Jewish settlers rampage in Palestinian town in West Bank

AP  /  October 13, 2022

JERUSALEM – A group of Jewish settlers rampaged through a Palestinian town in the northern West Bank on Thursday, attacking shops and residents with stones and iron bars, according to Palestinian reports and amateur video from the scene. Over 40 Palestinians were reported wounded.

It was the latest violence in the northern West Bank, where the Israeli military has been conducting nightly arrest raids against suspected Palestinian militants.

Unrest also erupted in the contested city of Jerusalem. Israeli police unleashed live rounds, tear gas and stun grenades on Palestinians throwing stones, firecrackers and firebombs, marking the biggest spasm of violence in the city in months.

Clashes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem wounded 18 Palestinians late Thursday, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported, saying settlers attacked Palestinians with stones and clubs. The confrontations followed similar unrest across several neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem the night before.

It was not immediately clear what sparked Thursday’s rampage in the northern West Bank, but Palestinian militants in the area have carried out several roadside shootings in recent weeks. The area is home to a number of hard-line settlements, whose residents often intimidate Palestinians and vandalize their property.

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settlement activities in the area, said some 70 settlers from the hard-line settlement of Yitzhar appeared in Hawara, on the outskirts of the city of Nablus, without warning.

He said mobs beat Palestinians, damaged shops and cars and set fire to a city park. He said 22 people were struck by stones, and 20 others were beaten up.

“The Israeli army was doing nothing but protecting them,” he said.

Among those injured was AP photographer Majdi Mohammed, who was struck in the knee and lightly hurt by an Israeli tear gas canister fired by a soldier.

Amateur video from the scene showed young settlers brandishing clubs as they ran through the streets and approached shopkeepers. At one point, a shopkeeper with his back against a wall swung a stick at a group of youths, while a second Palestinian threw a stone at them. Soldiers fired into the air and stood next to a group of settlers, apparently trying to keep the group’s separated.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Tensions in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem have soared since a Palestinian assailant shot and killed an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint at the entrance to the Shuafat refugee camp earlier this week.

Late Thursday, the extremist far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir visited Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood that has become a focal point of heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

“Friends, if they throw rocks, shoot them!” he said in a widely shared video as he brandished a pistol, apparently addressing settlers confronting Palestinian protesters.

Meanwhile movement in and out of Shuafat, a neglected Jerusalem slum, has been restricted as troops search for the shooter.

The overnight street violence appeared to have subsided by Thursday morning, as tens of thousands of Jews were flocking to Jerusalem to celebrate the week-long Sukkot holiday, surging into East Jerusalem’s Old City, often a focal point for tensions.

Police said they arrested 23 Palestinians throughout disturbances on Wednesday, half of them minors. Police said masked protesters threw firebombs, stones and fireworks at officers. Video footage released by Israeli police showed a street littered with burning debris and trash bins set alight.

Police said in some cases officers used live fire against the protesters. There was no immediate report of injuries.

The police manhunt has further disrupted the lives of residents of Shuafat, an area that has long seen neglect at the hands of Israeli authorities. Police initially closed Shuafat’s entry and exit points and while they have since reopened, officers were stopping cars in and out of the neighbourhood, triggering snarling traffic jams and disrupting the residents’ daily routine.

In response, shops, businesses and schools across East Jerusalem closed Wednesday in protest of the police measures and in solidarity with Shuafat.

More than 120 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and East Jerusalem this year, making 2022 the deadliest year since 2015. The fighting has surged since a series of Palestinian attacks killed 19 people in Israel last spring.

Israel says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also died.

Israel says the raids are needed to dismantle militant networks at a time when Palestinian security forces are unable or unwilling to do so. The Palestinians say the raids undermine their security forces and aimed at cementing Israel’s 55-year military rule.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 June War, along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and later annexed that part of the city. It considers the entire city its eternal, undivided capital. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state, with Jerusalem’s eastern flank as capital.