Police Tent Set Ablaze, Cars Vandalized as Tensions Rise Around West Bank Settlement

'We are seeing a rise in violence directed toward security forces, and intend to do everything possible to locate the suspect,' a police statement said.

Israeli security forces in the settlement outpost of Kumi Ori, October 22, 2019
Tomer Appelbaum

A Border Police tent was set on fire outside the settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank, and cars were vandalized in the nearby Palestinian village of Yatma on Thursday night. Israeli security forces are treating the two incidents as related, and suspect radical settlers to have carried them out. 

More than 30 vehicles were damaged overnight in Yatma, Deputy Mayor Hadir Hadir told Haaretz. Graffiti on one of the vehicles read "regards from the hilltop at Yitzhar", while "closed military zone" was spray-painted on a wall in the village.

'Regards from the hilltop at Yitzhar' spray-painted on a vandalized car in Yatma, West Bank, October 25, 2019
Yatma Village Council

This is a clear reference to Kumi Ori hill, just outside Yitzhar, where the Israeli army imposed a closed-off military order - an injunction barring anyone not a resident from the area - earlier this week, after settlers threw stones at soldiers.

Earlier on Thursday night, a settler set a small tent on fire on Kumi Ori itself. The tent was used by Border Police stationed on the hill to enforce the order as daytime shelter.

A security official said he suspected that the culprits were the same in both incidents, and put the blame on so-called "hilltop youth," radicalized young settlers often accused of carrying out violent attacks on Palestinian people and property. 

The police and army have opened a joint investigation but no suspects have as yet been arrested in either incident. "We are seeing a rise in violence directed toward security forces, and intend to do everything possible to locate the suspect," a police statement about the arson on Kumi Ori said.

But Yatma Deputy Mayor Hadir told Haaretz this is the third time this year that property in the village has been damaged. In the two prior instances, village residents never got to know whether arrests were made.

West Bank residents of villages in the Nablus and Salfit area said there has recently been an upsurge in attacks by settlers, mostly directed at agricultural land.

The Israeli security official said that neither attack would be ignored, and called upon Jewish religious leaders and local elected officials in the area to condemn the recent incidents.

They can be added to a growing list of clashes in a week of tensions in Yitzhar and the surrounding outposts. On Thursday morning, Israeli security forces demolished two temporary buildings near Kumi Ori. The temporary wooden structures were erected illegally before Sukkot in Area B on a hill known as Shevah Ha'aretz. 

The settlement leadership attacked the move, saying that "the community expressed its staunch stance against harming the soldiers and therefore the decision to demolish buildings as an act of punishment is devastating."

The graffiti near al-Bira, West Bank, on October 23, 2019.
Iyad Haddad/B'Tselem

"Such a step only stirs the spirits instead of calming them down," the statement added.

Tuesday overnight, graffiti was sprayed near a checkpoint in the town of al-Bira, east of Ramallah, which read: "closed-off military area traitors choose to harass Jews," also in an apparent nod to the Yitzhar situation. More than 20 cars were vandalized, and police launched an investigation.

On Sunday night, a soldier was lightly wounded by stones thrown by settlers near Yitzhar. The force responded by shooting into the air. According to the IDF, 30 settlers were involved in throwing stones and slashing the soldiers' tires at the scene. Security forces responded with stun grenades. There were no injuries and no arrests.

This followed a Saturday assault on Palestinian farmers at an olive grove near the village of Burin in the West Bank, adjacent to Yitzhar, in which three Palestinians were wounded, according to witnesses and the Red Crescent. No arrests were made, the Israeli army said. This kind of incident is not an uncommon occurence in the area, where settlement expansion brings the two populations ever closer.