Israeli civilians were responsible for 256 acts of violence in the West Bank, directed at either Palestinians or Israel Defense Forces soldiers over the last year, according to figures from the defense establishment.
While this represents a drop compared to 2018 in which there were 378 violent incidents, defense officials are concerned about an increase in the severity of the violence and the audaciousness of those responsible. They are particularly alarmed by the continuing increase in so-called “price tag” attacks – vandalizing property and spraying hate graffiti. This year there were 50 such acts against Palestinian property, which is about the same as in 2018 – but which represents a three-fold increase over 2017.
Vandalized cars in the village of Yatma, West Bank, August 2019. Yatma village council
Security sources say that this increase in price-tag attacks, along with the brazenness of the perpetrators, is reminiscent of the atmosphere that prevailed prior to the fatal firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma in 2015, in which three members of the Dawabsheh family were killed. An example of the more severe vandalism seen of late is the case of the 160 vehicles whose tires were punctured in East Jerusalem’s Shoafat neighborhood this month. A security source said the vehicles were vandalized in five separate areas, which means a large number of participants and a greater amount of time was required to perpetrate such a crime, compared to past cases in which only a few vehicles were targeted. Last month cars were torched and sprayed with graffiti in four Palestinian villages. Security sources say settler leaders failed to condemn these recent instances and that this silence encourages an escalation in such attacks.
A significant number of cars have been vandalized in the second half of the year due to the series of incidents at the Kumi Ori settlement outpost near Yitzhar, a security source said.
Nerah Zarog, a Kumi Ori resident and activist of the so-called “hilltop youth,” a radical group of young settlers, was issued an administrative order barring him from the West Bank, in early October. Some 30 settlers responded to that by throwing stones at IDF soldiers, and the hill was declared a closed military area, with access denied to anyone who didn’t live there. The IDF’s Civil Administration ordered the destruction of several structures in that outpost. Kumi Ori was cited in the graffiti in subsequent vandal attacks.
Security sources believe that a few dozen people, most of them aged 14 to 19, are responsible for the latest vandalism. They include young people from all over the country who have dropped out of school, some of whom reside in unauthorized outposts in the West Bank, without any parental or educational guidance. Sources cites difficulties prosecuting these youths because many of them are minors.
Some 200 of the 256 violent incidents in 2018 involved the uprooting of trees and other non-lethal attacks and security officials believe a quarter of these incidents were carried out by settlers from Yitzhar and the neighboring area. Security sources described Yitzhar as “the beating heart of the far right” and said that its residents were suspected of being responsible for acts of violence in the West Bank and Israel as well.