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'The entire world knows the settlers have declared war on us'

In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians living near extremist settlements have been seeing a drastic increase in violence. Israeli authorities refuse to take responsibility, while the villagers are left to fend for themselves.

By Rami Younis and Oren Ziv

Palestinian women walk by a wall that had been hit by price tag graffiti. The graffiti reads: 'Evacuating Yitzhar = price tag.' (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian women walk by a wall that had been hit by price tag graffiti. The graffiti reads: ‘Evacuating Yitzhar = price tag.’ (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This past year was, by all accounts, a difficult one for Palestinians living near settlements in the West Bank. According to data provided by the Palestinian Authority’s Wall and Settlement Resistance Committee, 2018 saw 614 settler attacks against Palestinians, ranging from property damage to stone throwing and lethal assault.

This constitutes an increase of 217 percent compared to the previous year; 2017 saw 284 incidents of assault, while the PA recorded 255 such incidents in 2016. As of early March, the committee documented 125 assaults — an average of more than two incidents per day.

The attacks, once referred to as “price tag attacks,” are committed by extremist Jewish youth from settlements and outposts across the West Bank. Their goal is to exact a price from Palestinians for actions Israeli authorities take against the settlers, usually building enforcement in illegally built settlements. The attacks are sporadic and difficult to combat in real time.

Settler violence has steadily increased since the middle of last December, when Asam Barghouti stepped out of his car and opened fire at a group of soldiers and civilians waiting along Road 60 at the entrance to the settlement outpost of Givat Assaf. Two soldiers were killed in the attack, and another soldier and a civilian were wounded. Following the incident, far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich tweeted: “If there are terror attacks, we won’t have Arabs on the roads.”

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Meanwhile, settlers from across the West Bank set off on a campaign of revenge. In the 24 hours following the Givat Assaf shooting, Israeli anti-occupation organization Yesh Din recorded attacks in 28 locations across the West Bank, from the Nablus area in the north to Hebron in the south. Ever since , Palestinians have been reporting an increase in settler violence. The main victims are those living next to Route 60, and particularly in villages near the settlement of Yitzhar — known for its extremism — and the settlement outposts around Shiloh, northeast of Ramallah.

It is difficult to obtain data from the Israeli side. Most incidents are not reported or are designated by the army as “confrontations” (in many cases the army arrives at the site after the settlers leave, and clashes take place between the army and Palestinian youth). B’Tselem, another Israeli anti-occupation group, investigated 129 of the violent incidents in 2018, in which four people were killed and sixteen were wounded. We tried, to no avail, to obtain information from the army and the police regarding the number of settler attacks. The Shin Bet referred us to the police, the police referred us to the army, which then sent us back to the police. No one knows — no one takes responsibility.

Layers of protection

A Palestinian woman seen outside her home in the West Bank village of Urif. She has installed two layers of metal bars to protect her home from settler attacks. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian woman seen outside her home in the West Bank village of Urif. She has installed two layers of metal bars to protect her home from settler attacks. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

“It was completely random — that’s what was so scary,” says Rumel Sweiti, the editor in chief of the Al Hayat daily, which is published in Nablus. Sweiti, who routinely reports on the attacks, was himself the target of assault in early February. “It happened around 10 p.m. near my house in Huwara,” just few miles from Yitzhar. “My house is in the northern part of the village, where the settlers have attacked many times,” Sweiti adds. “They entered my yard and smashed three parked cars. I complained to the Palestinian police, now we are going to the Israeli police.”

Sweiti has been attacked twice before, as have the houses of his brothers who live nearby — but this time, he says, it feels different. “Ever since the Aisha al-Rabi incident (a Palestinian woman killed by settler who threw a stone at her car, R.Y., O.Z.) [the settlers] no longer have any fear or respect for the sanctity of the Sabbath. Now they are entering people’s backyards, which they did not do before, even on the Sabbath.”

Not far away in Urif, a village of some 4,000 people located in the shadow of Yitzhar, the inhabitants say settlers have been trespassing on their land almost every single day since the shooting at Givat Assaf. They also say that while in the past settlers would throw stones from a distance, today they are entering people’s yards.

