Radical settlers suspected of attacking Palestinians, cars near quarantine site

Assailants throw rocks, unleash pepper-spray on Palestinians; incident occurs near isolation outpost built by IDF for far-right extremists; Arab Israeli woman in one car faints

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

Illustrative: A car torched in a price-tag attack targeting the Palestinian village of Far'ata on December 20, 2019. (Far'ata municipality)
Illustrative: A car torched in a price-tag attack targeting the Palestinian village of Far'ata on December 20, 2019. (Far'ata municipality)

Officers were dispatched to a crime scene in the southern West Bank overnight Monday after receiving a report that a group of masked Israeli settlers pepper-sprayed and hurled stones at three Palestinians and firebombed their two vehicles before fleeing the scene, police said in a statement.

The incident took place near Metzoke Dragot, where a group of 20 far-right extremists are being housed in an outpost established for them by the IDF in order to self-quarantine, after they came in contact with a COVID-19 carrier.

The three Palestinians did not require medical assistance, according to police. Channel 12 said a woman in one of the vehicles was an Arab Israeli resident of Haifa, who fainted at the scene.

Officers collected evidence at the scene and opened an investigation into the attack, police said. No arrests were made.

A police spokeswoman said law enforcement was looking into whether those residing in the so-called “quarantine outpost” nearby were involved.

A security official quoted by Channel 12 appeared to pin the attack on settler youth, wryly calling the attack “the show of appreciation by the hilltop youth to the State of Israel for treating them amid the coronavirus crisis.”

“This is further proof that this is a violent, extreme, racist group that is sowing terror everywhere it goes,” the unnamed source said, adding that “the security forces will bring those involved to justice.”

The IDF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Jewish terrorists are repeatedly accepted with love and understanding by [Public Security Minister Gilad] Erdan and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s police, and so was the case tonight when we saw the racist violence that only miraculously did not take human lives. Instead of establishing ‘Ma’ale coronavirus’ these hilltop youth should have been placed behind bars,” tweeted Joint List MK Ofer Cassif in response to the attack.

The army last week confirmed that it had established and was securing a “temporary” outpost for the group of Israeli teens after they refused to abide by the government’s coronavirus guidelines and shattered the windows of a bus taking them to a quarantine hotel.

Photos taken at the site showed that the outpost includes a large tent where the so-called hilltop youth sleep together, a Beit Midrash tent for religious study, a tent for the teens to prepare food, showers, outhouses and a generator.

The 20 teens were transferred to the site in Metzoke Dragot, near the Dead Sea, on Monday night and have been allowed to lodge together, in violation of the government’s coronavirus guidelines, which require those who come in contact with confirmed carriers to isolate on their own.

The group, from the Givat Ronen outpost in the northern West Bank, had initially been taken to a Jerusalem hotel on Monday morning after one of their peers tested positive for COVID-19. In addition to the inhabitants of the outpost, the carrier teen forced the IDF’s Central Command head Nadav Padan into quarantine.

When the group arrived at the state-run Jerusalem hotel, they were told that each of them would be required to stay in separate rooms like all other guests. When they refused, police decided to bus them to an alternative site in the south.

One of the far-right activists filmed another on the bus saying they had not been told where they were being taken, and were concerned that their destination might be a detention center run by the Shin Bet internal security service.

Hilltop youth quarantining together in a tent provided by the IDF on April 7, 2020. (Courtesy)

The hilltop youth subsequently wreaked havoc on the bus, shattering most of the windows. Several of the far-right activists managed to flee, but were apprehended by Border Police.

Police said an investigation would be opened against the teens over the bus vandalism.

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