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While millions of people in Israel and the West Bank are under lockdown, state-backed settler violence continues unabated. Settlers are attacking Palestinian shepherds in pastureland and entering villages, attacking residents and destroying their property. Despite the coronavirus crisis, the escalated violence has continued in recent weeks.

May 2020

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Hate graffiti sprayed on a house wall in Beitin, 13 May 2020
Hate graffiti sprayed on a house wall in Beitin, 13 May 2020

Beitin, Ramallah District: Masked settlers spray hate graffiti on walls of homes

On 13 May 2020, around 2:45 A.M., Samer Saharan (34) heard noises outside his home. He opened the door and saw two masked men spraying graffiti on a wall about 300 meters away. Saharan alerted the village's emergency committee. When they arrived, the men retreated and fled towards Route 60.

Damage assessment revealed slogans sprayed on two walls: “Our soldiers’ lives come before the enemy's lives” and “I do not sleep when blood is spilled here”.

Such nightly visits are nothing new for the residents of Beitin. The settlement of Beit El (founded in 1977) and the outpost of Givat Assaf (founded in 2002) lie about a kilometer away, and the village suffers repeated state-backed attacks by settlers. In 2019, B’Tselem documented two incidents in which settlers punctured car tires and sprayed hate graffiti, as well as two assaults on residents. In 2018, B’Tselem documented an incident in which settlers punctured the tires of 26 cars from the village.

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Harbi ‘Abdu after settler attack, 6 May 2020. Photo: Sadam Salah
Harbi ‘Abdu after settler attack, 6 May 2020. Photo: Sadam Salah

Burqah, Nablus District: Settlers hurl stones at shepherds, break one’s leg and scatter herd

While leading a flock of 120 sheep to pasture, a pair of shepherds were suddenly attacked with stones by about ten settlers. During the violent encounter, the older man broke his leg as a result of the stone-throwing. His nephew managed to help him escape before they were injured even further.

On Wednesday afternoon, 6 May 2020, Harbi ‘Abdu (51) and his nephew Hamuda (26), residents of Beit Imrin, were out grazing their flock in a field situated between the northern part the village of Burqah and the former settlement of Homesh (evacuated in 2005). Suddenly, a group of settlers appeared before them. Some were armed with wooden clubs and stones, some were masked and one was carrying a gun. Though the two were about 200 meters away from the settlers when they caught sight of them, they had no chance of escaping with their flock.

As they tried to gather their flock, the settlers approached and began throwing stones at them, one of which hit Harbi’s left leg and broke it. He fell to the ground. As he tried to crawl away, the settlers struck him with more stones.  

Hamuda rushed to the nearby village of Burqah to call for help, but when he heard his uncle yelling for help, he returned. He noticed the assailants leading the flock away towards Homesh. When the settlers saw he had returned, they began throwing stones at him as well. The two barely managed to escape, while Hamza supported Harbi’s injured leg.

They cried out for help.  

In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i on 6 May 2020, Harbi described the attack:

They came from different directions so that we wouldn’t notice them. Within seconds, they started throwing stones at me. When the first stone hit my left leg, I writhed in pain, fell, and tried to crawl away from them. But they kept throwing stones that hit my back and shoulders.

The settlers were yelling in Hebrew, and I didn’t understand what they were saying. I tried calling people from Burqah for help, because I was scared that they would finish me off and kill me, but no one heard me. When they saw I couldn’t get up, they started gathering the sheep and leading them away.

When my nephew saw the state I was in, he tried to help, but he couldn’t carry me. He supported my leg, and I moved away from there, crawling. Thorns ripped my pants, and I felt dizzy and nauseous.

I graze my herd in this area often, and since people from Burqah were attacked there a few times in the past, I’m very careful, and if I see any settlers, I immediately move away. This time, they snuck up on us, and we didn’t see them coming.

After moving about 50 meters away from the scene of the attack, Harbi and Hamuda came across residents of Burqah, who helped carry Harbi to an ambulance they had called. He was taken to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus. Harbi was diagnosed with a fracture in his left leg and told he would need surgery to set the bones in his leg.

One of the residents reported the incident to the Palestinian DCO.

Hamuda, who stayed behind, managed to locate 15 of the sheep, which had scattered in the area, and led them back to the village. He then drove in the direction of Homesh, escorted by 40 cars of relatives and residents of Burqah, and located the rest of the flock near the vacated settlement. After a long, rough day, Hamuda and the flock returned to the village.

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חלקת האדמה של זיאד מח'אמרה, לאחר גניבת היבול
חלקת האדמה של זיאד מח'אמרה, לאחר גניבת היבול

Khirbet Bir al’-‘Eid, Masafer Yatta, South Hebron Hills: Settlers drive shepherd out of his land using threats, dogs and crop theft

On Friday afternoon, 5 May 2020, Ziad Makhamreh was out grazing his flock on his land. Suddenly, a settler appeared before him with two large dogs, which he set on him. Makhamreh fled the scene with his flock, as the settler and the dogs chased after him. When he finally reached his doorstep, the settler threatened to harm his family if he dared graze the flock at that spot again. Shortly after, two other armed settlers arrived at Makhamreh’s doorstep and threatened him, too.

