30 Arrested in March to Jericho-area Synagogue

Right-wing activists seeking to establish an outpost near an ancient synagogue in Na'aran, near Jericho, clash with security forces.

Israeli security forces yesterday arrested 30 right-wing activists seeking to establish an outpost near an ancient synagogue in Na'aran, near Jericho. During the arrest, the activists clashed with police officers and soldiers who had been sent to the area.

The activists had arrived at the culmination of a protest march aimed at "bolstering the [Jewish] foothold on the old cities of Nablus and Jericho." The three-day march was organized by a youth group led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger.

At the end of the march, the activists arrived at the synagogue where some 60 soldiers and policemen were waiting. Some of the settlers were beaten while taken into custody. During the clash, a driver hired by the army to take activists away from the area hurled stones at the protesters and hit one woman.

Security forces detaining a West Bank settler near Jericho.
Emil Salman

The activists then boarded the vehicle, tore out seats and upholstery and broke two windows. They were taken to a police station in Ma'aleh Adumim.

This was not the first clash between security forces and activists trying to storm the Na'aran synagogue.

In February, the Israel Defense Forces arrested 35 right-wing activists who barricaded themselves inside the synagogue. The activists, who were well organized, easily got by the police and army roadblocks and entered Jericho.

It was after this incident that the settler activists, who are affiliated with the so-called hilltop youth who have been most active in building illegal outposts, began planning a march from Nablus to Jericho.

This began on Sunday, when the settlers launched an awareness drive in the hope of motivating their peers to settle in biblical towns that are now inhabited by Palestinians. Leaflets were posted in Jewish enclaves throughout the West Bank.

At the start of the march, the Border Police arrested a group of 50 settlers and released them at various checkpoints. The settlers then regrouped and resumed the march on Monday.

Over the last two days, the army reversed course and allowed the march to continue while preventing any friction with the Palestinians in the area. Soldiers in jeeps and on foot accompanied the procession while blocking entry and exit points to Palestinian towns along Route 60.

IDF officers have often complained that the situation in the West Bank makes the army "the settlers' private police force."

But an officer at Central Command says the army's options are limited. "We have no choice," the officer said. "We need to provide security for civilian activity on the ground so there won't be any friction, while trying not to harm the daily routine [of local Palestinians]. The moves to block the highway were only for a short time."

At around 4 P.M. yesterday, the youths approached the Jericho area. They dispersed along hills to try to evade Israeli troops from the Combat Engineering Corps, a reserve unit, and a Border Police force. Fourteen settlers were arrested before they could reach Jericho. The rest sneaked into the Na'aran synagogue, where they were taken away by the reserve soldiers.

Afterward, settlers complained about brutal treatment by the soldiers. "The soldiers threw me into a car and choked me," one of the girls arrested told Haaretz. "Boys touched me. One soldier beat me with his helmet."

Another settler complained that a member of the Border Police had shot teargas at the detainees while they were being squeezed into a military vehicle. The settlers in turn broke two windows of the vehicle and began tearing apart its seats.

Officers tried to prevent journalists from covering the evacuation. A major told a photographer: "Stop filming or I'll blow up your camera."

Itzhak Bam, an attorney for the suspects, accused the authorities of interrogating them without permitting consultations with a lawyer.

"The Border Police's violent outbursts have become a pattern of its behavior toward those who love the land," said MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union ). "This is not protecting the law, but breaking the law, with instructions from above."