IDF's two-front war in West Bank with Jews and Palestinians
Army records a surge in number of clashes between Jewish and Palestinian rioters in Yitzhar, with both sides pitted against troops; reservists explain their dilemma; 'We never learn how to deal with a Jewish teen throwing stones so by standing there we give them legitimacy'; residents claim clashes start from Palestinian arson attacks.
A stark rise in the number of skirmishes between Jewish teenagers and Israel’s security forces and Palestinians has become a conspicuous characteristic in the settlement of Yitzhar over the last few weeks.
Attacks launched by the ideologically-driven youths have included rock throwing, vandalism to military vehicles, price tag attacks, shock grenades and even violence directly committed against an IDF officer.
The violence reached its peak two nights ago after the demolition of an illegal hut during which residents in the community claimed that the security forces employed unnecessary violence against them while they passively protested.
However, security forces are becoming increasingly disgruntled with frequent occurrences in which they are required to separate clashes between hostile Israeli and Palestinian rioters, both of whom are hostile to them in direct confrontations.
Ynet obtained a clip of one such skirmish from a WhatsApp group comprised of military reservists.
In the recording, the reservists can be seen imploring the masked Jewish rioters to distance themselves from the area in their attempts to calm tensions. At certain times, the two sides can be seen shoving each other before one soldier simply gives up and stands there as the Jewish extremists throw rocks at him.
At one moment, a Palestinian shepherd is seen bleeding from his face, a wound which he said was the result of being struck by a rock. The soldiers tended to the injured Palestinian at the scene even as he screamed at them in Arabic.
In Yitzhar, however, the residents claimed that the Palestinians made their way onto land near the settlement and deliberately began agitating by lighting fires.
According to that version, which is also supported by scenes in the video, Yitzhar residents made their way to the burning areas with fire extinguishers to prevent the flames from spreading.
Either way, the clip has raised concern in the IDF over the reality on the ground which seems to repeat itself every few years in the small settlement north of Nablus.
The soldiers from the paratroopers brigade who took control of the area after the departure of the reservists, asked not to be interviewed on the matter.
But despite the volatility of the area, warm relations have been recorded in the last two years between the residents and the soldiers since extremists Jews destroyed a military outpost near site.
One officer who was responsible for the area a few months ago told Ynet that relations had indeed warmed, with conversations often ending in eating meals together.
“We feel safe here and happy with the guys at Yitzhar. There is no fear for the soldiers to operate 24/7 in the community or its vicinity. And if there are problems we know how to solve them in a cooperative manner,” he assured Ynet.
Nevertheless, statements made by reservists paint a significantly different picture, who decry the futility of their efforts to restore order.
“We felt totally helpless,” said the soldiers who experienced the clashes during the last month. “After months of training about how to fight and shoot and on the rules of engagement, no one taught us how to deal with a few 15-year-old Jewish children coming to throw stones at Arabs.”
It didn’t matter what they did, the reservists continued, nothing helped. “In the beginning we managed to push the Arabs back. They know that we can use force against them if we need to. But for the Jewish ones it didn’t matter,” one reservist bemoaned.
“The use of crowd-dispersal measures were insignificant. It was as if they were happy that there were soldiers with them, as if we were protecting them and that they wouldn’t be harmed. So we stand there and in a way we give them legitimacy,” he concluded.
During the riots, the soldiers said that one of the troops fired a bullet into the air in an effort to separate them.
“You can’t judge whoever opened fire. None of us know what the hell we are supposed to do in that kind of situation,” one reservist said.
“We came to defend the country and and found ourselves dealing with delinquent children who are only forgiven because they have a skullcap. They called us Nazis and stinking Zionists. For what? For fighting a fire with them? For that we have been sent from our studies, work and family to protect their homes?
“The scariest thing in the area was to clash with Jews. Give me an Arab terrorist and I’ll know how to deal with him. Give me a Jew who is throwing stones at me and I’ll simply flee,” he admitted.
From the settlers’ point of view however, they were provoked two nights ago when an IDF officer responsible for the sector threw a stun grenade and was joined by his soldiers.
Normally, they insist, relations with soldiers are extremely positive. Indeed, one said that a few weeks ago the same reserve battalion was hosted by one of Yitzhar’s families. He also said that he doesn’t blame the soldiers for not understanding the complicated situations which arise from “deliberate fire-starting by the Palestinians.”
Moreover, he was adamant that “no one endangered the soldiers.”