The Jerusalem Post
‘There is no other sector where temperatures can rise to 200 degrees’
Hebron, Kiryat Arba continue to be hotbed of violence
Five years after 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel was stabbed to death in her bed in the settlement of Kiryat Arba, the Hebron area still sees terror attacks.
The June 30, 2016 attack that killed Ariel was carried out by Muhammad Nasser, 17, at the time, from Bani Naim, adjacent to Kiryat Arba. Nasser jumped the fence surrounding the community and broke into her bedroom where she was sleeping.
The area around Hebron was a hotbed of violence during the wave of stabbing, shooting, and car-ramming attacks in 2015. Attacks have decreased but remain high.
“It’s a very challenging sector,” Lt.-Col. Omri Mashiach, commander of the “Shaked” Battalion, told The Jerusalem Post as we stood on a hill overlooking the city of 300,000 Palestinians and 800 settlers.
From rock-throwing by kids or teenagers against Israeli vehicles to stabbing, vehicular ramming, and shooting attacks, the area near the flashpoint city has challenged IDF forces who have nevertheless been able to thwart all recent attacks with no injuries or deaths to Israelis.
The attacks are carried out by lone wolves or by cells, with or without the backing of groups like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and others.
The commander told the Post that in addition to protecting the settlers, the 200 troops stationed in the city are there to prevent violence by both sides. B’Tselem has reported a rise in settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank in recent months and has accused the IDF of turning a blind eye to it.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in 2020 there were “771 incidents of settler violence causing injury to 133 Palestinians and damaging 9,646 trees and 184 vehicles, mostly in the areas of Hebron, Jerusalem, Nablus, and Ramallah.”
In one incident documented by OCHA on March 13 a Palestinian family with eight children was attacked by 10 Israeli settlers, some armed.
Speaking to +972 Magazine, the father Said Abu Aliyan, a resident of Umm Lasfa, a village in the South Hebron Hills, said that he recognized one of the settlers who attacked him as someone who was always attacking Palestinian homes.
“They charged at us with bats, pipes, and rocks. I stood in front of my vehicle, terrified, trying my best to protect my young children who were standing nearby. Some of them ran inside to hide.”
“The settlers mercilessly hurled rocks at us from every direction,” he continued. “My kids were screaming. A stone hit my hand and I started to bleed. I barely realized what was happening when a settler grabbed me and bashed my face with a metal pipe, then hit me in the head over and over. I fell to the ground, lost consciousness, and everything went dark. I fainted. I cannot remember anything beyond that point. But this fear, for my children — this horror— it continued.”
Mashiach and his troops arrived in the sector shortly before the outbreak of fighting with the Gaza Strip in May and thwarted several attacks during their operational duty.
“On May 10 we felt a big change in the sector. In one night everything changed,” Mashiach said, adding that “for two weeks Palestinians watched Gaza being bombed, and attacks happened.”
And, he stressed, “when there wasn’t an attack, doesn’t mean an attack wasn’t planned.”
With Guardian of the Walls and rioting in Israeli cities, Mashiach had to contend daily with some of the worst violence in the region in years.
Dozens of Palestinians and IDF troops were wounded, including an officer whose helmet was struck by a bullet fired by a rioter.
Pointing to a Jewish apartment complex in Hebron known as “Avraham Avinu,” he also discussed the attack on June 16 where 32-year-old Islam Ghayad Muhammad Zahdeh was shot by troops after he planted explosives and tried to shoot IDF troops.
The attack, he said, was “planned militarily.”
Palestinian Islamic Jihad later confirmed that Zahdeh, who tried to attack troops with explosives, a submachine gun, and a knife, was affiliated with the group.
“That attack showed the main reason that we are here, and for troops to always be alert.”
As we drove towards Kiryat Arba, Mashiach pointed out several spots where attacks took place during his time as the sector commander.
On May 19, a Palestinian woman opened fire at a bus stop outside the settlement before troops killed her. The woman, armed with an M-16, emptied the magazine but hit no one.
Mashiach’s company has moved to the Golan Heights to train four months on confronting Hezbollah in Lebanon.
And while he and his troops were constantly foiling attacks, Mashiach told the Post there was training too.
“There is no other sector where temperatures can rise to 200 degrees,” he said.