HUWARA, West Bank — Dozens of Israeli settlers rampaged through Palestinian towns, torching cars, homes and killing a man, hours after a Palestinian gunman killed two Israelis.
The scenes from the hours-long rampage Sunday night bore the trademark of a once-active settler movement known as “price taggers,” whose mission is to extract a “price” for any Palestinian attacks or perceived threats to the settler movement.
Sunday’s rampage, which particularly focused on the town of Huwara, was a response to both: a drive-by shooting that killed two brothers from a nearby settlement, and a rare meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jordan in which Israel promised to halt settlement expansion in the West Bank — the land Palestinians envision as part of their future state.
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Israeli and Palestinian officials, at their first meeting in years in Jordan’s coastal city of Aqaba, issued a joint statement, which said that Israel would halt building plans for settlement units for four months and stop the authorization of outposts — smaller and typically more radical settlements, considered illegal under Israeli law — for six months.
The agreement also required Israel to respect the status quo at the Jerusalem site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary which, for decades, has served as a flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But far-right members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition have indicated that they were not beholden to the promises made during the meeting, which took place with U.S., Egyptian and Jordanian officials.
Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionist Party, the third-largest bloc in the coalition, said that he had “no idea” about the discussions at the “unnecessary conference” in Jordan, but that Israel would not agree to a settlement freeze, “even for one day.”
“What happened in Jordan (if it happened), stays in Jordan,” tweeted National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. Last month, Ben Gvir, who has long been part of the extremist fringe of the settler movement, visited the Jerusalem holy site for a 13-minute tour, which spurred international condemnations accusing him of provoking unrest.
The summit was called to quell a spiraling bout of violence that began with a spate of Palestinian attacks on Israelis last spring, which the Israeli military has responded to with near-nightly raids. The inauguration in November of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history has seen a sharp acceleration in the raids, accompanying fatalities, and Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
While the summit was taking place, a Palestinian gunman opened fire at a traffic junction in Huwara, south of Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, killing Hillel Menachem Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaakov Yaniv, 19, brothers from the nearby Har Bracha settlement.
After sunset, dozens of settlers descended on Huwara and several other villages across the northern West Bank.
“Instead of Jews not being allowed in Huwara, it should be the Arab enemy that should shut itself in and not leave their houses!” said a message in a WhatsApp group that was calling on members to participate in the attack.
Settlers fatally shot a Palestinian man, Sameh Al-Aqtash, 37, hitting him in the abdomen, said Ghassan Doughlas, a Palestinian Authority official responsible for the northern West Bank. He said that an additional four Palestinians were treated for stab wounds and that an estimated 100 more were injured in beatings with metal rods and from tear gas inhalation.
On Monday, with the manhunt for the Palestinian gunman still underway, Israel sent hundreds more troops to the West Bank. It also closed many of the roads and set up roadblocks in and around Huwara, where the streets were mostly empty on Monday. Soldiers accompanied at least two groups of settlers, some wearing ski masks and others waving Israeli flags at a road junction.
“A Huwara that is closed and is burning — that’s the only way we’ll achieve deterrence,” Tzvika Foghel, a lawmaker from Ben Gvir’s Jewish Power party, told Galei Israel radio on Monday. “We need to stop shying away from collective punishment.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday condemned the events, saying that “these developments underscore the imperative to immediately de-escalate tensions in words and deeds.”
But for many on the ground, talks about addressing an escalation of violence miss the point — war has already arrived.
“It was a war last night, an official war,” Refat Amer, a 47-year-old resident of Huwara, said Monday. He added that during the four-hour rampage by settlers, dozens of cars and a high school near his home were torched and rocks shattered the window of his 7-year-old daughter’s room. Soldiers at the scene only cordoned off the area, without moving to stop the violence, he said.
“For sure they will return again, but what can we do?” he asked. “We can throw stones at them, and then the military shoots us, too.”
Rubin reported from Tel Aviv. Fatima AbdulKarim in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.