Palestinians blame 'hilltop youth' for school arson

Water pipes melted and burst, saving whole building from burning; IDF: Clear escalation in settler violence.

settlers throwing rocks 311 (photo credit: Btselem)
settlers throwing rocks 311
(photo credit: Btselem)
Vandals set fire to a storage room in a West Bank Palestinian girls school early Wednesday morning and scrawled a Hebrew message on a nearby wall: “Greetings from the hilltops.”
Palestinians have accused a group of young settlers, known as the Hilltop Youth, of setting the fire to the room, which had been stacked with furniture.
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The whole building could have been burned, but luckily the blaze caused plastic water pipes to melt in the room, said Zachary Fabda, a Palestinian field worker for Rabbis for Human Rights who later in the day visited the school in As-Sawiya, near Nablus in the Samaria region.
The water extinguished the fire; when the school staff arrived, they found an open gate and the burnt out room, said Fabda.
Palestinians believe the settlers managed to enter and leave the village before dawn without anyone noticing. Later in the day female pupils staged a small protest outside their school in which they held up a sign which stated, “No fear, No tear, We stay on our land.”
This was the second arson attack this month allegedly perpetuated by settlers. Two weeks ago vandals entered the Palestinian village of Beit Fajar in the Gush Etzion Region and set fire to a mosque and to copies of the Koran. The blaze damaged the mosque but did not destroy it.
The vandals also scrawled Hebrew graffiti on the mosque wall which stated “Revenge” and “Price Tag.”
Extremist settlers have in the last few years instituted a “price tag” policy in which they damage Palestinian property to protest actions by Israeli Security Forces or Palestinian attacks against Jews. Rabbis for Human Rights has called on settler rabbis to take a firm stand against such violence.
The Civil Administration said it had received reports of Wednesday’s arson attack on the school.
Its officials met with Palestinian representatives following the incident. “The area is currently calm,” a security source told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday afternoon.
The Judea and Samaria police could not be reached for comment.
Senior IDF officers in the Central Command warned of the growing escalation in anti-Palestinian violence.
The arson attack on the school, they said, stood out since it was not carried out in ostensible response to IDF action against the settlers.
At about the same time as the arson attack, the IDF demolished several structures built illegally in an outpost near the settlement of Bat Ayin in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, but IDF officers said that since the demolitions happened at the same time the arson attack was likely not an act of revenge.
One of the structures housed a family with a small child. The family was awakened in the middle of the night to find that border police had surrounded their home.
On Wednesday settlers, with the help of the organization Women in Green, began to rebuild the outpost.
“There has been a clear escalation in recent months in the level of settler violence against Palestinians,” a senior IDF officer said on Wednesday.
Defense officials have said that the current olive harvest season is the most violent in years and has been marred by suspicions that hundreds of trees have been vandalized by settler youth throughout the West Bank. Some of the trees were cut down and others were poisoned.
In one case, last week, IDF troops captured two settlers near the settlement of Talmon who had come from Kiryat Arba and were caught with sacks full of olives which they had allegedly picked from Palestinian groves. After being brought to court, the settlers were released, however, since the IDF could not prove that the olives in the sacks actually came from the trees in the grove where they were apprehended.