Israeli Border Police Detain Head of Anti-occupation Group Breaking the Silence, Two Activists in West Bank

Police say a tour led by head of anti-occupation NGO, which was motivated by assault on activists, entered military zone but the order presenting it as such was only signed Friday to prevent the group from touring there

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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Avner Gvaryahu and Achiya Schatz during the incident on August 31, 2018.
Avner Gvaryahu and Achiya Schatz during the incident on August 31, 2018. Credit: Nasser Nawaja
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

Israeli Border Police on Friday detained two senior members of the anti-occupation organization Breaking the Silence near the illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair in the West Bank.

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The group's executive director, Avner Gvaryahu, and communications director, Achiya Schatz, were detained for questioning by border police. Attorney Michael Sfard was also detained for questioning.

The three were later released from detention on Friday afternoon after spending a total of three hours in questioning.

Police said that the men were detained because the tour group they guided had entered a closed military area. The ban on the presence of civilians is not enforced for local settlers, however.

The military order designating the area as a sealed-off zone was signed Friday morning, and was meant to prevent the Breaking the Silence tour. The order states it goes into effect as of 7:00 A.M.

>> Read more: Police arrest right-wing activist suspected of assaulting Breaking the Silence co-founderFour Israeli left-wing activists hospitalized after reported attack by settlers

Israeli Border Police presented the order only after the tour had arrived, and according to activists present at the scene, they were not given the option to leave before the arrests began.

Avner Gvaryahu stated that "Attorney Michael Sfard, Achiya Schatz and I now left the Hebron police station after police detained us in order to prevent a tour in a place where Ta'ayush activists were beaten up last week. Unlike the commander of the Hebron Regional Brigade, we are not going to give up in the face of settlers' violence and we'll go back to touring in the southern Hebron Hills very soon."

The incident took place during a Breaking the Silence tour of the South Hebron Hills following an attack on left-wing activists in the area last week. The military earlier attempted to prevent the tour from entering Kiryat Arba, a settlement on the outskirts of Hebron, but ultimately decided to allow them to enter.

A video taken on Friday shows Gvaryahu boarding the police jeep without resisting.

MK Mossi Raz, who was present at the time of the incident, described what happened: "They [police] presented a military order and the commander said 'in a minute everyone on the bus.'"

Four Israeli left-wing activists, members of the Israeli-Palestinian anti-occupation group Ta'ayush, were attacked last week at Mitzpe Yair. They were documenting illegal construction in the unauthorized Jewish outpost when 10 settlers attacked them and broke their cameras.

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) said "Week after week we are proven the grim reality in which settlers turn the Israel Defense Forces into their private army ... with this detestable arrest, the state sends a clear message through the IDF that settlers can break the law and act criminally as they see fit."

The New Israel Fund issued a response to the arrest, saying it considered the detainment of the three activists to be "grave."

"The tour took place in solidarity with human rights activists from the Ta'ayush organization who were violently assaulted last Saturday by outlaws who came from the outpost Mitze Yair. The outpost had a closed military zone edict laid on it, and none of the violent outlaws was arrested."

The statemend concluded by calling for an "immediate investigation into the continued violence exacted against human rights activists in the region."

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