The settler with the dogs had come from the direction of Nof Nesher, a settlement outpost also known as Havat Talia.

Three days later, on Sunday morning, while Makhamreh was watering the flock from a well on his land, the settler reappeared and drove him and the flock out. Makhamreh went home and returned to his pastureland at 14:00 P.M. This time, he discovered that settlers had stolen a substantial amount of his wheat crop, which he had reaped and laid out to dry two days earlier. Makhamreh called the Israeli police. When the officers arrived, they advised him to file a complaint at the police station in the settlement of Kiryat Arba.

The settlement outpost of Nof Nesher was founded in 1996, about 800 meters south of Makhamreh’s land. In 1998, the Mitzpe Yair outpost was founded about 900 meters north of his land. The residents of Bir al-‘Eid, like those of other villages in the Masafer Yatta area, were expelled from their lands by the Israeli military in 1999. After waging a legal battle, they were permitted to return  to their lands in 2009. Since then, they have been suffering, along with the rest of the area’s residents, from incessant harassment by settlers and the military.

Makhamreh explained why he chose not to file a complaint about the assaults and the theft at the Kiryat Arba police station:

The settlers keep attacking me, and I’ve filed complaints with the police several times. Every time I come to the police station, the officers force me to wait outside for hours before they allow me to enter. When I file the complaint, they demand evidence of the settlers’ involvement. On January 2019, a settler attacked and beat me in front of soldiers. The police arrived while my face was bleeding. The officers took me to the Kiryat Arba station to file a complaint. In the end, they charged me with assaulting the settler and ordered me to pay 1,000 shekels (~285 USD) bail to get released.

The settlers from the Nof Nesher outpost, which was erected less than a kilometer from my home, attack us all the time. We know them by now: they’re the sons of Yaakov Talia, who established the outpost. They chase after our sheep and us and prevent us from watering them at the Bir al-‘Eid well.

 

April 2020

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Hate graffiti sprayed by settlers on a wall in Sarra, 30 April 2020
Hate graffiti sprayed by settlers on a wall in Sarra, 30 April 2020

Sarra, Nablus District: Settlers spray hate graffiti on fences and slashed tires of 16 cars

The settlement outpost of Havat Gilad was built about two kilometers from the Palestinian village of Sarra.

On Thursday morning, 30 April 2020, residents of the village’s southern neighborhoods discovered their properties had been vandalized. Settlers sprayed two fences with the inscription: “When we and our soldiers get stabbed, there are Jews who don’t stay silent!”. They also slashed the tires of 16 cars.

The settlers captured in the security cameras in Sarra, 30 April 2020

A security camera captured three masked settlers wondering around the village at 2:00 A.M.

‘Abdallah Salman’s injured hand after a settler attack in Far’ata, 29 April 2020
‘Abdallah Salman’s injured hand after a settler attack in Far’ata, 29 April 2020

Far’ata, Qalqiliyah District: Settlers beat farmers with plastic clubs, the same day Israeli DCO finally grants them access to their lands

On Wednesday, 29 April 2020, the Far’ata municipality informed local farmers that the Israeli DCO had given them permission to work their lands for the first time since the harvest season began. The permit was valid for one day only, which was the following day. 

The Salman family owns an olive grove stretching over 42 dunams [1 dunam = 1,000 sq. meters]. The next day, ‘Abdallah Salman arrived at the grove along with his wife, sons and a relative, Baraa Salman (28). Baraa brought his tractor with him, and the family spread out in the plots and started working. 

At around 10:30 A.M., ‘Abdallah and Barra finished plowing one plot and made their way to the next one. ‘Abdallah guided the tractor’s path on foot. While he was walking, he noticed the chief of security of Havat Gilad observing them from a nearby hill. The chief of security left, and two settlers armed with black plastic clubs, one of them also masked, suddenly appeared. 

The settlers pushed ‘Abdallah to the ground and hit him all over the body, including the head, with their clubs until he lost consciousness. Baraa, who saw what was happening, stopped and got off the tractor. When the settlers detected a new victim, they started beating him as well. After they had their fill, they stopped the attack and fled.

‘Abdallah regained consciousness and Baraa helped him up. Despite their poor physical state, they decided to keep working, as the DCO had only granted them one workday. A few minutes later, the chief of security arrived and claimed that they should  have notified the soldiers before moving between the plots. A while later, soldiers and DCO officials who were passing by arrived on the scene and took their statements about the attack. 

When the pain became too unbearable, Baraa decided to go home with the tractor and asked his father to take over the plowing. The father joined the family, and they continued working until 3:30 P.M. and then returned home. 

‘Abdallah and Baraa were examined at Mahmoud Darwish Hospital in Qalqiliyah and found to have contusions as a result of the beatings. After leaving the hospital, they drove to the Palestinian police in Qalqiliyah to file a complaint. 
 

In a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi, ‘Abdallah Salman described the moments of the attack:

עבדאללה סלמאן. התמונה באדיבות העד
‘Abdallah Salman

The settlers pushed me. I fell to the ground and they began beating me – on my head, my shoulders and all over my body. I lost consciousness for a short while, and later I found out they’d also attacked Baraa. 

