The video footage is clear: At least 10 settlers who set out from the direction of the Givat Ronen outpost to the adjacent West Bank village of Burin are seen throwing stones at Palestinians. The footage leaves no room for doubt. Five or more of the settlers’ faces are visible, and there were soldiers in the area who witnessed the stone-throwing. But indictments have yet to be filed in regard to the incidents, and there is no evidence that any suspects have even been detained for questioning.
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This incident, which took place on May 22, is not especially unique or unusual. Since the middle of April, settlers have attacked Palestinians, left-wing activists or security forces on at least nine occasions. But the police are not currently holding anyone in any of these cases, even though the attackers have either been caught on video or committed their attacks in the presence of Israeli soldiers (or both).
In addition, in the incidents that were filmed, one can clearly see soldiers either failing to act or simply trying to separate the two sides. The soldiers had the authority to detain the assailants but didn’t do so, and also failed to find out who they were afterward.
The Israeli army told Haaretz that in all of the incidents, soldiers were dispatched to the scene and worked to diffuse clashes between settlers and Palestinians. The Israel Defense Forces, its spokesman’s office said, is committed to maintaining law and order.
“Sometimes there are two, three or four incident a week,” said a researcher for the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, which filmed the Burin attack. “It depends on the security situation. There are also quiet periods, but they come, throw stones, break windows. The army sees [it]. There is a soldiers’ lookout point between Burin and the [Givat Ronen] outpost, but the settlers pass the soldiers, reach the houses and throw stones.”
The Burin incident was filmed from at least two angles by Palestinians in the area. One of the Palestinians, who spoke to Haaretz but asked not to be identified, said he himself was injured by a rock thrown by a settler. “Not a small stone,” he added, noting it weighed more than a kilogram (2.2 pounds). “And the jeep of the other Palestinian [filming] was also damaged.”
Clashes between West Bank settlers and Palestinians are nothing new. There have been media reports about them for years, but the increasing use of video documenting them has meant that, of at least 12 recent violent incidents, six were caught on video.
The person behind the camera is not always a representative of a human rights organization. Sometimes it’s an Israeli soldier. That was the case, for example, on April 14, when a group of seven masked Israelis from the unauthorized Baladim outpost – an extremist stronghold that was evacuated at the beginning of this month – was filmed throwing stones at an IDF jeep. The footage caused a political storm, although it was not the first time Baladim residents had clashed with Israeli soldiers. Still, it’s not every day that attackers, with their faces covered, are filmed targeting soldiers in uniform.
Shortly after the footage went public, the Israel Police Judea and Samaria District announced that a young resident from the Beit El settlement had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the incident. He was released within a day, though, after presenting an alibi. Another suspect was subsequently arrested, but he too was later released. A week later, on April 21, residents of Baladim were filmed attacking several dozen members of a group of left-wing activists and Palestinian shepherds in the Uja area.
Due to prior incidents, the activists prepared cameras and shot five minutes-worth of footage showing the assailants using clubs and stones during the attack. Although the attackers were masked, some were dressed in distinctive clothing, while the voice of one of them could clearly be heard on the video.
One of those attacked, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, said he was summoned by the police at the beginning of June and asked to identify the attackers in pictures.
Ascherman said he was initially told one person had been arrested, and was then told two had been arrested. Haaretz subsequently learned about the arrest of three right-wing activists, but security sources said they were all released for lack of what was called “concrete information.”
Following a series of other incidents, the Israel Police entered the settlement of Yitzhar in an effort to identify suspects. There has been no further report of additional arrests.
“If there is filmed evidence, it’s an open-and-shut case,” MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid), a former West Bank police commander, told Haaretz. “If the attack causes real injury, or if there is a real risk of ongoing criminal activity, there is a duty to request detention until the end of legal proceedings.”
Israeli soldiers are authorized to detain suspects for questioning until members of the Israel Police arrive. “I don’t want to see a soldier flee from an incident,” Levy continued. “I don’t want to see a policeman flee from an incident – and it doesn’t matter whether the attacker is Palestinian or Jewish.”
The incidents continued into May. In one incident in Burin, at least 10 settlers were filmed throwing stones at Palestinians in the presence of soldiers. “The soldiers came after we called the army and the police,” said Zacharia Sadeh, a Rabbis for Human Rights field worker who filmed the incident. “They came and did nothing. The army knew an hour earlier there were settlers there. There’s an observation post and an IDF position there. The settlers have to pass it when they leave the outpost.”
Sadeh said he identified a settler who had attacked him and passed the name along to the police. He said he also heard one settler call another “Adam” and told the police about that, but so far no arrests have been made.
And no one has been detained following a May 27 incident in which settlers attacked a Palestinian shepherd who sustained moderate injuries, near the village of Madama. Soldiers are said to have witnessed the incident (which was not filmed) and, in an unusual step, also reportedly fired into the air to scare off the assailants. The soldiers also called the police, who only arrived after the attackers had long left the scene.
The incidents have continued, including a recent one in which a military ambulance was hit by stones in Yitzhar. Residents of the settlement said the stone thrower had been evicted from Baladim. The police said no one filed a complaint in the case, but that investigations in the other cases are proceeding.
Spokesmen at the Israel Police Judea and Samaria District said two suspects were arrested after the attack on a jeep near Baladim and were released. With regard to the left-wing activist attacked on April 21 near Uja, they said three suspects were arrested and released. In regard to attacks the following day near the village of Urif, three suspects were arrested and released, the police said, adding that after settlers entered Urif and Palestinians and settlers threw stones at each other, two suspects were arrested and released. The police did not comment on other incidents, including those that were filmed or where soldiers were present.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office responded: “In all of the incidents noted, IDF forces were dispatched to the scene and acted to diffuse violent clashes that had developed between [settlers] and Palestinians. IDF forces will continue to enforce law and order in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and to act in cooperation with all of the security agencies against lawbreakers.”