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.
‘Ein a-Duyuk al-Foqa: Settlers attack shepherds and drive them off pastureland
On 16 March 2020, Muhammad Rashaydah, 63, from ,’Ein a-Duyuk al-Foqa, set out to graze his flock west of the village. Other men and women from the area were also grazing their flocks in the vicinity. After about an hour, a car arrived with two settlers. One of them, Omer Atidiya, built a farm in the area. The settlers shouted at the shepherds, threatened them and chased the sheep. Atidiya shouted at the female shepherds that this was his land and demanded they leave. The settlers drove in between the animals, and the shepherds had to leave with their flocks.
This is not unusual. Residents of the village, who make their living from shepherding, suffer harassment and violence at the hands of settlers on an almost daily basis. Settlers attack them with stones, with their vehicles and even with drones, and drive them off their pastureland. Settlers also discard sheep carcasses near the community, creating severe odor pollution and a sanitation hazard.
‘Ein a-Duyuk al-Foqa, Jericho District, 16 March 2020: Settlers attack shepherds and drive them off pastureland.
Shortly after midnight on 15 March 2020, about ten settlers went into a lot in the southern part of the village of Huwarah, where heavy equipment belonging to ‘Abdallah ‘Odeh, a local resident, was parked. The settlement of Yitzhar is located about a kilometer away. The settlers broke windows and slashed the tires of 12 bulldozers and other heavy machinery, causing an estimated 40,000 NIS (~11,170 USD) worth of damage.
Huwarah, Nablus District, 15 March 2020: Settlers damage heavy equipment.
Waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of stones shattering your windows
On 12 March 2020, at around 1:00 A.M., villagers from ‘Einabus woke up to a terrifying sound: stones flying everywhere. Some shattered windows in the homes of the Hamad and Rashdan families. A parked car was also pelted with stones.
The homes that were attacked lie in al-Biada, in the western part of ‘Einabus. The settlement of Yitzhar was built two kilometers away from the neighborhood. The victims manage to catch a glimpse of their attackers – about twenty settlers who fled in the direction of the settlement.
Jinan Hamad, 48, spoke about the attack in a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i:
‘I got up at night to get a drink of water. As I was going back to my room, I heard glass shatter in the kitchen. A stone hit the kitchen wall, another landed in the sink, and a third hit the refrigerator. My whole body was shaking with fear because if a stone had hit me, I might not have survived. I got even more stressed when my husband and sons went outside to run after the settlers who attacked us. I was afraid they’d shoot them”.
In ‘Einabus, whose residents are forced to live under the threatening shadow of Yitzhar, B’Tselem has documented 14 incidents of settler violence since 2009. Locals can list off the most traumatic of them, some of which took place under the protection of the military and with soldiers present: residents and homes attacked; classrooms in the village elementary school torched, tractors and vehicles torched and vandalized, nearly 300 olive trees burnt, livestock slaughtered, tires punctured and hate graffiti sprayed on homes and on the mosque. We have reported on some of these incidents over the years.
‘Einabus, 12 March 2020 – settlers from Yitzhar throw stones, shattering windows of two homes and a car.
Huwarah: With military protection, settlers throw stones at Palestinian homes, breaking windows
On Wednesday, 11 March 2020, soldiers closed the Huwarah checkpoint and a section of Route 60 (the Yitzhar Road) for Palestinian traffic for about two hours starting at 11:00 A.M. After the closure, about 25 settlers gathered in the traffic circle at the turn-off into Yitzhar, with a military escort. The settlers threw stones at village houses near the area, breaking windows of one house and of three parked cars.
Huwarah, Nablus District, 11 March 2020: With military protection, settlers throw stones at Palestinian homes, breaking windows.
On Tuesday, 10 March 2020, two residents of Turmusaya – Musa Abu ‘Awwad and his Son-in-law, Tareq a-Rifa’i – were driving on a dirt road that leads to their village. Tareq’s two-year-old twins, Adam and Nur, were in the car with them. When they were not far from the outpost of Adei Ad, three settlers drove up behind them on motorcycles, overtook the car and blocked their way.
