The Truth Behind Route 60
By Yaakov Schwartz
Stone-throwing attacks in Yehudah and Shomron have doubled in the past year, sometimes with devastating consequences. But Yesha leaders tell Hamodia that the authorities are not taking them seriously.
Shlomo Ne’eman, chairman of the Yesha Council, challenges me. On his desk is a large map of the yishuvim in Yehudah and Shomron. He asks: “How many stone-throwing incidents do you think there were during 2022 in these yishuvim?” I shrug and say, “I don’t know.”
He tries to make it easier: “Dozens? Hundreds? Perhaps thousands?” he asks.
I think for a moment of all the incidents I had heard about and say, “Hundreds of stone-throwing incidents.”
“From your mouth to Hashem’s ears,” he says. “Based on the official summary of the Yehudah and Shomron Brigade in the IDF, there were 7,589 incidents of stone-throwing. That is in contrast to 3,805 incidents in 2021. There’s been a rise in Molotov cocktail attacks as well. In 2022, there were 1,268 such incidents compared to 1,022 in 2021. The scope of terror incidents has also risen drastically, with 285 shootings in 2022, compared with just 61 for the year before.”
“When you’re driving and you get hit with a stone, you freeze,” says Yehuda Levy, a private bus driver and a resident of the Shomron city of Ariel. “You try to reassure the frightened passengers and show them that you’re in control of the situation, but inside, you’re butter. If there are children on the bus, it becomes traumatic. The children start screaming and crying; there’s a feeling of raw terror. You just want to run away. But you have nowhere to run.”
Buses are considered relatively safe vehicles. The drivers have lots of experience; many of them are cautious and they are well aware of the responsibility they carry. But in the wild west that is Yehudah and Shomron, even the safest vehicle becomes a target for terror and can be a death trap.
“We are used to such incidents,” Yehuda says. “I know a bus driver who came under a hail of stones two months ago and lost control of his vehicle. Fortunately, he hit a safety barrier between the lanes. Miraculously, the bus did not turn over. If it would have flipped, it would have been catastrophic, with 50 or 60 casualties. The driver was an Arab, a real hero. He was full of cuts from the shattered glass of the windshield. He could have frozen in place and been hit by more stones, or he could have completely lost control. But he kept driving. You have to realize that it all happens in seconds. If you don’t catch yourself quickly, you can be killed, along with your passengers.”
The Attacks Have Gotten More Sophisticated
This type of terror against buses can be divided into two types: the “classic” stone-throwing, meaning a terrorist who throws from a location that is higher than the road. And then there is the more dangerous and cunning method — throwing rocks, some of them chiseled, from a moving car.
Recently, there was a terror cell driving the roads in Yehudah and Shomron in a luxury model BMW. They drove on Route 60, the main road in the area, which bisects the region from south to north, looking for buses from Israeli companies. When they found one, they would throw a huge rock at it, strike it, and then flee. They carried out such attacks for a long time, until the IDF was able to track them down and arrest them.
“My friend Yisrael was attacked by this group. It’s horrifically dangerous,” Yehuda said. “In my view, every time an incident like this does not end in tragedy, it’s a miracle. There is the clear Hand of Hashem here. The bus is riding along at speeds of 80 kph [50 mph], and the car on the other side is going 100 kph [62 mph]. There’s no chance that the stone will be stopped by a glass window. It’s like a bullet, a live weapon, and yet it isn’t taken seriously. I have no doubt that something terrible will ultimately happen, and only then will they deal with it. Everything here is written with blood, and it’s sad that we’re at that place.”
Every Stoning Attack Is a Terror Attack
Stone-throwing attacks on buses are not new. For many years, terrorists have targeted large buses – especially those that are clearly identified as Israeli. The fact that many Israeli Arabs use these roads means that terrorists sometimes struggle to know exactly who is in a private vehicle. But it’s very clear which side the buses belong to. So, from Dura to Jenin, from Kalkilya to Tubas, terrorists are targeting buses.
“I’ve gotten hit with stones a few times on the way down toward Maale Adumim,” says Avner Cohen, a driver for a van company in Yerushalayim. “It’s deathly terrifying. Sometimes I look up, toward the hill ahead, and I see a suspicious figure at a lookout, preparing to throw stones. I have passengers who sit only on the left side of the van, because the right side is where the stones land. It’s easier alone; maximum, you get hit. But when you have passengers — elderly people, children — it’s a trauma. People scream and fall in panic. Sometimes, there’s a week or two of quiet, and then, boom.”
