Two IDF reservists booted out of the army for entering Palestinian school

Amid simmering tensions in the West Bank, soldiers discharged after video showed them in a schoolyard in the south Hebron Hills

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Jewish settlers seen during the demolition of six illegally built structures at the outpost of Kumi Ori, outside the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, in the West Bank, April 22, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
Jewish settlers seen during the demolition of six illegally built structures at the outpost of Kumi Ori, outside the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, in the West Bank, April 22, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Two Israel Defense Forces reservists Israelis entered a Palestinian school on Sunday in the village of A-Tuwani, in the southern Hebron Hills, and reportedly attempted to remove a Palestinian flag from the premises.

In a video widely circulated on social media, two men wearing partial IDF uniforms were filmed entering the schoolyard and engaging in an altercation with a local Palestinian man, who shouted at them as he urged them to leave the premises.

The two men were wearing army pants, balaclavas covering their faces, and one of them had a military vest on. However, they were wearing Blundstone boots, in contravention of the IDF’s uniform policy.

Their unorthodox military attire and equipment raised speculations that the two may be civilians posing as soldiers. But an IDF spokesperson contacted by The Times of Israel confirmed that the two were volunteer reservists in the IDF Judea Regional Brigade, and said they had been discharged following the incident for acting in contravention of IDF orders and procedures.

Several reserve battalions have been called up by the IDF to protect the West Bank settlements in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

The forces include volunteers from the settlements themselves as well as from inside sovereign Israel, and have previously received training by the IDF. They are subject to the orders of commanders from the regular IDF reserve brigades operating in the West Bank.

The two men involved in Sunday’s incident arrived at the Palestinian school in a jeep without a license plate, as opposed to a military vehicle, and their inspection did not seem to have an authorized security purpose. The rights organization Yesh Din claimed that the two reservists, which the group mistakenly described as “masked Israeli civilians” in the above video, misused military equipment intended for self-defense in order to harass Palestinians.

In response to a local Palestinian man filming them and urging them to leave the schoolyard, one of the two was recorded saying, “I’m in my home, habibi (‘my dear’ in Arabic)” and “We will be coming every day.”

Yesh Din further provided footage of an IDF patrol arriving at the scene and attempting to calm down residents after the two men left.

A representative for the Center for Jewish Nonviolence told The Times of Israel that since IDF units are being sent to Gaza, many of the soldiers currently deployed in the West Bank are reservists, and often the role is filled by local settlers.

Many settlers have also been appointed to civilian security teams alongside regular soldiers, the group added, “so it’s actually pretty difficult to distinguish who is acting with what authority.”

Evidence has emerged of abuses by settlers and soldiers against Palestinians in the West Bank since October 7. Videos shared on social media have documented various cases of harassment and violence carried out against West Bank civilians by Israeli forces.

Israeli soldiers and settlers allegedly carried out a ruthless assault on three Palestinians in the central West Bank days on October 12, beating them up, stripping them to their underwear, and photographing them bound and blindfolded.

Arik Ascherman, an activist with Rabbis for Human Rights, lamented that “the average Israeli today is not prepared or willing to distinguish between Palestinian terrorists and terrorized Palestinians,” adding that “nobody at this point is willing to help Palestinians, out of our pain and our anger.”

US-born Israeli Reform rabbi Arik Ascherman, a member of the human rights organization “Rabbis for Human Rights”, helps Palestinians during the olive harvest at a grove outside Ramallah in the West Bank on November 9, 2023. (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week downplayed the trend, as he warned settlement mayors about a “tiny handful of extremists” carrying out violence against Palestinians that could lead to an escalation in the West Bank, amid concerns from Washington over the issue.

Tensions in the West Bank have been escalating since October 7, when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel from Gaza, killing some 1,200 people and taking over 240 hostages, making it the deadliest day in Israel’s history.

In response, the country has vowed to eradicate Hamas from Gaza, where the group has ruled since 2007, and launched an operation attacking Hamas from the air and on the ground.

While the IDF operates inside Gaza, the West Bank has continued to simmer, and since October 7, some 1,430 wanted Palestinians have been arrested across the West Bank, including more than 900 affiliated with Hamas.

The PA health ministry has said that more than 176 West Bank Palestinians have been killed since October 7 by Israeli forces and in some cases, by settlers. Yesh Din said that up to November 3, it had documented 172 incidents of settler violence and harassment against Palestinians in at least 84 Palestinian towns and communities.

At the same time, there has been a noted uptick in terror attacks or attempted terror attacks by Palestinians against Israelis across the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Emmanuel Fabian, Jeremy Sharon and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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