A resident of the West Bank settlement of Itamar was arrested early Sunday on suspicion of attacking a left-wing rabbi at a Palestinian olive harvest last month.
Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the head of the Rabbis for Human Rights advocacy group, was not seriously hurt in the October 23 attack, according to a spokesman for the group.
A video of the incident showed an extremist Jewish activist armed with a knife chasing, beating and possibly attempting to stab Ascherman, who was part of a group of left-wing activists that accompanied Palestinian villagers to their fields to harvest olives near Nablus.
According to activists such as Ascherman, Palestinians often face harassment and violence from Jewish extremists during their olive harvests.
The suspect in the attack was arrested by the nationalist crimes division of the Judea and Samaria Police at 2 a.m. Sunday, police said. He confessed his actions to the arresting officers.
Ascherman praised the police and said it showed that when there was willingness, authorities were able to pursue the perpetrators of crimes against Palestinians. Still, he cited figures showing a low conviction rate.
“The arrest proves that when the desire is there, it is possible to locate suspects in violent crimes motivated by nationalistic ideology — even if the victims are Palestinian ones. … Should the suspect be found responsible, we expect the court to give a sentence that reflects the severity of violent ideological crimes,” he said in a statement.
According to reports, the suspect asked for an attorney when police informed him he would be facing a judge Sunday who would be asked by prosecutors to extend his remand.
His attorney, the extreme-right activist Itamar Ben Gvir, said Sunday afternoon he had yet to meet his client.
“I haven’t yet met the youth, but even if he has confessed to [the crimes] attributed to him, I don’t understand the weight of such a statement considering he has not yet consulted a lawyer.”
The Palestinian harvest on the day of the incident was accompanied by Israeli police protection. A 2006 court ruling requires Israel to protect Palestinian harvests from attack.
But shortly after the harvest had wrapped up and the security forces had left, Ascherman tried to approach and film Israelis who were apparently setting fire to a nearby grove when the masked suspect came rushing toward him.
Video captured by Rabbis for Human Rights showed Ascherman scuffling for about a minute with the knife-wielding man, who at one point had Ascherman in a headlock. The rabbi broke a finger and was bruised in the attack.
On Sunday, Ben Gvir charged that Ascherman was being “provocative” at the time he was attacked.
“It’s unfortunate that at a time when terror attacks are targeting settlers, the nationalist crimes unit is dealing with an incident involving a left-wing provocateur who is provoking the settlers and inciting Arabs to carry out terror attacks against Jews,” Ben Gvir said.
Last week, Ascherman told AP that the attack on him showed how Jewish extremists, who are rarely apprehended or prosecuted, are undeterred from continuing their attacks.
“We’ve created… a Frankenstein’s monster that’s turned on its creator,” he said. The extremist settlers “believe that they are the lords of the land.”
Police said last week the incident was under investigation, but Ascherman questioned the failure to arrest a suspect in the two weeks since the attack, despite the video evidence. He warned that years of unchecked extremist violence were turning against Jews.
“The hand which strikes the non-Jew will eventually strike the Jew as well,” Ascherman said. “What goes around comes around and I think what happened to me was an inevitable result of what happens to Palestinians on an almost daily basis.”
AP contributed to this report.