In recent footage, a terrorist is seen running toward an Israeli bus on the road near Rosh HaAyin, and hurling a concrete block at it. It hits the side of the bus, so it “only” causes shock, but in other cases, it smashes the windshield. When the bus isn’t bulletproof, this literally puts lives in danger, because a concrete block can penetrate the bus and even strike the driver.
“It’s only a matter of time before a driver gets a stone in the head,” warns Cohen. “Someone has to change this equation and make sure that vehicles are safe. It’s a clear and significant danger to life.”
“Unfortunately, the deterrence of the security forces is inadequate because of a lack of governance,” says Eliyahu Libman, head of the Kiryat Arba City Council. “There is very little attention to stone-throwing and Molotov cocktails in general, and certainly at cars. I call on the security establishment to get involved and intensify the punitive measures.”
What If You Were the Driver?
On Motzoei Shabbos two weeks ago, a Jew traveling near Kfar Yafia, near Nazareth, was attacked with stones. On Sunday of this past week, Eldad Mizrachi of Netanya was taken by surprise when he drove from Zichron Yaakov to his home and passed the village of Ji’ser a-Zarka, on the Coastal Highway. “I was with my little daughter,” he says. “She was sitting next to me and we were driving on the road we always use. Toward the end of the village, I saw a group of four or five youths approaching the road, walking together. Suddenly, I felt a real BOOM as the car was hit. My daughter, who had fallen asleep, woke up from the noise. My face and hands were covered with glass shards. I didn’t want to stop in the village. I kept driving until Netanya and stopped there. I took a deep breath and then checked myself into the emergency room. I went home a few hours later.”
According to Mizrachi, the area where he was attacked is a road used by both Jews and Arabs. “It’s a central road, and people travel there regularly. There are usually no problems; but’s become scary. I know that I will continue to drive there, but I’ll have to overcome the fear.”
A week after the deadly attack in Huwara two months ago, which took the lives of Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, Hy”d, dozens of Arab terrorists stood on the side of the main road and stoned Israeli vehicles from very close range. At least four cars were hit, among them that of the uncle of the Yaniv brothers, who was traveling to Har Bracha to visit the bereaved family.
Deterrence Is Lacking
Yisrael Peretz, a resident of Har Bracha who was also there at the time, related that the soldiers did nothing. “I was driving with my son to the Tapuach Junction. In the middle of Huwara, we saw dozens of Arabs gathered with stones. Soldiers standing right next to them did nothing; five Arabs stood there with baseball bats. The cars ahead of me were hit with rocks. Later, I was going home, and again, the cars ahead of me were struck. The army is afraid of its own shadow.”
After the stone-throwing, dozens of residents of Shomron came to the scene, and demonstrated against the hands-off policy of the security establishment. “The situation here is unbelievable,” one resident said.
The security establishment is clearly struggling to cope with the constant stone-throwing. The head of the Beit El Local Council, Shai Alon, listed 26 incidents he had randomly selected from the past month. Each was the same story: regular trip, home or to an event, a figure or figures that suddenly appear near the driver, and then an explosive sound, shattered glass, and shrapnel, and driving off at high speeds.
A key part of the problem is the lack of deterrence. Dozens of cases, including those resulting in physical injuries or death, were closed by the security services after a few days, on the grounds that the perpetrator was unknown. Add to that the fact that the military justice system closes most cases of this kind with lenient plea bargains.
A Solution Was Planned – and the Government Froze Construction
The head of the Shomron Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, warns in a conversation with Hamodia that if things don’t change, terrorism will intensify. “The blood of the residents of Yehudah and Shomron has become hefker,” he says. “Whatever the government used to do after major attacks, chalilah, they should do now after stone-throwing incidents with injuries. Time after time, we see the Palestinian Authority fomenting violence in the area.”
Dagan accuses the previous government, headed by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, of abandoning the residents of Yehudah and Shomron. “The Transportation Ministry and chairperson of the Labor Party, MK Merav Michaeli, declared in the media that during her term, she had not invested in advancing transportation projects in Yehudah and Shomron, and even froze work that was planned to ease the heavy traffic throughout the region. This was because, in her eyes, ‘it’s a waste to invest in a place that ultimately will not be part of the sovereign State of Israel.’”
