Settler Violence Is Out of Control – and Politicians' Silence Is Enabling It, Security Sources Say

Israeli security sources say police are not responding forcefully enough to violent settler protests – and that could lead to an escalation in the West Bank

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Police clash with young protesters demonstrating against the death of Ahuvia Sandak, in Jerusalem, December 23, 2020.
Police clash with young protesters demonstrating against the death of Ahuvia Sandak, in Jerusalem, December 23, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Right-wing protests against the death of teenager Ahuvia Sandak in a car chase with police have gotten out of control, and silence from policymakers on the issue is being interpreted as support for the cause, security sources told Haaretz Wednesday.

The sources said that since Sandak's death last week, the police "are losing control in the face of the violence of the hilltop youth and Jewish extremists" in the West Bank.

Sandak, 16, a resident of Bat Ayin in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, was killed in a car chase with the police after he and his friends were suspected of throwing stones at Palestinians in the West Bank.

Officers crashed into their car from behind, causing it to flip, fatally injuring Sandak and lightly to moderately injuring his friends. Protests have been held at National Police Headquarters in Jerusalem since his death, drawing up to a thousand to the site.

According to the sources, since the demonstrations erupted last week, the police have not been responding forcibly to settler violence, a factor that can cause a dangerous chain reaction. The sources mentioned that the rate of violence by settlers has been increasing, and warned that without firm and immediate intervention by law enforcement, right-wing activists could commit an exceptional act of violence that will provoke a Palestinian reaction.

Protesters in Jerusalem hold up pictures of Ahuvia Sandak, reading: 'Our hands spilled this blood.' December 26, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

This, they said, could drag the entire region into an escalation. The defense establishment believes that it is the responsibility of the political leadership to clarify how police should approach these protests.

The sources noted that over the past few days, the number of violent protests has increased significantly, and that unlike past demonstrations, they have included people in their 20s and 30s, older than the usual demographic.

They point to acts of violence like stone throwing, but assess that extremist elements may try to covertly damage mosques and police stations, and may also try to physically attack police officers. At this point, police are trying to avoid the use of force against right-wing protesters, and in many cases have faced intense violence from settlers. One of the security sources told Haaretz that since Sandak's death, right-wing violence against Palestinians and security forces in the West Bank "is breaking records."

Last week, right-wing activists held demonstrations in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and blamed police for Sandak's death. During the protests Palestinians reported that demonstrators threw stones and blocked roads for hours on end. According to Yesh Din, a human rights group, in the past two days, stones were thrown at cars in the Yitzhar Junction area, and a Palestinian was lightly injured when a stone hit him on Monday. There were also reports of violence in the area around the settlements of Yitzhar, Shavei Shomron and Rehelim.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people demonstrated in Jerusalem against Sandak's death, during which protesters attacked police. About 30 right-wing activists kicked and punched three police detectives who tried to arrest one of the demonstrators. Additional protests were held at junctions near the settlements of Yitzhar, Kiryat Arba, Kedumim, Shavei Shomron and Rehelim.

Police arrested 29 demonstrators in Jerusalem, and another six during the demonstrations in the settlements. Next to a checkpoint near Nablus, demonstrators threw stones at Palestinian vehicles, damaging some of them. Police said that one of the West Bank demonstrators was arrested after attacking a policeman.

Police had previously suspected the other four young men who were in the car with Sandak during the police chase of negligent homicide; on Monday, they took a harder line. Two of the passengers are now suspected of reckless homicide, as well as attempting to flee the scene of the accident while Sandak was trapped under the car. The maximum punishment for reckless homicide is 12 years in prison, and there is a nine-year prison term for fleeing the scene of an accident.

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