Fifteen people were injured and eight arrested in clashes between security forces and settlers in the West Bank settlement of Havat Gilad, sources from the settlement said Monday. They added that the officers knocked MK Michael Ben-Ari to the ground during the clashes. At a Knesset debate later, MKs called for an official probe of the incident.
Civil Authority forces arrived at the settlement at 4:30 am, accompanied by police, in order to destroy illegal structures. Settlers threw stones, and police special forces proceeded to bombard them with rubber bullets and smoke grenades, the locals reported.
Finally, forces succeeded in taking down a tent and destroying foundations for a home, as well as a shack and the gate to the settlement.
Five settlers were arrested in the tent, on suspicion they were concealing weapons on their persons. Another man was arrested on suspicion of throwing stones, and two more were detained for allegedly cutting down olive trees belonging to Palestinians.
Yehuda Cohen, 22, who resides in the settlement, says a plastic bullet hit him in the back. "At 4:30 we were awakened by cries of an evacuation. I stepped out of the door and saw that the farm was surrounded by officers and special forces. A few of us came round from the side, but they shined lights in our eyes and said, 'You better start running'," he recounted.
"We wanted to run, but then they started firing rubber bullets at us. I was hurt in the back and fell immediately. They fired dozens of shots. Then one of the officers yelled that he would 'rip apart' anyone who dared raise his head. There are a lot of guys here who were hurt from zero range. One of the residents, who is also a lawyer, attempted to film but took a bullet to the leg from two meters range."
Another right-wing activist complained of violence as well, describing some of the officers who arrived on the scene as "combative".
"The moment they came in they started firing into the air and using gas that apparently wasn't tear gas, but may have contained pepper spray. The special forces' guys were masked, and they fired stun grenades and rubber and plastic bullets at anyone who came out of his house, not just those who showed resistance," he said.
"They didn't hesitate to use violence. There were boys, children, and even a 75-year old woman among the injured."
Police said in response that "rioters" had thrown stones at forces and that the latter had responded with riot-dispersal means. "These means are not deadly, and were intended to stop the rioting," police said in a statement, adding that a saw had been found on the persons of those suspected of cutting down olive trees.
The Samaria Settlers' Committee responded with outrage to the morning's occurrences, calling them "a crime and madness of Ehud Barak".
The statement from the committee says the defense minister "crossed all of the red lines today, and we will make sure he pays the price".
Yesha's human rights organization called for an investigation against the officer who gave the order to use rubber bullets. "This order will cause Israel to deteriorate to Gaddafi's level of insanity. Those who do not understand that destroying structures does not justify fire on civilians must not serve in Israel's security forces," the group said.
MK Ben-Ari chose to find fault with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Only the Likud could fire rubber bullets on settlers and continue to fight Jews while destroying their homes," he said.
At a Knesset debate later over laws on weapons permits for settlers, Yesha Council Chairman Danny Dayan said that "a red line was crossed" in Havat Gilad.
"Today shafts of weapons were turned towards Israeli citizens in their place of residence, and I think this is a warning sign that must be discussed," he said, calling for "an inquiry to check how we have arrived at a situation in which forces came prepared with these weapons ahead of time."
MK Yaakov Katz (National Union) inveighed against the police. "Today we witnessed barbaric and unnecessary behavior by police against our brothers in Havat Gilad. This type of behavior towards residents of Judea and Samaria has been recurring. I expect an official investigation committee. Who directed police to persecute our brothers in hatred?" he asked.
Havat Gilad, located near Yitzhar, has seen a number of violent clashes break out between right-wing activists and security forces.
Two weeks ago forces confiscated a truck pouring cement foundations at the settlement, incurring the locals' wrath. No injuries were reported.
In August the Civil Authority confiscated three trucks carrying temporary structures to the settlement.