Soldiers, Israeli peace activists clash as army blocks solidarity march to Huwara

European diplomats also visit scene of settler rampage, call on Israel to bring to justice those behind the attack on West Bank Palestinian town

A member of the Israeli security forces scuffles with a protester as Palestinian and Israeli peace activists demonstrate at the entrance of Huwara in the West Bank, on March 3, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)
A member of the Israeli security forces scuffles with a protester as Palestinian and Israeli peace activists demonstrate at the entrance of Huwara in the West Bank, on March 3, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Israel Defense Forces soldiers clashed with hundreds of left-wing Israeli activists trying to enter the West Bank Palestinian town of Huwara on a solidarity visit following a deadly settler rampage there earlier in the week.

Footage from the scene showed troops scuffling with marchers and in several cases stun grenades were thrown.

In one video soldiers can be seen repeatedly pushing former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg until he falls to the ground. Several activists were briefly detained, organizers said.

Labor party MK Gilad Kariv said the violence was part of an effort by the government to target the left.

“There is a direct line between the stun grenades thrown at protesters today and those thrown in Tel Aviv,” he said, referring to the police use of force against anti-government protests on Wednesday.

Earlier the military stopped some 10 buses carrying people from the “Standing Together” and the “Looking the Occupation in the Eye” movements from reaching Huwara. The activists then tried to proceed on foot from the nearby Tapuah junction to Huwara.

The activists later got off their vehicles and began marching toward the town, many of them carrying signs reading “End Jewish terror” and “Palestinian lives matter.” However, they were again blocked by the army, which said it was forced to bar their entry in response to disorderly conduct that had broken out. Protest organizers in a statement called the military order a form of “collective punishment of the victims of the rampage.”

The visit came amid an outpouring of shock and horror in Israel and abroad after hundreds of settlers ransacked the Palestinian town of Huwara and surrounding villages Sunday night in revenge for a terror attack in which two Israeli brothers driving through the town were gunned down hours earlier.

Radical settlers burned homes, cars and storefronts and assaulted Palestinians, leading to scores of injuries and the death of a Palestinian man in unclear circumstances. Israel’s top general in the West Bank referred to the rampage as a “pogrom.”

The left-wing activists complained that while their busses were being stopped from entering, settlers continued to traverse the town freely on Friday. Stores on Huwara’s main road where much of the rampage took place have been closed for the past week due to a military order that the IDF says is required to maintain calm in the area.

Four protesters who tried to go around the IDF roadblock were detained.

Israeli security forces block Palestinian and Israeli peace activists protesting at the entrance of Huwara in the West Bank, on March 3, 2023. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Former Meretz MK Mossi Raz condemned the situation.

“The military announcement that is barring Israelis from a solidarity visit in Huwara is the essence of the policy of occupation: entry for those carrying out pogroms is allowed, peace activists are barred. That’s what the occupation looks like,” he tweeted.

Huwara has long been a flashpoint; it is one of the only Palestinian towns through which Israelis regularly travel in order to reach settlements in the northern West Bank. There have been several shooting attacks on Israeli motorists on Route 60 in Huwara.

There are plans to build a bypass road for settlers to avoid them having to travel through the Palestinian town, but the construction work has been stalled.

Also Friday, a delegation of European diplomats toured Huwara and a neighboring village to inspect the damage that was caused in the rampage.

“There is a need to bring to justice those carrying out crimes against the Palestinians and to end settler violence,” the Ynet news site quoted the delegation as saying.

The head of the European Union’s mission in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff (L), shakes hands with a Palestinian man as he visits Huwara town in the West Bank, on March 3, 2023. (Photo by Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP)

A Jerusalem court on Thursday ordered police to release all of the suspects detained over the riots, but the Defense Ministry signed off on an administrative detention order for two of them, including a minor.

According to the Honenu legal aid organization representing the suspects, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered police to free all seven suspects who were being held following their arrests on Wednesday, due to a lack of evidence of their involvement in the rampage.

Shortly after the court ordered their release, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant signed administrative detention orders against two of the suspects following recommendations by the Shin Bet security agency.

Administrative detention is a controversial practice whereby individuals can be held without charge practically indefinitely, and are not granted access to the evidence against them.

This picture taken on February 27, 2023, shows a view of torched cars and a building in the town of Huwara near Nablus in the West Bank. (Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP)

While it is rarely used against Jewish suspects, nearly 1,000 Palestinians are currently held in custody under the practice.

The orders against the pair, 29-year-old David Chai Chasdai, and a 17-year-old minor, are currently valid for four months, until July 1.

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