the area by settlers.
Other residents from the northern West Bank community, however, demonstrated in favor of the “hilltop youth,” who live in nearby illegal outposts and have been linked to attacks on Israel Defense Forces soldiers, left-wing activists and Palestinians.
In clashes overnight, the army said a soldier was lightly injured by rock-throwing near Yitzhar. The riots involved some 30 settlers who hurled stones at troops and punctured tires of military vehicles, according to the IDF.
Soldiers responded with riot dispersal means and firing their guns in the air. No arrests were announced.
The violence against the soldiers was criticized by politicians from across the spectrum and by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.
“These are youth who sacrifice themselves for us and the settlement of the land,” Israel Ariel, a founder of Yitzhar, said at a protest outside the settlement.
Ariel chalked up the incident to young people “sometimes doing stupid things” and described the hilltop youth as “idealistic.”
“The thought that because they created discomfort toward the public, because of the embarrassment, we’ll abandon them and turn our backs, this is not Jewish behavior. I’m revolted by this” he said.
Among those attending the demonstration at the Samaria Division base in support of the IDF were Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council where Yitzhar is located, and the army’s Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan.
Padan also visited the area around Yitzhar on Sunday with other IDF commanders.
“The soldiers who were attacked and caught by surprise shot in the air, and it’s a miracle this story didn’t end with deaths (from either side). Therefore, many in the community believe a red line has been crossed and we can’t remain silent and keep on with our daily lives,” Yitzhar residents wrote in a pamphlet ahead of the rally.
The incident followed several other recent instances of violence and threats by settlers, including from Yitzhar, against soldiers, Palestinians and left-wing activists.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement praised the IDF troops “who work night and day to protect the safety of all Israeli citizens, without exception.”
“I strongly condemn any attack on IDF soldiers,” added Netanyahu, who is also defense minister. “There will be no tolerance toward the lawbreakers who raise a hand against our soldiers.”
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz called the incident “severe,” saying he trusted law enforcement would “take care of it with all the tools at their disposal.”
“As a former IDF chief of staff and as a commander for decades I would like to send a message to all the soldiers and commanders protecting us, including on the eve of the [Simchat Torah] festival: The Israeli nation supports you. We will not sit idly by as IDF soldiers are being harmed.”
Another party chief who condemned the incident was Amir Peretz of the center-left Labor-Gesher party, who called for “uncompromising and comprehensive action to arrest the Jewish terrorists.”
Left-wing NGOs similarly condemned the incident, linking it to other recent incidents of alleged settler violence toward human rights activists and Palestinians.
Rabbis for Human Rights linked the incident to one last week in which one of its members, 80-year-old Moshe Yehudai, was injured.
Jewish Home party leader Rafi Peretz issued a statement saying that hurting IDF soldiers “crosses a red line” and calling the incident “shocking.”
“Whoever harms a soldier or a commander does not represent anything to do with settling the land or keeping the Torah, and definitely doesn’t represent residents of Yitzhar and Samaria,” he said. “Yitzhar residents serve as reservists, volunteer and are good Zionist people. It is saddening that there are rioters who sully the name of the community and harm the entire settlement movement.”
Bezalel Smotrich of the hard-right National Union expressed similar sentiment, calling the incident “severe” and “frustrating” but also insisting those responsible were few and did not represent the community.
“They must be caught and punished to the full extent of the law,” he said.
Michael Bachner and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.
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