WATCH: Settlers attack Palestinian school, harass students

Settlers are caught on video throwing stones at a Palestinian school in Burin, and a settlement security guard fires his gun into the air. But the soldiers who arrive on the scene take no action against the attackers. 

By Yali (Yael) Marom

School children in the West Bank village of Burin were harassed and attacked by settlers who threw stones at them and even fired a gun in the air last month, according to witness testimonies and video footage provided by B’Tselem.

In the late morning on Thursday March 16, two settlers approached the school, one of whom climbed the fence on the school’s perimeter and started photographing and cursing at the children in the playground. Several students responded by throwing stones, while their teachers tried to get them to go back inside to the classrooms.

The footage, shot by a B’Tselem volunteer whose son is a pupil at the school, shows the settlers as they are moving back slightly from the school, at which point they are joined by a third settler. He is armed, and seems to be a member of the security team from the nearby Yitzhar settlement. As the video shows, they begin throwing stones in at the school and the armed settler fires into the air.

Soldiers from a nearby IDF outpost can then be seen arriving and standing beside the settlers, who hadn’t covered their faces. From the video footage, they appear to be having a calm discussion. The soldiers don’t arrest the settlers or even send them away from the school. Instead, according to witness testimony, someone from the army’s District Coordination and Liaison Office called the school principal, who then went outside to talk with the soldiers.

The soldiers showed the principal the photos that the settler who climbed the fence had taken earlier, and claimed that the students had been throwing stones at cars on a nearby road. Around 30 minutes later, teachers began sending students home in order to prevent the situation from deteriorating.

The soldiers’ conduct, B’Tselem said, “emphasizes once again that the military’s role in the West Bank — with regular backing from its senior ranks — is to almost exclusively serve the settlers. It’s not just that the soldiers do nothing to protect Palestinian residents, as is their duty; they also repeat the settlers’ claims.”

And indeed, incidents involving gangs of radical settlers attacking Palestinians with no intervention from the army are routine in the West. Most Israeli citizens ignore daily settler violence, which itself complements the structural violence meted out by the army in order to control the occupied territories.

Masked settlers attack Ta'ayush activists near al-Auja, West Bank, April 21, 2017. (Screenshot)
Masked settlers attack Ta’ayush activists near al-Auja, West Bank, April 21, 2017. (Screenshot)

On October 5, 2015, for example, dozens of masked settlers were filmed descending from Yitzhar towards Burin, throwing stones and setting fields on fire, all under the watch of an army patrol. A few months prior, IDF soldiers fired tear gas at students in the same school in Burin, as they were taking morning roll call. In November 2014, settlers from Yitzhar were again caught on camera heading towards the village of Urif and attacking with stones, bars and burning tires, again took place under the noses of Israeli soldiers.

Last Friday, several left-wing activists with Ta’ayush came under attack from a group of settlers armed with clubs and stones. The activists, who were in the al-Auja area of the Jordan Valley to accompany Palestinian shepherds who were being threatened by Israelis from the nearby radical Baladim settlement outpost, were themselves physically assaulted.

The following day, groups of settlers from Yitzhar, near Nablus, descended on the villages of Urif and Huwwara and attacked Palestinian residents, smashed car windows, damaged property and reportedly uprooted and set fire to olive trees.

In each instance, Israeli police and soldiers arrived on the scene during or just after the violence, and made no arrests. An IDF officer who was attacked by the settlers on the scene of the disturbance in the Jordan Valley was the only incident to have provoked a response from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

A representative of the IDF Spokesperson dismissed the video footage published here, saying that the “the editing of the film is biased and doesn’t reflect the reality.”

“On March 6, 2017, two Palestinians threw stones at cars on Route 60. The security coordinator of the small Yitzhar settlement and another resident who had stones thrown at them started to chase the suspects,” the IDF response continued. “During the chase they arrived at an Arab school close to where the stones had been thrown at them. The settlement security coordinator responded by firing into the air. An IDF unit arrived at the school immediately after in order to prevent further stone-throwing coming from the school.”

The IDF Spokesperson did not address the stone throwing by the settlers. The IDF likely believes ts duty is to stop Palestinians throwing stones by any means necessary, unless settlers are the ones doing the throwing. As we already know, the only stones the army considers potentially lethal are those thrown by Arabs.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.