For 2nd time in 3 days, Palestinian town targeted in apparent hate crime

30 cars vandalized in Yatma; as in Wednesday incident, Hebrew graffiti references Yitzhar area outpost that’s been hotbed of violence

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

"Regards from the Yitzhar hilltop" is graffitied on a car in Yatma targeted in a price tag attack on October 25, 2019. (Yatma municipality)
"Regards from the Yitzhar hilltop" is graffitied on a car in Yatma targeted in a price tag attack on October 25, 2019. (Yatma municipality)

Palestinians in Yatma woke up Friday morning to find their northern West Bank village targeted by vandals in the second apparent hate crime in the area in three days.

Police have opened an investigation into the incident and were preparing to enter the village, roughly 8 kilometers south of the hardline Yitzhar settlement.

According to Hebrew media reports, security forces believe a suspect who torched a police tent near Yitzhar on Thursday night before fleeing was behind the fresh vandalism.

Like in Wednesday’s attack in the central West Bank village of al-Bireh, some 30 cars had windows smashed or tires slashed and the suspects graffitied Hebrew slogans referencing an outpost neighborhood of Yitzhar whose residents have carried out violent attacks on Israeli troops.

“Closed military zone,” and “regards from the Yitzhar hilltop,” were found spray-painted on vehicles, along with Stars of David, in photos provided by the Yatma municipality. At the beginning of the week, the IDF extended an order sealing off the Kumi Ori outpost of Yitzhar to non-residents.

No arrests have been made since the Wednesday incident in al-Bireh.

Despite the dozens of hate crimes targeting Palestinians and their property over the past year, arrests of perpetrators have been exceedingly rare. Rights groups lament that convictions are even more unusual, with the majority of charges in such cases being dropped.

Hours before the targeting of Yatma, Border Police said a young Israeli set ablaze a tent belonging to security forces dispatched to Kumi Ori to enforce a closed military zone order there.

No officers were injured, and no one was under the awning when it was set on fire. The suspect managed to flee the scene.

A fire set to a Border Police tent on the Kumi Ori outpost near Yitzhar on October 24, 2019. (Courtesy)

“Security forces view this act as an escalation in violence directed at the fighters and intend to do everything possible to locate the suspect,” Border Police said.

Earlier Thursday evening, Haaretz reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government ignored recommendations received five times over the past year from the Israel Defense Forces to demolish a caravan belonging to some of the most extreme young settlers in Kumi Ori, which is located three kilometers southwest of Yitzhar.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the report.

On Thursday morning, security forces demolished a pair of small makeshift structures in an outpost adjacent to Kumi Ori.

The Yitzhar secretariat blasted Thursday’s operation, calling it a “violent move that harms its efforts to restore calm.” A defense official told the Kan public broadcaster in response that the Yitzhar leadership was “stoking the flames.”

Thursday’s events marked a further increase in the violence that has placed Yitzhar and the surrounding outposts in the center of a media storm over the past week.

Border Police at the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank, October 24, 2019, after demolishing a structure at the Kumi Ori outpost near Yitzhar. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Residents said tensions between them and security forces began to rise earlier this month when the head of Central Command signed off on an administrative order barring a Kumi Ori resident from the West Bank. A defense official said the 21-year-old man has been involved in violence against soldiers and Palestinians. He denies the claim.

After Yitzhar’s secretariat subsequently cut off ties with the IDF’s top brass, security forces arrested two residents of Kumi Ori — one for lighting a Palestinian field on fire and another for threatening an army brigade commander. One of the suspects claimed to have been assaulted by the arresting officer.

On Sunday and Monday, security forces reported coming under attack while patrolling the area. One officer was lightly injured in the Sunday incident, which involved 30 young far-right activists known as hilltop youth, who hurled stones at the soldiers and slashed the tires of their jeep.

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