Police have launched a probe into an apparent arson attack last year in a northern West Bank outpost, where a young Israeli settler claims that neighbors burned her house down after learning of her romantic relationship with a Palestinian man.
Confirming a Wednesday report on the Kan public broadcaster, an official with knowledge of the investigation told The Times of Israel that authorities were looking into all possible scenarios in the probe of the apparent arson attack and that they had yet to identify any suspects.
The official said that the woman in her 20s had moved to the isolated wildcat community, which was not named, in 2017, and roughly a year later met a Palestinian man from a village near Ramallah, who was employed as a construction worker not far from her outpost.
The official declined to provide identifying details regarding the young couple, explaining that doing so could put them and their families at risk, as such a relationship is not accepted in their respective religious communities. Moreover, the Palestinian man was living in Area A where the entry of Israelis is forbidden under IDF law and the outpost where the Israeli woman lived only hires Jewish workers in addition to prohibiting entry to all Palestinians. The couple also could not live together in Israel proper because he lacked the necessary permit to cross the Green Line.
Early in the relationship, the young woman made clear that she would not marry the man unless he converted to Judaism — a step that the Muslim Palestinian agreed to pursue, according to the official.
But after several months together, the young man’s family learned of their secret relationship and threatened to kill him. The Palestinian man then ran away from his home near Ramallah and moved in with his Israeli girlfriend in the home that she had built herself in the isolated, northern West Bank hilltop community.
The woman recalled having to regularly sneak her Palestinian boyfriend into her home in an exclusive interview with Kan, for which her entire figure was blacked out and her voice was changed.
“It was a really difficult period, each time having to sneak him in… There were always statements against Arabs (from neighbors). It was a very intense hatred. But inside the house we had our silence and I felt very safe,” she said.
“We couldn’t find any other solution. There just wasn’t any other place for us to be together,” she added.
After roughly two months of living together, the woman shared her secret with a close friend, hoping the information would stay between them. However, word spread and the outpost’s security squad one day arrived at her doorstep, demanding that she hand over her Palestinian boyfriend.
The security squad arrested the young man for trespassing, “after roughing him up first,” the official with knowledge of the investigation said. The Israeli woman was also briefly detained, but was released a short while later, along with her boyfriend.
Kan retrieved a recording of a phone conversation between the woman and a resident of the outpost after the arrest, in which he told her that she was no longer welcome in the community and warned her not to come back.
When the woman subsequently tried to return to the hilltop community in order to retrieve her belongings, she told Kan that residents placed several roadblocks on the access road.
“People I lived with — friends — completely lost their minds. Even a criminal, a murderer, a rapist or someone whose crimes are far more severe [are able to] return to their homes,” she lamented.
In addition to barring her entry into the community, the woman said the outpost’s leadership prevented her from renting or selling her own home into which she had invested some NIS 200,000 ($55,175).
In September, the woman filed a police complaint regarding the threats she had been receiving from residents of the outpost.
In early December, she received a phone call from the town’s security coordinator informing her that her house had been burned down entirely.
“I know it was arson. The home was not connected to gas or electricity,” she told Kan, adding that the incident happened the night before she had been scheduled to meet with the community leadership in order to reach a compromise regarding her property.
The woman filed an additional complaint regarding the fire and a police spokeswoman confirmed that an investigation had been opened into the incident.
To this day, the young couple has been living separately, but the official who spoke with The Times of Israel said that the two were still in touch.
“I just would like to be able to go with him to Friday evening [prayer] services… as my boyfriend and future husband,” she said between tears. “It’s the saddest thing realizing that there is not a place that will accept us.”
Responding to the Kan report, the outpost leadership issued a statement saying, “The community condemns any attempt to link its name or any of its residents to the burning of the building. [The woman] placed us in grave danger when, over the course of several months, she sneaked a resident of a hostile village in, all the while lying regarding his identity.”
“Despite all this, when [his identity] was discovered, we tried to help her and referred her to professionals. Unfortunately [the woman] refused this help and decided to harass the residents,” the statement continued. The official who spoke with The Times of Israel said the “professionals” referred to by the outpost leadership included the Lehava anti-miscegenation organization. The extremist group, which some lawmakers have tried to designate as a terrorist organization, has frequently called for action to be taken against non-Jews and LGBT individuals in order to “save the daughters of Israel.”
When she refused their help, the community leaders said they found her unfit to continue residing in the outpost.
The community leaders also said residents had tried to extinguish the blaze.
Beyond confirming that an investigation had been opened into the December incident on suspicion of arson, a police spokeswoman declined to comment further.