‘We need burning villages’: Coalition lawmaker backs unprecedented settler rampage
With a Palestinian man killed, cars, homes torched in revenge for fatal terror attack, National Security Committee head says: ‘A closed, burnt Huwara – that’s what I want to see’
On the morning after a deadly and unprecedented rampage by settlers who torched dozens of Palestinian vehicles as well as several homes in retaliation for a deadly Palestinian terror attack, a member of the coalition gave the rioters his complete backing, saying: “A closed, burnt Huwara — that’s what I want to see.”
There was a tense quiet in the Palestinian town of Huwara on Monday morning, with images posted to social media showing dozens of burnt vehicles and sooty buildings after what appeared to be the worst outburst of settler violence in decades.
“It was mortal danger. You couldn’t leave home, you feared getting a bullet to the head at any moment,” an unnamed resident of Huwara told Army Radio on Monday morning, recounting the events of the previous night.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said one man was shot dead by Israeli fire during the riots in the town of Za’tara, south of Huwara and near the settlement of Kfar Tapuah.
The Palestinian Red Crescent medical service said two other people were shot and wounded, a third person was stabbed and a fourth was beaten with an iron bar.
But in a media blitz Monday morning, coalition MK Zvika Fogel of the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party — the chairman of the Knesset’s National Security Committee — was unequivocal in his backing for the rioters and his denunciation of the government his party leader Itamar Ben Gvir is a member of.
“I want to restore security for the residents of the State of Israel,” Fogel told Galey Israel Radio. “How do we do that? We stop using the word ‘proportionality.’ We stop with our objection to collective punishment [just] because it doesn’t fly with all sorts of courts. We take the gloves off.
“Yesterday, a terrorist came from Huwara. A closed, burnt Huwara — that’s what I want to see. That’s the only way to achieve deterrence. After a murder like yesterday’s, we need burning villages when the IDF doesn’t act.”
He lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, saying he was ashamed that a coalition he is a part of was “stuttering” in its response to Palestinian terror.
In a separate interview with Army Radio, Fogel said he viewed the result of Sunday night’s rampage with “much favor,” adding: “They have understood in Huwara that there is a balance of terror that the IDF doesn’t manage to achieve.”
In both interviews, Fogel claimed the settler riots had achieved deterrence against Palestinian terrorism the likes of which nothing has achieved since Operation Protective Shield in 2002, a major IDF operation in the West Bank that helped quell the Second Intifada.
חווארה, הבוקר שאחרי pic.twitter.com/t7QoxU9VXH
— איתי בלומנטל Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) February 27, 2023
Fogel later tweeted that his comments had been “distorted,” without explaining how.
“I said the state is the one that should act to deter the terrorists, definitely not civilians. We mustn’t arrive at a situation in which civilians take the law into their own hands,” he said in remarks that directly contradicted his earlier comments. “The job of the government and the IDF is to supply the necessary protection — by offensiveness and determination, not restraint.”
Meanwhile, at the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, fellow Otzma Yehudit MK Yitzhak Kroizer drew intense condemnation by likening the settler rampage to minor violence occasionally seen on the fringes of mass demonstrations against the government’s plan to overhaul the justice system.
“I’m sure these folks [the settlers] drew inspiration from a month and a half of protests here,” he said, to a chorus of condemnation from opposition lawmakers.
After maintaining notable silence for hours on Monday morning, party leader Ben Gvir said at the newly populated Evyatar illegal outpost: “I want to be clear regarding the images from Huwara. I understand the pain, but we cannot take the law into our own hands. The one who needs to deal with terror and deter it is the government and not civilians.” Ben Gvir has taken a much tougher stance against anti-government protesters, branding them “anarchists.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid was quick to respond to the interviews, tweeting: “This isn’t a fully right-wing government [as its supporters have proudly called it]; it’s a full-blown anarchy government. MK Fogel should go to prison for incitement to terror.”
MK Mickey Levy of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party urged the coalition to oust Fogel from his role as head of the National Security Committee.
Settler groups had called for demonstrations to avenge the Palestinian shooting attack in Huwara earlier in the day, in which two Israeli brothers from the nearby Har Bracha settlement, aged 19 and 21, were killed.
The terror attack left brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv dead after they drove through Huwara, a Palestinian town regularly traversed by Israeli motorists and often a flashpoint of tensions.
The Israel Defense Forces said the Palestinian gunman opened fire from close range on the Yanivs’ car on the Route 60 highway, then fled the scene, apparently on foot. He was still at large as of Monday morning.
