Ministers lambaste ‘barbarian’ settlers who hurled stones at security forces

Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett condemn actions of Israelis in northern West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, where border cop and Civil Administration worker injured

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Two right-wing ministers denounced a group of settlers who violently clashed with Israeli security forces in the northern West Bank Thursday, injuring a Border Police officer and Defense Ministry employee in the process.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the “disturbed barbarians” who attacked the officers would be dealt with.

“Today, a group of disturbed barbarians attacked Border Police officers and the Civil Administration workers in Yitzhar,” tweeted Liberman.

“We are dealing with and will continue to deal with this dangerous minority that has grown from among us and harms police officers as well as IDF soldiers.”

Earlier in the day, dozens of settlers — many of them masked — converged on security troops at the Kumi Uri outpost and began hurling stones at them.

The troops had been in the outpost adjacent to the settlement of Yitzhar in order to carry out a routine inspection along with employees of the Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body that authorizes construction in the West Bank.

The rocks, thrown by settlers coming from the direction of Yitzhar, hit a Border Police officer in the head and a Civil Administration inspector in the back. Both were evacuated to nearby hospitals for further treatment.

Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman at the Knesset on July 22, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Security forces used riot dispersal means, including stun grenades and firing in the air, to scatter the settlers.

Border Police gave chase to a number of the rioters and managed to arrest three of them — two for assaulting officers and one for stone throwing.

The suspects were two men from Yitzhar — one in his 20s and one in his 30s — and a 19-year-old from the central West Bank settlement of Neria.

As they left the scene in order to transfer the suspects for questioning, Border Police said settlers attempted to block their path, with parking cars boulders and spikes spread throughout the settlement’s exit.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett called the incident a “shame and a disgrace.”

A Border Police officer after she was hit in the head by a stone thrown by Israeli settlers at an outpost adjacent to the northern West Bank settlement of Yitzhar on July 17, 2018. (Israel Police)

“Extremists injured a border police officer. Our own officer… Those who act violently in this manner want to destroy our country,” added the education minister.

“I call on police to act with the full force of the law against this violence.”

After the incident, Border Police “called on law-abiding residents of the area to denounce the behavior of this handful of criminals who have demonstrated severe violence against officers whose main task is to protect them,” according to a statement.

Last week, police arrested two settler youth at the same outpost of Kumi Uri hours after an apparent hate crime attack was reported in a neighboring Palestinian village. Two cars were torched in Urif and a Star of David was graffitied on a nearby wall next to the Arabic phrase “be careful.”

The area around Yitzhar has seen a series of alleged hate crimes in recent months, with the Israeli security establishment viewing the settlement and its surrounding as the source of the so-called “price tag” attacks.

Price tag refers to vandalism and other hate crimes carried out by Jewish ultra-nationalists, ostensibly in retaliation for Palestinian violence or government policies perceived as hostile to the settler movement. Palestinian olive groves, mosques and churches have been targeted by far-right vandals in recent years, as have dovish Israeli rights groups and even IDF military bases.

For their part, community leaders in Yitzhar argue that many of problems relating to the settlement and its surrounding outposts have been the defense establishment’s doing.

The settler leader explained that when the IDF evacuated the illegal Baladim outpost of its dozens of hilltop youth in June 2017, a senior military official initiated a meeting with Yitzhar leadership.

During the sit-down, the IDF official warned the residents that they would soon see a wave of hilltop youth moving to the settlement.

Baladim settlers had been involved in some of the more violent attacks perpetrated by Israelis in the West Bank over the last decade. The youths targeted not just Palestinians and Israeli human rights activists, but IDF troops as well.

The Yitzhar official said that in cooperation with the Welfare Ministry, the settlement has since established an informal educational-vocational program for the hilltop youth and that the number of price tag attacks had since decreased dramatically.

Illustrative: Residents of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar clash with security forces during a demolition of an illegal structure on June 25, 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The defense establishment’s increased attention to the northern West Bank settlement and its surrounding illegal outposts has led to tensions between residents and security forces that have been deployed there in large numbers.

Speaking to The Times of Israel last month, Tzvi Succot, a Yitzhar resident who heads the far-right Otzma Yehudit group, warned that heavy-handed police attention to the settlers could spark violence.

“The next time someone slashes a tire or God forbid throws a stone at them [Palestinians], remember that there was someone forcefully pushing for that to happen,” Succot said, apparently blaming law enforcement for provoking any attack perpetrated by Jewish extremists against Palestinians.

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