Tires slashed, graffiti daubed in Palestinian town in apparent hate crime
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Tires slashed, graffiti daubed in Palestinian town in apparent hate crime

Suspects filmed damaging 31 cars in al-Bireh; Hebrew graffiti references administrative orders made against West Bank outpost that has become hotbed of violence

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Palestinians in al-Bireh woke up Wednesday morning to find their central West Bank village targeted by vandals in an apparent hate crime.

Security camera footage from the town south of the Beit El settlement showed two suspects in hoodies walking through a street in the north end of al-Bireh, bending down and slashing tires and spraying graffiti on a wall.

The B’Tselem rights group said 31 cars were vandalized in the incident.

The Israel Police opened up an investigation into the incident.

The graffiti found spray-painted at the scene read: “This is an order designating a ‘closed military zone.’ Traitors choose to harass Jews.”

The text appeared to reference the spiraling situation in the Yitzhar settlement some 70 kilometers away, where the IDF on Tuesday extended a closed military zone order on one of the community’s nine outpost neighborhoods for an entire month, after a series of instances of violence involving young residents, known as hilltop youth.

Earlier this month, one of the residents of the flashpoint Kumi Ori outpost, 21-year-old Neri Zoreg, was issued an administrative order barring him from the West Bank due to what security officials say was his involvement in violent attacks on Israeli soldiers and Paletsinians. Zoreg has asserted that he does not take part in such attacks. He has enjoyed the backing of the broader Yitzhar leadership, which warned that issuing the order would lead to unrest.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that the settlement’s secretariat took their frustrations a step further, cutting off contact with the IDF’s top brass.

‘Seizure order, closed military zone, traitors choose to harass Jews’ reads graffiti on the wall in the central West Bank village of al-Bireh targeted in an apparent hate crime on October 23, 2019. (Ivad Hadad/B’Tselem)

Last Wednesday, a teen resident of Kumi Ori was arrested by security forces on suspicion that he tried to burn down a Palestinian-owned field. The boy’s attorney and residents of the outpost have claimed that officers used unnecessary force to detain the suspect.

Two days later, an IDF officer conducting a drill near the settlement was threatened and harassed by another area hilltop youth, who attempted to enter the vehicle of the Golani Brigade commander. Two hours later, the officer returned to the scene and arrested the suspect.

Early Sunday morning, a Golani squad patrolling through Kumi Ori came under attack by a group of 30 hilltop youth, who hurled stones at the soldiers and slashed the tires of their jeep. One soldier was lightly injured and had to be taken to the hospital for treatment.

The incident was widely condemned by politicians across the political spectrum and the settlement’s leadership vowed to bar the youth involved from continuing to reside in the surrounding outposts. It was not immediately clear, however, whether or not they have left.

Masked Israeli settlers from Yitzhar and soldiers watch after Palestinian fields were set on fire in the village of Asira al-Qiblyia on June 2, 2010. (Wagdi Ashtiyeh/Flash90)

Settler leaders also condemned the violence, but a senior IDF official who spoke to Haaretz Tuesday on the condition of anonymity said that the West Bank mayors only speak out when the violence targets soldiers, as opposed to Palestinians, who are targeted more frequently. The official added that settler leaders have placed heavy pressure on the government to prevent law enforcement from acting with an iron fist against hilltop youth, “thereby undermining the army’s status in the territories and enabling violence against members of the security services.”

On Sunday, a Border Police battalion was ordered to take up position near the Yitzhar settlement as a deterrent against further violent activities by residents of the outposts in the area. The border guards were similarly deployed in April 2014, after a string of attacks and acts of vandalism from the Yitzhar settlement and surrounding outposts, including one case in which residents attacked an IDF encampment.

But less than 48 hours after the first clash with troops, a group of 10 settlers again threw rocks and bottles of paint at Border Police in the same area on Monday evening. One soldier was reportedly hit by a rock but did not require medical treatment, and the army dispersed the rioters using stun grenades.

By Tuesday, the IDF extended for an additional month a closed military zone order over Kumi Ori that had been declared earlier in the week, meaning only residents would be allowed to enter and exit the outpost. Border Police leaked footage to the media of young Kumi Ori residents cursing at soldiers as they handed down the order. Tensions escalated and one of the teens appears to be seen picking up a rock. At which point an officer cocks his weapon at the teens and shouts at them to disperse.

Later Tuesday evening, Kan reported that police have identified suspects in the first attack on Golani troops and may carry out arrests in the coming days.

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