ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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MK claims policeman sexually assaulted her during West Bank orchard confrontation

Otzma Yehudit’s Limor Son Har-Melech says ‘something completely forbidden’ happened amid clash with cops; police say conduct was respectful and professional

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech surrounded by police as she protests the removal of a West Bank settler's illegally planted orchard on February 15, 2023 (Screencapture/Twitter)
Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech surrounded by police as she protests the removal of a West Bank settler's illegally planted orchard on February 15, 2023 (Screencapture/Twitter)

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech alleged on Wednesday that a policeman sexually assaulted her as she and other activists attempted to thwart security forces from removing trees illegally planted by a settler in the West Bank.

Speaking to Hebrew media, Son Har-Melech said that officers huddled around her in a circle, and as she tried to break free, one “did something that is completely forbidden.” The MK said she was “ashamed to say what happened in that human chain when I tried to get out.”

“I need to digest what happened there in order to respond in a clearer way. Everything was done according to the instruction of their commander, to whom I said: ‘Let me go, do you understand what is happening here doesn’t make sense.’ And then he said to me, ‘We need to protect you,'” the lawmaker told Ynet Radio.

The incident was caught on video, and apparently occurred as cops attempted to hold onto the MK as she tried to wriggle out of their cordon.

Son Har-Melech was one of two MKs who joined dozens of activists as they attempted to physically impede security forces from carrying out their order. Some stood in front of bulldozers and tied themselves to trees. Numerous activists were reportedly arrested during violent confrontations with security personnel.

As an MK, Son Har-Melech is generally exempt from limitations on movement or entry to locations that may apply to regular citizens.

In response to Son Har-Melech’s allegations, police said in a statement: “The Border Police commander was updated throughout the incident, and it is important to emphasize that in addition to the immunity and freedom of movement the MK enjoys, the forces acted with great sensitivity and determination while leading respectful dialogue and exhibiting professional conduct during the incident.”

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har Melech seen after a meeting of the Religious Zionism party at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Toward the end of the operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that it be halted and the remaining trees left in place, but not before the incident laid bare tensions within the coalition over who has authority over the Civil Administration — the body in charge — once again pitting Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is a minister within the Defense Ministry, against Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

While the operation was ongoing, Smotrich denounced it as “a supreme injustice” and demanded that Netanyahu transfer authority over the Civil Administration to him immediately, in accordance with coalition agreements that he stressed were “the basis for the existence of the coalition.”

After the altercation, Smotrich tweeted: “The brutal police violence on display today against settlers and the harming of the body and immunity of MK Limor Son Har-Melech is unacceptable. Not in our government! If a quarter of this had happened at a left-wing rally the ground would tremble.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tweeted that the “extreme” conduct of the police officers justified the transfer of authority over the West Bank’s Border Police from the Israel Defense Forces to the Israel Police, as per coalition agreements.

He added that he would request that such a move be made at the upcoming cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Sonn Har Melech stands in front of a bulldozer on a plot of land close to the settlement of Shiloh in the West Bank to stop the uprooting of trees by the Civil Administration of the Defense Ministry, February 15, 2023

Speaking to Ynet, Son Har-Melech called the scene a “difficult sight,” decrying “the uprooting of olive trees, a beautiful grove owned by Jews when all around the hill there is illegal building by Arabs.”

The ownership over the land in question has never been established, but until 2005 it was not formally registered as private land belonging to anyone. The heirs to a Palestinian family have claimed ownership of the plot.

The Civil Administration sought to remove the trees planted by Chen Ben Eliyahu, claiming he had no right to use non-state land — land that is neither owned by the state nor with clear private ownership.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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