JERUSALEM -- Tensions were high Tuesday following a clash between Jewish extremists and Israeli troops in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar that injured about a dozen people on both sides.
The violence erupted overnight when security personnel entered Yitzhar, an ideological stronghold of Jewish settlers, to demolish several homes that were declared illegal by Israeli authorities.
Settlers blocked the road with burning tires and showered rocks on security troops, who fired tear gas at the settlers. Following the demolitions, a group of settlers ransacked an army post located nearby for the community’s protection.
The settlers’ actions drew widespread condemnation from Israeli defense and political officials, as well as some moderate settler leaders. While declaring the “violent elements” a minority, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said they “must obey the law like any citizen.” Yaalon added that the incident would be dealt with severely.
Israeli security forces were prepared for further unrest. Tensions have been escalating in Yitzhar since Sunday, when extremists slashed the tires of an army vehicle belonging to a visiting regional commander.
Some extremists see the Israeli military as enforcing government policies that they consider unfavorable to settlers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sharply condemned Sunday's vandalism, vowing “zero tolerance” for those attacking Israel’s military.
According to the opposition Meretz party, however, authorities’ lenient treatment of attacks against Palestinians emboldened Jewish extremists to target the army.
“When security forces forgive pogroms against Palestinians, they should not be surprised” when the army too is attacked, the party said in a post on its Facebook page [link in Hebrew].
Palestinians have often been the subject of attacks by Jewish extremists, who have assaulted them, chopped down their olive trees, set fire to their fields and cars, and tossed Molotov cocktails into their homes.
The mostly anonymous perpetrators have dubbed their attacks “price-tag operations,” as they exact a price for actions the extremists deem to be against settlement efforts. In recent years, extremists have increasingly aimed their hate crimes at targets inside Israel, vandalizing mosques, monasteries and cemeteries as well as liberal Jewish sites.
Several days later, residents of Jish, an Arab village in the Galilee, woke up to find 40 cars with slashed tires and graffiti calling for the expulsion of non-Jews.
The perpetrators of such attacks are rarely apprehended.
Sobelman is a special correspondent.