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IDF troops detain a settler who attacked Palestinians; police promptly free him

Israeli extremists attacked Palestinian cars at a military checkpoint; unusually, one was nabbed by soldiers and handed over to cops, who made no record of the event

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli soldiers on Wednesday detained an Israeli man who had allegedly thrown rocks at Palestinian cars passing through a northern West Bank military checkpoint and then handed him over to the police, who apparently released him immediately, making no record of the incident.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, a group of settlers attacked the Palestinian vehicles as they were waiting to go through the checkpoint near the village of Burqa, outside the illegal Homesh outpost, which has emerged as a major site for violence between Palestinians and settlers in recent months.

“IDF soldiers who were at the scene pushed back the rioters and detained one of them until the Israel Police arrived,” the military said in a statement.

Video footage filmed from inside one of the Palestinian cars showed several settlers attacking the vehicles as a handful of soldiers tried to grab them.

An IDF spokesperson told The Times of Israel that the military handed over the detained suspect to the Israel Police.

The police officers apparently released the suspect immediately without charges, making no record of the incident of any kind, according to a police spokesperson.

The Palestinian village of Burqa is seen as an Israeli flag is placed in the Jewish West Bank outpost of Homesh, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The incident came as the two main politicians responsible for law enforcement in the West Bank — Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev — have called for crackdowns on settler violence against Palestinians, left-wing Israeli activists and Israeli security forces, amid a noted increase in such attacks over the past year.

“The involvement of the IDF as the sovereign in Judea and Samaria to prevent such incidents must grow. Every soldier in the field has the authority of a police officer to detain and to stop such violence. In addition, the cooperation between the IDF and the police must be strengthened, and we are working to do so,” Barlev said in a statement last Friday after an attack by settlers on left-wing Israeli activists.

As the IDF maintains a large presence in the West Bank, soldiers are often on the scene of these attacks and are regularly seen standing by as they occur. Though soldiers are legally permitted — even required in some cases — to intervene to prevent violent attacks, regardless of nationality, the military generally prefers leaving the arrests of Israeli settlers to the police. This practice of nonintervention in settler attacks on Palestinians has come under increasing criticism in Israel as more and more video footage of such cases has come out and as foreign governments have increasingly expressed concern over the phenomenon.

The detention of a suspect on Wednesday marked a departure from this unofficial policy, though the subsequent release of the man raised questions about the seriousness of Barlev’s claims that the police were addressing the issue as well.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev attends a ceremony at the Israel Police National Headquarters in Jerusalem, September 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Barlev’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comments about the police decision to release the man suspected of throwing rocks at Palestinians.

Also on Wednesday night, several settlers clashed with Israeli forces in the nearby illegal outpost of Givat Ronen. A Border Police officer was lightly hurt when he was teargassed by a settler as he tried to stop him slashing the tire of a patrol car with a knife, police said. An investigation into the attack was opened.

Police said the settlers also blocked roads to stop Israeli forces from reaching the area, as they planned to demolish the wildcat outpost.

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