Israeli authorities have arrested five Israeli settlers suspected in the killing of 48-year-old Palestinian woman Aisha al-Rabi last month, according to the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency.
Al-Rabi was killed in October 2018 when a group of settlers attacked her and her husband’s car with rocks on a West Bank highway. The mother of eight sustained a severe head injury that killed her, while her husband and young daughter sustained light wounds.
The Shin Bet said in a statement Sunday night saying that the five Israeli settlers were all minors from the illegal Rehelim settlement in the northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus, located just off the road where the attack on al-Rabi’s car took place.
The settlers are all reportedly students at a yeshiva, or Jewish religious school, in Rehelim.
The Shin Bet alleged that the morning after the attack on al-Rabi, several far-right “activists” from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar drove to Rehelim and instructed students from the yeshiva on how to prepare for an upcoming investigation from Israeli authorities.
Yitzhar is a notoriously violent settlement in the West Bank, and is home to a yeshiva that has been traced to the birth of the religious-nationalist Hilltop Youth organization — a group of young Israeli settlers who regularly commit “price tag” attacks on Palestinians and their property.
Following the arrest of the settlers, whose identities remain unknown, Israeli media reported that the teens were initially interrogated without their lawyers present — a right routinely denied to Palestinian minors detained by Israeli forces in the occupied territory — leading to public condemnation from the youth’s lawyers
The Shin Bet responded to the criticisms saying: “Since the arrests, there have been efforts to slander the security service and de-legitimize it. This effort should be condemned and will not stop the Shin Bet from stopping all forms of terror, Jewish or Palestinian.”
The agency went on to call the suspects dangerous “anti-Zionist” extremists, releasing pictures of a burning Israeli flag, and another flag with “death to Zionists” written on it alongside a swastika, allegedly the work of the suspects.
“Over the past year, the Shin Bet has prevented hundreds of terror attacks in Judea and Samaria, including Jewish terror,” the Shin Bet said.
Despite the Shin Bet’s alleged efforts to prevent “Jewish terror” over the past year, Haaretz reported on Sunday that 2018 saw a steep rise in Israeli hate crimes against Palestinians.
According to the report, anti-Palestinian attacks tripled in 2018, with 482 “politically motivated” crimes by Jews reported in the occupied West Bank, including assault and property damage, compared to 140 reported incidents in 2017.
There are an estimated 500,000 – 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.
Israeli settlers often move to the occupied territory for political and religious reasons, with many regarding themselves as inhabiting a land that is rightfully theirs — and staking their claim to that land through violence against Palestinians.
Rights groups and activists have long accused the Israeli state and security officials of fostering a “culture of impunity” for Israelis committing violent acts against Palestinians, who are rarely prosecuted for their crimes.
Israel’s High Court ruled last summer to release an Israeli settler who was involved in the 2015 firebombing of the Dawabsheh family home, which killed 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh and his parents, under the pretext that the settler was only a minor at the time of the high-profile attack.
Meanwhile, Palestinian minors have repeatedly been sentenced to decades in prison if they are found guilty of attacking or killing Israelis.