IDF, Shin Bet, police chiefs denounce settler attacks as ‘terror,’ vow to fight them

In rare joint statement, top officials say vigilante attacks targeting Palestinian civilians ‘contradict Jewish values,’ divert forces from fighting Palestinian terror

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A screenshot from video of settlers firing at the West Bank village of Umm Safa on June 24, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A screenshot from video of settlers firing at the West Bank village of Umm Safa on June 24, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Israel Defense Forces chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai in a joint statement on Saturday strongly condemned an ongoing series of settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, branding them as “nationalist terrorism in the full sense of the term.”

In the wake of a deadly terror attack carried out by Hamas-affiliated gunmen in the West Bank on Tuesday, in which four Israelis were killed, the past five days have seen hundreds of settlers rampage inside Palestinian towns and villages, setting fire to homes, cars, and even opening fire in some cases.

“In recent days, violent attacks by Israeli citizens against innocent Palestinians have been carried out in the Judea and Samaria area,” the security chiefs’ statement read, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name. “These attacks contradict every moral and Jewish value and constitute nationalist terrorism in the full sense of the term, and we are obliged to fight them.”

“The security forces are working against these rioters, risking the lives of IDF soldiers, Israel Police officers and Shin Bet officers. This violence increases Palestinian terror, harms the State of Israel and the international legitimacy of the security forces to fight Palestinian terror, and diverts the security forces from their main mission against Palestinian terror,” the three senior officials said.

“The IDF, the Shin Bet and Israel Police are committed to continuing to act with determination and with all the means at our disposal to maintain security and the law in Judea and Samaria. The IDF will divert and increase forces to prevent such incidents in Judea and Samaria, and the Shin Bet will expand arrests, including administrative detentions against the rioters who act in a violent and extreme manner inside the Palestinian villages,” the statement continued.

“We also call on the leaders in the settlements, educators and public leaders, to publicly denounce these acts of violence, and to join the fight against them,” the officials added.

On Saturday, several dozen settlers rampaged through the Palestinian West Bank village of Umm Safa, setting fire to a number of vehicles and homes on the fifth consecutive day of vigilante attacks targeting Palestinian civilians since Tuesday’s deadly Palestinian terror shooting.

Video footage showed a group of Israeli settlers, some of them masked, opening fire during the attacks.

The IDF said it had detained one Israeli suspect and dispersed the “violent friction” between settlers and Palestinians.

The detained settler was handed over to police for further questioning, the IDF said.

Photos show an attack by settlers on the Palestinian village of Umm Safa in the West Bank on June 24, 2023. (Yesh Din)

According to Army Radio, the settlers had driven to the village to carry out the attack. Observant Jews do not drive on the Sabbath, unless it is necessary to do so to save a life, based on the Jewish legal principle of pikuah nefesh — as it’s known in Hebrew — which trumps nearly all other religious requirements.

During the attack on Umm Safa, one soldier was lightly hurt by a stone hurled at him, the IDF said. It was unclear who threw the stone.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant issued a separate statement condemning the settler attack on Umm Safa.

“This is not our way,” Gallant said on Twitter.

Gallant expressed support for IDF troops operating in the West Bank and called for them “to act to maintain order and prevent acts of uncontrolled violence by residents of the area.”

People stand by torched vehicles, set ablaze by Israeli settlers, in the village of Turmus Ayya near the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 21, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The IDF has admitted having “failed” in stopping other settler riots in recent days.

Hours after the Tuesday terror attack near the settlement of Eli where four Israelis were gunned down at a gas station, an unknown number of settler vigilantes rampaged through several Palestinian towns in the northern West Bank, including Huwara, the scene of another deadly settler riot earlier this year after a terror attack.

The next day, hundreds of settlers also tore through the Palestinian towns of Turmus Ayya and Urif — shortly after the victims of the attack were buried — shooting at residents, setting homes, cars and fields on fire, and terrorizing residents.

One Palestinian — 27-year-old Omar Qattin — was killed in unclear circumstances in Turmus Ayya.

A field of fire during clashes between Palestinians and settlers near the Palestinian village of Qusra in the West Bank on June 22, 2023. (Flash90)

Israeli police said on Friday they had arrested four people in connection with the violence, without giving further details. They were being questioned by the Shin Bet security agency.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been high across the West Bank for the past year and a half, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 24 people, including Tuesday’s victims. Over the past year, Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted troops carrying out arrest raids, military posts, Israeli settlements and civilians on roads, especially in the northern West Bank.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 134 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during that span, most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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