One of these houses belongs to Munir Suleiman, a father of 10 who makes a living collecting scrap metal. The back yard of his modest home — where the windows are now protected by metal bars, thanks to the help of the villagers and the local council — is full of old motorcycles and automotive parts, some of which have been smashed by settlers. “They will do anything to prevent me from earning a shekel, anything!” he says. Suleiman walks with a limp, a souvenir from a previous settler attack.

He shows us the dilapidated house, located at the edge of the village near the high school, where his children live. He long ago decided to block the house’s window with stones and concrete. The local council built a fence around the house, which does little to prevent attacks.

Munir Suleiman, fro the Palestinian village of Urif, points the a bullet hole in his home, which was targeted by settlers. 'Sometimes they come down with the army, sometimes the army joins later, after the entire village comes out to defend itself.' (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Munir Suleiman, from the Palestinian village of Urif, points the a bullet hole in his home, which was targeted by settlers. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Every house in the area has bars that were installed when the house was initially built, as well as an extra layer of protective black bars that give the homes a prison-like appearance. On top of the bars is a metal mesh, meant to prevent stones from breaking through. Suffice it to say that none of this has helped. “They often use metal rods that cut through the mesh and break the windows despite the bars” says Munir Qadasi, a field worker from Yesh Din who comes here several times a week to document attacks.

On our tour of Urif we are joined by Muntasar Safadi, who works for the local council. He lifts his pant-leg over his ankle, revealing a wound he sustained after being shot by live fire during a demonstration three months ago. Qadasi and the other inhabitants point to the walls of the village houses, which are now pocked with bullet holes. “Sometimes they come down with the army, sometimes the army joins later, after the entire village comes out to defend itself. Then the live fire begins,” says Safadi. Suleiman sits down in his yard next to a small decrepit chicken coop, telling us about one incident in which a bullet nearly missed his head while sitting in the very same spot.

The villagers say they have tried to install security cameras, but the army immediately arrives to confiscate the film following attacks. The army does not do this in order to stop the settlers, they say, but rather to identify the young Palestinians who come out to defend their land and confront the attackers.

Several months ago, the PA held discussions about the possibility of establishing people’s defense councils in every village. But operating the councils would be dangerous and problematic: even if activists are not immediately detained by Israel, the councils would require the PA to both pay salaries and provide for other resources. “All this talk about the councils is irresponsible,” says Qadasi. “They want the young people to risk their lives and protect us from the settlers with their bare hands — without weapons and without salaries? It’s not going to happen.”

In the meantime, the inhabitants of Urif protect themselves with WhatsApp groups. “Even at 5 a.m. when someone sends an alert, you will see all the villagers coming to fight off the settlers within a few minutes,” Safadi says.

“I am afraid to complain and attract attention to my house,” tells us Samir Sawalma, a retired teacher who lives near Suleiman. “I am originally from Jaffa, after the Nakba we moved to Balata refugee camp. In 2000 I moved here to escape the mess there…” Suleiman does not finish the sentence, instead gesturing with resignation as he points to the reinforced windows of his house. Often, he says, he misses a doctor’s appointment so as not to leave his house empty. He shows us a note he has for a doctor’s appointment for the exact time we are sitting together in his yard. “I am a refugee and therefore get my health care in the camp, but the doctors are very busy. There are not enough appointments and it is important to take any available slot. But how can I leave my wife and children alone?” While we are sitting at the yard, a commercial truck stops outside the gate and the driver honks the horn repeatedly. Sawalma goes out and hugs his son who has just returned from school in the truck.

Muntasar Safadi seen in the West Bank village of Urif. 'Even at 5 a.m. when someone sends an alert, you will see all the villagers coming to fight off the settlers within a few minutes.' (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Muntasar Safadi seen in the West Bank village of Urif. ‘Even at 5 a.m. when someone sends an alert, you will see all the villagers coming to fight off the settlers within a few minutes.’ (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

“Did you notice what is going on here?” asks Safadi as he lights another cigarette. “The drivers are afraid to let the children out of the car alone without a parent to let them into the house. They fear a settler could be lurking, lying in wait for the children. As far as the driver is concerned, he could be honking the horn for another hour and not let the child exit the vehicle alone.”

