Protesting new West Bank outpost, Palestinians clash with soldiers and settlers

Border cop lightly injured; Israeli and Palestinian arrested; both sides hurl rocks at each other and at security forces dispatched to scene

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

Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with settlers and Israeli security forces on Thursday in the central West Bank as they protested the establishment of a new outpost nearby on land they claim belongs to them.

A Border Police officer was lightly injured in the clashes in which Israelis and Palestinians hurled stones at each other and at security forces. A statement from the Border Police did not specify who threw the rock that struck the injured officer.

Palestinian activist groups had organized a protest march from the village of Turmus Aya through the Shiloh valley and toward a hilltop referred to by settlers as Geulat Tzion. Israelis have illegally erected structures there in an attempt to establish an outpost over a dozen times in recent years, but security forces have intervened each time. Earlier this month, several new structures were spotted, sparking the ire of Palestinians, who once owned the land that was seized by the state for security reasons.

Geulat Tzion is located on what Israel considers to be state land. Under Israeli law, the government can expropriate land if it deems that it has not been worked for a considerable amount of time. Palestinians reject these seizures.

Palestinians say that the outposts around Shiloh have made farming the area increasingly difficult. The Israel Defense Forces often closes off surrounding lands in order to prevent clashes with settlers, whom Palestinian villagers accuse of harassment and intimidation in their fields. Settlers, in contrast, claim that these instances of friction are provoked by Palestinians, who are egged on by left-wing NGOs.

Palestinians left from Turmusaya and were met by IDF soldiers, who fired teargas and rubber bullets in an effort to disperse the march, said Yesh Din spokeswoman Sharona Weiss, who attended the demonstration. Generally, the IDF does not allow large congregations of Palestinians in the West Bank, viewing them as a public disturbance.

Weiss said that the soldiers eventually let the demonstrators continue toward Geulat Tzion. However, when the Palestinians reached an adjacent hilltop, Israeli security forces again began using riot dispersal measures against them.

Footage from the scene showed Palestinians hurling stones at IDF soldiers and Border Police officers; the police said in a statement that firecrackers were also thrown at the forces.

At that point, Weiss said dozens of settlers arrived at the scene and also began to hurl stones at the Palestinians.

According to the official Palestinian Authority news site Wafa, two men were injured by rubber-coated bullets and dozens suffered from teargas inhalation.

During the chaotic scene that unfolded, an IDF vehicle crashed into a Palestinian ambulance. It was not immediately clear if anyone had been injured in the crash.

Border Police said they had arrested an Israeli and a Palestinian during the clash, but a Yesh Din field worker said he saw close to a dozen Palestinian youth being detained.

While the field worker said that both sides were hurling stones, the IDF only employed riot dispersal measures against the Palestinians.

Border Police said in a statement that both the settlers and Palestinians there had been violating a closed military zone order.

Dozens of Israelis were in the area after they were invited by Geulat Tzion activists, who organized an event for young families with inflatable play castles for children.

“The people of Israel have the exclusive right to their land. By virtue of our right, we will all ascend to the southern ridge of the Shiloh area to strengthen Jewish presence there and prevent the construction of a new Arab city,” the flyer inviting settlers to the event said.

Separately on Thursday, Border Police announced that they arrested three Palestinians suspected of involvement in terror activity. Security forces raided their homes in Beit Liqya near Ramallah where they found explosive devices. The suspects, in their 30s and 40s, had their remands extended by the Ofer Military court for an additional 12 days.

Thursday’s clashes came a day after Israeli rights groups reported that a gang of masked settlers armed with crowbars brutally assaulted a group of activists, among them an 80-year-old rabbi, who were assisting Palestinian farmers in the northern West Bank with their harvest.

Of the five volunteers who were injured, four were visiting from the US, UK and other European countries, said a field worker for Yesh Din. Rabbi Moshe Yehudai, an Israeli activist from the Rabbis for Human Rights organization, was the fifth person targeted, suffering blows to the arm and head. He was evacuated to the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba with a broken arm.

Rabbis for Human Rights recruits volunteers to accompany Palestinians, who say they face regular intimidation and violence while tending to crops located near settlements throughout the West Bank.

A statement from the Yitzhar settlement on Wednesday blamed the incident on “provocations caused by extreme-left activists,” who together with Palestinian approached the settlement, which the statement said created “a security hazard.”

A Yesh Din volunteer with wounds sustained during an altercation with settlers int he West Bank on October 16, 2019. (Courtesy Yesh Din/Lexie Botzum)
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