Settlers rampage through Palestinian olive grove, harass activists in West Bank

Biden condemns attacks by ‘extremist settlers’ against Palestinians, calls for violence to end amid wave of settler attacks in West Bank

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

An armed Israeli man fires an assault rifle the air during a confrontation with unarmed anti-occupation activists, October 25, 2023 (Screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
An armed Israeli man fires an assault rifle the air during a confrontation with unarmed anti-occupation activists, October 25, 2023 (Screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Settlers fired warning shots in the air when confronted by unarmed anti-settlement activists on Wednesday in the South Hebron Hills region, the latest in a spate of settler violence in the West Bank.

In another incident, also on Wednesday, settlers attacked Palestinians harvesting olives outside the village of Burin in the northern West Bank, reportedly destroying and stealing some of their equipment and belongings.

Both incidents were filmed.

The Yesh Din organization, which opposes Israeli control of the West Bank, said on Monday that there had been over 100 incidents of settler violence and harassment against Palestinians in at least 62 Palestinian towns and communities in the West Bank since Hamas’s savage assault on Israel on October 7, and the beginning of Israel’s military campaign against the terror group in Gaza.

The issue prompted US President Joe Biden to condemn the settler violence in prepared marks on Wednesday and call for it to stop.

In the South Hebron Hills incident, a group of six anti-occupation activists were alerted by residents of the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani that a tractor belonging to settlers was being used to demolish a vegetable garden and fruit orchard of a village resident.

A picture provided by Yesh Din, allegedly of Palestinian property being burned by extremist settlers during an attack against Palestinian olive formers outside the village of Burin in the northern West Bank, October 25, 2023. (Courtesy Yesh Din)

Michal Sapir, one of the activists, said that she and the others went to the site and filmed the tractor demolishing the garden from afar, and when they approached to film closer one of the men carrying out the demolition aimed an assault rifle at them.

As the activists continued to film, the men approached them and shouted at them to leave, and even fired into the air several times. They were followed back to the outskirts of At-Tuwani, where the men demanded they give them their phones, but the activists refused, Sapir told The Times of Israel.

One of the videos recorded by the activists clearly show one of the men firing in the air above the heads of the activists as they chase them away.

According to Sapir, residents of At-Tuwani identified two of the four men doing the demolition work as residents of the nearby illegal West Bank outpost of Havat Maon.

She said they immediately contacted police when the incident began and that the officers arrived an hour later, after the shooting incident and after the garden was completely demolished.

“We were witnessing an illegal act being perpetrated, we were unarmed, we didn’t interfere with them doing the action, we just wanted to film it, and they started shooting at us. It’s private land, they had no right to drive us away, much less shoot,” she said.

“This is part of a campaign to make the Palestinians go away. But this is their home, they’re not going to go away.”

The police did not respond to a request for comment on the incident.

In the Burin incident, a video recorded by a field investigator for Yesh Din shows a large mob of young Jewish men, likely from nearby settlements streaming through an olive grove outside the village, some of whom vandalize the olive harvest equipment and in one case apparently smash a device or piece of equipment with a rock.

Many of the young men sported long sidelocks and visible tzitzit, typical of the hardcore, ideologically radical settlers who reside in nearby settlements such as Yitzhar, Har Bracha and nearby illegal outposts.

According to the Yesh Din field investigator, who wished to remain anonymous, the men, armed with guns, parked on a highway that runs past Burin before rampaging through the olive grove, chasing away the Palestinian farmers who were harvesting the olives at the time.

The investigator, who was alerted by one of the villagers, told The Times of Israel that the assailants burned a tractor and another vehicle belonging to the farmers, destroyed other equipment and stole some of their belongings, including phones, wallets and their ID cards.

He added that IDF soldiers and Border Police officers arrived on the scene but did nothing to prevent the rampage, and fired in the air to disperse the farmers.

The IDF said in response that a confrontation between Israeli citizens and Palestinians “developed” during the course of Wednesday morning close to the Yitzhar junction.

“IDF forces, Border Police and Police who were called to the site acted to separate the sides. While dealing with the incident, stones were thrown towards the [security] forces who responded by firing in the air,” the army said.

The IDF’s statement noted that two Palestinian vehicles were reported damaged, adding that “several” Israeli citizens were detained by the police over the incident.

In remarks made at press conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden said the attacks were “adding fuel to the fire” to the current conflict and said the violence must be stopped.

“I continue to be alarmed by extremist settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank,” said Biden.

“They’re attacking Palestinians in places they’re entitled to be … It has to stop now.”

Most Popular
read more: