Reporter's notebook'Settlers have learned that they can get away with it'

Week after settler rampage in Huwara, locals reopen stores but remain afraid

Driving through northern West Bank town, army posts and walls plastered with posters calling for revenge against Palestinians after deadly terror attack

Emanuel Fabian

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

Israeli soldiers stand guard in the West Bank town of Huwara, March 5, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
Israeli soldiers stand guard in the West Bank town of Huwara, March 5, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

HUWARA, West Bank — A week after hundreds of extremist settlers wreaked havoc in the northern West Bank town of Huwara in response to a deadly terror attack there, and the army subsequently ordered storefronts to be shut, local Palestinians are beginning to get back on their feet, but tensions remain high.

On a visit to Huwara on Sunday afternoon, soldiers were seen guarding in pairs every 100 meters or so. Some were on the ground near traffic circles, and others watching from the balconies of buildings seized by the army.

Army posts at the entrances to the town, as well as along a wall inside, were plastered with posters by settlers demanding the army “crush” its enemies.

“The intifada is here. We demand to crush! We demand to respond with war!” one poster read.

Another had a quote from the Book, or “Megillah,” of Esther, set to be read during the Purim holiday this week: “The Jews overpowered those who hated them.”

The Nablus-area town, home to some 7,000 Palestinians, was bustling, for the first time in a week, but the atmosphere was slightly more muted than usual.

Signs reading ‘The Jews overpowered those who hated them’ are seen in the West Bank town of Huwara, March 5, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

A week ago, this place was a “warzone,” said Iyad Mohareb, the owner of a car scrapyard and repair shop on the northern edge of Huwara, which was heavily damaged during the rioting on the evening of February 26.

Some 400 radical settlers had burned homes, cars, and storefronts, and assaulted Palestinians, leading to scores of injuries and the death of a Palestinian man in unclear circumstances.

The unprecedented rioting came in response to the killing of two Israeli brothers from the nearby settlement of Har Bracha, as they drove along the Route 60 highway in Huwara several hours earlier.

After the shooting attack that left Hallel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19, dead, the army ordered all Palestinian stores to be shut, ostensibly to prevent clashes between settlers and the locals.

All of the Palestinian-owned stores facing the highway remained shut until Friday evening. During the past week, troops had enforced the closure, detaining some Palestinians who sought to enter their business.

Mohareb, whose office windows were smashed, and car parts outside left destroyed, said the decision to also force him to remain closed for nearly a week was “collective punishment.”

Windows are seen smashed by stones hurled by settlers at an office in the West Bank town of Huwara, March 5, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

“But what’s a week without work? They burned everything, when will I even be able to return to work?” Mohareb told The Times of Israel from his office.

“It’s collective punishment. After all of this damage caused by the settler violence, and then the army comes and imposes collective punishment on the residents and storeowners,” he said.

The stones that settlers had hurled at the windows of his building were still on the floor, along with glass shards from the shattered windows.

Looking at the charred remains of scrap cars and vehicle parts, Mohareb said that if he wouldn’t be reimbursed, it would take him years to just break even.

A pile of car doors that were spared from being set on fire had all of their windows smashed.

Iyad Mohareb looks at scrap cars and vehicle parts damaged by Israeli settler extremists during rioting in Huwara a week earlier, on March 5, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Mohareb said he feared settlers would come back to harm him. An article published after the rioting by HaKol HaYehudi, a Yitzhar-based online mouthpiece, accused Mohareb of being a terrorist.

Mohareb said a photo the site published of him brandishing a firearm was taken in 1993, during celebrations of the Oslo Accords agreements between Israel and the Palestinians in Jericho. “They say I’m a terrorist. It’s me in the picture but a long time ago. I was also arrested 20 years ago, but who hasn’t been arrested?” he said.

Munir Qaddous, an activist from the nearby village of Burin, who frequently works with the left-wing Yesh Din organization, told The Times of Israel that “every house here, from the Yizhar Junction to Beita Junction was hit by the settlers.”

Asked if he fears the army will permanently close stores if violence once again breaks out, Qaddous said there was no chance residents would submit to such an order.

“We as Palestinians are not running and not moving. The army can come with its guns and force, and close the stores for a day, two, three, four, five, a week, 10 days, but we will not give up,” he said.

Soldiers guard a bus stop at the Tapuach Junction in the West Bank, south of Nablus, March 5, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Of the 16 suspects detained over the riots, all had been released, but two were sent to administrative detention, a controversial practice that allows individuals to be held without charge practically indefinitely, and the evidence against them to be withheld.

The military at the time said “violent riots that erupted at a number of locations” in the West Bank were “being dealt with” by troops and police officers, without mentioning the identity of those involved.

Still, military chief Herzi Halevi publically condemned the rioting and vowed to investigate the circumstances. The West Bank’s top general, Yehudah Fuchs, called the settlers’ rampage a “pogrom.”

View of the Yitzhar Junction in the northern West Bank town of Huwara, March 5, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Qaddous said residents of Huwara were beginning to recover after the violence and week of closure imposed by the army.

“But the people here are worried, afraid, about the next time it might happen. Next time will be even worse, more violent,” he said.

“The settlers have learned that they can get away with it.”

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