A few minutes later, the chief of security showed up in the grove and started making accusations against us. He said we should have notified the soldiers before moving between the plots, so they would come to protect us. I think he knew beforehand that the settlers were about to attack us.

These acts of aggression will only make our attachment to the land stronger. We won't give it up! The settlers want to drive us out to take it over.

The settlement outpost of Havat Gilad was established in 2002 near Far’ata lands. 

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A vandalized fence in Turmusaya, 14 April 2020
A vandalized fence in Turmusaya, 14 April 2020

Turmusaya, Ramallah District: Settlers vandalize fences meant to protect groves from their incursions

On Saturday, 25 April 2020, Riyad Jabara (45) and Mahmoud ‘Ali (80), residents of Turmusaya, discovered that settlers had vandalized the protective fences around their plots and the gates they had installed in them. The farmland in question is located in the area of a-Dhahrat, about three kilometers east of the village.

The perpetrators destroyed gates and protective fences surrounding both plots, stretching 20 meters long in Ali’s land and 50 meters long in Jabara’s. The latter had erected the fence around an area he’d prepared for planting olive trees.

About six years ago, Jabara planted olive trees on his land. Last year, settlers vandalized some of them. In late March 2020, they destroyed the 40 trees that had survived the previous attack.

The settlement outpost of Adei-ad was founded in 1998 about 500 meters from both plots.

The farmers of Turmusaya have been suffering from constant harassment by settlers for years. In April 2020 alone, B’Tselem documented four more cases of destruction of trees, and another case of vandalizing a fence. The fences were erected by the International Red Cross in 2018, as part of an initiative to protect farmland in the area.  

Farmers are not only hard put to protect their crops from the invaders, but also face another significant obstacle: the Israeli military prohibits local landowners from visiting their land daily and only grants them access several days a year, during the harvest and plowing seasons. 

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Mutilated olive trees in Ras Karkar, 24 April 2020
Mutilated olive trees in Ras Karkar, 24 April 2020

Ras Karkar, Ramallah District: 50 olives trees uprooted and broken, futile complaint filed

On 24 April 2020, Radi Abu Fkheidah, a 65-year-old farmer, went to plow his land. He discovered that in his absence, settlers had damaged 50 olive trees he had planted a decade ago. Some of the trees were uprooted and others had broken branches. Abu Fkheidah reported the damage to the Palestinian DCO. 

The settlement of Nerya was established about 200 meters from the plot.  

Mutilated trees in a-Sawiyah, 24 April 2020
Mutilated trees in a-Sawiyah, 24 April 2020

A-Sawiyah, Nablus District: Settlers cut down 35 olive trees Hamdi Jazi’s plot, grown for over 40 years

“The Israeli DCO is looking for the offenders at the end of the world,” Hamdi Jazi (56) said helplessly, “while they’re before their very eyes!”. This time, he refused to meet with the DCO official who came to his land to examine the damage and the trees the settlers chopped down; he has given up hope the offenders will be caught and punished.

On Friday morning, 24 April 2020, Jazi received a phone message from a village resident informing him of harsh sights in his olive grove. He rushed there with his sons and discovered that settlers had cut down 35 of his trees, which were at least 40 years old, and left only five intact.

This January, settlers cut down 80 olive saplings he had planted in 2013.

Jazi owns two dunams of land [1 dunam = 1,000 sq. meters] near Route 60, about a kilometer northwest of a-Sawiyah.  

The settlement of Rehelim was founded in 1991 about 600 meters away, on village land.

In a testimony he gave on 25 April 2020 to B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i, Jazi described his feelings:

I was shocked when I saw 35 olive trees lying on the ground. They’d cut them off at the stem, apparently just that night, because the trees were still green. I felt like I’d just witnessed an execution! They murdered those trees. I couldn’t bear the sight and left.”

Crimes against farmers take place every day in the West Bank, and it’s evident from the settlers’ actions that they’ve marked the area and are deliberately destroying it. They damaged my trees and those of landowners from nearby plots. They overlook nothing and destroy everything. What did the trees do wrong?!

I don’t have any trees left, and I’m afraid to come to the grove because of the settlers’ aggression. 
 

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The car of the settler who stole goats from Abu ‘Aram, Qawawis
The car of the settler who stole goats from Abu ‘Aram, Qawawis

Qawawis, Masafer Yatta, South Hebron Hills: Settlers attack shepherd with pepper spray and steal his goats

On Tuesday afternoon, 21 April 2020, Jabarin Abu ‘Aram (56), a father of nine, set out to graze his flock at his pastureland west of Qawawis. The grazing was peaceful, as his wife worked their land nearby. 

A car with Israeli license plates came from the direction of the Mitzpe Yair outpost and stopped on the road. Two settlers got out and approached Abu ‘Aram. One of them pepper-sprayed him. Abu ‘Aram retreated and started throwing stones at the settlers to drive them away. 

