Virus season brings rise in settler violence targeting Palestinians

Virus season brings rise in settler violence targeting Palestinians

Number of monthly attacks climbs from 9 to 16, despite restrictions that only permit Israelis to leave their homes to carry out essential activities

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

Settlers from Homesh hurl stones at Palestinians on March 26, 2020. (Yesh Din)
Settlers from Homesh hurl stones at Palestinians on March 26, 2020. (Yesh Din)

Violent attacks on Palestinians at the hands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank have increased in recent months, despite the imposing of strict restrictions by authorities on both sides of the Green Line aimed at keeping civilians at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In March, the security establishment documented 16 attacks on Palestinians, up from nine in February and five in January, an official said, confirming an earlier report in the Haaretz daily. The B’Tselem rights group that operates in the West Bank said that the number was higher, and that it had documented 21 violent attacks in March alone, with a majority of incidents taking place after the government ordered schools shut.

On Sunday, police handed out fines to three residents of the extremist Kumi Uri outpost near Yitzhar who roamed 100 meters beyond the neighborhood in the direction of a nearby Palestinian village, in violation of the coronavirus guidelines, a Border Police spokesman told The Times of Israel.

Last week, the Yesh Din watchdog group published photos of a group of 15 masked and armed settlers descending from the northern West Bank hilltop, where the dismantled settlement of Homesh had been located, and hurling stones at Palestinians from the nearby village of Burqa. A police report was filed, but a law enforcement spokeswoman said she was unaware of the incident.

A Palestinian farmer from Umm-Safa allegedly assaulted by Israeli farmers on March 24, 2020. (Yesh Din)

A nearly identical incident took place two days earlier, in which the settlers entered the field of a Palestinian farmer from Burqa, tearing down a fence and damaging his crops, Yesh Din said. Nearby villagers who saw the scene unfold arrived to assist the farmer, and a stone-throwing clash ensued.

Israeli soldiers arrived at the scene and separated the sides, leading the settlers back toward the abandoned hilltop. The site belongs to a group of Palestinian farmers, who just last month were given permission for the first time since the 2005 evacuation to access their lands. However, a hard-line national-religious yeshiva continues to operate there on a daily basis, with no intervention by the army.

Incidents of Israeli and Palestinian violence were reported in a number of locations throughout the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday, with perpetrators evidently refusing to heed government guidelines to stay inside due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Other incidents of settler violence were reported last week, targeting villagers from Al-Mughayyir and Umm Safa in the central West Bank and Ein al-Hilwe in the Jordan Valley.

Damaged caused to a Border Police vehicle after settlers hurled Molotov cocktails at it outside of the Yitzhar settlement on March 27, 2020. (Border Police)

The Israel Defense Forces has also reported an uptick in Palestinian stone throwing targeting Israeli vehicles on West Bank roads.

Twice in the past week, security forces set up ambushes at hotspots in the northern West Bank, firing at and injuring Palestinians who were throwing stones, according to the army.

In addition to attacks on Palestinians, extremist violence against Israeli security forces also peaked last week.

Last Thursday night, Israelis hurled three Molotov cocktails at a Border Police vehicle just outside the flashpoint Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank.

No officers were injured in the incident, but damage was caused to the jeep, the Border Police said in a statement, describing the incident as a “terror attack.”

The troops had been leaving Yitzhar after operating in the area to enforce a closed military zone order around the Kumi Ori outpost just southwest of the settlement, according to the paramilitary force.

The order was put in place last October following a string of violent attacks on Palestinians and security forces perpetrated by a number of young settlers from the area. While a tense relative calm has largely held since then, the situation had spiraled when settlers clashed with Border Police who arrived in Kumi Ori as locals were attempting to build a synagogue there.

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