Dozens of settlers attacked Palestinians and left-wing Israeli activists near the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin on Friday, police and eyewitnesses said.
At least three Israelis were injured during the attack, which came as the yearly olive harvest draws to a close, according to Israeli activists.
“Settlers began to attack Palestinians who had arrived in the area as part of the olive harvest. Riot police from the Judea and Samaria Division dealt with the matter until Border Police forces arrived,” said Border Police spokesperson Tamir Pero.
The Israeli military said three settlers had been detained and handed over to police. There was no immediate comment from local settler officials.
The annual olive harvest regularly sees heightened tensions between Israeli settlers, Palestinians and the Israeli military. According to the rights group Yesh Din, nine violent assaults by Israelis against Palestinians seeking to harvest olives have taken place since early October.
According to Israeli activist Gil Hammerschlag, a group of Israelis was present on the scene to accompany the Palestinian farmers from the local village of Surif during the harvest.
Early in the afternoon, masked men began gathering on a nearby hilltop, Hammerschlag said. According to the activist, the Israeli security coordinator for the Bat Ayin settlement stood by and watched.
“Then they came down by the dozens and started throwing stones and beating whoever they could find with clubs. They beat one of the activists in the head with a club and she was bleeding,” Hammerschlag said in a phone call.
Neta Ben-Porat, the activist in question, was treated in nearby Surif before being taken to a hospital in Jerusalem, Hammerschlag said.
Both Hammerschlag and Pero, the police spokesperson, agreed that a few dozen settlers had participated in the incident. Pero said that police had sought to arrest more, but that many had already left the scene by the time officers arrived.
Hammerschlag disputed that account: “When the police showed up, they sat in their car for two minutes and waited, giving them time to run away.”
Left-wing Rabbi Arik Ascherman was also injured in his face during the alleged attack. Ascherman, a well-known activist, has been attacked several times while in the West Bank. In 2015, a 17-year-old Jewish extremist attempted to stab him, although Ascherman escaped unscathed. Ascherman was also beaten by an Israeli settler with a wooden bat this past April, as he was accompanying Palestinian shepherds near the town of Deir Jarir in the central West Bank.
Following the incident, the Israeli army published a decree declaring the area a closed military zone for a month. Palestinians and Israelis who wish to enter the zone — which includes some land cultivated by Palestinians– must first coordinate with the army, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces said.
“The goal is to limit friction between the two sides,” they added.