Army blocks Israeli rally supporting torched West Bank town

HAWARA, West Bank (AP): Israeli troops fired stun grenades and blocked hundreds of Israeli left-wing activists from staging a solidarity rally on Friday in a Palestinian town that was set ablaze by radical Jewish settlers earlier this week, protesters said.

The soldiers shoved at least two protesters to the ground, activists said, pressing their knees into their necks and backs before briefly detaining them.

Activists from Israeli rights organizations said soldiers and border policemen prevented busloads of protesters from entering the occupied West Bank town of Hawara, which still bears the scars of Sunday’s settler-led attack.

According to Sally Abed from the group Standing Together, soldiers threw at least two demonstrators to the ground as they tried to arrest them, kicking and handcuffing them. Both were eventually released, she added.

The Israeli army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hundreds of settlers, some armed with knives and guns, rampaged through Hawara on Sunday and torched dozens of homes and businesses after two Israeli brothers were shot and killed nearby. One Palestinian was killed in the mob assault.

On Friday, some 500 people holding signs of solidarity and Palestinian flags — mostly older men and women, both Jews and Arab citizens — stepped off the buses and headed down the highway toward Hawara in defiance the army’s orders.

Palestinian motorists honked in support. The protesters chanted, “No to occupation” and “End Jewish terror.” Facing the mass of police and troops deployed to halt their peaceful protest, they shouted, “Where were you when Hawara happened?” — referring to the intense rampage that went largely unchecked and unpunished.

In response to the crowds of protesters streaming toward Hawara, the Israeli military fired stun grenades and tried to stop them, said Abed.

“It is ridiculous that the army allows settlers to enter Hawara as we speak, but we — Israeli Jews and Arabs who wish to show our solidarity — are told that there is no entry,” Standing Together said. The group said the rally was coordinated with the local council and residents.

Unlike Palestinian cities like Ramallah that are under the control of the Palestinian Authority, Hawara is mostly under Israeli security control. The Israeli army has said that the ferocity and scope of the settler mobs earlier this week caught them by surprise. The Defense Ministry has sent two suspected ringleaders of the violence to administrative detention.

A town of 7,000 Palestinians surrounded by ideological settlements, Hawara long been a flashpoint for violence between Israelis and Palestinians

Earlier on Friday, a delegation of European diplomats toured Hawara and a neighboring village to survey the damage and denounce the mayhem.

A chorus of condemnations over the rampage has poured in from around the world, particularly after Finance Minister and settler leader Bezalel Smotrich said Wednesday that Hawara should be “erased.” Smotrich, whose party wants Israel to formally annex large parts of the West Bank, later backtracked on those remarks.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry on Friday called Smotrich’s remarks a “dangerous and unacceptable incitement of violence.”