CNN probe: IDF soldiers did nothing to stop violent settler rampage in Huwara

Testimony from soldier provided by Breaking the Silence claims military ‘just let settlers continue to advance,’ failed to provide safe passage to emergency vehicles

This picture taken on February 27, 2023, shows a view of torched cars and a building in the town of Huwara near Nablus in the West Bank. (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)
This picture taken on February 27, 2023, shows a view of torched cars and a building in the town of Huwara near Nablus in the West Bank. (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

A detailed investigation published by CNN on Thursday claims that IDF soldiers did nothing to stop settlers from violently rampaging through the West Bank town of Huwara in an incident that shocked the nation in late February.

In testimony provided to CNN by left-wing Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, an unnamed soldier said to have been present that evening said the IDF did not make any attempt to prevent the group of settlers from entering Huwara.

“We just let them continue to advance,” the soldier was quoted as saying.

The soldier suggested that the military should have used riot dispersal means to stop the settlers from heavily vandalizing the town, setting homes and businesses on fire and terrorizing its residents.

“You have a group of dozens of people you see who are hot-headed and they start walking towards Huwara, they are masked and some of them may have knives. What do you think they are coming to do?” he said. “At this point, [the army] should have started shooting tear gas and stun grenades and start repelling them.”

The incident on February 26, in which dozens of masked settler extremists wreaked havoc in the town, and a Palestinian man was shot dead in unclear circumstances, was condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as a swath of key Israeli allies worldwide.

Settlers pray as cars and homes burn in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Screenshot/Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Over a period of several hours, the settlers burned homes, cars and storefronts, and assaulted Palestinians, leading to scores of injuries. A senior IDF general referred to the incident as a “pogrom,” and President Isaac Herzog condemned the “cruel and violent rampage.”

The Biden administration said the incident was “completely unacceptable” and called on Israel to prosecute all those involved in the violence. Two suspects were held in administrative detention for several months without charge. A number of others were arrested but have since been released.

The band of settlers entered Huwara pursuing revenge just hours after two Israeli brothers, Hallel Yaniv, 21 and Yagel Yaniv, 19, were shot dead while driving through the West Bank town.

Several days after the rampage in Huwara, IDF chief Herzi Halevi vowed to “thoroughly investigate… the grave events of lawlessness.” To date, no IDF soldiers have faced any repercussions for the events of February 26.

A man films with a phone outside a building that was torched overnight in the West Bank town of Huwara near Nablus, February 27, 2023. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

The IDF soldier who shared testimony through Breaking the Silence said the Israeli military’s “biggest failure” was in not securing safe passage for Palestinian fire trucks and ambulances.

Video published by CNN appeared to show emergency vehicles stopped near the entrance to Huwara. The soldier claimed that the IDF did not do anything about settlers attacking those vehicles.

“The fire truck simply drove alone and was attacked,” he was quoted as saying. “The village continued to burn.”

The CNN report claimed that video footage from Palestine TV shows IDF soldiers walking by as settlers lit wooden crates on fire and piled them in front of the entrance to the building of Huwara resident Nawal Dumeidi. But the CCTV footage published by CNN does not appear to show any IDF soldiers, and the TV network did not provide the Palestine TV footage.

A Palestinian man sits outside a torched house on February 27, 2023, in the town of Huwara near Nablus in the West Bank. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

Dumeidi told CNN that she was trapped inside her building for three days until her son came from Dubai to help her and her daughters exit. CNN did not provide any explanation for why she would wait so long and not ask anyone else for assistance in getting out.

A photo dated February 28, two days following the violence, on the Palestinian activist website Electronic Intifada, showed Dumeidi just outside her front door, examining the charred remains of the wooden crates.

Initial IDF investigations into the incident in Huwara revealed that security forces failed to contain the violence for hours despite early warnings of a planned violent protest in Huwara. Troops were also preoccupied with searching for the gunman who killed the Israeli brothers, as well as dealing with settlers who had defiantly returned to the evacuated Evyatar outpost.

Halevi said shortly afterward that “the IDF prevents many terror attacks every week. Unfortunately, we were unable to prevent the last ones. We also should have prevented what developed following the attack in Huwara.”

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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