Halevi slams settler attack on troops demolishing illegal outpost; government silent

IDF chief says radical settlers who assaulted troops with stones and Molotov cocktails ‘must be brought to justice in a swift and severe manner’

Settlers clash with security forces as the Border Police works to evacuate the illegal West Bank outpost of Tzur Harel, July 3, 2024. (Civil Administration)
Settlers clash with security forces as the Border Police works to evacuate the illegal West Bank outpost of Tzur Harel, July 3, 2024. (Civil Administration)

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi on Wednesday condemned settler violence against security forces during the demolition of an illegal outpost in the West Bank.

“This is a serious violent incident, which must be denounced and condemned. The rioters who attacked the members of the security forces while carrying out their mission must be brought to justice in a swift and severe manner,” he said in remarks released by the IDF.

During the incident Wednesday morning, extremist settler activists violently attacked Civil Administration and Border Police personnel as they worked to evacuate and demolish the Tzur Harel outpost, which the Civil Administration said was built on private Palestinian land.

“Throwing stones and injuring our security forces — [that is] a red line,” said National Unity party leader Benny Gantz in an earlier condemnation.

Gantz, who last month resigned from the emergency government he joined after October 7 in protest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the war,  called on cabinet ministers to denounce the incident and for the rioters to be prosecuted.

“The people of Israel deserve a government that supports its soldiers and police officers,” he said, while “sending support” to the security forces and telling them to “continue to do your duty in all places.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, however, were silent about the incident, as were far-right ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who are outspoken supporters of settlements and whose backing the ruling coalition depends on.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi is seen holding a situational assessment in central Gaza in an image published June 16, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Besides serving as finance minister, Smotrich holds an additional role as minister in the Defense Ministry that gives him broad powers over civilian affairs in the West Bank through a Settlements Administration set up within the ministry. The Civil Administration, whose personnel was attacked, is under his authority and received approval from him to raze the outpost.

Some 500 Border Police officers were dispatched to the outpost, near the Givat Assaf settlement in the Binyamin region, following indications there would be violent resistance to the demolition.

The decision to destroy the outpost was made “in accordance with the IDF’s decision and with the Civil Administration,” the Border Police said in a statement.

Rioters threw Molotov cocktails at the forces, the Civil Administration said, after having burned tires and set a vehicle on fire at the entrance to the outpost when the forces arrived to clear the site.

Settler activists also stuck their legs in concrete as part of their efforts to resist evacuation.

Following the demolition of six makeshift buildings at Tzur Harel during the operation, masked rioters threw rocks at passing vehicles driving on a nearby road, including those of security personnel.

One rock hit the car of a Civil Administration official, smashing his windscreen.

The windshield of a vehicle is cracked following attacks by local settlers on security forces during the evacuation of the illegal Tzur Harel outpost in the West Bank, July 3, 2024. (Civil Administration)

According to sources familiar with the situation at Tzur Harel, the outpost has been a source of violent nationalistic activity, which led Civil Administration head Brig. Gen. Hisham Ibrahim to conduct a swift operation, approved by the “political echelon,” to remove the outpost.

Three of the buildings in the outpost were constructed in the last year, while two of them were built within the last few weeks, according to the Ynet news site.

The outpost is named for Captain (res.) Harel Sharvit, a reservist who was killed in fighting in the northern Gaza Strip in January. It is next to the older outpost of Oz Zion, which was illegally established in 2012 and has since been evacuated and repopulated several times.

MK Limor Son Har-Melech, of Ben Gvir’s ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party, earlier accused the Border Police of violence at Tzur Harel, saying she was “outraged” by the incident, while describing the settlers as “brave Jewish settlers.”

Likud MK Tally Gotliv, a firebrand member of the ruling Likud party, denounced the demolition as “a moral and ethical failure.”

The Border Police said in response to the lawmakers’ claims its forces “carried out the evacuation in accordance with a decision by the IDF and the Civil Administration.”

“The officers encountered violence, stone throwing, burning tires and a burning car, and the throwing of Molotov cocktails. The officers used crowd dispersal methods,” the statement added.

The Border Police also forcefully rejected allegations on social media that officers had fired gas grenades into a house.

“Officers fired gas grenades only in open areas, at rioters who threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the forces,” said a Border Police spokesperson.

A vehicle burns as settlers attack Civil Administration and Border Police personnel involved in demolishing the illegal West Bank outpost Tzur Harel, July 3, 2024. (Civil Administration)

“Regarding the claim of gas inside a house, it appears to originate from a use of gas that was carried out toward open areas and blown by the wind into that space.

“Rioters were all over the scene, even hiding inside houses and running away to hide, masked inside the synagogue. But it is important to clarify — at no point did they fire gas in a formation directly toward a house,” the spokesperson added.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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