Around 100 settlers from Bat Ayn settlement descended upon the Palestinian villages of Saffa and nearby Beit Ummar in the southern West Bank, shooting 17-year-old Yousef Fakhri Ikhlayl in his head, leaving him critically injured Friday Morning. Doctors have announced that Yousef is currently brain-dead in a Hebron hospital [UPDATE: Yousef died at Hebron’s hospital]. Israeli media reported that 30 settlers took a hike without coordinating with the army and clashes erupted when Palestinians threw stones at them once they entered the village of Safa.
A large group of armed settlers began shooting towards Palestinian homes in Saffa at around 9am, leaving one Palestinian injured and one brain dead. A second group of settlers attacked an area of Beit Ummar called Jodor. According to Palestinians sources, Yousef was shot in the head in this area while he was standing in grapes vines he had planted on his family’s land. Settlers also shot 16-year-old Bilal Mohammad Abed Al-Qador with live ammunition in his arm. His condition is stable.
Dozens of Palestinians from Beit Ummar and the nearby village of Surif began coming to the area in order to montior the situation. Seven army vehicles also arrived in the area and escorted the settlers back to Bat Ayn. At this time roughly, ten Israeli peace activists also arrived on the scene. Clashes broke out between Palestinian youth and the invading army jeeps but they were short. This is the second settler attack with live ammunition on Palestinians in as many days. On January 27th, Uday Maher Qadous was shot and killed in Iraq Burin, in the Nablus district, by armed settlers.
Yousef Fahkri Ikhlayl is from the village of Beit Ummar and has worked on initiatives with the Palestine Solidarity Project, an anti-occupation organization in Beit Ummar. In the summer of 2010, Yousef attended the Center for Freedom and Justice’s Freedom Flotilla Summer Camp where he engaged in educational projects, community service, and unarmed demonstrations against the Israeli occupation. In the fall of 2010 Yousef was a participant in a youth photography class also sponsored by the center.
Israeli media, quoting settler sources, said that settlers were on a hiking trip which they did not inform the army about. Without providing details on how the settlers were able to traverse a deep valley and find themselves in the middle of a Palestinian village which, coincidently, has been a target of settler violence for year, Israeli media reported that the settlers came under attack from rocks and responded by opening fire on the Palestinians. Haaretz quoted a Gush Etzyion settler council member saying the issue is the ‘right of Jews to travel their country.’
Haaretz also reported that Israeli police have confirmed that an Israeli shot and killed a 19 year old Palestinian from Iraq Burin. A confrontation broke out between settlers and Palestinians farming their land resulting in one Palestinian being shot. The Israeli has yet to be identified by police [UPDATE: Israeli media is reporting that two suspects were arrested] and one can doubt whether they ever face charges for his actions.
There are unconfirmed settler reports that the Israeli civil administration had issued to demolition orders for illegal structures in the extremist settlement of Bat Ayn this week. These orders, a mainstay of life for Palestinians in the West Bank but unusual for Israeli settlers, could have provided the motivation for the attack on Saffa yesterday morning. The village of Bat Ayn, home to a number extremist Jewish setters, has had a long history of confrontation with neighboring village of Saffa. The main farmland of Safa sits in a deep valley between the two locations. In 2008 and 2009, confrontations regularly broke out between settlers and Palestinian farmers often resulting in direct army intervention against Palestinians.
Video of one demonstration in the farmland of Safa