The settlers dismounted and approached the car, yelling in Hebrew and Arabic: “Why are you here? What are you doing here? We’ll shoot you and your children!” They demanded to see the passengers’ ID cards and, after a verbal exchange, Abu ‘Awwad and a-Rifa’i handed them over. When they tried to get the cards back, the settlers were slow to return them and a loud altercation ensued, waking the twins, who began crying.
At that point, the incident escalated quickly. One settler put his hands out to pull Adam out of the back seat. After pushing and shoving, Abu ‘Awwad and a-Rifa’i managed to release him from his hands and get back into the car.
A-Rifa’i turned the key to start the car and flee, at which point one of the settlers broke the back window of the car with the butt of his rifle.
As they drove away, the passengers saw the settlers return to the outpost of Adei Ad.
Tareq a-Rifa’i described what he, his father-in-law and his sons went through on that difficult day in a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad:
After the assault, the kids were scared and upset. They couldn’t sleep that night. I couldn’t sleep either. I stayed up, unsettled, thinking about the incident. I had terrifying thoughts.
After I filed a complaint, an officer from the Israeli DCO contacted me and asked me about the incident. It was a conference call with a representative from the Palestinian DCO, and after I described what had happened, the officer said: “This act is unacceptable and shameful. Trying to hurt children is crossing a red line and can’t be tolerated”. Then he said: “We hope there won’t be any retaliation from your side...”
The officer promised me the incident would be investigated and asked me to file a complaint at the Israel Police station in Binyamin. I told him we weren’t troublemakers and that my children have American citizenship. I said: “These settlers are first of all harming you and your reputation, because they act like robbers and gangsters.” He said: “Yes... That’s the ‘hill-top youth’. Lawbreakers! We’re after them, and I promise you we’ll take care of it”.
10 March 2020, Turmusaya, settlers detain Palestinian car, threaten passengers, attempt to abduct a toddler and break car window with rifle butt.
Burin: Settlers attack home; soldiers protect them and fire tear gas at residents
Some 10 settlers, accompanied by about five soldiers, damaged a house under construction owned by Muntasser Mansur, on the eastern side of the village. The settlers vandalized three exterior walls of the house, broke sewage pipes and scattered cement sacks - all under the protection of soldiers, who fired tear-gas canisters at residents trying to protect the house. The damage caused by the settlers was estimated at 2,000 NIS (~560 USD).
Mansur’s house has been attacked and damaged by settlers several times. The Civil Administration has tried to prevent Mansur from building it and has given him several stop-work injunctions, although the house lies in Area B, where the Palestinian Authority holds planning jurisdiction and has given Mansur a building permit.
Burin, Nablus District, 10 March 2020: Settlers attack home; soldiers protect them and fire tear gas at residents.
On 8 March 2020, Musa Zeid (25) set out from a-Nu’eimeh with his brothers and sisters to graze their flock not far from the village. They were accompanied by activists from the Solidarity movement. A settler has taken over hundreds of hectares nearby and built an outpost named Havat Omer. As the shepherds were grazing their flock, the settler arrived and started to chase them with his truck, shouting and threatening to run over the flock. Luckily, the shepherds and the activists managed to escape unharmed.
A-Nu'eimeh, Jordan Valley, 8 March 2020: Settler attacks shepherds.
Burin: Settlers attack home at edge of village, soldiers open live fire at occupants
On Saturday, 7 March 2020, at around midday, ‘Ali ‘Eid (16) and his brother Osama (20) were at home on the eastern side of the village. Suddenly, about eight settlers started throwing stones at the house, shattering two windows and a security camera. The home is a target as it lies on the outskirts of the village, about a kilometer from the settlement of Har Bracha and the outpost of Giv’at Sneh Ya’akov, and about two kilometers from the settlement of Yitzhar. When the settlers started to withdraw, Ali opened a window to see what was going on. In response, a soldier fired a stun grenade at him. Village residents then gathered around the house to check on ‘Ali and his brother. The two climbed up to the roof to reassure the residents they weren't injured. When the soldiers noticed them, they began firing live rounds at them, and also fired tear-gas canisters and stun grenades at the residents gathered around the house. ‘Ali and his brother went back into the house, fortunately unharmed.
