Gantz orders ‘aggressive’ crackdown on settler violence after soldiers attacked

Ahead of upcoming West Bank olive harvest, defense minister tells military to act ‘uncompromisingly’ to prevent attacks on Palestinians, troops

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A Border Police vehicle is seen after it was attacked with stones and buckets of paint, near Yitzhar in the West Bank, on October 11, 2021. (Israel Police)
A Border Police vehicle is seen after it was attacked with stones and buckets of paint, near Yitzhar in the West Bank, on October 11, 2021. (Israel Police)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz called on the military to act “systemically, aggressively and uncompromisingly” against violence by Israeli settlers toward Palestinians and Israeli security forces, after a number of cases of attacks by far-right nationalists in the West Bank in recent weeks.

Gantz issued the directive following a meeting with top officials from the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry regarding the recent violence and the military’s preparations for the upcoming olive harvest, a sensitive period in the West Bank that regularly sees attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians and their olive groves.

“Gantz ordered the IDF to act systemically, aggressively and uncompromisingly — together with the Shin Bet security service and the police — against all forms of violence, against Palestinians, Jews and of course against security forces,” his office said in a statement.

On Wednesday, two IDF soldiers were lightly injured when an Israeli settler attacked them with pepper spray outside the illegal West Bank outpost of Adei Ad, near the Palestinian town of al-Mughayyir in the central West Bank.

The IDF described the attack as a “serious” incident and called for police to open an investigation.

Earlier in the week, a Border Police officer was injured in clashes with settlers outside the Yitzhar settlement, a community with a reputation for harboring extremist elements and that regularly sees conflicts between far-right nationalists, Palestinians and security forces.

Both attacks were widely denounced by Israeli lawmakers across the political spectrum.

“The defense minister condemned the recent incidents in which IDF soldiers and Border Police officers were injured and said that action must be taken immediately and in a targeted way in order to root out this phenomenon,” Gantz’s office said Thursday.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at an event celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Abraham Accords, in the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on October 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Wednesday’s attack occurred after representatives of the IDF’s District Coordination and Liaison center in the Ramallah area were called to the scene due to a report of a “nationalistic crime” — settlers uprooting olive trees belonging to residents of al-Mughayyir.

While the two soldiers were talking to a Palestinian man who reported that settlers had destroyed his trees, a number of young settlers, some of them masked, reportedly attempted to attack the man with a metal rod.

Amid the confrontation, one of the settlers sprayed pepper spray into the military vehicle, lightly hurting the two.

No arrests were immediately made, despite video footage showing that other troops — members of the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, an outfit that has regularly been at the center of nationalist-related controversies — were patrolling the area during the incident.

The IDF said the incident, including the Netzah Yehuda soldiers inaction, would be further investigated internally and by the police.

Israeli settlers are seen surronding an IDF vehicle near the settlement of Adei Ad, on October 13, 2021. (Video screenshot/Courtesy)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, in a statement, strongly condemned the repeated incidents of crime and violence against IDF soldiers.

“Crime against IDF soldiers by civilians is unacceptable and requires a quick and strict response to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Kohavi said.

There are frequent reports of extremist settlers uprooting or otherwise sabotaging Palestinian olive groves in the West Bank.

Military chiefs and other defense brass regularly urge an end to settler violence and promise action, usually following high-profile incidents or attacks on soldiers. However, critics accuse Israeli authorities of treating Jewish extremists with kid gloves and failing to fully prosecute them, due to a lack of political will.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a former settler leader and Israeli Jews living in the West Bank are seen as a major part of his political base.

Illustrative. An olive tree sabotaged in the Palestinian village of Yasuf, on July 27, 2019. (Radi Attiani/Yesh Din)

Earlier on Wednesday, vandals sprayed nationalist slogans and damaged cars in the Palestinian village of Marda in the West Bank. Slogans daubed on walls in the community included “price tag” and “Demolish enemy [property], not Jewish.”

Assault and vandalism by settlers against Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank are commonly referred to as “price tag” attacks. Perpetrators claim that they are retaliation for Palestinian violence or government policies seen as hostile to the settler movement.

Emanuel Fabian and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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