Fearing anti-Arab Attacks, Israeli Security Forces Up Presence in Settlements

The forces are mainly stationed in Yitzhar, in the northern West Bank, a settlement known for extremism and attacks on Palestinian targets

Jewish settlers throw rocks towards Palestinians during clashes near Yitzhar, in the Nablus area
AP

Israeli security forces have increased their presence across Israeli-controlled areas in the West Bank, particularly near the settlement of Yitzhar, in the northern West Bank, after the Shin Bet security service warned of a likely escalation in so-called “price tag” retaliatory attacks against Palestinian targets by residents of the settlement. Yitzhar is known as one of the more ideologically extreme Jewish communities in the area.

A security source said the stepped up enforcement efforts around Yitzhar are an effort to “prevent friction,” but added that enforcement efforts are not limited to the settlement. Since the increased security presence was imposed around the settlement, which is near Nablus, it has been relatively quiet and concerns about anti-Arab hate crimes have been directed elsewhere in the West Bank, the source said. Incidents have occurred in other areas of the West Bank, such as Gush Etzion, the south Hebron hills and Shilo, but not around Nablus, he added.

Muslims are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan, and the police expressed concern that anti-Arab attacks by Jews could spark terror attacks in response. Overall the incidence of the revenge-style attacks against Palestinians by Israelis on the extreme right has reportedly been on the increase and included a recent attempt to burn down a mosque near Nablus.

Senior officials from the police, the army and the Shin Bet security service recently held a series of discussions on the situation, one of which took place at the Prime Minister’s Office. Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said that, based on the information they were shown, many of the price tag attacks originated from radical settlers living in Yitzhar, leading to the decision to step up police presence there.

The main concern within the Jewish Division of the Shin Bet, which investigates the activities of Jewish Israeli extremists, is that price tag attacks during Ramadan, a fast month, and coming shortly after the controversial transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the tensions on the border with the Gaza Strip, could spur terrorist attacks against Israelis.

The police began increasing its presence in the West Bank early this month. Yitzhar residents said there was a notably larger police presence in the settlement. They complained of feeling that they were being harassed and cited as examples the stationing of a police car which they said is always parked at the entrance to the settlement of 1,200 residents. They also spoke of traffic tickets that they said have been issued for relatively minor violations from not wearing a seat belt to failure to have their cars equipped with a safety vest, as all vehicles are required to have. Last week residents of Yitzhar reported that two cars of residents of the settlement were impounded, although they were later restored to their owners.

Menashe Yadoo, a lawyer from the Honenu, an organization that describes itself as an “Israeli Zionist legal aid organization which offers legal assistance to our people to protect and preserve their rights to receive a fair judicial process,” said the owner of a garage from which the cars were towed, without explanation according to him, approached him to contact the police on the matter. The police, Yadoo said, agreed to return the cars within a few hours. A family in the settlement claimed its car was towed to the edge of the settlement, but was quickly returned. Residents of Yitzhar also complained that they have been subject to arrests for no reason.

They also said at the police force in the settlement was even further beefed up on Monday morning, and that police officers knocked on at least two doors asking the residents for identification. After the residents identified themselves, the police are said to have left. The residents reported that three plainclothes detectives roamed around the settlement. “They asked for an identity card and then said, ‘Okay, it isn’t you,’ and left. It was weird. You knock on a door and don’t know where you’re going?” commented Elhanan Gruner, a resident of Yitzhar who is associated with the right-wing website The Jewish Voice.

After a resident of the settlement posted a comment on Twitter accusing the police of aggressive enforcement, Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party tweeted that he “prays for the day that the Israel Police have the courage to enforce the law and sovereignty in the Bedouin and Arab towns in the Negev and Galilee. They are bullying the settlers. Zeroes,” he wrote.

Smotrich’s tweet was subsequently attacked by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who responded: “After Israel Police officers were attacked in [the Bedouin town of] Rahat, Smotrich chooses to curse them and present a warped picture.” Erdan added: “Your choice of words is a disgrace, Bezalel. I expect you to apologize to the police who defend you too with their bodies.”

In an unusual development, the Israel Police also chose to react to Smotrich’s broadside, saying that it viewed statements of this kind by elected officials as regrettable.