In a testimony he gave on 27 April 2020 to B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash, he recounted: 

Two guys got out of the car. They were speaking in Hebrew, and one of them said to the other: “There’s nobody here but him, we can slaughter him and take his goats.” One of them approached me, holding something that looked like a gun. I thought he was going to shoot me. I yelled for help and hoped my wife could hear me.

The settlers hurled stones at Abu ‘Aram, and one of them took a goat and put it in the car. He then came back and took another goat. Abu ‘Aram’s wife arrived and started shouting. The settlers got in the car and left with the goats. 

Abu ‘Aram photographed the car and contacted human rights activists in the area, who called the police. A few minutes later, police officers arrived and drove Abu ‘Aram to the station, where he filed a complaint. 
 
Later in his testimony, Abu ‘Aram recalled the investigation and his conclusions from the incident: 

The investigator promised me he would look for the settlers and bring my goats back. I told him it wouldn’t be difficult, since the settlers drove to Mitzpe Yair. He answered that he knows his job and would be in touch. It’s been a week and nobody has called. I didn’t get my goats back, and I doubt I ever will. I don’t think the police will contact me, since they’re not interested in going after the settlers. 

We’re here on our land, with our flock, and all we want is to live. But we have no protection and we live in constant fear and anxiety from the settler’ attacks. They operate outside the law, and the threat is real. We have no choice but to live in this dangerous reality.

Route 317 passes by the lands of the Abu ‘Aram family. A dirt path from the road leads to the settlement outpost of Mitzpe Yair, founded in 1998. 

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Turmusaya, Ramallah District: Dozens of olive trees destroyed while farmers denied access

Settlers have recently increased their destruction of agricultural equipment and severe damage to fruit-yielding trees in the area of Turmusaya.

On Monday morning, 20 April 2020, farmers went to plow their land east of the village. The military forbids them to reach these plots without prior coordination. Recently, the Israeli DCO granted the farmers two rare working days – for the first time since the olive harvest season. When the Hamza family finally arrived at their plot, they were dismayed to discover that almost 100 olive trees had been cut down. Rabah Hamza reported the incident to the Palestinian DCO.

The mutilated trees were 30 years old.

Hijazi Hijazi, a 46-year-old farmer from Turmusaya, encountered a similar sight the next day. He arrived at his plot, adjacent to the Hamza’s, and discovered that 40 olive trees had been destroyed.

Hijazi had been growing the trees for 35 years.

The same day, after coordinating with the Israeli DCO, farmers from al-Mughayir also arrived at their land to plow. One of them, Jamal Na’asan (40), discovered that 40 of his olive trees had been destroyed.

They were 25 years old.

This wholesale damage to trees is one aspect of a broader phenomenon. In late 2019, settlers started placing mobile structures on private lands of Turmusaya residents in an attempt to take them over. The Israeli authorities repeatedly remove the structures but the settlers replace them – while destroying crops of Palestinians in the area in reprisal. In 2018-2019, B’Tselem documented nine incidents in the area, in which hundreds of trees were damaged and olives were stolen from Turmusaya land.

The settlement outpost of Adei-Ad was established about 500 meters from the abovementioned plots.  

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Broken teeth in ‘Issa Qatash's mouth. Photo courtesy of family
Broken teeth in ‘Issa Qatash's mouth. Photo courtesy of family

Jibya, Ramallah District: Settlers assault Palestinian brothers, breaking one’s leg and front teeth. Soldiers receive the injured man, “interrogate” and abandon him on the scene

On Thursday, 16 April 2020, after staying at home for more than 40 days, the Qatash family from al-Jalazun Refugee Camp wanted to get some fresh air, have a picnic on their plot, and gather wild herbs. They set out around 11:00 A.M for their farmland, which lies in the village of Jibya, northeast of the camp.

The group included married father of five ‘Issa Qatash (40) and his son Hamzah (9); ‘Issa’s brother Musa (39), his wife Hanan (32) and their three kids – Salah (8), Jana (6) and Ahmad (2); and ‘Issa and Musa’s mother, Fatmeh (72).

After the family finished eating lunch, around 1:00 P.M., ‘Issa and Musa went to pick some wild herbs. The rest of the family stayed at the picnic site. The two brothers walked about 200 meters away and then split up.

In his testimony to B’Tselem, Musa recalled that while he was looking for wild herbs, two settlers suddenly appeared in front of him, one of them holding a stick, with a cow in tow. They demanded his ID card. He gave them the card and they asked where he was from. They then snatched his mobile phone and knocked him to the ground while cursing and beating him. Musa heard one of the settlers tell the other that he was going to get a rope to tie him up, and saw him move away. He seized the opportunity, pushed the settler who had stayed by him, quickly gathered his belongings and fled. Since he has undergone two operations on his legs, he only managed to get about 100 meters away and found shelter among the tangled branches of an oak tree.

Musa Qatash after the incident. Photo courtesy of family
Musa Qatash after the incident. Photo courtesy of family

In a testimony he gave by phone to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, he recalled:

“I heard my brother ‘Issa calling me – ‘Musa! Musa!’ – and I was terrified. I felt my end was nearing, and I started to say goodbye to life. For a long while, I had no idea what was happening to me. I felt I was collapsing and may have blacked out. I wasn’t sure whether I was dreaming. I was surprised that I was still alive. I looked around and didn’t see the settlers.

