Four residents of the Gush Etzion community of Bat Ayin have been arrested following clashes on Saturday with Arabs from a nearby village, according to security sources. Two of the four detainees were off-duty IDF soldiers, the sources said.
The four were taken into custody after a mob of more than 200 Arabs threw rocks and threatened 15 Bat Ayin residents. The two IDF soldiers on leave opened fire in what they claimed was self defense. Mainstream media in Israel reported the gunshots but omitted the rock attacks.
The clash was a continuation of daily disputes in an area near Bat Ayin, according to Bat Ayin Breslov Yeshiva Dean Rabbi Natan Greenberg. Community residents began building a synagogue there last month after an Arab terrorist from the same neighboring village brutally murdered a young boy and wounded one other with an axe.
The location is a strategic lookout point often used by Arabs as a surveillance post on Bat Ayin. Rabbi Greenberg said that the land is legally owned by Jews, and the residents have re-built the foundations of the synagogue twice following its destruction by the IDF, which has designated the area as a closed military zone.
A view of Bat Ayin
Prayer, Then a Clash
On the Sabbath, the Jewish residents went to the area to pray as they have done every day despite rock throwing by Arabs. However, this time a severe clash broke out after several Jews, following IDF orders, left the area.
They walked by an alternate path, which bypassed the nearby Safa village. According to eyewitnesses, a large mob began to surround the small band of Jews, and the two men with weapons opened fire in the air to disperse the mob. The army brought in reinforcements and was forced to shoot in response to massive rock throwing. The gunfire moderately wounded two Arabs.
IDF: Army, Police Arrived After Shots Fired
An army spokeswoman told Israel National News on Sunday that the trouble began after the Bat Ayin residents "ignored the order to leave the closed military zone" that was presented to them. "The civilians opened fire in the direction of the village," the IDF spokeswoman said. "The IDF and Israel Police arrived on the scene soon after. Two IDF soldiers were among the civilians, and they both admitted firing in the direction of the village," she added.
"After this incident there was a violent demonstration in the village," the spokeswoman continued. "We received a complaint at the Coordination and Liaison Office regarding two PA Arabs who were wounded during the riot.
"Obviously, the IDF will not tolerate riots and the illegal use of weapons," she said. "The IDF stresses that any person who attempts to cause provocation or act in a violent manner will be dealt with by the authorities."
However, the spokeswoman was unable to say whether the gunshots fired by Jews "towards the village" came in response to a menace from oncoming Arabs, or whether they were "unprovoked" as reported by other media.
Israeli media headlined the incident to highlight that the Jewish residents opened fire and entered the village, a claim which Rabbi Greenberg said was ”a blatant lie.” The Jerusalem Post headline read, “Two injured as Bat Ayin settlers open fire on Palestinian village.” The newspaper did not report of any stone throwing and quoted the IDF as stating that the shooting was unprovoked.
The IDF confirmed the statement to Israel National News on Saturday night but added that it was aware of the claim of Bat Ayin residents and that the entire incident still is under investigation. Both Ynet and Haaretz reported that the Jews entered the village.
Rabbi Greenberg, from whose house the place of the altercation can be seen, said that the area in question is outside the residential area of Safa.
Whose Bullets Wounded PA Arabs?
Palestinian Authority sources claimed that Bat Ayin residents were to blame for the gunshot wounds of two Arabs who were injured during the riots that took place in the village, saying the Jewish civilians had entered the village.
The witnesses, quoted by the AFP news agency, said that the two injured Arabs were among the mob of Arabs hurling rocks at soldiers and civilians.
It was not clear whose bullets had hit the mark, however. An IDF spokesperson told AFP the army had “prevented Bat Ayin residents from entering the village, and these people opened fire” but added that the rioters who were throwing rocks were “dispersed by security forces using anti-riot methods.”
Last week, security officials announced they had arrested the Arab suspected of carrying out the axe murder in Bat Ayin last month.
Axe-Murderer Confessed to Planning Terror Attack
The Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) last week released for publication the news that Mustafa Teet, a resident of the Palestinian Authority-controlled village of Safa, had confessed to the murder of young Shlomo Nativ.
The investigation revealed that Teet planned the attack in advance, for “religious reasons.” He was hoping to die as a shahid (holy martyr –ed.). A will that he wrote prior to the attack stands as part of the evidence against him, officials said.
Under interrogation, the suspect also confessed to having purchased the murder weapons two weeks prior to the attack. He hid them in the wadi next to Bat Ayin, retrieving them on the morning of the attack.
After infiltrating the community, the terrorist spotted a group of children and began to attack them, one by one. He first stabbed 13-year-old Shlomo, mortally wounding the young teen. Next was seven-year-old Yair Gamliel, also seriously wounded. As the terrorist turned to attack the third child, the young boy managed to escape.
At that point, residents began to struggle with the terrorist, but he broke free and fled, racing out of the community and back to his village, Safa.