Two Israelis were arrested for hurling rocks at a Palestinian vehicle in the southern West Bank, a police spokeswoman said on Sunday.
No passengers in the car were injured in the incident, but the vehicle was damaged, while traveling between the Bat Ayin settlement and the village of Jab’a, the spokeswoman said.
The arrests were carried out by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, after the Palestinian driver contacted forces in the area on Saturday evening to report the incident. Two suspects were arrested at the scene, but two others managed to flee, according to police.
Police took testimony from the Palestinian driver, as well as soldiers operating in the area. The two suspects that security forces managed to nab were brought in for questioning and were released on bail Sunday morning. The investigation is ongoing, law enforcement said.
A security official told The Times of Israel that there has been a notable increase in settler violence targeting Palestinians surrounding the Bat Ayin settlement in recent weeks.
These included a so-called Price Tag attack in Jab’a, in which the perpetrators vandalized vehicles and graffitied Hebrew phrases, including “Revenge for Bat Ayin,” in an incident days after security forces razed a structure in an illegal outpost near the flashpoint settlement.
Settler youth also hurled stones at a police vehicle dispatched to secure Bat Ayin last month. They managed to slash the tires of the jeep before fleeing the scene, Border Police said. No arrests were made.
Additionally, after a Palestinian bus driver was assaulted while carrying out stops in Bat Ayin last month, the Egged public transportation company announced that it would be ceasing its services inside the settlement. The decision was reversed several days later, when the Bat Ayin secretariat denounced the violence.
The security official said that many of the youth involved in the latest spate of violence had come from the outposts surrounding another flashpoint settlement — Yitzhar in the northern West Bank.
In October, the IDF declared the Kumi Ori outpost southwest of Yitzhar a closed military zone, following several incidents of violence in which residents targeted neighboring Palestinians, as well as security forces dispatched to protect them.
Due to the increased military presence in the northern West Bank, some of the hilltop youth, as they are known, traveled south to the Bat Ayin area, the security official explained.
Michael Haimovich from the Bat Ayin secretariat told the Walla news site that the settlement opposed the recent migration of radical youth and the violence they have brought with them, but claimed his community could do little to stop them.
“We have no ability to take control of it, but a group has moved here to the best of our knowledge from Samaria (the northern West Bank), but we are not letting them in here… We have no interest in this phenomenon, we strongly oppose it,” Haimovich said.
Separately Sunday, Haaretz reported that the number of hate crimes against Palestinians dropped significantly in 2019, but the boldness of their perpetrators has increased.
Israelis were responsible for 256 cases of violence against Palestinians or security forces this year, primarily in the second half of the year and with a significant portion of them originating in Yitzhar and the surrounding outposts, according to the report. In comparison, 2018 saw 378 such cases.
But an unnamed security official quoted by Haaretz said some of the attacks were on a bigger scale than seen before and required meticulous planning and multiple perpetrators acting simultaneously in different locations. One official said the current situation was reminiscent of the lead-up to the 2015 firebombing of the Dawabsha family home in the village of Duma, a terror attack that killed a couple and their baby.