A group of Jewish right-wing extremists planned to carry out an attack on Palestinian workers earlier this month that would have seen them hurl Molotov cocktails at their victims and attack them with various handheld weapons, Channel 12 news reported Sunday.
The attack, which intended to target a bus stop used by workers from the West Bank, reportedly did not go ahead because the activists failed to find the Molotov cocktails that had been hidden in a field behind the stop.
Channel 12, searching the field, uncovered a large plastic bucket filled with bottles, some of which also had rags stuffed in their tops. According to the network, there was a smell of gasoline coming from the bottles.
The intended attack was planned just over two weeks ago, at a time when Jews and Arabs in cities around the country were seeing the worst clashes in years.
On May 12, in the wake of attacks on Jews in the mixed city of Lod, there was rioting by Jewish activists in various cities, including the coastal city of Bat Yam, where Arab property was vandalized and an Arab man was seriously injured when a mob dragged him from his car and assaulted him.
In the lead-up to the day’s incidents, a group of Jewish activists centered around the northern city of Afula began to communicate with each other using the Telegram app, apparently in the belief that its privacy settings would make it more difficult for security services to trace the people behind the messages.
One group on the app, titled “Death to the Arabs, Afula Branch,” swelled in size as participants shared hate messages and material against Arab Israelis and Palestinians.
At some point, the talk turned towards practical measures. One user wrote: “We need to slaughter these Arabs today,” while another said: “We are going to murder some Arabs. Period.”
Activists planned a gathering in Afula, which morphed into a plan to attack a bus stop in the area where Palestinians from the West Bank arrive each day and then head out to their different jobs. In addition to calling for participants to bring anything that could be used as a weapon, an activist with the username “Who Said Not To” asked for glass bottles so that they could be used as Molotov cocktails.
The user wrote he would provide the gasoline for the firebombs and complained that he only had 30, urging others to bring many more.
“We need to shake the country,” he wrote. He also sent a photo of a large plastic bucket filled with bottles.
“I can smell an attack,” he wrote and explained that the Molotov cocktails would be hidden in a field behind the bus stop for use by the activists.
Other users advised those planning to come to make sure they wear face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, as well as hats to prevent them from being identified.
However, although many apparently said they would join in on the plans and some arrived at the bus stop, nothing ended up happening.
Messages posted later to the group included expressions of regret that the attack did not go ahead as planned.
According to Channel 12, activists did arrive at the scene but were unable to find the hidden bottles.
Reporter Ohad Hemo, under the cover of darkness, later visited the field and uncovered what appeared to be the very bucket, filled with bottles, some of which had rags in their openings. The bottles smelled of gasoline, he reported.
The Telegram group was also linked to the extreme-right Lehava organization, with one user writing: “We are Lehava.”
Labor party MK Omer Barlev noted Sunday that since Lehava, headed by Bentzi Gopstein, is the operations arm of a nonprofit organization called The Foundation to save the People of Israel, that nonprofit should be dismantled.
Barlev told Channel 12 that he had asked the attorney general to “take apart this organization, which is acting against the democracy of the country.”
Gopstein, however, said the Afula activist who mentioned Lehava has no connection to the group and that he does not know him.
“The organization [Lehava] acts only in accordance with the law and that is how it instructs its activists to act,” he said.
Gopstein further noted that Lehava is a public organization and is “not underground.”
According to the Channel 12 report, information about the planned attack was provided to police two weeks ago, but the bottles were nonetheless not recovered or removed by police.
Police told the station they had looked into the matter and into another similar incident and that nine people had been arrested. Four of those arrested had weapons in their possession. However, all of those detained have since been released, the report said, with no information available regarding whether they will be charged.