ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Two settlers charged with terror for attack on Palestinians in Huwara

Pair accused of crying ‘Death to Arabs,’ hurling rocks at car, attacking occupants with axe; police minister meets families of settlers accused of separate attack, voices support

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Screen capture from video of a masked man using an axe to attack a Palestinian man in a car in the West Bank town of Huwara, March 6, 2023. (YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of a masked man using an axe to attack a Palestinian man in a car in the West Bank town of Huwara, March 6, 2023. (YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Two Israeli settlers were charged with terror offenses on Thursday for attacking Palestinians in the West Bank town of Huwara with an axe and stones earlier this month, law enforcement officials said.

According to the Shin Bet security agency, Hanoch Rabin, 25, from the illegal Givat Ronen outpost, and Raz Giron, 21, from the hardline settlement of Yitzhar, were detained by police on March 13 over the attack a week earlier on March 6.

During the incident, which was captured by surveillance cameras, a number of masked settlers were seen assaulting Palestinians and hurling stones at cars and storefronts in Huwara.

At one point, one settler, who officials suspect was Rabin, was seen attacking a car with an axe.

The Shin Bet accused Rabin and Giron of being part of a “violent group that aims to harm Palestinians as well as disrupt the activities of the security forces in dealing with foiling Palestinian terror and maintaining public peace in the area.”

Meanwhile Thursday, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir met with the families of three settlers held in administrative detention, two of whom are held on suspicion of involvement in a separate destructive rampage in Huwara last month.

In the February 26 attack, extremist settlers burned homes, cars, and storefronts, and assaulted Palestinians, leading to scores of injuries and the death of a Palestinian man in unclear circumstances.

Ben Gvir, who before entering the Knesset was an attorney who represented defendants accused of nationalist crimes and terror, vowed “to fix the injustice” done to them. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s decision to put the two suspects in administrative detention followed recommendations by the Shin Bet security agency, though a court has ordered to have their detention reduced.

According to a statement from his office, Ben Gvir said he was in touch with “the relevant officials” and was trying to convince them to release the suspects. “To me, it’s undemocratic to arrest a person and then throw him in jail without evidence or a trial,” he said.

The controversial practice of administrative detention allows individuals to be held without charge practically indefinitely, and the evidence against them to be withheld. Israel holds nearly 1,000 Palestinians in administrative detention. Israeli detainees are in the single digits.

Thursday’s indictment against Rabin and Giron, which included various terror charges, described the assault on a Palestinian family in the car.

The Halifa family, residents of Asira al-Qibliya, which lies close to Huwara, were shopping at a supermarket in the town. As they were heading to their car, the two suspects allegedly arrived in Huwara with other settlers “equipped with an axe, a hammer, stones and pepper spray, with the aim of committing an act of terror against Palestinians in Huwara with a nationalistic motive,” the indictment read.

The pair and nearly 10 other masked suspects got out of a vehicle and began to hurl stones at the family’s car, at other nearby cars and at the supermarket, according to the indictment.

Rabin, according to the charge sheet, ran toward the Halifas’ car and hit the rear window with an axe. Then Giron hurled stones at the rear window, while Rabin continued to hit the car with the axe until he shattered the rear window. He also smashed left side windows of the car, while Giron continued to hurl stones at the back of the car.

After smashing the windows, Rabin attacked the person in the driver’s seat with the axe, hitting him in the shoulder, according to the indictment. Giron and other suspects continued to hurl stones at the car, wounding Adris Halifa, 69, who was hit in the head by a stone.

As the Halifa family began to flee, the pair and others continued to hurl stones at them, as well as spray pepper spray into the car through the smashed windows, the indictment read.

Prosecutors said that the pair and others shouted “Death to Arabs” during the attack, which caused injuries and damage.

Rabin and Giron, who are expected to be held until the end of legal proceedings, were hit with terror charges of aggravated assault and property damage with a racial motive, among other charges.

Huwara has been on edge following an unprecedented settler rampage on February 26, which came hours after a Palestinian terrorist opened fire on an Israeli vehicle driving through the town, killing two brothers inside.

There have been two more shooting attacks in the town since; on March 25, two soldiers at a guard post were seriously and moderately hurt in a drive-by shooting, and on March 19, an Israeli civilian was badly hurt after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at his car.

Clashes between settlers and Palestinians in the town were again reported on Monday afternoon with at least six locals said to have been wounded. Both Israeli settlers and Palestinians also reported that their cars had been attacked with stones as they drove through the main road in the flashpoint northern West Bank town.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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