The escalating conflict between Israel’s government and Jewish settlers spilled over Wednesday to Jerusalem, where police used water cannons and horses to disperse hundreds of jeering protesters.
The demonstrators, protesting the arrests of settler organizers Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Nadia Matar earlier in the day, locked arms and marched on the Jerusalem jail where the two had been held.
Police pushed them back and four officers on horseback charged into the crowd, billy clubs swinging. Protesters screamed “fascists!” and “police state!” and struck at the kicking horses with flag sticks and their bare hands. Ten protesters were detained, and several were injured.
When the protesters refused to leave, police brought out a water cannon truck and sprayed the crowd. The demonstration finally broke up after police said Riskin and Matar had been taken to a Tel Aviv jail.
Riskin was released later in the evening, reportedly for medical reasons.
The two were arrested in a protest at Dagan Hill, 20 miles south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, where right-wing settlers and Israeli troops have clashed every day this week.
Hundreds of settlers, angry over Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s plans to turn over the West Bank to Palestinian control, have been setting up makeshift neighborhoods on barren hillsides in an effort to stake claim to the land.
Settlers camped out on two other West Bank hilltops near the settlements of Beit El and Kedumim on Wednesday night, setting the stage for more confrontations today.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called the protests “an attempt to create a rift in the nation” and said the settlers were endangering their own security by diverting the very troops assigned to protect them.
“We will enforce the law without hesitation,” Rabin told legislators from his Labor Party.
Israeli and PLO negotiators are negotiating the withdrawal of Israeli troops from West Bank towns and the holding of Palestinian elections.
The presence of 140,000 Jewish settlers amid the West Bank’s 1 million Palestinians makes these negotiations far more complex than those that led to Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho a year ago. About 5,000 settlers live in Gaza.