Israel’s government is accused of not acting against violent settler protests, in which Jewish extremists beat and injure police forces and Palestinian civilians.
The illegal Jewish settlers’ protests against the death of a teenager have gotten out of control due to Israeli policy makers' silence on the issue, which has the potential to escalate already strained tensions in the West Bank, Israeli media reported on Wednesday.
Israeli security sources, who spoke to Haaretz, said that because Israeli policy makers opt to stay silent about the issue, which is being interpreted “as support for the cause”, Israeli police forces are not responding forcefully enough to the violence.
Ahuvia Sandak, 16, and four other hilltop youth extremists rolled over with their car on December 21, after police officers tried to stop them as they hurled rocks at passing Palestinian vehicles. Sandak, who was from the southern West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin, died in the accident, while others suffered injuries.
Some far-right groups claimed that the police car “hit” their vehicle from behind, causing it to flip. Protests have been held at police headquarters in Jerusalem since the death, in which 22 demonstrators were arrested for attacking officers.
Jewish extremists and young settler groups organised several demonstrations after Sandak lost his life in the incident. The settlers beat and injured police officers in the protests. They also reportedly attacked several Palestinians and properties across the West Bank.
“Since Sandak's death last week, the police are losing control in the face of the violence of the hilltop youth and Jewish extremists," the report said.
Videos circulating on social media show the demonstrators were beating police officers, chanting “kill them” and calling the police “Nazis”.
"תהרגו אותם!": תיעוד של פעילי ימין שמוחים נגד המשטרה בפרשת מותו של אהוביה סנדק מכים באלימות קשה בלש שניסה לבצע מעצר כנגדם אחד המפגינים בצומת זקס בירושלים. לפי עד ראיה, בלשים סמויים החלו במעצר אבל סיוע לא הגיע וכשלושים מפגינים החלו לבעוט ולהכות את השוטרים. pic.twitter.com/xObTUHjCkZ— Josh Breiner (@JoshBreiner) December 29, 2020
The Yesh Din rights group released photos of Palestinian vehicles damaged by stones.
חיילים הגיעו לאחר כחצי שעה וכל האירוע נמשך כשעתיים. החיילים הרחיקו את המתנחלים חזרה למאחז ולא ידוע לנו על מעצרים.— Lior Amihai (@lioramihai) December 24, 2020
תחקירנים ומתנדבים של @YeshDin גבו היום עדויות מנפגעי הפוגרום האלים הזה.
צילום: @YeshDin ובעלי הרכבים מג'לוד pic.twitter.com/wG3wPPeJWP
The report states that police inaction can cause a dangerous chain reaction that could drag the entire region into an escalation. Defense establishment sources quoted believed that it was the responsibility of the political leadership to clarify how police should approach these protests. They assessed that extremist elements may even try to covertly damage mosques.
Sandak’s death came hours after an Israeli woman, Esther Horgen, was found dead in a West Bank forest, where she had gone for a run a day earlier. A Palestinian man suspected in Horgen’s murder was arrested afterwards. Sandak and their friends were likely to be reacting to this specific incident.
So who are the Hilltop Youth extremists?
Hilltop Youth is a hard-line, extremist religious-nationalist group of young Jews who set up unauthorised settlement outposts, usually clusters of trailers, on West Bank hilltops, land which Palestinians claim for their future state. The ideology of this leaderless group is that the Palestinians are “raping the Holy Land” and must be expelled.
The Hilltop Youth have been known to attack Palestinians and even to clash with Israeli soldiers in response to perceived moves by the government to limit settlement activity. Although they are criticised by liberal Israelis, they are supported by Ultra-orthodox political movements in the country.
Ultra-Orthodox parties in the Israeli parliament, like Shas and United Torah Judaism, are conventionally Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest and most reliable allies. They garnered more than ten percent of all votes in recent elections and won around 15 seats together. In the 35th Israeli government, Haredi parties hold three ministerial posts and six deputy ministers.
The West Bank, a landlocked area under Israeli occupation since 1967, is now a home to about 2.5 million Arabs, some of whom are living under limited self-rule, while some regions are under strict Israeli military control. It houses approximately 630,000 Jews in some 250 settlements, 210,000 in East Jerusalem and 420,000 in other parts of the West Bank.
The region, including East Jerusalem, is regarded as an “occupied territory” under international law, so these Jewish settlements are considered “illegal”. However, Israeli settlers and right-wing politicians claim religious and historical rights to the region as their “ancestral land” and rush to settle there. The Israeli government is reported to have approved 12,159 settlement units just this year.