IDF battalion commander, soldiers attacked by settlers in West Bank

Attack takes place in Hawara, near Nablus. Settler violence has been on rise in recent weeks. Stones also thrown at Palestinian vehicles.

Scenes from the vandalism caused by Israeli settlers on Palestinians cars and shops in the town of Huwara near Nablus, January 24, 2021.  (photo credit: HUWARA REGIONAL COUNCIL)
Scenes from the vandalism caused by Israeli settlers on Palestinians cars and shops in the town of Huwara near Nablus, January 24, 2021.
(photo credit: HUWARA REGIONAL COUNCIL)

The commander of the IDF’s 202nd Paratrooper’s Battalion and a soldier were wounded by settlers who pepper-sprayed them in the Palestinian town of Huwara near Nablus early Thursday.

The battalion arrived in Huwara in the predawn hours to quell a violent settler riot against Palestinians in a town that serves as one of the commercial hubs for the area.

Politicians across the political spectrum, as well as settler leaders, condemned the attack.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the attackers “dangerous criminals who must be denounced and brought to justice without hesitation and with all severity. They endanger the lives of our soldiers and they harm the State of Israel.”

 Israeli soldiers stand while stationed outside a Palestinian shop in Huwara, Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 26, 2022. (credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/ REUTERS) Israeli soldiers stand while stationed outside a Palestinian shop in Huwara, Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 26, 2022. (credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/ REUTERS)

Route 60, a main transportation artery for the region, runs through Huwara. Both Israelis and Palestinians must use that route to reach their homes.

Early Thursday morning, settlers stoned Palestinian vehicles in Huwara. A video shared by Palestinian media showed Palestinians throwing fireworks at soldiers and settlers during the clashes that ensued.

After attacking the soldiers, a group of settlers fled the scene in a vehicle. Army and police searched the area and arrested one of the suspects in the vehicle.

To date, police have arrested three suspects, one of whom was an off-duty IDF soldier.

His attorney told Channel 13 that his client was in the town but was not involved in the attack.

Settlers additionally pepper-sprayed two soldiers later in the night at Tapuah junction, located south of Huwara.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi called Thursday’s attack against soldiers in Huwara “a very serious incident, embodying shameful and disgraceful criminal behavior, which requires swift and strict justice…”

“It is unthinkable that IDF soldiers who defend diligently and devotedly will be violently attacked by settlers,” added Kohavi.

Gantz pledged to bring the attackers to justice, warning that they harmed the ability of security forces to provide security for the citizens of Israel and the residents of the area.

On Wednesday, masked settlers and right-wing extremists attacked a group of Palestinians and volunteers who were harvesting olives near the village of Kisan in Gush Etzion.

One Israeli woman, aged 70, was beaten so severely that she was hospitalized.

MK Mossi Raz (Meretz) linked the Huwara violence to Wednesday’s attacks against olive harvesters.

“This serious incident must not be seen out of context. Human rights activists were brutally attacked yesterday, the Palestinian residents of Huwara were attacked in the days before. Settler violence increases its intensity every day and must be dealt with all severity.”

Former prime minister and Likud Party head Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack, but also expressed opposition to attempts to “tarnish a large community of settlers because of the wrongful act of a few.”

“The absolute majority of settlers respect the law, serve in the IDF and are deeply grateful to our soldiers who protect us all,” said Netanyahu.

OTZMA YEHUDIT head Itamar Ben-Gvir blamed Gantz for the violence, claiming that Palestinians threw stones at Jews in the area beforehand and complaining that the IDF did not mention this in its statement.

“This is further evidence of the politicization that Gantz is trying to bring into the IDF. Gantz abandons the lives of the heroic settlers in Judea and Samaria, abandons the IDF soldiers and ties their hands in the fight against terrorism and abandons the security of the State of Israel. The responsibility rests on his shoulders,” he said.

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan stressed that “the rioters who attacked IDF soldiers are not part of the spirit of Samaria and we all despise those who attack soldiers.”

“These are a handful of thugs and everyone knows that they do not in any way represent the settlement in Samaria, anyone who tries to imply otherwise is a hypocrite. Everyone also knows that most of them are not at all from the settlements in Samaria,” said Dagan. “I am making a clear statement: there is no justification in any situation for such a thing and there is no place for it in our districts. The settlements are the IDF and the IDF is the settlements.”

Efrat Council head Oded Revivi condemned the attack as well, stating “the masked people who have been documented attacking commanders and soldiers are cowards. If they were proud of their actions, they would have acted openly and proudly.”

“Attacks on security forces are actions taken by the enemy. I very much hope that this did not involve Jews, and if it does turn out that they are Jews, it is impudence and shame to raise a hand like that against our brothers, and against those who suffer and risk their lives for our sake. Not only did they cross a red line, but they also endangered the entire settlement enterprise by making the security forces do their job less well for our security and by giving more excuses to the opponents of the settlement to tarnish our image,” Revivi added.

Left-wing group Peace Now warned that “violent settlers are taking advantage of the election period to set the area on fire.”

“Unfortunately, Defense Minister Benny Gantz is trying to gather right-wing votes and the settlers smell blood. He must come to his senses and order operations with a heavy hand against the rampant settler terrorism that does not distinguish between soldiers, Palestinians or left-wing activists. If we don’t stop the violent criminals on the hills, we will receive the violence and incitement raging inside Israel.”

Settler violence against Huwara continues

Settler violence has been on the rise in recent weeks, particularly in Huwara, a known flashpoint for tension between settlers and Palestinians.

On October 13, during the Sukkot holiday, settlers and right-wing extremists attacked Palestinian homes, shops and vehicles in Huwara in broad daylight, in scenes caught on video, on what Palestinians described as a pogrom. The IDF used tear gas to disperse the clashes that ensued between settlers and Palestinians.

The next day, Palestinians stoned an Israeli vehicle on Route 60 in Huwara. The driver got out of his vehicle and fired shots.

In June, two Israelis were indicted for violently attacking and vandalizing a Palestinian coffee shop in the town.