I made my way out of the tree and ran to my family, who were sitting about 150 meters away. My throat was dry, I was dizzyand my heart was pounding fast. As soon as I got near, I shouted to them that the settlers had attacked us. I told them to call people in Jibya to look for ‘Issa. I was afraid he’d been kidnapped or killed.”

Musa was right: while he was being attacked, two other settlers appeared in front of ‘Issa, cursing and beating him with their fists . One of them spoke fluent Arabic. ‘Issa managed to escape and run about 100 meters, but then he tripped and the settlers pounced on him, punching and kicking him as he lay on the ground. Two other settlers, one of them armed with a rifle, arrived and joined the attack.

In a testimony he gave by phone to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, ‘Issa described the terrifying moments he endured during the abuse:

“I could barely protect my head and face from the blows. Someone hit me hard on the mouth, and I felt my front teeth break. Blood started trickling into my mouth down my face. I shouted and cried out: “For God’s sake, what did I do to you? Do you have no mercy? You’re killing me. Have mercy.” But none of them listened. .” But none of them listened. At some point, I collapsed. I had no strength left. Then they tied my hands behind my back with the rope. The armed settler pointed his gun at my head and cocked it, as if he was going to shoot me in the head. I started reciting the “shahada” over and over: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.” I thought my time had come to die. They kept on beating me and swearing at me and threatened to kill me. Then they pulled me up on my feet. I could barely walk, and it felt like my left leg was broken, but they forced me to walk. They led me, limping, through the wild oats, rocks, bushes and thorns. Every now and then I fell down, but they pulled me back up and forced me to keep walking. I was in a terrible state, bleeding from the mouth and hardly able to open my eyes, which were swelling up with every step I took. My throat was dry and I felt like I was dying of thirst. Psychologically, I was broken. It was a terrible situation, only God can imagine it. They kept slapping and kicking me and swearing at me the whole way. They spat on me, too”.
[Link to full testimony]

The settlers handed ‘Issa over to soldiers who were standing about 300 meters away. The soldiers gave him water to wash the blood off his head. After about half an hour, during which the soldiers questioned him about why he was there, they ordered him to leave and refused to drive him to his family, despite his terrible state. ‘Issa was forced to walk to the village of Jibya, crawling some of the time. On the way, he called his family and some village residents picked him up. While he was gone, his family tried to locate him through the Palestinian DCO, until they learned he was in the hands of the military.

The Qatash brothers were taken to the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah, where the doctors found a fracture in ‘Issa’s ankle and set his leg in a cast. They told him he’d have to go to the dental clinic to fix his broken front teeth. Musa was released a few hours later. ‘Issa was put in medical isolation in a government facility in al-Balu’, Ramallah, the next day, as a precaution in case he had been infected with the coronavirus when the settlers spat on him or from contact with the soldiers.

In his testimony, given from the isolation facility, he recounted:

“Now I feel like a prisoner, trapped in a small room between four walls, in a strange place, cut off from the outside world except for phone calls. I can barely move with the cast, and I’m still waiting to be taken to the dentist to fix the teeth the settlers broke. I have bruises and swelling around my eyes from the beating, and also bruises on my back and shoulder. Emotionally, I’m in a terrible state. I feel hopeless and stressed and I’m having nightmares”.

*Update: After testing negative for the coronavirus, ‘Issa Qatash was sent home to self-isolate.

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cut down olive tree in Qaryut
cut down olive tree in Qaryut

Qaryut, Nablus District: ‘Eli settlement chief of security uses soldiers to remove Palestinians from their land under false allegations

The military does not allow Palestinians from Qaryut to cultivate land belonging to their village without prior coordination. Accordingly, farmers from the village contacted the Israeli DCO and received notice they could work their land for three days. On Tuesday morning, 14 April 2020, two of them went to their farmland, which lies across from the fence surrounding the settlement of ‘Eli, and were astounded to find 30 olive trees cut down by settlers. 

A few minutes later, the settlement’s chief of security arrived with soldiers who ordered the farmers to leave, on the grounds that the coordination did not apply to their plots. The soldiers stated that the Palestinian DCO would coordinate an alternative time in the following days. The farmers tried to persuade the soldiers and the chief of security to let them continue, even for an hour, so they could move along with plowing, but the soldiers insisted they leave. 

The settlement of ‘Eli was founded on land belonging to Qaryut in 1984. 

A vandalized fence in Turmusaya, 14 April 2020
A vandalized fence in Turmusaya, 14 April 2020

Turmusaya, Ramallah District: Settlers break trees, uproot fence and clarify they will return

The farmers of Turmusaya routinely suffer hostile incursions to their lands from settlers emerging from nearby settlements and outposts. 

One such farmer is Salim Dar ‘Awad (68). On Tuesday morning, 14 April 2020, Dar ‘Awad arrived at his plot to discover that settlers had vandalized 70 meters of the protective fence he had erected around it. While they were at it, they stole the fence rods and broke the branches of a few olive trees. Dar ‘Awad reported the incident to the Turmusaya municipality, which passed on the complaint to the Palestinian DCO. 

