Israeli Police Go Easy on Violent Settlers 'Because We Were in a Jewish Community'

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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A car that was vandalized by settlers in the south Hebron hills, last month.
A car that was vandalized by settlers in the south Hebron hills, last month.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

The commander of a Border Police unit attacked by dozens of settlers near the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar said on Tuesday that the unit did not make extensive use of riot control means “because we were in a Jewish community, and we understood that.”

In an interview on Kan Bet public radio, when Superintendent Hagai Saban was asked whether he would have acted differently if the attackers had been Palestinians, he replied: “No, when we fired two or three tear gas canisters it did the job.”

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Saban, a Border Police company commander, said the Shin Bet security service informed him that about 40 or 50 young men had assaulted a Border Police squad. The Israel Defense Forces said on Tuesday in a statement that Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi “condemns any assault and violence against the Border Police,” adding that it was “criminal behavior” that must be handled quickly and severely by the courts.

The Border Police officers were assaulted Monday as they attempted to remove a tent that had been put up in a closed military zone. One officer was slightly injured, and three police vehicles were damaged. “The core of Yitzhar are good people,” Saban said on Tuesday. “The problem is the small group that apparently come from the outside, and they are the rotten apples of this community.”

Clashes are frequent around Yitzhar between Palestinians and settlers, and sometimes involve the security forces. In July a masked settler was filmed shooting at Palestinians in the West Bank, with soldiers standing at his side. A few days earlier, commanders and soldiers said that the civilian security coordinator at Yitzhar had fired at a Palestinian who showed no threat, in the presence of soldiers. In November 2020, a settler in the Kumi Ori outpost near Yitzhar struck a Border Police member with his vehicle, injuring him slightly.

On Tuesday, the police reported to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that in 2020, 189 Palestinians were arrested for disturbing the peace in the West Bank, as compared with 22 Jews. The police also told the committee that 242 investigations were launched against Palestinians last year, and only 115 against Jews.

The meeting focused on the security forces’ treatment of violence perpetrated by Israeli extremists in the West Bank, given the significant rise in offenses by far-right Israeli activists against Palestinians. According to the security forces, in the first half of 2021, 416 criminal acts of a nationalistic nature were committed by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank – more than the number of such crimes in all of 2019.

In response to the committees’ question as to whether the police treated Palestinian and Israeli stone-throwers differently, the police representative said the police where “blind to identity and motive.”

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