When hundreds of Israeli settlers rampaged through Huwara and surrounding Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank on February 26, leaving at least one Palestinian man dead and hundreds of others injured, it was billed as “revenge” after a Palestinian gunman killed two brothers who lived nearby.
What unfolded was violence so brutal that the Israeli military commander for the West Bank called it a “pogrom,” and said that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had not been sufficiently prepared for revenge attacks. An inquiry by the IDF found that the military failed to deploy enough soldiers to prevent the riots. “This is a severe incident that took place under our responsibility and should not have happened,” Israel’s top military officer, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, said in a statement in March.
A monthslong CNN investigation, based on analysis of videos from the scene, exclusive testimony from an Israeli soldier, as well as interviews with seven eyewitnesses and two Palestinian journalists, sheds new light on the actions of Israeli forces.
CNN found that, not only did the forces fail to stop the riots in Huwara, they did not protect residents as settlers set fire to Palestinian homes and businesses and blocked emergency services from responding. Instead, when residents threw rocks in reaction to the settlers’ aggression, Israeli forces fired at the Palestinians with tear gas and stun grenades, according to analysis of the footage and eyewitness accounts.
The soldier, whose account was provided by Breaking the Silence, a non-governmental organization established by IDF veterans that offers a platform to speak out confidentially, said dozens of armed forces were on the scene, operating alongside Israel Border Police, and they were aware of the threat the settlers posed but did nothing to intervene. “We just let them continue to advance,” the soldier said, adding that the army generally “doesn’t know how to deal with settler terrorism.”
Residents of the town, which straddles the main road running north to south through the West Bank, have long been harassed by settlers passing through. But, in the wake of the violence, they said they are more terrified for their security than ever before.
Now, as Israel’s right-wing government ramps up incendiary remarks, pledging to increase its authority over the occupied territory, settler attacks have continued largely without recourse. The IDF said in a statement to CNN that dozens of Israelis had “desecrated Palestinian property” and “acted violently against Palestinian residents” on February 26, but only several were arrested. All were released without charges.