Fears grow for repeat of settler rampage in Palestinian town

Coalition lawmakers urge escalation against Palestinians following terror attack

Spokesman for Otzma Yehudit MK says Huwara must be ‘wiped out’; Ben Gvir urges death penalty for culprits; minister calls for reducing Palestinian traffic in area, seizing weapons

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, right, is accompanied by her spokesperson Elisha Yered as she arrives to testify at the Police Internal Investigations Department, in Jerusalem, after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by Border Police officers during the demolition of a vineyard in the West Bank, February 26, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, right, is accompanied by her spokesperson Elisha Yered as she arrives to testify at the Police Internal Investigations Department, in Jerusalem, after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by Border Police officers during the demolition of a vineyard in the West Bank, February 26, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Right-wing politicians called Sunday for forceful measures against Palestinians in response to a terror attack that seriously wounded an Israeli man in the northern West Bank town of Huwara, the second shooting attack there in three weeks. A spokesperson for a far-right coalition MK urged the government to “wipe out” the entire town as revenge.

David Stern from the settlement of Itamar, a former US Marine in his 40s who works as a weapons instructor, was seriously hurt after sustaining gunshot wounds to his head and shoulder in the attack on the Route 60 highway. He was taken to the Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikvah, where his condition was later upgraded to moderate-to-serious.

A woman in the car, identified as Stern’s wife, was also taken to a hospital suffering from traumatic shock. She was not hit by the gunfire, medics said.

The Israel Defense Forces said the Palestinian terrorist was shot by both the victim and soldiers immediately after the attack, before he fled the scene on foot. After a brief chase, troops located and detained the gunman, who had been wounded by the victim’s and troops’ gunfire, the IDF said, adding that his makeshift submachine gun was seized.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was praying for the “wounded hero” who succeeded in shooting the terrorist attacker, adding: “Whoever tries to harm Israeli citizens will bear the responsibility.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir similarly sent recovery wishes to Stern, commending him for “saving his own life, the life of his wife and the lives of other Jews who could have been hit by the murderer’s gunfire.”

A car seen with bullet holes at an intersection in the West Bank town of Huwara following a shooting attack on March 19, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

He urged the government to quickly pass a law enabling courts to impose death sentences on those convicted of deadly terror attacks against Israeli citizens, which has passed a preliminary reading but is opposed by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and is expected to be softened.

Echoing that sentiment, Shlomo Ne’eman, the director of the Yesha Council settlement umbrella group and head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, said that “a captured terrorist deserves death and not prison with good conditions and a salary.” He also demanded that the government “employ a heavy hand against the terrorists, reinstate the [military] checkpoints and eliminate the stashes of weapons [used by Palestinians].”

The attack came exactly three weeks after two Israeli brothers were shot dead in a terror attack while driving through Huwara. In the wake of that attack, settlers staged a riot in the town, setting fire to dozens of homes and cars. One Palestinian was shot dead under unclear circumstances.

Huwara has long been a flashpoint in the West Bank as it is just about the only Palestinian town that Israelis regularly travel through in order to reach settlements.

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)

Repeating a much-condemned remark made by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in the wake of the previous Huwara attack urging Israel to “wipe out” the town, a spokesperson for a far-right coalition member tweeted: “Huwara must be wiped out. Now! Without apologizing and without stuttering.

“As long as we don’t internalize this, we will continue to be murdered in the streets,” added Elisha Yered, the media adviser to Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, of Ben Gvir’s party. “Understand this, Jews, nobody is planning on taking care of your security. The system will wake up only when you try to defend yourselves with your own hands.”

Son Har-Melech herself issued a strongly worded statement attacking the coalition she is part of, particularly Defense Minister Yoav Gallant whom she accused of “tolerant and restrained” anti-terror policies.

“These may be harsh words, but there is no alternative to saying them: The lives of residents of Judea and Samaria, especially those near Huwara, are continuing to be forfeited — even under our current government,” she said, using the West Bank’s biblical name.

“It is time for a comprehensive and thorough operation that will include conquering the terror hotbeds in cities and villages and collecting every single one of the weapons, deporting families of terrorists and taking strong steps against their supportive environment,” she said. “If the policy doesn’t urgently change, the next terror attack is just a matter of time.”

MK Orit Strock attends a Knesset Arrangements Committee meeting in Jerusalem on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Minister of National Missions Orit Strock said that while “Huwara shouldn’t be burned,” other measures are needed, including “erecting checkpoints before attacks and not only after them, reducing Arab traffic on this road, stopping trade along the road where the density gives shelter to terrorists, searching for weapons in every home, and of course immediately renew the settlement of Evyatar” — an illegal outpost that some members of the government want legalized.

Some in the extremist hilltop youth groups of extremist violent settlers sent messages calling on Jews to “wake up” and “go out to the intersections because we can’t carry on like this.”

The left-wing Yesh Din rights group warned of plans by settlers to hold demonstrations near Huwara, urging the Israel Defense Forces to boost its forces and prevent a repeat of last month’s rampage through the town.

Meanwhile, Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the Hamas terror group, hailed the shooting, saying it was “a natural reaction to the occupation’s crimes against our people in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

The terror group, however, did not claim responsibility for the attack.

There were reports of Palestinians handing out sweets in celebration of the attack in the nearby town of Beita.

Israeli soldiers are seen at the scene of a shooting attack in the West Bank town of Huwara, March 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been high for the past year, with the IDF conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks. Those tensions have ramped up even further in recent weeks, which saw a cycle of deadly Israeli raids and Palestinian attacks, as well as an uptick in settler violence.

Palestinian terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank in recent months have left 14 Israelis dead and several more seriously hurt.

At least 85 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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