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Arrest Of 5 Youth In The West Bank Causes Uproar In Jewish Settler Community


Israel has arrested five teenagers suspected of killing a Palestinian woman. The teens are students at a religious school in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Their arrest has caused anger in the Jewish settler community. NPR's Daniel Estrin spoke to relatives of the victim and the accused. Here's his report from the West Bank.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Late one Friday night back in October on a road in the West Bank, a Palestinian man named Yaakoub Rabi was driving. His wife was in the passenger seat. Their small child was in the back, and an enormous rock hit their windshield. Rabi spoke to NPR about the attack.

YAAKOUB RABI: (Through interpreter) My wife received in her face a 2 1/2 kilo stone that was thrown at our car from Israeli settlers.

ESTRIN: Rabi says his wife, Aisha, died from the five pound stone. He says he heard Hebrew being spoken through the window. This week, Israeli security officials said they arrested five young Israeli suspects from a Jewish religious school in the area. Rabi was glad to hear the news.

RABI: (Through Interpreter) The fact that they were arrested and the fact that they are made to be accountable makes the streets, the roads, safe.

ESTRIN: But many in the Jewish settler community are angry. The teens were interrogated for days without access to a lawyer. Israeli security officials said that's the practice with, quote, "severe terror cases." The Israeli legal organization representing the suspects directed us to one suspect's father, Michael. We can't identify his son or his full name due to an Israeli gag order. He said his son was mistreated by his Israeli interrogators, the kind of abuse Palestinian detainees also complain about.

MICHAEL: They cuff him with handcuffs to the chair, yelling at him, pushing him, smoking in his face, telling him he was a killer.

ESTRIN: The Shin Bet security agency has been under fire from settler groups and their supporters. This week, the security agency put out an unusual statement defending itself, saying it's thwarted hundreds of attacks in the West Bank, among them, quote, "Jewish terrorist attacks." Just today, Israeli troops arrested a Palestinian man they said carried out a recent deadly shooting on Israelis. Michael says his son is innocent and that Israelis are the victims of Palestinians, not the opposite.

MICHAEL: We are the one that are afraid in the road. We are the one that they shooting on. We are the one that they stab. What Jewish terror are you talking about?

ESTRIN: It was during an uptick in violence after a Palestinian killed two Israelis in a nearby settlement that the stoning attack occurred. Officials say the day after the stoning attack, settlers coached students at the religious school where the suspects study in how to handle Israeli interrogations. It's unclear if the suspects were present. Yesterday, Israel's justice minister, who's pro-settler, met with the parents of the Israeli suspects. Michael was there.

MICHAEL: We talk. It was a good meeting between us.

ESTRIN: Rabi, the Palestinian whose wife was killed, said that meeting worried him.

RABI: (Through interpreter) We cannot impact Israeli justice system. All I can say now is that I hope that the Israeli justice system will be fair to people like me.

ESTRIN: He said his wife, Aisha, left behind eight children, most with university degrees. He said they taught their children to believe in peace. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, the West Bank. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.