The victims, who had been studying at a Hesder yeshiva program that combines military service with Torah studies, were set to be buried at 2 p.m. at Jerusalem’s military Mount Herzl cemetery.
Shortly before the arson attacks began, hundreds of settlers began marching toward Huwara chanting “Revenge,” Army Radio reported.
הסרטון הזה שמסתובב ברשת מחריד.
וצה"ל עוד שומר על הטירוריסטים הללו במקום לעצור את כולם.
ביבי וחבורת הפירומנים שלו רצו אנרכיה, וקיבלו אותה בגדול. לא בתל אביב שמתקיימת בה מחאה ענקית, רגועה ומסודרת, אלא בחווארה שעולה בלהבות. pic.twitter.com/YeXFfvfLuW
— בני רבינוביץ (@benirabin) February 26, 2023
In the riots that followed, Palestinian medics said one man was killed and four others were badly wounded in the Palestinian town of Huwara and other villages near Nablus.
Palestinian media said some 30 homes and cars were torched. Photos and video on social media showed large fires burning throughout Huwara and lighting up the sky.
Ghassan Douglas, a Palestinian official who monitors Israeli settlements in the Nablus region, said that settlers burned at least six houses and dozens of cars in Huwara, and reported attacks on other neighboring Palestinian villages. He estimated around 400 Jewish settlers took part in the attack.
“I’ve never seen such an attack,” he said.
טירוף מוחלט בחווארה. נקמה עיוורת של פורעים פעילי ימין. אבדן שליטה, הצתה של 15 בתים, עשרות רכבים, הרוג פלסטיני אחד לעכשיו, ייתכן מירי מתנחל. מי שאחראי על תפיסת המחבל אלו צבא ההגנה לישראל והשב״כ. אוי ואבוי אם מדינת ישראל תדמה לאויביה. pic.twitter.com/paNAzwHD3Y
— אוהד חמו (@ohadh1) February 26, 2023
Israeli security forces failed to contain the violence for hours despite the early warnings of a planned protest in the Palestinian town. Troops were also preoccupied with searching for the gunman who killed the Israeli brothers.
In one video, a crowd of Jewish settlers stood in prayer as they stared at a building in flames.
Hebrew-language media reports said eight settlers were detained over the rioting, although some reports suggested six of them had already been released. There was no confirmation from police on the arrests.
The riots were condemned by the United States, European Union and United Kingdom, among others, as well as by many Israelis.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he called “the terrorist acts carried out by settlers under the protection of the occupation forces” Sunday night.
“We hold the Israeli government fully responsible,” he added, claiming that the settlers had taken their cue from “the positions of some ministers in this extreme right-wing Israeli government.”
On Monday morning, 14 local settler leaders published a joint call on residents to “calm the spirits,” urging them to “let the IDF win and not take the law into your own hands.”
Netanyahu issued a statement Sunday night calling on those seeking to avenge the earlier terror shooting to not resort to vigilantism.
“I am asking, while blood is boiling and winds are high — don’t take the law into your hands,” he added. “I ask that you allow the IDF and security forces to do their work.”
President Isaac Herzog issued similar remarks. “Taking the law into one’s own hands, rioting, and committing violence against innocents — this is not our way, and I express my forceful condemnation,” he said in a statement.
Ta’al party head Ahmad Tibi shared a picture of fires burning, labeling it “Kristallnacht in Huwara,” and others also referred to the bloody riot as a pogrom.
ליל בדולח בחיווארה
Kristallnacht in Huwara
ليل البلور في حوارة pic.twitter.com/Bb9Np1jsv9
— Ahmad Tibi (@Ahmad_tibi) February 26, 2023
MK Ofer Cassif of the allied Hadash party wrote that the violence was the work of “settler terror militias” working under the protection of the “occupation regime” to carry out “war crimes.”
Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been high for the past year, with the IDF conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.
A string of Palestinian terror attacks in Jerusalem in recent weeks left 11 people dead and several more seriously hurt.
Over 60 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.
There has also been a noted rise in settler attacks against Palestinians in response to recent terror attacks. On Saturday, Israeli settlers torched a number of Palestinian-owned cars in the village of Burin, close to Nablus.
The terror attack on Sunday came as Israeli and Palestinian officials, including al-Sheikh, sat down for a US-sponsored meeting in Jordan in a bid to restore calm to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The parties issued a joint communique in which Israel committed to temporarily hold off on advancing “unilateral measures” for the next three to six months. Netanyahu and other members of the government were quick to deny Jerusalem had agreed to any settlement construction freezing.
Jacob Magid, Emanuel Fabian, AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.