A criminal investigation has been launched into nine Israelis who were evacuated by security forces from Ramallah Wednesday after coming under attack by residents, police said in a statement Thursday, warning that any future illegal entries into Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank would not be tolerated.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the nine, a group of Israeli peace activists, were attacked with rocks by Palestinians, and one of their vehicles was set alight as they attended an iftar meal — the fast-breaking dinner held at the end of each day on Ramadan.
There were no injuries in the incident.
“Their entry into Area A directly resulted in disturbances and attempts to attack the Israelis,” an Israel Police statement said. “Police have opened a criminal investigation, and other incidences of Israelis entering the Palestinian Authority in violation of military orders will be met with zero tolerance and be dealt with firmly.”
In 2000, the IDF barred Israeli citizens from entering Palestinian Authority-controlled areas, designated as Area A, in the West Bank following the outbreak of the Second Intifada and the abduction and lynching of two Israeli soldiers who accidentally entered Ramallah.
“Israel Police and IDF regularly warn Israelis that entering the Palestinian Authority, and unauthorized entry into these areas, is life-threatening, for the visitors as well as for security forces sent to rescue them,” the statement said. “The incident ended miraculously, though the damage sustained to the car is testimony to what could have happened.”
The group of Israelis were members of the peace group “Two States, One Homeland,” a movement that calls for a European-style confederation between Israel and a future state of Palestine, which would allow citizens from both sides of the conflict to live in either country but retain their original nationality. The Israeli side of the group is composed largely of Jewish settlers.
While initial news reports painted the nine activists’ extraction as a lucky escape, the group downplayed the incident, saying, “It appears one of our vehicles was set on fire and was slightly damaged while it was empty. The Palestinian security services quickly took control of the incident and helped us file a complaint. Despite the reports, at no point did we feel threatened, and our Palestinian friends were horrified by the incident.”
It added: “What most frightens those who wish to maintain the current status quo is Palestinians and Israelis talking and working together.”
Earlier this year, two IDF soldiers got lost while driving through the West Bank and accidentally entered the Qalandiya refugee camp. Their vehicle was firebombed, forcing them to flee. That incident prompted a large skirmish between Israeli forces and local residents, which resulted in one Palestinian being killed and dozens of injuries on both sides.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.