Settlers and military continue their joint assaults on the village of ‘Urif with impunity
The village of ‘Urif, with a population of some 3,600, is located southwest of Nablus. Due to its proximity to the settlement of Yitzhar and its satellite outposts, village residents have been suffering for years from repeated attacks by settlers. The settlement was established in 1983, only about one kilometer from ‘Urif farmlands, and most of the settler attacks take place in farmland close to the village water tower, which is situated some 500 meters from its easternmost homes.
Over recent months, B'Tselem has documented three attacks by settlers in the area, some of which included the active participation of soldiers. In March, settlers assaulted residents of the village and the soldiers who accompanied them shot and killed one resident and injured a boy aged 14. In April, settlers cut down 57 trees on land belonging to villagers and punctured the tires of a car and a truck. At the beginning of June, settlers injured a shepherd and assaulted other residents, while soldiers joined in the attack, injuring another resident.
Since then, B'Tselem has documented four more incidents. In one case, settlers and members of the security forces assaulted residents of ‘Urif, and the settlers torched 159 fruit trees. In two other incidents, settlers damaged cars belonging to villagers, burning two and vandalizing the tires of two others. In another incident, settlers built a wooden shed on private land belonging to villagers.
The repeated attacks by settlers from Yitzhar and its outposts against ‘Urif and the adjacent Palestinian villages are intended to usurp ever-increasing areas of Palestinian land and to annex the land de facto to the settlements. In this way, Palestinians lose not only their land but also their livelihood. The conduct of the Israeli security forces - providing guarding services for the assailants and actively participating in attacks, repeatedly sends Palestinians a message of complete disregard for their lives, safety and property. These attacks have become a violent routine, but this does not make them any less serious. On the contrary: the persistence of this violence is not only entirely unacceptable, but also reveals that it is neither capricious nor temporary. Rather, it is part of an integrated policy which sees the state, through the military and the settlers – engaging in continued efforts, over time, to dispossess as many Palestinians as possible, driving them to leave their land “voluntarily” so that it can be seized.
The following are description of the incidents and excerpts from the testimonies collected from residents of ‘Urif by B'Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i:
26 June 2018: Settlers vandalize car tires and graffiti slogans
In the early morning of 26 June 2018, settlers arrived at the home of the Ghaleb family on the northeast outskirts of the village. They punctured all the tires on two cars belonging to the family and graffitied “Jews don’t remain silent” on an adjacent wall. The settlers then moved on to a pigeon coop owned by Muhammad Safdi, a resident of the village, and graffitied slogans on it: “Enemies live here – expel or kill” and “Remember that the Lord your God gives you strength to act valiantly.”
Ghaleb ‘Amer, 59, married with five children, stated in a testimony taken by B'Tselem on the day of the incident:
At about 6:30 A.M. this morning I left my house as usual with my son Muhammad, 25, to travel to work in Ramallah. When we went outside, we saw all four tires on each of our two cars, which were parked across from the house, were flat. I immediately called ‘Urif police, the Palestinian DCO, and the village council.
‘Adel al-‘Amer from the village council came over straight away and suggested that we check around to see if any slogans had been graffitied. Less than 30 meters from our house, we saw a slogan in Hebrew on a supporting wall of the access road to the house, and about 500 meters east of my home we found some more slogans in Hebrew on a pigeon coop belonging to one of the villagers.
My son had spare tires for his car, so he changed all the tires and drove to work. I stayed at home and missed a day’s work, because I didn’t have tires and I wanted to wait for the representatives from the Israeli DCO.
4 July 2018: Settlers build wooden shed on village land
On the morning of 4 July 2018, around six settlers accompanied by soldiers came to land belonging to the village and built a wooden shed approximately 500 meters from the homes in one of the eastern neighborhoods of the village. The villagers attempted to remove the settlers from the area, but the soldiers fired rubber bullets at them and threw tear gas canisters. Since the shed was put up, the settlers have been present on the site almost every day. The villagers are concerned that a new settlement point is being established on the site with the military’s support.
6 July 2018: Attack by settlers and soldiers, 159 trees broken and torched
At 3:00 P.M. on 6 July 2018, around 40 settlers, accompanied by eight to 10 soldiers and Border Police officers, appeared on ‘Urif land, some 100 meters from another neighborhood on the eastern side of the village. Most of the settlers were masked and some carried wooden sticks and metal pipes. The settlers began to torch fields and cut down trees. Fifteen more soldiers and Border Police officers gradually arrived on the scene. Some village residents who observed what was happening alerted others and residents began throwing stones at the settlers in an attempt to drive them away. Security forces threw tear gas cannisters at the residents and fired rubber bullets, injuring one resident in the head. The injured man was evacuated to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus for medical treatment. In addition, the security forces detained a photojournalist who is a resident of the village and who attempted to document the incidents, restraining his hands.