Dar ‘Awad built the fence in 2018, after settlers uprooted about 100 olive seedlings in his grove and he decided to try to protect his crops. 

On 15 April 2020, in a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, he recalled:

“Recently, settlers built another outpost near my lands. They drive out farmers and try to take over farmland in the area. Now they’re taking advantage of the fact that people are staying home for fear of the coronavirus, and are mercilessly destroying crops without thinking twice. They don’t have a shred of humanity in them. 

It’s not just about financial damage during a tough time, but about a constant sense of threat and repeated attacks.”

The settlement outpost of Adei-Ad, which lies about a kilometer from his plot, was founded in 1998. 

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Soldiers ordering Palestinians to move to the other side of the separation fence in the Gheith neighborhood in Hebron
Soldiers ordering Palestinians to move to the other side of the separation fence in the Gheith neighborhood in Hebron

Hebron city center: Settlers attack youths playing soccer with pepper spray and beat them

For a group of Palestinian youths, a casual soccer game in central Hebron ended in hospital after action-hungry settlers brutally attacked them. The incident took place on Sunday evening, 12 April 2020, in the Gheith neighborhood in the city center. At around 8:00 P.M., some 15 young Palestinians were playing soccer in front of the Bakery Checkpoint (southeast of al-Haram al-Ibrahimi and the Tomb of the Patriarchs) when a car with Israeli license plates sped towards them from a-Shuhada Street and came to a screeching halt next to them. Four settlers got out and started pushing the youths. When they tried to defend themselves, two settlers pepper-sprayed and beat them. 

Two Border Police officers arrived from the direction of the Bakery Checkpoint and three of the settlers managed to escape uncaught, while the fourth was detained.

Some 15 more officers arrived and ordered neighborhood residents who had started gathering to move over to the other side of the fence, locking the gate behind them. The military installed the fence in the neighborhood in 2017 to make the street available to settlers only, leaving Palestinians a narrow, unpaved passage.

Two youths who were injured, one 16 and the other 21, were taken by a Red Crescent ambulance to the Muhammad al-Muhtaseb Hospital in the city center. 
 

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‘Ein Qiniya
‘Ein Qiniya

“They drove through our field as if it was a game”: Settlers on motorcycles and ATVs destroy agricultural produce in ‘Ein Qiniya, Ramallah district

The al-Khatib family grows cucumbers on seven dunams of land [1 dunam = 1,000 sq. meters]. They intended to sell their produce ahead of the upcoming Ramadan holiday, but settlers in the area had other plans. On Saturday, 11 March 2020, three settlers decided to run amok in the field with motorcycles and an ATV, and systematically destroyed the cucumbers. A farmer from the village of ‘Ein Qiniya noticed what was happening and called Iyad al-Khatib and other residents. By the time everyone arrived, the settlers had managed to destroy more than half of the produce. 

Six residents managed to drive the invaders away towards the settlement of Talmon and reported the incident to the Palestinian DCO. When a military force arrived about half an hour later, the soldiers fired stun grenades and tear-gas canisters at the residents and directed the settlers to the settlement of Dolev. The settlement, which lies about 800 meters from the al-Khatib family’s land, was founded in 1983. 

The cucumber field was sown in early March, as it is every year. The livelihood of the entire extended family, 24 persons, depends on selling the produce at the market in Ramallah. 

Iyad al-Khatib described the anguish and heartbreak caused by the incident to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad: 

When I saw the settlers driving back and forth across our fields as if they were playing a game, I went mad. They destroyed this season’s crop, now of all times, when everyone is in lockdown and nothing is open. Our financial situation is tough as is, and these settlers destroyed the little hope we had left.

We lost close to 10,000 shekels (~2,811 USD) that we spent on seeds and fertilizer. Not to mention the hard work and daily care the soil requires. We’re now plowing the land again to sow new seeds, and we pray to God to keep away the settlers. We’ve suffered enough. 
 

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‘Abd al-Fatah Salah after an attack by settlers, 7 April 2020
‘Abd al-Fatah Salah after an attack by settlers, 7 April 2020

Kobar, Ramallah District: Settlers abduct two Palestinians, abuse them and hand them over to soldiers, who detain them for hours for no reason

The Salah family from Kobar grow olive trees on ten dunams of land [1 dunam = 1,000 sq. meters]. On Tuesday, 7 April 2020, Ahmad Salah (64) and his two sons, ‘Abd al-Fatah (32) and Mahmoud (29), set out to plow a plot that stretches about four kilometers, west of Kobar. About a half-hour after they arrived, three settlers assaulted them. The victims will never forget what happened next.

One settler was armed with a rifle, another with a gun and the third with a knife or pocketknife. They aimed their weapons at the family. One settler slapped Ahmad and ordered him to leave. After the father moved away, they pushed ‘Abd al-Fatah to the ground and tied his hands with a rope. They took the two brothers’ mobile phones and led them away at gunpoint, one of them holding the rope tied to ‘Abd al-Fatah’s hands. Ahmad Salah returned home and informed the Palestinian DCO his two sons had been abducted.

