IDF soldier lightly injured by rock as 30 settlers attack troops, puncture tires

Security forces fire in air to disperse riot near Yitzhar; protesters hurl stones, slash tires of military vehicles; settler leader condemns incident

Illustrative: A military jeep is damaged in riots by settlers near the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar on October 20, 2019. (Courtesy)
Illustrative: A military jeep is damaged in riots by settlers near the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar on October 20, 2019. (Courtesy)

An Israel Defense Forces soldier was lightly injured by rock-throwing during clashes between security forces and settlers near the northern West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, the army said Sunday.

The riots overnight Saturday-Sunday involved some 30 settlers, according to the IDF, who hurled stones at troops and punctured tires of military vehicles.

The army responded by using riot dispersal means and firing in the air.

A soldier was lightly injured by a stone and received medical treatment at the scene, the military said.

“The IDF strongly condemns any physical and verbal violence against its servicemen and views these incidents seriously,” the IDF said.

No arrests were announced.

The head of the Samaria Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, condemned the incident and claimed the violence was largely perpetrated by teenagers who are not residents of Yitzhar.

In a statement, the council said Dagan had traveled to Yitzhar immediately upon hearing about the violence, met the soldiers who were attacked, “embraced them and clarified the residents’ feelings of anger over the act.”

“All residents of Samaria and of Yitzhar decry the harm to our dear soldiers,” Dagan said. “The handful of people who did that are teenagers, the vast majority of whom came from outside the community. We will act with all the means we have to kick them out of here.”

Local residents were organizing a demonstration at 1 p.m. in front of nearby military bases in support of the IDF and in protest of the violence against them.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers stand by as masked Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinian protesters (unseen) gathering during a demonstration against construction on an Israeli outpost near the Palestinian village of Turmusaya and the settlement of Shilo, north of Ramallah in the West Bank, on October 17, 2019. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

“The soldiers who were attacked and caught by surprise shot in the air, and it’s a miracle this story didn’t end with deaths (from either side), therefore many in the community believe a red line has been crossed and we can’t remain silent and keep on with our daily lives,” they wrote in a pamphlet advertising the demonstration.

The violence came after a pair of arrests that angered hardline residents of Yitzhar and the surrounding outposts: The first on Wednesday when security forces nabbed a teenager suspected of starting a fire in a Palestinian-owned field located near his home. The minor’s attorney claimed the arresting officer from the Golani brigade had used unnecessary force in apprehending his client, who was released two days later to house arrest.

That evening, a second teen was arrested in the Yitzhar area after the army said he had threatened Golani infantry brigade commander Lieutenant-Colonel Ayoub Kayouf.

“On Friday, several residents gathered and blocked a military vehicle at the entrance to the settlement on Yitzhar,” the army said in a statement regarding the second arrest. “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 that the incident was taken care of with the cooperation of the Israel Police and local settler leadership, leading to the arrest of the youth.

“The IDF unequivocally condemns physical and verbal abuse toward its servicemen and takes a very harsh view of this incident,” it said.

While there had been reports that the Yitzhar youth had assaulted Kayouf, the leadership of the settlement reiterated in a statement that there was no suspicion that the minor had physically assaulted the officer, and touted its cooperation with the authorities. The statement railed at the timing of the arrest — on Friday night, during the Jewish Sabbath — calling it “a gross violation of individual rights as well as the sanctity of Shabbat.”

Also on Wednesday, Israeli rights groups reported that a gang of masked settlers armed with crowbars brutally assaulted a group of activists, among them an 80-year-old rabbi, who were assisting Palestinian farmers in the northern West Bank with their harvest.

Rabbis for Human Rights activist Moshe Yehudai, who the NGO says was assaulted by a group of masked settlers in the northern West Bank on October 16, 2019. (Rabbis for Human Rights)

Of the five volunteers who were injured, four were visiting from the US, UK and other European countries, said a Yesh Din field worker. Rabbi Moshe Yehudai, an Israeli activist from the Rabbis for Human Rights organization, was the fifth person targeted, suffering blows to the arm and head. He was evacuated to the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba with a broken arm.

A statement from a spokesperson for the Yitzhar settlement blamed Wednesday’s incident on “provocations caused by extreme-left activists,” who together with Palestinians approached the settlement, which the statement said created “a security hazard.”

Rabbis for Human Rights recruits volunteers to accompany Palestinians, who say they face regular intimidation and violence while tending to crops located near settlements throughout the West Bank.

This year’s annual olive harvest, which has just begun, has seen several incidents of violence in the West Bank. The harvest is a frequent site of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers that the Israel Defense Forces says it seeks to prevent.

Most recently, on Saturday, masked Israeli settlers were filmed hurling stones at Palestinian farmers and stealing their olives, in footage provided by the Yesh Din rights group.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said three farmers from the northern West Bank town of Burin were hospitalized after they were beaten with clubs by Israeli youth. They were released later Saturday afternoon.

After chasing the farmers from their plot, the over two dozen Israeli youth who reached Burin from the neighboring Givat Ronen outpost stole a sheet used for collecting olives, a large bag of olives, and personal belongings, a Yesh Din field worker reported.

After a group of Palestinian youth returned to the scene, clashes broke out between them and the settlers, with both sides hurling stones at one another.

Two Border Police jeeps subsequently arrived at the scene and used riot dispersal measures to disperse the Palestinians.

Later Saturday evening, the IDF and Israel Police confirmed the accusations of settler violence. The army said that eight Israelis hurled stones at Palestinians, injuring one of them before fleeing the scene. A police spokeswoman said that the clashes had ended by the time officers had arrived and therefore they were unable to conduct arrests.

A spokeswoman for the Samaria Regional Council said the Yesh Din account was “nonsense,” but did not provide additional information.

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