Settlers light fires, throw rocks towards Palestinian home during clashes

In videos, Israelis in religious garb filmed igniting swathes of land near Burin; MKs have expressed increasing concern over rise in violent incidents across West Bank

Israeli settlers clash with Palestinians near the West Bank town of Burin on Saturday, on October 16, 2021 (Yesh Din)
Israeli settlers clash with Palestinians near the West Bank town of Burin on Saturday, on October 16, 2021 (Yesh Din)

Israeli settlers were filmed lighting fires and throwing stones at a Palestinian house near the West Bank town of Burin on Saturday as Israeli troops appeared to stand idly by, the latest in a spate of violent incidents during the ongoing olive harvest.

In videos from the scene collected by the Yesh Din rights group, the Israelis, some of whom were wearing tzitzit, or garment fringes mandated by Jewish religious law, grabbed fistfuls of grass and lit the ground ablaze. Jewish law forbids lighting fires on the Sabbath — a prohibition that dates back to the Torah, Judaism’s central text.

The incident took place on the border between Burin and the adjacent illegal Israeli outpost of Givat Ronen. A Palestinian family lives in a home on the outskirts of the village only a few hundred meters from the outpost’s border, making it a frequent site of tensions between settlers and Palestinians.

An Israeli soldier can be seen milling about through the cluster of Israeli civilians, but they appeared to be doing little to stop their actions. The Israeli army said in response that the clip did not reflect the incident as a whole.

“The initial patrol force that arrived on the scene was composed of only a few soldiers who waited for reinforcements to disperse those involved in the incident,” the military said.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, when reinforcements did arrive, Palestinians hurled stones at the soldiers, leading them to respond with riot control means. Local Palestinians disputed the IDF’s account.

“Young people from the village showed up to confront the settlers. Then the army arrived and fired sound grenades at us, but not the settlers,” said a Palestinian witness from Burin, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the Palestinian witness, the fires were eventually extinguished by the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Defense firefighters.

The past few days have seen sporadic violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians across the West Bank. Palestinians and Israelis are in the midst of the olive harvest, a season of heightened tensions that often sees bursts of violence and attacks.

Human rights groups lament that violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians rarely results in arrests or prosecutions. According to official police statistics, 189 Palestinians were arrested for rioting in the West Bank in 2020, compared with 22 Israelis. The figure does not include Palestinians arrested by the Israeli military.

On Friday, eight Palestinians allegedly attacked an Israeli settler in the south Hebron hills, according to the Har Hebron Regional Council. A 17-year-old teenager had been out herding his sheep near the Israeli outpost of Havat Maon when Palestinians arrived, attacked him with sticks, and fled, according to settler officials.

The victim was lightly wounded and evacuated to Beersheba’s Soroka Hospital for treatment. A spokesperson for Israel Police’s West Bank division said that an investigation had been launched into the incident.

A few hours later, dozens of Israeli settlers and Palestinians hurled stones at one another near Yasuf, a Palestinian town in the central West Bank. At least two Palestinian cars were said to be smashed during the violence. Yesh Din also charged that settlers had sprayed pepper gas in the face of a 50-year-old Palestinian woman.

A Palestinian car allegedly smashed following clashes with Israeli settlers on Friday, on October 15, 2021 (Yasuf Regional Council)

Palestinian media reported that the Yasuf residents were harvesting olives on their land when they were attacked. The Israeli army said that the Palestinians had entered an area near the illegal Israeli outpost of Rehalim “without prior coordination,” leading to the clashes.

Israeli lawmakers have expressed increasing concern over the recurring violent incidents in the West Bank. A recent stone-throwing attack by dozens of Israelis in the small hamlet of al-Mufaqara in the south Hebron hills sparked condemnation by Israeli politicians on the left and center, with some labeling it an act of terrorism.

In another recent incident near the Israeli outpost of Adei Ad, Israeli settlers allegedly attacked two Israeli soldiers with pepper gas, lightly wounding them. The soldiers had arrived to investigate a report by a local Palestinian that settlers had hacked down some olive trees in his possession.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz condemned “all forms of violence” in a statement on Thursday and said he would order a crackdown by security forces.

Earlier this week, parliamentarians from the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee held a hearing on violence by “extremist Israeli elements.” But the discussion quickly devolved into mutual recriminations from left and right-wing MKs, with both sides accusing each other’s camp of responsibility for the violence.

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