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Defense minister condemns attack on Druze lieutenant colonel

IDF: Settler attacks officer during protest over teen’s death

Golani Brigade’s recon unit commander said hit while trying to open a West Bank road blocked by demonstrators; settler leader accuses troops of illegally touching female protesters

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

People protest over the death of Ahuvia Sandak in a car crash during a police chase, near the Police Internal Investigations Department in Jerusalem on January 2, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People protest over the death of Ahuvia Sandak in a car crash during a police chase, near the Police Internal Investigations Department in Jerusalem on January 2, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A settler attacked the commander of the Golani Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion outside the Kedumim settlement on Saturday night during a protest that turned violent, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The alleged assault occurred while the officer, Lt. Col. Ayoub Kayuf, and his troops were opening up a roadway outside the Kedumim settlement in the northern West Bank that had been blocked by the protesters on Saturday night as part of a demonstration over the death of Ahuvia Sandak, a 16-year-old killed in a car crash last month while fleeing from police after allegedly throwing rocks at Palestinians.

“After a traffic jam had built up at the scene, a military force removed the protesters and ordered them to clear out the roadway. When they refused, the troops worked to clear the protesters from the highway,” the army said.

“One of the protesters used physical violence against the IDF officer. He was detained at the site and handed over to the police officers at the scene… The officer filed a complaint with the police,” the IDF said.

The head of the Menashe Regional Brigade, Col. Yair Plai (center), and commander of the Givati Reconnaissance Battalion, Lt. Col. Ayoub Kayuf (right), speak with soldiers at the scene of a rock throwing attack in the northern West Bank village of Yabed in which IDF soldier Amit Ben-Ygal was killed on May 12, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The assailant, Yehuda Shimon, was detained at the site of the alleged attack and handed over to police, the military said. He was quickly released and was only later informed that charges were being filed against him.

The suspect admitted to the Ynet news site that he had put his hands on the officer, saying he’d done so to prevent soldiers from physically removing a teenage girl who was taking part in the protest.

“I came to demonstrate with my children. There were some guys who blocked the road. I saw the officer — I didn’t know who he was — picking up a teenage girl by her arms. I told him, don’t pick up the girl like that and I moved his arm. Immediately five soldiers jumped on me,” Shimon said, according to the report.

Shimon said he had not punched the officer or otherwise harmed him.

Yossi Dagan, who represents the Jewish settlements in the Samaria region, accused Kayuf and the other troops of illegally handling the female protesters, implying that their actions were inappropriate.

“I want to stress that according to the law only female police officers are meant to remove girls from a roadblock during a protest, and not soldiers or officers who are the same age as their parents,” Dagan said in a statement.

The settler leader called for an investigation into the matter. Videos from the scene indeed showed that male soldiers removed female protesters from the scene, though it was not immediately clear if female troops were indeed required for the mission. The IDF said it was looking into the allegation.

A military official rejected the claims by Dagan and Shimon that soldiers inappropriately touched young female protesters on Saturday night, calling the allegations “spurious.”

“The claims are baseless,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The military official said the soldiers acted in accordance with the law to break up the protest.

Dagan added that violence against soldiers or police was unacceptable. He said he agreed with the goals of the demonstrations, but called for the protesters to “lower the flames.”

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi denounced the attack on the officer, saying in a statement Sunday that such violence must be rejected by Israeli society.

“The chief of staff determined that harming IDF soldiers, who serve day and night to defend citizens of the state, by settlers, who are protected by [troops], is unacceptable behavior that we must reject and vigorously fight against while, in addition, bringing to justice those involved,” the army chief said.

Kohavi spoke with Kayuf following the attack and “expressed his support and appreciation for his service and the actions of his soldiers in preserving the security of the region,” the military said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, speaks to an IDF officer as army chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, right, watches on during a visit to the IDF Central Command in Jerusalem, on September 15, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also condemned the assault.

“We won’t accept any terrorist acts or violence against civilians or soldiers. I condemn and reject the attack on the commander of the Golani Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion by a rioter,” he said.

The defense minister noted that it was not the first attack on security forces during recent protests by settlers.

“The IDF and the rest of the security services will continue to preserve law and order against the evil winds of incitement — honestly and determinedly. The violence we have seen recently will be dealt with harshly,” he said.

This was not the first altercation that Kayuf, a Druze Israeli, has had with settlers in the West Bank. In October 2019, Kayuf’s vehicle was surrounded by a group of settlers near the Yitzhar settlement, a community with a long history of violence toward Israeli security forces and Palestinians, as well as a controversial policy of not allowing non-Jews inside.

“One of the settlers opened the door of the vehicle and threatened its passengers. At that point, the commander of the unit, who was in the vehicle, emerged and the settlers left the area,” the military said at the time.

Recent weeks have seen regular protests by right-wing Israelis over Sandak’s death, as well as several cases of violence against police and Palestinians. Demonstrators have thrown stones, attacked buses, vandalized cars and blocked major thoroughfares. Some have also attacked Arab civilians. In turn, police have responded forcefully, with reports of violence by officers toward demonstrators.

Numerous instances of violence were reported on Saturday night, with the Yesh Din rights group saying settlers blocked a number of roads in the West Bank and threw rocks at Palestinian cars. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

In Jerusalem, demonstrators at the Chords Bridge shattered the windows of a passing bus, according to the Walla news site.

In total, 10 protesters were arrested at various locations, according to Hebrew media reports.

Sandak was killed in a crash as police chased his car, after he and four others allegedly hurled rocks at Palestinian vehicles and attempted to flee from the cops. Police have said the driver lost control of the vehicle lost control and it overturned, while settlers have claimed the crash was caused by a police car ramming the vehicle.

Ahuvia Sandak, who was killed when his car flipped over while being chased by police in the West Bank on December 21, 2020. (Courtesy)

Hundreds of arrests have taken place at demonstrations so far, according to statements released by police last week. No clear number has been given for people charged with violence at the rallies.

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department has questioned the officers involved in the incident. But Channel 12 reported last Saturday that they are not expected to face criminal charges. The network said the four other so-called hilltop youth extremists who were in the car with Sandak are expected to be charged with throwing rocks at Palestinian cars, and at least one of them may also be indicted for negligent homicide in Sandak’s death.

The deadly car crash came hours after an Israeli woman, Esther Horgen, was found dead in a northern West Bank forest where she had gone for a run a day earlier in an apparent terror attack. Horgen’s murder sparked several days of tension in the West Bank. Military sources told the Walla news site that they feared Horgen’s death could spark a series of revenge attacks by the settler youth on Palestinians and further inflame the already tense situation in the West Bank.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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