The settlers led the two brothers about a kilometer on foot, through stony fields filled with thorns and across fences, constantly beating and swearing at them.  The torturous journey came to an end about 500 meters from the settlement of Halamish, where a military patrol vehicle, five soldiers and a settlement security vehicle were standing. 

The abductors told the soldiers that the Salah brothers had been planning to steal cows from them. Upon hearing this, the soldiers removed the rope from ‘Abd al-Fatah’s hands, handcuffed the two brothers with zip ties and put them in the settlement security vehicle. The settlement chief of security, accompanied by a military escort, drove to a military base opposite the village of Deir Nidham. During the ride, he swore at the brothers. Upon arrival at the base, soldiers seated them and placed a soldier to guard them. They were released after several hours and given their phones back.

Outside the military base, the brothers met a Palestinian contractor who drove them to the nearby ‘Atara checkpoint, where they were taken home by their brother Muhammad. They were greeted by family members and village residents, who had been worried about them since their father reported the incident. The injured brothers were taken to the Palestine Medical Center in Ramallah, where their bruises were examined. They were given painkillers and released. ‘Abd al-Fatah was examined a few days later by an ENT doctor for pain in his ear. He was diagnosed with a perforated eardrum, apparently as a result of a severe blow to his ear.  

In a testimony he gave on 14 April 2020 to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, ‘Abd al-Fatah Salah described what happened that day:

‘Abd al-Fatah Salah. Photo courtesy of witness

“I took advantage of the fact that I wasn’t working during the lockdown, because of the coronavirus, and went with my father and brother to weed and plow our land. It was a pleasant day and good for work. When we arrived, we were glad to see that no settlers were around, such as the settler who lives in an outpost five kilometers away and often releases his cows to roam in our groves.

We started working, and suddenly three armed settlers appeared from between the trees. They approached us in a threatening way, and we were terrified. One of them immediately slapped my father and told him to leave. The tall one pushed me to the ground, laid me down and tied my hands in the front with a long rope. He kicked me in the thigh and hurt me very much.

They forced me to walk in front of them. The tall settler held the end of the rope that was tied to my hands, like you would lead cattle. He kept leading me and didn’t care if I stumbled or fell. The whole way, he beat me, kicked me, cursed and screamed at me. It seemed like he was enjoying it. Another settler led my brother Mahmoud, who was untied because they didn’t have any more rope. I heard him swear at him and beat him as well.

Every time we asked where they were taking us and what they wanted, they just yelled: “Silence! silence!” and then beat us more. They swore and screamed at us in Hebrew. We didn’t understand anything. The last blow I got was a very hard slap in the right ear from the tall settler. The impact was so strong that I felt dizzy, heard ringing in my ears, and saw sparks. I went mad. I wanted to react but he threatened me at gunpoint and told me to obey and keep walking.

They didn’t identify themselves or present any ID cards, and we felt that it was a kidnapping. We didn’t know where they were taking us and we were terrified, especially since they pounced on us while we were working in the grove and we’d had no previous confrontation with them. They took photos and videos of us the whole way. They took away our mobile phones so we couldn’t call anyone.

In a testimony his brother Mahmoud gave to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, he recounted:

Mahmoud Salah. Photo courtesy of witness

About a kilometer from Halamish, a settlement security vehicle and a military patrol jeep was waiting for the settlers. They handed us over to them and told the soldiers about the “proof” they had of the cattle theft. Afterwards, we were taken in the settlement security vehicle to an army base. They sat us on a bench near a soldiers’ container. None of the soldiers spoke with us or asked us anything. After five hours of detention, an officer arrived, gave us back our mobile phones and told us to leave.

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Tear gas from a canister fired by soldiers. Photo by village resident
Tear gas from a canister fired by soldiers. Photo by village resident

Qusrah, Nablus District: Violent escalation – settlers stone homes, soldiers join in with tear gas and “rubber” bullets

Residents of Qusrah have often experienced the wrath of their “neighbors” from the settlement outpost of Esh-Kodesh, which was established in 2000 about two kilometers from the southern part of the village. Yet even they did not see an attack coming under lockdown, after three residents were diagnosed with coronavirus. The settlers thought otherwise. On Monday afternoon, 6 April 2020, around 4:30 P.M., they began attacking homes in the southern section with stones. 

The perpetrators were 12 settlers who came from the direction of the outpost. The homeowners called other residents for help and dozens quickly arrived, chasing the settlers back towards the outpost, which was built, unsurprisingly, on land belonging to the villages of Qusrah and Jalud. 

A few minutes later, about five soldiers arrived, followed by the same settlers. The soldiers fired tear-gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets at the residents, and a confrontation ensued that lasted until sundown. Around the time the settlers retreated again towards the outpost, one child from the village was injured by gas inhalation and two adults were hit by rubber-coated metal bullets. All three were treated on site. 

