Palestinians Take Brunt of Settlers' Anger Over Teen's Death, With Dozens of Attacks in Weeks

Palestinians and Israeli officials report increasing violence by settlers in the West Bank following the December death in a police chase of a settler suspected of throwing stones at Palestinians

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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Settlers protest after the death of teenager Ahuvia Sandak in a police car chase, Jerusalem, January 2, 2021.
Settlers protest after the death of teenager Ahuvia Sandak in a police car chase, Jerusalem, January 2, 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

For the past three weeks, the mayor of Sinjil, a Palestinian town near the Shilo settlement bloc, has been opening the council offices at night to provide shelter for drivers from throughout the West Bank.

"Saturday was the worst," Muataz Tawafsheh told Haaretz. "People came here and waited until 1 A.M. for the road to open. We don’t have mattresses at city hall, so we made sleeping arrangements in the village for three families that were stuck."

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The reason Tawafsheh has had to give shelter to drivers are the anti-police demonstrations that have been taking place every night in many West Bank locations to protest the death of Ahuvia Sandak, the teenager killed in a police car chase in December after he and his friends were suspected of throwing stones at Palestinian cars.

During some of these protests, demonstrators threw stones at Palestinians and at the security forces. To prevent friction between the demonstrators and area residents, the police and the army block roads to Palestinian traffic, and drivers are suddenly forced to find solutions en route.

Vehicle damaged by settlers protesting Ahuvia Sandak's death, January 2021.Credit: Police Spokesperson

According to Israeli defense officials, since Sandak’s death three weeks ago, there have been 27 reported instances of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, most of them stones thrown at cars with no casualties.

In four cases, Palestinians were lightly injured and in eight cases there was damage to vehicles. In five other cases, property was vandalized or stones were thrown at Israeli security forces. According to the Yesh Din human rights organization, there were 31 cases of violence against Palestinians during this period.

Settlers protest the death of West Bank teenager in police car chase. Credit: TAZPIT

Tawafsheh said he couldn’t recall such a long string of violent incidents by settlers since 2014, when three teens from the Gush Etzion settlement bloc were kidnapped and murdered. “It’s happening in Area C, it’s the place where the Israeli army and police are responsible; the Palestinian Authority can’t do anything there to help us. Every time the police say they will help but nothing actually happens,” he said.

On Sunday, the Israeli army reported that during a demonstration near the Kedumim junction near Nablus, a settler attacked the commander of a Golani Brigade reconnaissance battalion, Lt. Col. Ayoub Kiyof, as soldiers were taking demonstrators off the road. The suspect, attorney Yehuda Shimon from Havat Gilad, denied the attack and argued that he had complained to the force about the way one of the soldiers was holding teenage girls who were blocking the road. A video circulating doesn’t show the alleged assault, only Shimon’s arrest afterward.

Another incident was reported by the Israeli police division that operates in the West Bank, which does not noramlly issue press releases about demonstrations in the territory. According to its report, on Sunday morning, demonstrators threw stones at security forces and caused damage to police vehicles following the arrest of a demonstrator that had thrown stones and firecrackers at police officers. Four suspects were arrested at the scene on suspicion of attacking police officers and causing damage.

Muataz Kasrawi near his windows, broken by stones thrown by settlers, Hawara, West Bank, January 11, 2021. The attack caused more than $6,000 of damage.

According to security sources, the focal points of the violence have been the Shilo area, Givat Assaf, Hawara and Kedumim, all places north of Jerusalem on Route 60, the West Bank’s main north-south artery. This past weekend, Israeli Border Police forces that generally patrol areas of the West Bank were diverted to help enforce coronavirus restrictions inside Israel, which is likely to cause even more friction between settlers and soldiers, who generally do not deal with demonstrations by Israelis.

Some of the violence against Palestinians had nothing to do with blocking junctions or demonstrations; they are just the kind of so-called “Price Tag” hate crimes that take place periodically. For example, during the night between Sunday and Monday last week, a group of masked men entered the village of Sarta in the Salfit district, near the settlement of Ariel, threw two stun grenades into homes where families slept, and threw stones at four other homes. One resident was wounded by shrapnel in the attack, which was videotaped and reported by Israel’s Channel 12 News. In another case, settlers smashed the windows of a home in Kifl Haris near Ariel.

Glass scattered around a bedroom after stones were thrown at a Palestinian home in the town of Hawara, West Bank. “The children are afraid to sit at home since it happened.”Credit: Hawara Council

On Thursday of last week a group of Israelis threw stones at a home in Hawara, a Palestinian town near which the restive settlement of Yitzhar was established. Photos making the rounds on social networks show the broken windows of one of the bedrooms; the attack caused some 20,000 shekels ($6,283) in damage, homeowner Muataz Kasrawi said, adding his children were traumatized.

“The children are afraid to sit at home since it happened,” he said. “I have four children, they were playing when it happened, they weren’t sleeping yet. I have a boy a year and eight months old who didn’t speak for two days, and a three-year-old who didn’t eat for days from the fright.”

Defense officials have warned political officials that the silence or half-hearted condemnations on the part of right-wing leaders could lead to a serious escalation. They have also told them that demonstrations over Sandak’s death have become a “battlefield,” and that radical settler youth have exploited the death to attack Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as soldiers and police.

One senior defense official said the extremists are nourished by “a radical discourse that legitimizes terror and violent attacks on the security forces.”

Israel Police did not respond to Haaretz’s query about whether there had been arrests in recent weeks for violent attacks against Palestinians.

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