As the incident wound down, the settlers and security forces entered the residential neighborhood. The settlers threw stones at village residents, while the security forces threw tear gas canisters. The clashes continued until the early evening. The residents later discovered that the settlers had broken and torched 159 trees belonging to five families in the village. The vandalized trees were mostly olive, and included some fig, almond, and pomegranate trees, as well as vines. An Israeli fire truck that arrived at the scene only extinguished the fire close to the wooden shed the settlers had put up two days earlier on the village land.
In a testimony taken on 8 July 2018, Samir Sawalmeh, 62, a retiree who is married with three children, described the incident:
At about 3:00 P.M. on Friday, 6 July 2018, I was at home when I heard people talking loudly outside. I looked out the window and saw dozens of settlers torching our land, about 100 meters from my home. I don’t know why they were doing this. Most of them had their shirts over their faces and some were carrying wooden sticks and metal pipes. They advanced toward us, accompanied by a few soldiers. We watched what they were doing from the window. I saw that the settlers had also broken olive trees.
Later, as the settlers and soldiers moved closer to the area around our house, I opened the window and shouted at one of the soldiers: “Look what they’re doing! They’re breaking our olive trees and burning them.” But the soldier didn’t do anything. He just shouted at me to go back inside. I also saw one of the settlers breaking trees on land belonging to our neighbors, Muhammad Shehadeh and ‘Issam a-Safdi.
A few village residents came to the scene to put out the fire and drive away the settlers. Clashes erupted between them and the soldiers, who tried to prevent the residents from protecting their land and putting out the fire. The soldiers came closer to the village homes, towards my house. They fired rubber and live bullets in the air and threw tear gas canisters. The settlers stayed about 20 meters behind the soldiers and went on destroying trees without anyone stopping them. The clashes continued until some more soldiers arrived and moved the settlers away. They also threw tear gas canisters toward the village and fired live rounds in the air.
The next day, I went out to our land with my wife, about 100 meters from our home, to check on the trees. They burned seven olive trees, nine almond trees, three vines, and two fig trees. All these trees were burned in front of our eyes, but we couldn’t save them.
In a testimony taken on 8 July 2018, Ahmad Safdi, 20, who is single and works as a construction laborer, explained how he was injured in the head during the clashes:
When I heard about the clashes I came to the area and saw several people from the village throwing stones at settlers who had managed to come close to the homes, in order to drive they way. I also saw several fires on the villagers’ land. The soldiers were firing rubber bullets and throwing tear gas canisters at the villagers, but did nothing to the settlers. In fact, they protected them. Every time we tried to move the settlers away, the soldiers fired rubber bullets at us. We’d approach the settlers, and then when the soldiers saw us we’d run away and hide between the houses in the area. The soldiers approached the houses and continued to fire live ammunition and rubber bullets in our direction from a distance of about 30 meters. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my head and I started bleeding heavily. They took me to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus in a Red Crescent ambulance. They said that I’d been hit by a rubber bullet that hadn’t penetrated my head. The doctor stitched me up and I was released around 9:00 P.M. that night.
In a testimony taken on 8 July 2018, Ass’ad ‘Odeh, 23, a freelance photojournalist and resident of ‘Urif, described how the soldiers prevented him from documenting the clashes and detained him for an hour:
When I reached the area, I saw the settlers, Border Police officers, and soldiers, and I saw a fire about a kilometer east of the ‘Urif water reservoir. There was an Israeli fire truck there that was putting out the fire, which had reached a small wooden structure the settlers had erected on village land, about 500 meters from the homes in the village. I was wearing my press vest, but when I started to film, from a distance of a few meters from the soldiers, they shouted at me. I kept on filming and the soldiers weren’t happy about it and moved toward me. I tried to stand somewhere else while residents from the village were attempting to dodge the soldiers’ bullets. The soldiers and settlers were moving closer and closer to the homes. The soldiers were firing tear gas and live ammunition in the air and toward us. They were positioned about 20 meters away from me. When I tried to film some settlers who were breaking olive trees, two Border Police officers came right up to me. One of them held my hand behind my back and told the other one in Hebrew to put zip ties on me and take me somewhere. I realized that they were arresting me.
