Local settlers despair as Hilltop Youth moves in

Young residents of Komi Ori outpost relocated when site was declared closed military zone after repeated clashes; since their arrival in area of Bat Ayin settlement, there has been a leap in instances of hate crimes against local Palestinian population and the IDF has a strong sense of who is to blame
Elisha Ben Kimon|
The West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin has seen a jump in attacks on the local Palestinian community in recent weeks, leaving residents in despair and local officials scrambling to root out the culprits, thought to be young extremist settlers.
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  • According to an Israeli security official, the IDF believes this is the work of the Hilltop Youth - young extremist settlers who set up unauthorized settlement outposts and create friction with the Palestinians who live in the West Bank.
    3 View gallery
    Bat Ayin
    Bat Ayin
    The settlement of Bat Ayin
    (Photo: Wikipedia)
    In particular, the IDF suspects a group originating at the Komi Ori outpost, known for its violent altercations with IDF and Border Patrol troops as well as attacks on local Palestinians.
    The outpost, near the settlement of Yitzhar, has now been declared a closed military area, forcing the youths to relocate to a different part of the West Bank.
    Officials in Gush Etzion Regional Council, the local authority to which Bat Ayin belongs, say the spate of attacks on Palestinian property in the area began at the end of November in the village of Jab'a, where vehicles and houses were damaged and defaced with racist graffiti.
    Shortly afterwards, rocks were reportedly being thrown by unknown assailants at cars driving on the road leading to the village.
    A police complaint was filed, leading to the detention of two suspects, only for them to be released shortly after.
    Meanwhile, equipment and houses in neighboring Palestinian villages were also being vandalized.
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    One of the damaged Palestinian cars
    One of the damaged Palestinian cars
    One of the damaged Palestinian cars
    (Photo: Tag Meir)
    Bat Ayin settlers have found themselves dragged into the situation. The residents unanimously denounce such acts and are trying to stop those responsible.
    Pamphlets have been distributed around the settlement condemning the attacks.
    "Such acts go against our values, harm our good name and image and make our daily life a burden to bear," the leaflet says.
    This week, a special meeting of residents and local army officials took place at the settlement in an effort to formulate a thorough plan of action.
    The Bat Ayin residents say the group of alleged culprits consists of some 20 youths who are not long-term residents of the area.
    The group has tried on several occasions to set up an outpost to the south of the settlement, in an area frequently visited by travelers.
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    Members of the Hilltop Youth throwing stones at Palestinians in the West Bank
    Members of the Hilltop Youth throwing stones at Palestinians in the West Bank
    Members of the Hilltop Youth throwing stones at Palestinians in the West Bank
    (Photo: AFP)
    Tag Meir, an umbrella group of organizations fighting hate crimes and racism, contacted the residents of Bat Ayin about planned a tour of the Palestinian village of Jab'a.
    "We wholly object to the rock-throwing in the area," said the group.
    "The security forces in their lackluster efforts to fight Jewish terrorism over the last few months have heightened the risk of innocent Palestinians being hurt," it said.
    The group made an appeal to the IDF, saying that "action must be taken fast, before it is too late."
    Several days ago, one of the settlement's representatives went to try to talk to the youths, explaining to them that if they wished to remain in the area, they had to "behave themselves."
    Whether these words have fallen on deaf ears remains to be seen.
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