Shin Bet busts Jewish terror ring in the West Bank

2 minors and a soldier among at least suspects arrested over series of attacks, including firebombings aimed at sleeping Palestinian families

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Palestinians gather next to a house sprayed with graffiti reading in Hebrew: 'revenge' and 'hello from the prisoners of Zion,' in the West Bank village of Beitillu on December 22, 2015.(AFP PHOTO/ABBAS MOMANI)
Palestinians gather next to a house sprayed with graffiti reading in Hebrew: 'revenge' and 'hello from the prisoners of Zion,' in the West Bank village of Beitillu on December 22, 2015.(AFP PHOTO/ABBAS MOMANI)

The Shin Bet security service uncovered and arrested at least six members of a Jewish terror network suspected of several attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, including the firebombing of buildings that had people inside, the service said in a statement on Wednesday.

Among the suspects arrested were two minors and an IDF soldier.

“During the latter half of 2015, there were a number of terror attacks and violent incidents against Palestinians in the Gush Talmonim region,” the Shin Bet said. “Two notable attacks were against buildings that had Palestinians inside.”

The Shin Bet listed the principal activists, among whom were two minors, one born in 1999 and the other in 2000; an IDF soldier, 19; Itamar Ben Aharon, 20; and Michal Kaplan, 20, all from the settlement of Nahliel, along with Pinhas Shandorfi, 22, a resident of the settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Due their ages the minors were not named in the report, while a military court banned publication of the soldier’s name.

Some of the members of the network were issued administrative restraining orders even before the end of their investigation with the aim of neutralizing the danger they posed. Indictments are set to be filed against the suspects in the coming days, the Shin Bet said.

An initial probe into the attacks gathered information that pointed to the existence of an organized Jewish terror network behind the incidents, it said.

At the beginning of April last year the Shin Bet, together with police, began investigating suspects for being part of a Jewish terror organization. During their interrogation at the Shin Bet, the suspects admitted to “extensive terror activities” by the network, including attempted attacks against Palestinians inside buildings, attacks on other minorities, arson and vandalism of Palestinian cars, rock attacks from passing cars at Palestinian vehicles, and more.

“Reenactments in the field and the confessions of the suspects revealed a violent and extremist network, which systematically attacked Palestinians and their property while fully aware of the possibility of killing someone, even after the results of the arson in Duma, and were even inspired by it,” the Shin Bet said. It was referring to a July 2015 arson attack on the Dawabsha home in Duma that killed three members of the Palestinian family and seriously injured a fourth. In the months after the attack the Shin Bet launched a wide-scale investigation, rounding up dozens of suspected Jewish extremists. In January, prosecutors filed indictments against two suspects, 21-year old Amiram Ben-Uliel of Jerusalem and an unnamed minor, over the firebombing in Duma.

According to the Shin Bet, the group was behind a June 20, 2015, attack on a Palestinian agriculture worker who was beaten with sticks and subjected to tear gas.

On the night of November 20 of that year the suspects allegedly threw Molotov cocktails into a house in the village of al-Mazra’a al-Qibliya while a Palestinian family was sleeping inside. One of the firebombs bounced off the window of the home, and so a disaster was averted. On the walls of the home they sprayed “Revenge,” “Death to the Arabs,” and “Jews wake up,” the Shin Bet said.

A month later, on the night of December 22, the members of the gang threw IDF-issued tear gas grenades into an occupied house in Beitillu as revenge for the arrests of Jewish activists during the investigation into the Duma attack. The father, who was woken up by the sound of the attack and had difficulty breathing, immediately evacuated his family including a baby son from the home. On the walls of a house nearby the attackers sprayed “Revenge, regards from the prisoners of Zion.”

In addition, a number of car arson attacks in the past few years including the torching of a car in Beitillu on October 2, 2015, and the torching of a car at the beginning of July 2014 were attributed to members of the network.

“The interception of the network blocked many attacks that could have caused much more serious outcomes or even cost peoples’ lives,” the Shin Bet said. “This development is another stage in the continuing effort to thwart Jewish terror infrastructure in the last year that has brought a significant drop in the scope of Jewish terrorism activities.”

The Shin Bet noted that the investigation established connections between the network of Jewish terrorists and that of the extremist Revolt group, which has carried out attacks throughout Israel in recent years, and that there were ties between some of the members of the groups.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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