Border Police reverses arrest policy in Hebron

Decision follows "pogroms against Palestinians" in Hebron; Barak to try compromise with Yesha leaders.

cave of the patriarchs 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy [file])
cave of the patriarchs 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy [file])
Settlers temporarily took over two empty structures in Hebron and Border Police in riot gear blocked the road by the disputed Beit Hashalom building on Wednesday, as a fourth day of clashes with far-Right activists led to some 20 arrests, including one 15-year old girl arrested for attacking a police officer. A large number of Wednesday's arrests were made during clashes, in what a senior Border Police source said was a reversal of an earlier decision that officers must wait until the situation calmed down before hauling people away. The source said that the new policy of making arrests on the spot even in the middle of a riot was a direct response to "pogroms against Palestinians" by far-Right activists and attacks on police officers. "All incidents of rock-throwing, blocking roads, and unlawful conduct will result in arrests, following a decision by commanders," the source said. For the last week, Border Police and the IDF have struggled to maintain order in the city as activists have streamed to the disputed four-story Beit Hashalom that was home to nine families, in an effort to prevent its pending evacuation by security forces. But even while waiting, the activists have thrown rocks at police and the IDF and have vandalized Palestinian property, including a small Muslim cemetery. On Wednesday, the road in front of the building, which was blocked off at times by Border Police vehicles, was strewn with stones. On the front of one Palestinian home across from Beit Hashalom, Jewish vandals had scrawled large Jewish stars and the word "revenge" in black paint. Early Sunday morning, a group of around 50 settlers threw rocks at Palestinian homes in Hebron, and 40 Palestinian vehicles were damaged by vandals, according to Judea and Samaria Police. Settlers have said that all clashes were begun either by security forces or Palestinians. On Tuesday, a 16-year-old Jewish activist was seriously wounded when a Palestinian threw a stone that hit him on the head. He remains in critical condition. The Border Police source said that violence had decreased on Wednesday as the result of the arrests and added that he expected it would significantly bring down the number of incidents in the coming days. The new arrest policy has already begun to have an effect, he added. "In the past 24 hours, we have seen a decrease in violent disturbances because of the arrests," the source said. "The days when people would riot and we would continue to operate normally are over." Still, even as clashes between settlers and the Palestinians in Hebron calmed down on Wednesday, clashes with security forces continued. During the afternoon, activist teens took over two empty buildings - Beit Hoisman and Beit Shapira - but were quickly evacuated and, in some cases, arrested. As more than 20 teens, some as young as 11 and 12, entered Beit Shapira, other activists sang and danced on the street below. They were joined by a van that blared Jewish music over a loudspeaker. The teens were able to enter Beit Shapira by going up a broken and littered stone staircase and over a rooftop of an adjacent building. Once inside, they stuck their heads out of the barred windows to declare that they had entered to protest the pending evacuation of Beit Hashalom. "All of the Land of Israel is ours!" the teens shouted, their faces covered in cloth masks. Standing on the road below, one teen, who smiled at the sight, said, "Tonight we are going to take over Hebron." When the police appeared, they left the building without a struggle, but police took their names and led a number of them away. Some teenage girls who came to join them were disappointed to learn that the building had already been evacuated so quickly. They and other activists returned to Beit Hashalom when urged to do so by an organizer on a loudspeaker who said they would later receive information that would enable them to take over other buildings. As police made their way back to Beit Hashalom, activists outside the building threw stones at them and tried to block the road. In response, police in riot gear appeared, holding up plastic shields and huddling together as settlers and activists yelled at them. They also threw a number of stun grenades at the crowd. Approximately seven activists were arrested. Settlers said the riot police's response had been excessive and that there had been no reason to throw the stun grenades. They added that all stone-throwing had been in response to the clear provocation of the security forces. In the middle of the fray, two American supporters arrived with six boxes of pizza for the activists. By sundown, scores of Border Police had gathered around the building and blocked activists from arriving. Earlier in the day, a Jewish man suspected of attacking Border Police officers the previous night was arrested after reappearing in the Hebron area. The man will spend 24 hours in custody before being brought for a remand hearing. Border Police spokesman Moshe Pinchi said the IDF would maintain overall sovereignty throughout the West Bank, but that the Border Police had been asked to take the lead in dealing with the dramatic rise in violent disturbances in Hebron. "Because we can handle the disturbances well, we have been asked to take operational responsibility for the radius around the disputed house," Pinchi explained. "But the IDF remains the sovereign body in the West Bank."