They handcuffed me and were going to lead me toward the settlers. I refused, and they put me next to the village reservoir. I saw the settlers continuing to burn the residents’ trees and break olive saplings, while the Border Police officers watched them and did nothing to stop them. There was also another group of soldiers who were standing between the settlers and the village residents, preventing the residents from approaching to stop the destruction of the trees.
They held me for about an hour. Then two soldiers came and took off the zip ties and released me. I decided to go home, because by that stage the clashes had moved from the farmland to the area around the residents’ homes and there’s no way to film in such a situation without standing right next to the soldiers. Obviously, they wouldn’t have let me do that, and I didn’t want to risk getting shot or attacked by the settlers.
13 July 2018: Two cars torched and slogans sprayed
A week later, on 13 July 2018, at about 3:00 A.M., settlers torched two cars belonging to Ziad Shehadeh, a resident of ‘Urif whose home is situated on the main road connecting the village to ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah. The settlers graffitied “Watch out!” in Arabic on the fence around the family’s home. The home is approximately 1.5 kilometers from the settlement of Yitzhar.
In a testimony taken on 15 July 2018, Shehadeh, 33, a teacher at the school in the village of ‘Awarta who is married with two children, described the moment when he discovered that his cars had been torched and the impact the incident has had on him and his family:
At about 3:00 A.M. on Friday, 13 July 2018, I was coming home from a party for a friend of mine who was getting married. I parked my Citroen in front of the house. After I took a shower, my wife Rajaa told me that she could hear voices outside. Then we heard an explosion. I looked out the window in our living room and saw both my cars going up in flames. I saw two settlers about 20 meters from my home walking to the north, toward the settlement of Yitzhar. I shouted to my neighbor Mahfuz Shehadeh to help. I shouted to him from inside my house, because I was afraid that there might still be settlers around. But he didn’t wake up, so I had to go outside to call him. I asked my wife to lock the door immediately behind me. I tried to put out the fire using a water hose from the garden, but there wasn’t any water. I knocked on my neighbor’s door until he woke up. We didn’t manage to get any water and the flames were getting higher. We tried to use fire-extinguishers. In the meantime, some other relatives of mine from the village came to help us put out the fire. After about 40 minutes a fire truck arrived. The fire had already completely burned both my cars. We saw that they’d graffitied “Watch out!” in Arabic, together with a Star of David.
The Citroen cost NIS 103,000, which I was paying in installments, and the Opel cost NIS 20,000. At about 9:00 A.M., some police officers came with a few soldiers. They took statements from me, my wife, and the neighbors and photographed the scene of the incident. I filed a complaint at the police station in ‘Urif.
Over the past couple of days, since this incident, we haven’t been able to sleep. My son Malik, who is four, refuses to go to sleep, and yesterday he stayed awake until 3:00 A.M. He also refuses to leave the house, because he gets scared when he sees the burnt cars. My wife also refused to sleep in our bedroom, so we’ve all been sleeping together in one room in the middle of the house. I couldn’t sleep and I phoned friends and asked them to come over, because I was afraid that the settlers would torch the whole house. They came over and we stayed on the roof watching the area. I don’t know what to do. We feel that our lives are in danger and we’re afraid to sleep. It’s very hard to feel unsafe inside your own home.
23 August 2018: Settlers damage a new car purchased by Ziad Shehadeh and two neighbors’ cars:
On 23 August 2018, settlers arrived again at the Shehadeh home and damaged a new car the family bought after two previous cars were torched by settlers. This time, the settlers broke two windows and punctured two tires. They also broke windows in a neighbor’s car and punctured tires in another neighbor’s car.
In a testimony she gave to B’Tselem on the day of the incident, Raja Shehadeh, Ziad Shehadeh’s wife, said:
Ever since the previous incident, my four-year-old son Malik, has developed a stutter. Now, after this experience, he’s fear-stricken again. He’s afraid to go from room to room inside the house and refuses to go out to the yard. He won’t sleep alone in his room and wakes up in a panic several times a night.
I’m also scared. I don’t open the windows and porch door anymore, not even during the day, because they can appear at any moment. It’s very difficult to live with this tension. I have a hard time sleeping, and my husband’s life has been turned upside down. He stays up at night to guard us, so that we feel safe. We’ve lost our sense of security, even inside our own house. It’s exhausting and nerve-wracking. We live on the ground floor and are very exposed. I’m scared the settlers will burn the house with us inside it.
My husband took out a loan to buy a new car, and now they’ve damaged this one too. Because of the situation, my husband has put the house up for sale, even though we finished building it just two years ago.
Filmed by 'Adel al-'Amer, village council worker and B'Tselem volunteer