HAWARA, West Bank (AP) — The Israeli army fired stun grenades and blocked hundreds of Israeli left-wing activists from holding a solidarity rally on Friday in a Palestinian town set on fire by radical Jewish settlers earlier this week, protesters said.
Activists from Israeli rights groups said soldiers and border police prevented busloads of protesters from entering the occupied West Bank town of Hawara, which still bears the scars of Sunday’s attack by settlers. In one instance, soldiers shoved and struggled with one of the protesters before briefly detaining him, said Sally Abed of the group Standing Together.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hundreds of settlers, some armed with knives and guns, rampaged through Hawara on Sunday, setting fire to dozens of homes and businesses after two Israeli brothers were shot and killed nearby. One Palestinian was killed in the mob attack.
On Friday, some 500 people with signs of solidarity and Palestinian flags – mostly elderly men and women, both Jewish and Arab citizens – got off the buses and drove onto the highway towards Hawara, defying army orders.
Palestinian motorists honked in support. The demonstrators chanted: “No to occupation” and “Stop the Jewish terror”. Faced with the masses of police and troops deployed to stop their peaceful protest, they shouted, “Where were you when Hawara happened?” – referring to the intense frenzy that went largely unchecked and unpunished.
The Israeli army has said the settler gang’s ferocity and reach surprised them. The Defense Ministry has sent two suspected leaders of the violence to administrative detention.
In response to the crowds flocking to Hawara, the Israeli military fired stun grenades to halt the advance of settlers, Abed said.
Unlike Palestinian cities such as Ramallah which are under Palestinian Authority control, Hawara is largely under Israeli security control.
Earlier in the day, a delegation of European diplomats visited Hawara and a neighboring village to assess the damage and denounce the chaos.
A chorus of condemnation over the disaster has poured in from around the world, especially after Treasury Secretary and settler leader Bezalel Smotrich said on Wednesday that Hawara must be “wiped out”. Smotrich, whose party wants Israel to formally annex large parts of the West Bank, later retracted those comments.
Egypt’s foreign ministry called Smotrich’s remarks a “dangerous and unacceptable incitement to violence” on Friday.