Burin, 7 March 2020: Settlers attack home at edge of village, soldiers open live fire at occupants.
Madama: Settlers attack home, soldiers fire live rounds in the air and tear-gas canisters at residents
On 7 March 2020, about 15 settlers, including the armed chief of security of Yitzhar, entered the village of Madama and started hurling stones at houses. Residents who heard the commotion went outside to see what was happening. As in other cases, some 15 soldiers summoned there began firing live rounds in the air and tear-gas canisters at the residents who had gathered to defend their homes.
In a verbal exchange that ensued, the soldiers detained a B’Tselem volunteer who was documenting the incident, confiscated his and another volunteer’s cameras and gave them to Yitzhar’s chief of security, who then erased some footage of the incident. Read more....
Madama, 7 March 2020: Settlers attack home, soldiers fire live rounds in the air and tear-gas canisters at residents.
Kafr a-Dik: Armed settlers “hike” with children in resident’s grove and break branches
On the morning of 2 March 2020, Taysir Naji (70) went to his olive grove, located west of the village, as he does every day. The settlement of Pedu’el was built about three kilometers from the grove, across the valley. When he got there, he found some 12 olive seedlings uprooted and lying on the ground and a group of about 40 settlers, including women, children and armed men.
Naji went up to one of the settlers, who was carrying a rifle, and asked why the seedlings had been broken. The settler denied the claim, threatened Naji and demanded he leave. Fearing for his safety, Naji left, alerted his son and reported what had happened to the village council.
After about 15 minutes, Naji’s son, ‘Abed (24), arrived. He went over to the settlers and asked them to leave the family’s grove. The settlers refused and in the ensuing argument, one drew his weapon and threatened ‘Abed. At that point, about 15 village residents arrived and the settlers left. Naji filed a complaint with the Palestinian DCO but has yet to hear back from the Israeli authorities.
Kafr a-Dik, 2 March 2020: Armed settlers “hike” with children in resident’s grove and break branches.
“The settlers want to take over my land, but I’m determined to keep working it”
Jamal Salameh, 60, from the Palestinian village of Bruqin, has high-yielding land. Three years ago, he planted 100 olive trees, which grow alongside pomegranate, fig, loquat, and guava trees and vegetable crops. Salameh visits his plot daily and when he arrived there on Sunday, 1 March 2020, he immediately noticed something was amiss: 20 olive and 60 cucumber seedlings had been uprooted and the branches of three olive trees broken. A shepherd from the village who passed by said he had seen three settlers in the plot the day before.
Salameh replanted the olive seedlings and notified the municipality of Bruqin and the ministry of agriculture in Salfit of the damage.
Two years ago, 40 olive trees were destroyed in Salameh’s plot; nine years ago, settlers set fire to some 400 olive trees on farmland belonging to residents of Bruqin, including Salameh. They were then spotted fleeing towards the settlement of Bruchin.
In a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi, Salameh described the settlers’ damage to Palestinian property in the Bruqin area:
“This recurring aggression has one purpose – to remove me from the land, so that I don’t work the land or raise crops on it. The settlers want the land for themselves. They want to prevent my access and take it over. I am determined to keep cultivating my land, even if the violent acts continue. In the past, I filed complaints but there were no results. This time I decided not to file a complaint because I’m convinced they will do nothing to the perpetrators and I won’t get any justice”.
Brukin, 1 March 2020 – settlers uproot and break dozens of olive and cucumber seedlings.
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Israel’s regime of occupation is inextricably bound up in human rights violations. B’Tselem strives to end the occupation, as that is the only way forward to a future in which human rights, democracy, liberty and equality are ensured to all people, both Palestinian and Israeli, living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.