Israeli settler fires in the air near Burin school, others throw stones; soldiers come to scene but do nothing
The Palestinian village of Burin is located east of the city of Nablus in the West Bank. In 1983, the settlement of Yitzhar was built on village land to the east of the village itself. Route 60, the West Bank’s main traffic artery, lies between the village and the settlement. Burin residents have suffered many violent attacks at the hands of the settlers ever since Yitzhar was established. The Burin Boys and Girls High School has also been subjected to attacks. The school is located a kilometer away from Route 60 and a military post was erected right beside it.
On 16 March 2017, at around 11:00 A.M., two settlers arrived at the school. According to eyewitness accounts, one of them climbed onto the fence, while the other stayed behind it. When the students came outside during recess, the settler who was on the fence started taking photos of them. He also threw stones, shouted and made obscene gestures at them. The students, who congregated in the school yard, responded to this provocation by throwing stones at the settler. At that point, he climbed down, and he and the other settler retreated about 700 meters away from the school. A few minutes later, another settler arrived. This settler was armed and is apparently a security guard at the adjacent settlement of Yitzhar. The settler who been standing behind the fence began throwing stones in the direction of the school. A few seconds later, the armed settler fired one shot in the air. It was at that point that three soldiers arrived on the scene. They stood beside the settlers without arresting any of them, or at the very least, removing them from the area.
Instead, a DCO (District Coordination Office) representative called the school principal. Further to the telephone call, the vice-principal went out to speak to the soldiers. The soldiers showed the vice-principal photos taken earlier by the settler who had climbed on the fence, and said that the students had thrown stones at people traveling on Route 60 earlier. About half an hour after the incident began, school staff dismissed the students to avoid an escalation.
In a testimony given to B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i on 20 March 2017, Muhammad ‘Omari, a teacher at the school said:
On Thursday, 16 March 2017, at 10:50 A.M., after the recess bell rang, I started collecting my books and notebooks, and the students started going out to the yard. Suddenly, I heard horns honking and a commotion outside. I hurried to the yard, and saw students congregating in the soccer field. There was a settler on the school wall. He was looking into the school area and then he started taking photos with a phone or a camera, I couldn’t tell which, and making obscene gestures at the students. When I went up to the students, they told me the settler had shouted at them and cursed them. The students started throwing stones at the settler, and the other teachers and I tried to put an end to it and get them back into the classrooms.
I saw two more settlers. One was wearing black and holding a large firearm. The other was dressed in black and white. A few minutes later, three or four soldiers came and stood in the jeep parking lot which is by the military post. Then they started coming toward the settlers. Parked in the lot were a settlers’ white minibus and the settlement security guard’s car. Then I saw the settler who was dressed in black raise his firearm and fire a shot or two. I’m not sure, because at that moment, what I wanted most of all was to ensure the students were safe and that they wouldn’t get hurt.
Tharwah ‘Eid, 35, is a B’Tselem camera project volunteer, whose home overlooks the school. On 30 March 2017, she spoke to B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i about the incident:
On Thursday, 16 March 2017, at around 11:00 A.M., I was at home when I heard a commotion from the direction of the school. I looked out of my kitchen window and saw students gathering in the school yard. I saw a man standing on the school fence, and someone else behind him.
At first, I thought they were local villagers, but after the man threw stones at the students, I got out the camera I have from B’Tselem’s camera project in which I’ve been volunteering with for several years now. I went out to the porch that overlooks the school and started filming. When I looked through the camera lens, I saw they were settlers. One of them was wearing a white shirt and the other was wearing a black shirt and jeans. I saw the students throwing stones at them to get them away from the school.
In the meantime, the settlement guard arrived in his car. He was dressed in black and carrying a large firearm. He fired a shot, and my hands shook because I was worried someone had been hurt. I was particularly worried about my son Dawood, who is 12 years old and goes to this school, but I kept filming.
At that point, an Israeli jeep drove up from the direction of the Yitzhar road (the road from Yitzhar to Route 60), and about four soldiers got out. Then other military jeeps arrived one by one, until there were four or five jeeps there.
The teachers got the students back into the classrooms. By then, a few parents and some people from the local council had arrived at the school. I saw them going up to the soldiers and talking to them. About 30 minutes later, students started leaving the school.
The video footage, and the testimonies collected by B’Tselem’s field researcher indicate that the settlers came up to the school, threw stones and fired in the air unhindered despite the proximity to the military post. Not only did the soldiers who arrived at the scene not arrest or remove the settlers, when they spoke with the vice-principal they contended that the students had thrown stones.
The soldiers’ conduct in this incident is yet another illustration of how the military, with consistent backing from high-ranking officials, functions in the West Bank almost exclusively in the service of the settler population. Notwithstanding that it is their duty to do so, not only did the soldiers fail to lift a finger to protect Palestinians, they even served as a mouthpiece for the settlers’ allegations. This incident also gives further insight into the double standard Israeli security forces apply to stone-throwing: If a Palestinian throws stones, it is clearly a case of immediate danger and the threat must be neutralized, including by use of lethal force. Whereas if the assailant is a settler, and even if he fires a gun, the assumption is that there must some justification for his actions and the military can just stand by and watch the scene unfold from the sidelines.