'Aqraba, Nablus District: Settlers plow Palestinian farmers’ land; soldiers and police drive farmers out and arrest one
On Monday, 11 January 2021, at around midday, residents of the villages of ‘Aqraba and Majdal Bani Fadel in the She’b al-Hayah area learned that settlers were working their plots of land. The settlement of Gittit was established in 1972 several hundred meters from the area, on land belonging to ‘Aqraba.
Dozens of village residents reached the area and encountered five settlers, including the security coordinator of Gittit, working the land with two tractors and a digger. A few minutes later, soldiers and police officers arrived and tried to drive the Palestinians out. After clashes broke out between the villagers and the settlers, which included mutual shoving, the officers arrested ‘Aqraba resident Ra’d Bani Fadel (36), claiming he had pushed a settler.
At around 4:00 P.M., faced with no other choice, the residents left the area. The soldiers and officers stayed and guarded the settlers, who continued working the land until evening. Bani Fadel was taken after his arrest to the Binyamin police station and from there to Ofer Prison, where he was held until his release on 22 January 2021 after posting bail.
Two days later, on 13 January, dozens of village residents gathered again on their land. At around 10:00 A.M., Muhammad Zein a-Din (70) and his son ‘Iz a-Din Zein a-Din (46), residents of Majdal Bani Fadel, also went to land they own in the area. As there is no paved access to the land, the two left their car by the roadside and continued for about 500 meters on foot.
After they had gone several meters, two settlers suddenly appeared behind them and hit the father, Muhammad, on the head and shoulder with a club. Muhammad fell down and saw one of the settlers run towards his son, Zein a-Din, and hit him in the head with the club while the other settler tried to knock him down. At that point, the father picked up a stone and threw it at the settlers in order to get them away from his son, while crying out for help. Soldiers quickly arrived but did not offer the two first aid and allowed the settlers to escape without arresting them. About 15 minutes later, an Israeli ambulance arrived and its crew gave the two men first aid. They were then taken in a village resident’s private car to a clinic in ‘Aqraba, and from there to hospital in Nablus, where they were X-rayed and had their wounds stitched. The two refused to stay in the hospital for observation for fear of the coronavirus.
To date, since the incident, all the residents have been prohibited from entering their land until they present documents proving ownership of the land, although they have been cultivating it for many years. Meanwhile, the settlers continue working the land unimpeded.
In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i, Ra’d Bani Fadel (36), a father of three from ‘Aqraba, described the attack on the farmers on 11 January 2021:
I work as a public relations and project manager at the SATCO electric company. My brother Ayman (53) and I inherited a plot from our grandfather. It’s located on the village's eastern side, in an area called al-Hayah, and we plant crops there every year. In 1982, the settlers tried to take over our land, but the Israeli court ruled that it’s outside the boundaries of the settlement of Gittit and wouldn’t let the settlers take it.
On Monday, 11 January 2021, at around 2:30 P.M., my brother Ayman and I went to our plot after a local shepherd called and told us that settlers were plowing our land. I called the Israeli police and the Palestinian DCO and asked them to come to the plot. When we arrived, we saw two settlers working on two tractors, as well as other settlers, one of them Gittit’s security coordinator. The settlers said they were working the Land of Israel and that it belongs to them. I tried to explain that I inherited this land from my father, who inherited it from my grandfather, that we work it all year round and plant crops on it, and that settlers or soldiers have never come there. Nothing helped. They continued plowing our land and kept taunting us and saying that this is their country and the land belongs to them. They said that our use of the land all these years was temporary, until they got it back.
The military and the police arrived and I thought they’d arrest the settlers. But as soon as the settlers spoke to the soldiers and the police officers, the officers told us to leave. We agreed on condition that the settlers leave, too, because it made no sense for us to go while they stayed and worked our land. But the settlers refused to leave. About six to eight of us stood in protest in front of the tractor, but it didn’t bother the settler, who kept driving until he almost ran us over. We moved aside at the last minute. We didn’t know what to do. We asked the police, the military and the Palestinian DCO for help, but nothing helped. Then Gittit’s security coordinator starting shouting at us and pushed me. I pushed him back, and then he hit me on the nape of the neck. It hurt a lot. I yelled at them, “Get out of my land,” and pushed some settlement official who was there. In response, he talked with the officers and demanded they arrest me, which they did. An officer came over and handcuffed me. I thought he would only detain me on the spot, but he took me to a police car that drove me to the Binyamin police station.
