Police investigating calls for renewed rioting in Huwara

Settlers seen hurling stones, damaging trees in northern West Bank village

Footage published by Yesh Din shows soldiers standing by amid latest incident of violence, hours after troops clashed with activists in Huwara

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Masked settlers hurl stones at Palestinian homes in the northern West Bank village of Burin, March 3, 2023. (Yesh Din)
Masked settlers hurl stones at Palestinian homes in the northern West Bank village of Burin, March 3, 2023. (Yesh Din)

A group of settlers on Friday afternoon were documented hurling stones at Palestinians and damaging olive on the outskirts of a Palestinian village in the northern West Bank, as Israeli soldiers stood by.

The incident came hours after Israeli troops clashed with hundreds of left-wing Israeli activists trying to enter the nearby Palestinian town of Huwara on a solidarity visit following a deadly settler rampage there earlier in the week.

In footage published by the Yesh Din rights group, masked settlers could be seen hurling stones at Palestinian homes in the village of Burin, near Nablus, and damaging olive trees on the outskirts of the town. Soldiers are seen standing next to them, without getting involved.

According to Yesh Din, initially, a small number of settlers escorted by soldiers arrived at the northeastern part of Burin and began damaging the olive trees and saplings. Later, a larger group came and hurled stones at homes in the village, shattering several windows, the rights group said.

Yesh Din said the settlers also confronted residents of Burin, and in response, the soldiers launched tear gas at the town. Some 30 Palestinians were reportedly treated for tear gas inhalation, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

The Israel Defense Forces said troops had arrived at the scene after receiving reports of a clash between Palestinians and Israelis. It said soldiers responded “after a short time” with riot dispersal measures, ending the confrontation.

A military source said officials were checking why soldiers did not react immediately to the violence.

There has been a rise in settler violence in recent months, and soldiers are sometimes seen standing by as they occur. Soldiers are legally permitted — even required in some cases — to intervene to prevent violent attacks, regardless of nationality. The military generally prefers that police deal with the attacks and settler arrests, but police forces are stretched thin in the West Bank.

Last Saturday, Israeli settlers torched a number of Palestinian-owned cars in Burin.

There have also been several incidents of settlers attacking soldiers in the West Bank over the past week.

Police were meanwhile investigating calls by settlers to carry out renewed rioting in Huwara over the weekend, The Times of Israel’s sister site, Zman Yisrael reported.

Labor MK Naama Lazimi said she had notified police chief Kobi Shabtai over the calls which were circulated on WhatsApp. “Police should tonight arrest the organizers of the next pogrom for planning acts of terrorism, violence and damage to security,” she said on Twitter.

Earlier Friday in Huwara, footage showed IDF troops scuffling with activists and in several cases stun grenades were thrown.

In one video soldiers can be seen repeatedly pushing former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg until he falls to the ground. Several activists were briefly detained, organizers said.

Before the clash, the military stopped some 10 buses carrying people from the “Standing Together” and the “Looking the Occupation in the Eye” movements from reaching Huwara. The activists then tried to proceed on foot from the nearby Tapuah junction to Huwara.

The activists later got off their vehicles and began marching toward the town, many of them carrying signs reading “End Jewish terror” and “Palestinian lives matter.” However, they were again blocked by the army, which said it was forced to bar their entry in response to disorderly conduct that had broken out. Protest organizers in a statement called the military order a form of “collective punishment of the victims of the rampage.”

The IDF said that following an assessment and due to “security concerns,” the area around Huwara was declared a closed military zone, “to prevent friction in the area.”

Israeli security forces block Palestinian and Israeli peace activists protesting at the entrance of Huwara in the West Bank, on March 3, 2023. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

In a statement to The Times of Israel, a military spokesperson said troops first attempted to disperse the gathering “in agreement” with the activists. After failing to do so, “the forces were forced to also use riot dispersal means in order to disperse the gathering and maintain the security of all those present in the area,” the IDF said.

The visit came amid an outpouring of shock and horror in Israel and abroad after hundreds of settlers ransacked the Palestinian town of Huwara and surrounding villages Sunday night in revenge for a terror attack in which two Israeli brothers, — Hallel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19, from the settlement of Har Bracha — driving through the town were gunned down hours earlier.

Radical settlers burned homes, cars and storefronts and assaulted Palestinians, leading to scores of injuries and the death of a Palestinian man in unclear circumstances. Israel’s top general in the West Bank referred to the rampage as a “pogrom.”

The left-wing activists complained that while their busses were being stopped from entering, settlers continued to traverse the town freely on Friday. Stores on Huwara’s main road where much of the rampage took place have been closed for the past week due to a military order that the IDF says is required to maintain calm in the area.

Four protesters who tried to go around the IDF roadblock were detained.

A member of the Israeli security forces scuffles with a protester as Palestinian and Israeli peace activists demonstrate at the entrance of Huwara in the West Bank, on March 3, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Huwara has long been a flashpoint; it is one of the only Palestinian towns through which Israelis regularly travel in order to reach settlements in the northern West Bank. There have been several shooting attacks on Israeli motorists on Route 60 in Huwara.

There are plans to build a bypass road for settlers to avoid them having to travel through the Palestinian town, but the construction work has been stalled.

A Jerusalem court on Thursday ordered police to release all of the suspects detained over the riots, but the Defense Ministry signed off on an administrative detention order for two of them, including a minor.

Palestinians inspect a damaged house and scorched cars in the town of Huwara, near the West Bank city of Nablus, February 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Administrative detention is a controversial practice whereby individuals can be held without charge practically indefinitely, and are not granted access to the evidence against them.

While it is rarely used against Jewish suspects, nearly 1,000 Palestinians are currently held in custody under the practice.

The attacker who carried out the deadly shooting in Huwara, killing the Yaniv brothers, was believed to be hiding out in one of the Palestinian towns in the Nablus area.

The military has bolstered the West Bank with four additional infantry battalions following the shooting attack and subsequent settler rioting in Huwara.

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