The statement came in the wake of an inquiry into violence against Palestinians in a West Bank town where two Israeli brothers were murdered by a terrorist this past Sunday.
By Erin Viner
Hillel and Yagel Yaniv were killed while driving through the flashpoint Palestinian town of Huwara, north of Ramallah. Their deaths came amid a surge of terror that has claimed the lives of 14 people in Israel since the start of the year.
Later the same evening, hundreds of Jewish extremists went on a rampage in Huwara and neighboring Arab villages chanting, “Revenge.” IDF and Border Police forces were deployed to disperse the rioters, who had set fire to dozens of vehicles, commercial and private properties. One Palestinian in the town of Za’tara, south of Huwara died of gunshot wounds, but the IDF said troops were not involved in the shooting.
“What happened in Huwara was a pogrom carried out by law-breakers,” said IDF Central Command Head (General Officer Commanding the Army (GOC) Major General Yehuda Fox while speaking to Israel’s Channel 12 news.
“We were not ready for a pogrom on the scale of dozens of people with flammable material and the means to set it on fire, heading to 20 or more places — as well as confronting soldiers and commanders and police at the junction — and setting random Palestinian homes and cars on fire,” he said, admitting, “We were not prepared for that many people, how they came, the scale, the force of the violence they used, and the planning they had carried out.”
“Pogrom” is a sensitive word for the Jewish people, believed to evolved from Yiddish, for massacres of their communities, primarily in 19th- and 20th-Century attacks in the Russian Empire by Cossacks, police and often their neighbors. Pogroms at other locations have been documented dating back to the year 38 AD.
“This is not a case of ‘taking the law into their own hands.’ Because law-abiding people do not spread terror among a population and don’t throw stones at people randomly,” stated General Fox.
Outcry against the violence in Huwara by Israeli leaders was immediate.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an appeal for an end to vigilante actions, saying, “I ask – even when the blood is boiling – not to take the law into one’s hands. I ask that the IDF and the security forces be allowed to carry out their work. I remind you that in recent weeks, they have targeted dozens of terrorists and thwarted dozens of attacks. Let the IDF complete its pursuit and do not take the law into your hands; together we will defeat terrorism.”
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated, “It is neither legitimate nor possible to operate individually. We cannot allow a situation in which citizens take the law into their hands. I call on everyone to follow law and order and to trust the IDF and security forces everywhere, across the country. Trust the IDF – you have who to trust – we are doing the work necessary.”
Saying, “we expect difficult days ahead of us,” Jerusalem’s top defense official announced that the IDF, Israeli Security Agency (ISA, Shin Bet) and Border Police have been ordered to “ensure readiness to face all threats, reinforce troops and activities on the ground, and most importantly, reach and apprehend the terrorists. We will not tolerate terrorism against Israelis, and we will operate in every way necessary.”
President Isaac Herzog issued a similar statement, emphasizing that, “Taking the law into one’s own hands, rioting, and committing violence against innocents—this is not our way, and I express my forceful condemnation. We must allow the IDF, police, and security forces to apprehend the despicable terrorist and restore order immediately.”
As of the publishing of this report, the Israeli public has already donated ₪ 1,587,867 shekels (about $436,836 or €409,576) for Palestinian victims of the attack as part of an online crowd-funding campaign launched by Labor party member Yair (Yaya) Fink the morning after the attack.
“A little light repels a lot of darkness,” said Fink, stressing that, “as a religious person, a Zionist, a (IDF) Major and as a person, I cannot be silent while my peers are burning villages.”
In a statement TV7 obtained from the IDF, Major Fox also expressed deep concern over a series of clashes between troops and extremist settlers after he was presented with the inquiry into the incident in which IDF soldiers were attacked by Israeli civilians.
On Monday, a military vehicle conducting routine activity near the Gaz junction was damaged in a rock-throwing attack by masked men hiding in a nearby orchard. One of the suspects, who was captured in a subsequent pursuit, identified himself as an Israeli civilian.
“Following his arrest, additional suspects arrived at the scene and began physically and verbally attacking the soldiers, punching, pushing and kicking them, among other things. The masked suspects fled to a vehicle and began driving toward the soldiers. An officer noticed the vehicle was rapidly accelerating toward the soldiers and responded in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedures, which included firing warning shots into the air and toward the tires of the fleeing vehicle,” said the IDF.
“This is an extremely severe incident, and I strongly condemn any incident of violence against Israelis, Palestinians or against IDF soldiers and security forces. The incident nearly ended with the death of Israeli civilians. Events of this nature can result in unnecessary casualties and must be prevented,” stressed Gen. Fox, underscoring, “Security forces operate to protect the residents of the State of Israel, and we must be allowed to invest our full range of resources in defense and counterterrorism activities.”