The chief spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces denounced Thursday the settler rampages in the West Bank towns of Turmus Ayya and Urif, which saw hundreds set homes, cars and fields on fire and terrorize residents, as well as the death of a Palestinian man in unclear circumstances.
Speaking with Army Radio, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari acknowledged that the IDF had “failed to prevent” the rioting, describing the attack as “very grave.”
“This is an incident that creates terror and escalation, and takes the population that isn’t involved in terror and pushes it [toward extremism], while preventing the IDF from fighting terror in operational activities,” he added.
Meanwhile, Religious-Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, the far-right chairman of the Knesset Constitution Committee and one of the judicial overhaul’s leading proponents, compared the violent rioters to anti-government protesters, complaining to Army Radio that “when you protest against the [judicial] reform you can call to take up arms and be violent, but when you protest against a ‘trivial matter’ like four people being murdered, then that’s not alright?”
Protests against the government’s efforts to curb the power of the judiciary have been largely peaceful, though some have devolved into limited clashes between activists and police, particularly when the former attempted to block major roads.
Rothman may have also been referring to some sporadic comments by protesters suggesting the potential use of force to counter the overhaul. For example, prominent lawyer David Hodek said in February that “if someone forces me to live in a dictatorship and I have no choice, I won’t hesitate to use live fire.” Hodek later apologized as police opened an investigation.
No arrests have been reported thus far from the rioting in Turmus Ayya in which, according to a Haaretz report, settlers set a school on fire and attempted to ignite a mosque as well. Vandals from the Yitzhar settlement told Kan news that they’d disconnected the power to the nearby Palestinian village of Urif.
The Palestinian Authority health ministry said one Palestinian was killed and another 12 were wounded in Turmus Ayya during the attack by settlers and ensuing clash with Israeli troops and police. At least four Palestinians were wounded by gunfire, including one listed in serious condition, the ministry said.
The slain man was named as 27-year-old Omar Qattin, who residents said was a father of two small children and worked as an electrician for the local municipality.
It was unclear if Qattin was the one who was shot by police, though Palestinian witnesses said the slain man was nowhere near Israeli forces when he was shot. It was also unclear who shot the other four Palestinians.
Strong condemnations of the rampage were issued by multiple countries, including the US.
Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been elevated for the past year, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.
Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 24 people, including 17-year-old Nachman Mordoff, 17-year-old Elisha Anteman, 21-year-old Harel Masood and 64-year-old Ofer Fayerman, who were killed Tuesday.
According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 132 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during that span, most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.
On Wednesday night, in response to the Eli attack, a new West Bank outpost was set up a few kilometers from the settlement.
Photos provided by Peace Now showed five buildings made of prefabricated metal walls erected at the site, just outside the Ma’ale Levona settlement in the northern West Bank across Route 60 from Eli.
Also visible in the pictures are heavy earth-moving bulldozers and excavator drill machinery, as well as a newly dug, unpaved access path to the site.
The IDF, Defense Ministry, Civil Administration and office of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich — who serves as an additional minister in the Defense Ministry with authority over civilian affairs in the West Bank — did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to how such a complex, illegal construction operation was carried out without their intervention and whether the site would be evacuated.
Separately, dozens and possibly hundreds of settler activists have taken up residence in the illegal, oft-evacuated outpost of Evyatar several kilometers north of Eli, and are holding events and activities at the site.