Isma'il Hlaiqah's leg, after a dog bit him
Isma'il Hlaiqah's leg, after a dog bit him

A-Shuyukh, Habron District: Settlers try to establish “mini-outpost” on farmland and violently drive Palestinians from their land

In another attempt to establish “facts on the ground”, settlers piled building materials on a plot of land belonging to the Hlaiqah family, set up a tent and stuck rods in the ground in preparation for a fence. On Monday morning, 6 April 2020, around 11:30 A.M., the family learned of the takeover attempt when they found the equipment. The 350-dunam plot [1 dunam = 1,000 sq. meters] lies on the outskirts of a-Shuyukh, a Palestinian town not far from Hebron. 

In 1983, the settlement of Asfar was established east of the town. 

The family called about 50 relatives and other residents, who helped them uproot the rods and burn the tent. A few minutes later, about five settlers headed towards them, some bearing firearms and others tasers or pepper spray. The settlers, who had two dogs with them, shouted at the residents and tried to drive them away. When their demands were refused, one of them knocked Isma’il Hlaiqah (52) to the ground and one of the dogs bit him in the leg. 

A few minutes later, another 15 or so settlers arrived, also carrying electroshock weapon and pepper spray, along with three dogs. The settlers set their dogs on the residents and a confrontation ensued with mutual stone-throwing. One settler attacked Nabil al-Mashani (41) and stunned him with a taser. 

In a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’bari, al-Mashani recounted what happened:

Before we managed to speak with them, they set the dogs on us. One of the settlers knocked Isma’il down. Then a dog bit him in the leg and he bled. I started hitting the dog to defend Isma’il and one of the settlers tased me in the chest. 

After about half an hour of confrontation, some 20 soldiers arrived from the direction of Asfar. They started firing stun grenades and tear-gas canisters at residents and demanding they leave. The residents, some of whom were suffering from inhaling the gas, complied and continued to watch the plot from about one kilometer away. 

Hlaiqah was rushed in a private car to the “Riham Dawabsheh” Governmental Hospital, where his leg was treated. He was later transferred to a medical clinic in Halhul and given a rabies shot. 

The settlers and soldiers left the area and the residents returned home. 

A shattered window in Muhammad Shreiteh's truck. Photo courtesy of the witness
A shattered window in Muhammad Shreiteh's truck. Photo courtesy of the witness

‘Ein al-Harasha, Ramallah District: Settlers throw stones at children, threaten resident and smash truck windshield

The ‘Ein al-Harasha spring,  which lies east of the town of al-Mazra’ah al-Qibliyah, attracts many visitors. On Monday, 6 April 2020, six masked settlers, one them armed, started throwing stones at four Palestinian 12-year-olds strolling by the spring. The terrified children fled back to the town. 

Muhammad Shreiteh (57) lives not far from the spring. When he heard the commotion, he went outside and saw children running and settlers chasing them with stones in their hands. After the children managed to get away, the settlers turned their sights on Shreiteh and started hurling stones at him. He hid behind his truck, which was parked out front. The settlers smashed the truck windows and then, apparently satisfied, and headed towards the Haresha outpost. 

The Haresha outpost was built in 1997 on land privately-owned by Palestinian residents, about 400 meters from the town. 

Fearing the settlers would return, Shreiteh alerted the municipality and reported the attack to the Palestinian DCO. When a group of soldiers arrived from the direction of the outpost, he quickly went over to lodge a complaint, but they sent him away:

I thought the soldiers had come because I’d called the DCO, so I went over to them. But they sent me away and one of them yelled at me as if I was to blame. I obeyed their order with a heavy heart. I don’t know how I can fix the truck, it will cost at least 2,000 shekels (~560 USD). I’ve been out of work  since March and we’re a family of nine. I have 300 (~85 USD) shekels left in my pocket. That won’t last even a week. 

Nobody compensates us for the damage the settlers cause and the insurance company doesn’t recognize such incidents. What can I do?!
 

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A farmer from Qaryut against the background of Hayovel outpost. January 2020. Courtesy of the Musa family.
A farmer from Qaryut against the background of Hayovel outpost. January 2020. Courtesy of the Musa family.

Qaryut, Nablus District: Settlers and soldiers drive farmers out of their land with stun grenades, tear gas, pepper spray and falsehoods

Settlers repeatedly rely on the help of soldiers to drive Palestinians out of their farmland. On Sunday, 5 April 2020, two residents of Qaryut were working their land east of the village. The chief of security for the settlement of ‘Eli arrived, bearing arms and escorted by soldiers, and the landowners were driven off with stun grenades and tear-gas canisters. 

The plot in question lies in Area B, about 500 meters from the village homes and some 300 meters from the access road that leads to HaYovel, a settlement outpost established in 1998. The soldiers told the two residents they needed prior coordination with the DCO to work the land – a false claim, as coordination is not required in Area B. 

Until recently, landowners in the area worked their land undisturbed. Yet in March, the chiefs of security for ‘Eli and HaYovel began them driving out, with the help of soldiers. On 11 March, the HaYovel security chief and three soldiers arrived at the plots and forced a village resident and two workers who were planting olive seedlings to leave. On 13 March, about five soldiers arrived and hurled stun grenades at a family working their land. To make their intention clear, they sprayed one resident with pepper spray and forced them all to go home. 
 

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