Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar has blamed settler violence against Palestinians on a very small handful of Jewish activists, known as the “hilltop youth,” the Ynet news site reported.
Bar spoke at a closed-door meeting at a conference in Jerusalem on Thursday, briefing participants on the security service’s efforts to combat terror and violence.
According to Ynet, Bar told participants that there was often a spike in violent clashes between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank following waves of Palestinian terror attacks.
He said that Palestinian efforts to harm Jews outnumbered attacks by settlers. Nevertheless, there were a number of incidents of Jewish extremists who attacked Palestinians, but they were not representative of the majority of the settlers in the West Bank.
“The settler community in Judea and Samaria are super normative and law-abiding,” Bar said, according to Ynet, referring to the West Bank by its Biblical names.
However, “there is a very small percentage of hilltop youth that are harming the whole settler enterprise,” he said.
Some 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank. Among them are several hundred known as the “hilltop youth,” who seek to settle every corner of the biblical land of Israel.
Often blamed for “price tag” hate crimes against Palestinians or for clashing with Israeli troops at outpost evacuations, they have long been identified as a national security threat placed under the jurisdiction of the highest levels of law enforcement.
There has been a spike in clashes between settlers and Palestinians in recent months amid a surge in general West Bank violence.
Israel Police detained five Jewish West Bank settler activists Monday on suspicion of involvement in the torching of a Palestinian car and a subsequent violent clash between settlers and IDF troops.
Two of the suspects were arrested and the other three were detained for questioning, police said in a statement. One of the suspects is believed to be the culprit in setting alight the vehicle near the Palestinian village of Urif last week.
Soldiers involved in the clash had filed a police complaint against settlers they accused of assaulting them.
At least four of the suspects were men in their thirties from the hardline settlement of Yitzhar.
Incidents of vandalism against Palestinians and Israeli security forces are commonly referred to as “price tag” attacks, with perpetrators claiming they are retaliation for Palestinian violence or government policies seen as hostile to the settler movement.
Arrests of perpetrators are rare and rights groups lament that convictions are even more unusual, with the majority of charges in such cases being dropped.
Reports of nationalist crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank surged in recent weeks, following several terror attacks.
Last year, there were several incidents of settlers assaulting soldiers who tried to prevent them from attacking Palestinians.
The recent incident came at a time of rising violence in the region, with the Israeli military pressing on with an anti-terror offensive in the West Bank which has netted more than 2,500 arrests, left 171 Palestinians dead in 2022 and another 60 since the beginning of the year.
Many of them were killed while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians.
The operation was launched to deal with a series of attacks that left 31 people in Israel dead in 2022, and 11 more since the beginning of this year.