An off-duty soldier was arrested by Israeli troops in the southern West Bank on Friday after he allegedly hurled stones at soldiers along with a group of Palestinians and left-wing activists, the military claimed.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, several suspects, including both Palestinians and Israelis, “violently attacked and threw stones” at troops operating near the illegal West Bank outpost of Avigayil, in the South Hebron Hills area.
The IDF said one of the suspects who allegedly hurled stones at troops is an off-duty soldier. He was arrested by troops, and handed over to police for further questioning.
An activist involved, however, strongly denied they had attacked troops.
Speaking to The Times of Israel, the activist said he and another man were assisting a Palestinian shepherd in the area. At one point troops showed up and claimed they were in a closed military zone, and attempted to clear the trio out of the area.
The activist said there was no violence toward troops as they began to leave the closed military zone, during which the other activist was arrested. Stones were thrown near the sheep in order to direct them out of the area, and not at troops, according to the activist.
סרטון המתעד את המעצר של פעיל השמאל בדרום הר חברון. התפרעות אין פה וגם לא רואים יידוי אבנים אלא אווירה רגועה למדי. לדברי פעיל שהיה במקום, הם הגיעו כדי ללוות רועי צאן, חיילים הכריזו על האיזור כשטח צבאי סגור > pic.twitter.com/3k7Vb7ieUG
— Hagar Shezaf (@hagar_shezaf) October 28, 2022
A video filmed by the activist showed the suspect seemingly being arrested without resisting.
The detained activist was later released after being questioned by police, and was barred from the South Hebron Hills area for 15 days.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he “strongly condemns” the alleged attack.
“This is a serious incident, which will be dealt with in the most thorough manner. We will not allow anyone to harm IDF soldiers who are carrying out their mission for Israel’s security,” Gantz wrote on Twitter.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi labeled the incident “criminal behavior” in a statement published by the military.
The statement said Kohavi “strongly condemns the attack on IDF soldiers and views the violent and criminal behavior with great severity.”
“This is a very serious incident. This is shameful and disgraceful criminal behavior, which requires swift and strict justice,” Kohavi said.
“IDF soldiers act with determination against terrorism in order to protect Israeli citizens, and it is illogical for those citizens to attack them violently,” he added.
Meretz MK Mossi Raz demanded the IDF investigate the apparent discrepancy between its statement, the footage and the activists’ testimony.
“The difference between the event as described by the IDF spokesperson and as seen by watching the videos that were published is enormous,” said Raz in a statement published by his office.
“I call on the defense minister and the chief of staff to investigate how such an announcement came out without the situation being examined in depth,” the Meretz MK added.
The incident came a week after Israeli settlers and right-wing activists attacked IDF troops near Nablus, sparking widespread condemnation by officials across the political spectrum.
The suspects maced with pepper spray a senior officer and three other soldiers who were attempting to stop them from hurling stones at Palestinians in the West Bank town of Huwara.
Two suspects were arrested following that violent incident, including an off-duty soldier who has since been released to house arrest.
Friday’s incident comes following several clashes between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, masked Israeli settlers and Palestinians were seen hurling stones at each other, as a group of Palestinians was harvesting olives near the West Bank town of Turmus Aya.
The IDF said troops arrived at the scene to separate the sides.
The annual olive harvest season, when Palestinians go into groves on agricultural plots to collect the fruits, often sees an uptick in clashes, especially on plots near Israeli settlements or outposts.
Left-wing Israeli groups often send volunteers to help the harvest, protect Palestinians and document crimes.