Police opened an investigation Tuesday into an apparent hate crime targeting a Palestinian village in the southern West Bank.
Residents of Tuwani, in the south Hebron Hills just west of the Israeli outpost of Havat Maon, woke up Tuesday to find 15 olive trees chopped down. Nearby, two boulders were spray-painted with the Hebrew phrases “Death to Arabs” and “Revenge.” Another boulder was graffitied with a red Star of David.
The incident was the first suspected hate crime since the Shin Bet security service confirmed on Sunday that it had arrested five Jewish teens suspected of involvement in the murder of Aisha Rabi, 47, a Palestinian mother of eight who was traveling in a car with her husband and daughter near the northern West Bank’s Tapuah Junction late at night on October 12 when a large stone crashed through the windshield and struck her in the head.
Last week, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released statistics ahead of the new year that showed a 69 percent increase in settler attacks on Palestinians in 2018 compared to 2017.
OCHA recorded 265 incidents in which Israeli residents of the West Bank allegedly targeted Palestinians or their property. In total, 115 Palestinians were injured in those attacks and 7,900 trees and 540 vehicles were destroyed.
Commenting on the numbers last week, a defense official confirmed that the past year saw a significant rise in so-called “price tag” attacks — a name used by far-right Israelis to justify targeting Palestinians and even IDF soldiers. The phrase marks the attacks as ostensible retaliation for terror attacks and Israeli government actions deemed hostile to the settler movement.
“The hilltop youth are less deterred than before and are feeling emboldened,” the defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity and referring to the far-right activists who are known for establishing illegal outposts on hilltops throughout the West Bank.
He said recent attacks are more brazen than they used to be, pointing to the increased willingness of young settlers to enter Palestinian villages in the middle of the night, rather than just chopping down olive trees planted outside of those communities.
“If this trend of escalation in price tag attacks continues, another deadly attack will occur like the one in Duma,” he added.
In July 2015, suspects hurled a firebomb at a home in the Palestinian village of Duma, burning to death three members of the Dawabsha family. Two Israeli youth were subsequently arrested for involvement in the attack, and their trial is ongoing.
The official noted that the flareup has seen not only settler violence targeting Palestinians, but attacks on Israeli security forces as well. Over 40 such incidents have been documented, the majority of which took place near the Yitzhar settlement.