A letter sent by six council leaders asking Michaeli for a meeting to discuss the issues went unanswered. The six who signed were: Beitar Mayor Meir Rubinstein; head of the Har Chevron Regional Council Yochai Damari; head of the Efrat Local Council Oded Revivi; head of the Chevron administration Hillel Horowitz; head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council Shlomo Ne’eman; and head of the Kiryat Arba-Chevron Council Eliyahu Libman.
In a conversation with Hamodia, Shlomo Ne’eman says, “MK Merav Michaeli actively stopped work on the tunnel road leading to Gush Etzion, thwarted the work on additional roads and the planning of transportation arteries that are the lifeblood of Yehudah and Shomron. The current government, headed by Binyamin Netanyahu, is trying to fix the damage that she caused, but it takes time.”
“As someone who was seriously wounded by stones, I live this,” Brig. Gen. (Res.) tells Hamodia. “Stone-throwing needs to be treated like any other terror activity, along with intelligence, activating special forces as lookouts, and operating in areas where the stones are being thrown.”
The ‘Palestinian Underdog’ Narrative
According to Hirsch, who is today a senior fellow at the Institute for Terror Research at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, stone-throwing attacks are much more complex than they seem on the surface. “First of all, [stones] are a killing tool, and a weapon in every sense,” he says. “At the same time, the stone has become a symbol of the conflict between us and the Palestinians, and part of the false narrative that they are trying to promote that they are a nation under occupation: In the face of Israeli military might, we have the stone; against the IDF Goliath, we are the David leading a popular uprising. Imagine children holding stones and facing an Israeli tank, what kind of effect this can have when it is photographed and broadcast, and how it underscores the underdog narrative.
“It’s a failure of Israeli hasbarah, which refrains from saying that the true story is about the population that has chosen to serve as a haven for terror, and has chosen terror as its modus operandi while we have tried peace initiatives; we’ve given up land, and in return, all we got was more blood and fire. That’s the real story. But we’ve failed to explain it to the world, and the Palestinian entity that we face continues to use this cognitive warfare and to activate the stone-throwers.
“This approach — that stone-throwing attacks are associated only with children and grassroots opposition and therefore don’t need to be dealt with firmly — is deeply mistaken. When you are in a state of war, your mission is to remove the threats that you face.
“For the Israeli residents of Yehudah and Shomron who travel the roads, stone-throwing is a strategic attack, and beyond the damage and the danger, it generates fear and worry — which are an essential part of the terror goals. … We need to take strong action against every threat.”
What Actions to Take?
“First of all, it is necessary to identify the places where it is happening and invest efforts in collecting pinpoint intelligence. It is true that sometimes, due to the intensity of what is going on in the field, stone-throwing is pushed to the margins of our consciousness. But the IDF knows how to do what needs to be done.
“The second thing is a hasbarah campaign targeting the Palestinian public that says Israel has decided to move to a new stage in dealing with stones, and to treat them like weapons in every sense. Legally, stone-throwing can be defined as attempted murder, and heavy prison sentences can be handed down. This needs to be implemented in the field, with very strong operational activities.”
In its defense, the IDF says it works tirelessly to maintain security, which includes protecting traffic arteries from stone-throwers, Molotov cocktails, ramming attacks, and shootings. When stone-throwing incidents mount in a specific place, the commander of the brigade stationed there will use the tools at their disposal – among other things, dialogue with the people in the stone-throwers’ villages, fines for parents of youths involved in terror activities, setting ambushes at spots that overlook these traffic arteries, arrests of those engaged in grassroots terror, and stationing soldiers on the routes to provide a sense of security.
The IDF takes stone-throwing very seriously, especially the scourge of throwing stones from passing cars. Every time there is a report of stones being thrown from a car, it immediately activates “hot hammer” status — in other words, an attack — and the IDF pursues the terrorists. Just last week, such a cell was arrested in the Efraim District, after extensive intelligence work.
“The IDF invests extensive efforts to mitigate the incidences of stone-throwing, and is working to close the net around the suspects,” a spokesman says. “The IDF will continue to act against incidents of this kind, both overtly and covertly, while reinforcing the security of the people.” n
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