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Middle East

Vengeful settler attacks draw sharp criticism of Israeli Army


An Israeli human rights group has charged that the army is failing to protect Palestinians from violence by settlers after masked Israelis attacked an elementary school, vandalised cars and torched hundreds of olive trees in the occupied West Bank.

Teachers locked their classrooms on Wednesday morning in Jalud village, north-west of Ramallah, as settlers pelted the school with stones. It was followed by another settler attack overnight in Burka village, also near Ramallah, during which three cars were torched and Hebrew graffiti was scrawled on a mosque. The graffiti referred to Tomer Hazan, a soldier killed by a Palestinian last month.

Both settler attacks appear to have been triggered by the army’s evacuation of a tiny settler outpost, Geulat Zion, early on Wednesday. Extremist settlers often react to such evacuations with what they term as “price tag” attacks against Palestinian villages.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, head of rabbis for human rights, a dovish group, termed the Jalud violence a “pogrom“ and said it comes alongside a spate of destruction of Palestinian olive trees at the outset of harvest season. “Over years we have warned the army in tens of letters that when you dismantle an outpost you have a high likelihood of a price-tag attack following,” Mr Ascherman said. “It is your responsibility to think in advance how to protect Palestinians in the area and farther away. That clearly did not happen.”

Army spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner declined to directly respond to Mr Ascherman. But he said settler attacks were “wrong and they pose a serious threat to security stability in the region. Vandalism is of grave concern”. He said the army had beefed up forces and was co-ordinating with NGOs and the Palestinian Authority to ensure a safe and successful harvest for Palestinians, but that incidents could persist.

Fawaz al-Qura, principal of the attacked school, described 15 to 20 minutes of terror for the 164 pupils, some as young as four, and for staff. “At 11.30am I came out of the teachers room and I saw more than twenty masked settlers. They threw stones at the school. I told the pupils no one should leave at all because they can get struck by stones. Some settlers entered the school and reached a classroom and tried to enter it but the teacher had locked it. Then they attacked all five cars belonging to teachers. There was tremendous fear among the pupils.”

Farmer Fawzi Ibrahim said he lost about 150 olive trees after settlers set them ablaze. “The only solution is to get the settlers out,” he said.