A group of Israeli youths, likely from an illegal settlement outpost, assaulted a group of Palestinians and foreign nationals who were hiking near the West Bank city of Jericho on Friday, according to eye-witness accounts and video footage from the incident.
In the footage, a young Jewish man can be seen swinging a club at the hikers, who back away and scream as he attacks them.
Two women were injured by at least one of the youths who assaulted them with a wooden club, and subsequently received medical treatment in Ramallah for their injuries.
According to two eye witnesses the Israeli youths also fired pepper spray at some of the hikers.
The group retreated from the area following the assault and contacted several foreign embassies and the IDF civil coordination unit COGAT in order to obtain assistance in leaving the area.
A small force of four IDF soldiers in a military jeep arrived after around two hours to escort the group to their bus and allow them to leave.
The IDF confirmed that the incident took place and that soldiers arrived in the area to assist the hikers.
The police did not respond to a request for comment.
The incident occurred near the village of Badu al-Mu’arrajat in the Jordan Valley, west of the Mevo’ot Yeriho settlement and east of the Rimonim settlement.
According to Samera Ayyad, one of the hikers who was physically assaulted and wounded, the incident took place close to the end of the hike as the group was approaching the 449 road, where their bus was located.
Ayyad, who has Italian and Israeli citizenship and works for a human rights organization in Ramallah, said the group was approached by six “settlers” who prevented them from reaching the road and forced them to turn back.
When the hikers insisted they were entitled to hike in the area, a scuffle ensued in which the Israeli youths assaulted the hikers.
Ayyad and another of the hikers, contacted by the Times of Israel, said they believed the Israeli youths came from an illegal herding settlement outpost close to Rimonim.
Another hiker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she witnessed Ayyad being assaulted by one of the settlers with the wooden club.
“We told them [the Israeli youths] that we were just on a hike,” said the woman, claiming that a blonde-haired settler with long sidelocks then “laid hands” on one of the hikers who was explaining the situation.
“That’s when everything escalated and they started beating her with the baton, they started kicking other women, and used pepper spray on the hiking guide,” she said.
“It was completely demoralizing to see how young Israelis can have such complete impunity over our lives,” said the woman, a Palestinian American who also works for a human rights organization in the West Bank.
“My feeling being pushed back was anger, I felt anger and there was anger among our group members. We were just trying to get to our bus. The existential crisis of what is happening to our country and land — it’s a feeling of anger what these settlements and outposts are doing to the two-state state solution, to the right to self determination and the right to our enjoyment of freedom of movement and recreation.”
ארוע אלימות מתנחלים אתמול בבקעת הירדן: הפלסטינים תיעדו 3 מתנחלים תוקפים במקלות מטיילים פלסטינים ותיירים מחו״ל באזור יריחו. עד כה ללא עצורים. pic.twitter.com/W4s2aKZ5Ly
— Or Heller אור הלר (@OrHeller) January 14, 2023
The group retreated from the scene, by which time night had fallen, and awaited help on a hillside, due to the rough terrain and the fact that it was dark and they was unequipped for hiking at night.
Several of the foreign nationals among the group called foreign embassies for help. According to Ayyad, the US embassy was one of those that helped coordinate with COGAT in order to provide the hikers with an IDF escort to safely extract them from the area.
According to Rabbi Arik Ascherman, a veteran activist for Palestinian rights, Palestinian residents of the area, particularly Bedouin herders, are frequently harassed and even assaulted by radical settlers.
Friday’s incident comes following a steep rise in settler attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank, with the military recording at least 840 such incidents in 2022 compared to 446 the year before and 353 in 2020.
The attacks included stone-throwing attacks against Palestinians and incidents of vandalism commonly referred to as “price tag” assaults. Perpetrators claim they are retaliation for Palestinian violence or Israeli government policies seen as hostile to the settler movement.
The IDF has said that settler attacks in 2022 were no longer only coming chiefly from settlements or illegal outposts considered extremist, such as the Yitzhar area near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, but also from supposedly moderate areas.