IDF detains South Hebron Hills tour organizers, days after settler attack there

Israeli soldiers detained senior members of Breaking the Silence and a human rights attorney in an attempt to block a tour of the South Hebron Hills, where settlers attacked six left-wing activists last week.

By Orly Noy

Israeli soldiers detaining Avner Gvaryahu, director of Breaking the Silence, on a tour of the South Hebron Hills, August 31, 2018. (Nasser Nawaja, B'Tselem)
Israeli soldiers detaining Avner Gvaryahu, director of Breaking the Silence, on a tour of the South Hebron Hills, August 31, 2018. (Nasser Nawaja, B’Tselem)

Breaking the Silence planned a tour in the South Hebron Hills on Friday, as a token of solidarity with the six Ta’ayush activists who were attacked there last week by settlers from the nearby illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair. But before they could arrive to the tour location, several buses carrying hundreds of participants were stopped and delayed by military forces for over an hour.

The soldiers handed the tour organizers a military order which allows them to restrict who may enter certain areas in the West Bank. As expected, the order applied exclusively to the participants of the tour – settlers can move as they wish in that space. Among the participants were Member of Knesset Mossi Raz, a politician with the left-leaning Meretz party, and former Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair.

About an hour into the delay, the IDF removed the roadblock, and the tour went on as planned. Until the buses arrived at the entrance of the Mitzpe Yair outpost, that is – the same location of last week’s attacks. There, the soldiers confronted the tour participants again, and detained three of them: director of Breaking the Silence Avner Gvaryahu, the organization’s communications director, Achiya Schatz, and human rights attorney Michael Sfard.

One of the tour participants said: “On our way to Mitzpe Yair, a military jeep stopped us and would not let us pass. We got off the bus, and a few minutes later another jeep arrived with military officers who said that this was a closed military zone, and that we must quickly board the bus again and leave. Obviously, it was not quick – we waited while lawyer Michael Sfard and Avner Gvaryahu stepped aside to speak with the military officers. Suddenly, another jeep arrived with border police forces, and their commander decided to detain Avner and Achiya. He selected them one after the other, without an apparent reason why.”

“When we tried to leave the place, the bus could not make a turn because of the narrow access road. Security forces then decided to strip the Palestinian bus drivers of their licenses, and give them tickets for entering a road they could not get out of – except they could not drive us out because the military was blocking their access. There were large police and security forces, and at some point, settlers arrived and started cursing the soldiers,” the witness added.

Ta’ayush activists spotted at least two of the facilitators of last week’s attacks among the group of settlers who arrived at the scene.

Breaking the Silence provided the following response: “The detention of the organization’s executive director and director of the communication department, as well as the detention of attorney Michael Sfard during a tour of South Hebron Hills should concern every Israeli citizen who cares about democracy, freedom of speech and the right to protest. In conducting these detentions at a tour meant to protest the violent settler attacks on Ta’ayush activists last week, Hebron police and the Hebron military commander rewarded settler bullies. This is proof, yet again, of the unfortunate fact that the military in the occupied territories has become a force that serves settlers, who ultimately control what happens on the ground.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.