At the police station, I was held in a room for about five hours. An interrogator tried to frame me in every possible way for things I hadn’t done. He accused me of throwing stones and attacking an official, but I denied everything. After the interrogation, they transferred me to Ofer Prison. The next day, I was taken back to the Binyamin police station. The same interrogator questioned me again about the same things and threatened to put me in prison. I held back and didn’t react, of course. They took me back to Ofer Prison and I stayed there until 22 January 2021. During that time, several court hearings were held. In the last one, two villagers who had witnessed the incident came and testified. I was released on bail and told that I'd have to show up if a hearing was scheduled. I haven’t received any summons so far.
It was a very rough time. I was attacked on my own land and then labeled a criminal. I have a heart condition and need to take medicine regularly. Even though I mentioned that point during the medical checkup at the prison, they ignored it and I didn’t get my medicine the whole time I was in there.
In testimonies they gave B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i, Muhammad and ‘Iz a-Din Zein a-Din described the attack on them two days later.
Muhammad Zein a-Din (70), a father of 12, recounted:
I own 30 dunams of land in the Tal al-Khashabeh area, south of ‘Aqraba and north of Majdal Bani Fadel. Every year I plow the land and sow wheat in it. This year, because the rain is late, I haven’t sown anything yet. Because the weather forecast says it will rain in the next few days, I was planning to sow the wheat like I do every year. I always plant all sorts of grains there and never have any problems.
On Wednesday, 13 January 2021, at around 9:30 A.M., I went to the area with my son ‘Iz a-Din, after we heard on the mosque loudspeakers that settlers were plowing our land. Our plot is about 500 meters away from the road. Because the way there isn’t paved, we left our cars by the roadside and advanced on foot.
I’d only gone several meters when my son, who was walking ahead of me, told me to watch out. The second I turned to look back, I was hit hard in the head and fell down. There were settlers there whom I hadn’t even noticed.
The settler hit me with a club several times on my hand and back. Then he went over to my son and hit him in the head with the club while the other settler held him. I picked up a stone and threw it at the settlers to get them off my son. I yelled and called out for help. I felt I was about to black out and didn’t know what was happening around me. Meanwhile, about 10 soldiers and several police officers arrived.
Muhammad’s son, ‘Iz a-Din Zein a-Din (46), a father of seven, recalled:
One of the settlers hit my father on the head with a club. He fell to the ground, and the settler beat him several times in the hands and back. When I saw him like that, I went mad and started yelling and calling for help, but one settler chased me and hit me in the head with the club. The other settler joined him and tried to knock me to the ground, and I tried to get away from them. At one point, I moved my head and the club hit the other settler in the head. I took a few hits in the arms and legs and fell down. I felt dizzy. My father threw a stone at the settlers to get them away from me. Meanwhile, soldiers arrived, but they didn't take any notice of the fact that my father, an elderly man who can’t harm anyone, was lying there with blood all over his face. My head was bleeding, and all my clothes, even my shoes, were stained with blood.
Several villagers arrived, and more police officers, but they didn’t do anything. The settlers had vanished and I couldn’t see them. The officers must have told them to leave because their vehicle, a Mitsubishi pickup truck, was still in the area. One of the soldiers gave us bandages, and we stayed there to wait for the ambulance. About 15 minutes later, an Israeli ambulance arrived and its crew gave us first aid.
One of the villagers took us in his car to a clinic in ‘Aqraba. From there, they transferred us to hospital in Nablus, where we were X-rayed because of our head injuries. Then they stitched my wound with 16 stitches and also stitched my father’s wound. The doctor prescribed us painkillers and asked us to stay in the hospital for observation, but we both refused. It’s scary to be in hospital right now because of the pandemic.
We came home with bandaged heads and blood-stained clothes. The head of the village council and other residents who came to visit us told us that the settlers had plowed the land. They also plowed our plot, which covers 30 dunams. Apparently, they plowed an area of about 2,000 dunams yesterday. Two large tractors were working there and another bulldozer that cleared stones. They leveled the land and changed the surface so that it all became one big plot. They simply took over our land, calmly and quickly, under the watch of the military and the police.