Esh Kodesh
Esh KodeshIsrael news photo: Flash 90

A clash broke out Tuesday between residents of the Jewish village of Esh Kodesh in the Binyamin region, Arabs from a nearby Palestinian Authority town, and Border Police officers.

The conflict began as Arabs arrived in the area to farm nearby land for the first time. The land has been farmed by Jews from Esh Kodesh for several years, but Arabs recently laid claim to it.

The military decided to support the Arab claim, and on Monday informed Esh Kodesh residents that the Arabs would be farming the land for three days beginning Tuesday.

Residents refused to accept the decree, and went out into the fields to stop the new arrivals with their bodies. A fight broke out between a Jewish man and an Arab man and Border Police intervened, arresting the Jewish man. Police then sprayed the Esh Kodesh residents at the scene with tear gas, forcing them to disperse.

Residents accused police of having fired tear gas at the group even though the group included young children and babies.

PA Arabs have laid claim to long-abandoned land several times in recent years. In some cases, unproven claims have led the government to expel Israeli families from their homes in Judea and Samaria.

In other cases, groups of PA Arabs who enter Israeli towns and villages to cultivate land have included terrorists who take the opportunity to attack, or to learn the layout of the town for future attacks.

"Today, for the first time in a decade, the Binyamin region commander has allowed Palestinians to come to the edge of [Esh Kodesh]… to watch and gather information under the guise of plowing," a community spokesman said.

"The community of Esh Kodesh views this as a serious blow to the security of the town and its residents," he continued. "It pains us that the Netanyahu administration is acting in a manner harmful to settlers' security, with timing that raises suspicion of pre-elections motives."

The IDF did not coordinate with the local Jewish community, he continued, and kept its plans secret until the last minute, giving the community no time to file an appeal.

A spokesman for the Binyamin Residents' Council said, "This isn't the first case in the region where they take over land. This is preparation for a third Intifada, and the defense establishment should prepare accordingly, and not defend takeovers that will later cost us dearly."

The PA resident Arabs living near Esh Kodesh have frequently launched assaults on the town, in one case marching en masse to the area with weapons; in another, launching a mob assault in which Arab men screamed, "Slaughter the Jews."