Israel files terrorism charges against two settlers in West Bank rampages
PHOTO CAPTION: Palestinians check burned vehicles after Israeli settlers attack near Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, June 21,2023. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli prosecutors filed terrorism-related charges on Wednesday against two Jewish settlers, one accused of desecrating a mosque and the other of setting a fire in a home, during rampages against Palestinians that drew U.S. calls for accountability.
The spree of vandalism and arson by hundreds of settlers in several villages and towns in the occupied West Bank last month followed the June 20 killing of four Israelis by Hamas gunmen. Some of the Palestinians who lost property were U.S. dual nationals.
One defendant, in his early 30s, was among "a large number (of) rioters" who threw objects at buildings in Orif village, wrecked furniture and windows in its mosque and ripped up copies of the Koran and threw them to the floor, the indictment said.
Their goal was "to arouse fear or shock in the community through a grave blow to the sacrosanct," it said.
The second defendant, a 22-year-old off-duty soldier, was accused separately of taking part in a mob break-in at a home in Umm Safa village while a mother and her four children were present, forcing her to hide them in a closet.
He set a patio chair alight and propped it the doorway, setting a fire that spread in the house and inflicting smoke-inhalation injuries on two of the children, the indictment said.
The Honenu law firm representing the defendants denied the charges against them. It described the first as being wrongfully targeted by Israeli authorities and the second as having been misidentified and indicted "for media and populist purposes".
The charges - including disorderly conduct, insulting religion, aggravated arson and aggravated assault - normally carry maximum prison terms ranging between three and 20 years.
In the indictments, they were redesignated as "acts of terrorism" or "motivated by racism". Under Israeli law, that would enable the courts to as much as double the penalty for any of the counts on which it convicts.
The indictments did not make clear what evidence will be brought. One of them appeared to have redacted the names of three prosecution witnesses, suggesting they might be confidential sources.
The limited scale and pace of Israel's law-enforcement effort have left Palestinians unmoved, almost a decade since the stalling of U.S.-sponsored efforts to achieve their statehood goals through negotiations.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry described the settler rampages as "state-sponsored terrorism". Israel's hard-right government includes ministers who chafe at attributing the term terrorism to settlers.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Nick Macfie and Conor Humphries)