The distance between the high school and Yitzhar is only a few hundred feet, as the crow flies. The settlers from Yitzhar often attack the school, and when the students come out to stop them, the army arrives and disperses them with tear gas, rubber bullets, and sometimes with live fire. Dozens of tear gas canisters can be seen strewn on the ground, a testament to the frequent confrontations here.

Buy during the day, attack during the night 

Huwara, a town of 9,000 inhabitants located on Road 60 between Za’atra (Tapuah Junction) and Nablus, has also been a frequent target of demonstrations and attacks by the settlers. From the yard of city hall, we can see the military post situated between Yitzhar and Huwara overlooking the area. On top of the military post flies a yellow flag with the word “Messiah” on it, most likely hoisted by settlers. The Palestinian farmers who come to work their land are required to coordinate their arrival with the Israeli army ahead of time. Access to some plots is denied throughout the year.

“Now begins what we call ‘the coordination season,’” says Hawara Mayor Nasser Hawari. “We help local farmers receive confirmation from the army so they can access their land between Huwara and the settlement. Spring is approaching, and people need to plow their land, but we know that the settlers will arrive and make trouble.”

Hawari, a man with a ready smile, grows serious when I ask him about what happened during last year’s plowing. “The settlers know to wait for us when we come down to our land — it’s like an annual ceremony. Last year, 35 settlers from Yitzhar attacked the farmers with stone and rods as the army looked on. They ruined my car, elderly people were hit on the head with stones, and a young man working on a tractor suffered a panic attack and stopped breathing. It was a miracle he survived.”

Hawara Mayor Nasser Hawari. 'The settlers know to wait for us when we come down to our land — it's like an annual ceremony.' (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hawara Mayor Nasser Hawari. ‘The settlers know to wait for us when we come down to our land — it’s like an annual ceremony.’ (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Not far from city hall is a girl’s elementary school, which was the target of a settler attack in November 2018. On the wall, settlers spray-painted the words “Yitzhar’s Evacuation — Price Tag.” The residents tell us that the night the school was attacked, settlers slashed the tires of several tractors belonging Bilal Hajj Jaber, who sells construction materials. When we visit him, a settler from the area is finalizing his purchase, while a teenage Palestinian loads the merchandise onto the settler’s jeep. “They buy during the day and attack at night,” says Qadasi. Hajj Jaber says that some of his Jewish customers condemned the attack, calling the perpetrators “dogs.” He says his insurance company is unwilling to reimburse him for the damage caused by the settlers. “The insurance company told me this is a ‘state of war’. For now, I can take it, but what about the others? The entire world knows that the settlers have declared war on us.”

Neither the Shin Bet, the army, nor the police spokesmen responded to our questions regarding the increase of violent attacks by the settlers against the Palestinians, and did not accede to our request for additional data on the topic. In their response, the army spokesperson referred only to the claims by the inhabitants of Urif regarding the use of live fire by the army when they came under attack by the settlers, saying “The Israel Defense Forces acts to protect the security and fabric of life of all inhabitants of the region. Lately, a number of incidents occurred in the vicinity of Urif. IDF forces acted to maintain order using crowd-dispersal means. As far as we know, no live fire was used by the IDF in recent months against demonstrators in the area of the village.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Mikesailor

      It’s not just the “settlers”. Zionist Jews both within and without Israel have fought this undeclared war since before ’48. You are kidding yourselves and lying to the world if you call this a recent phenomenon. Terrorism pure and simple.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        I’m reading “Prophets Outcast – A Century of Dissident Jewish Writing About Zionism and Israel” (edited by Adam Schatz) and it’s an eye-opener – this is from an essay by Yitzhak Epstein written in 1907 (!) – pages 45:

        “…When we enter our land we must rid ourselves of all thoughts of conquest and uprooting…God forbid that we should harm any people…when we come to buy lands in Ertez Israel, we must thoroughly check whose land it is, who works it, and what the rights of the latter are, and we must not complete the puchase until we are certain that no one will be worse off. In this way we will have to forswear most cultivated land…”

        By contrast….

        Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Consider the average American Jew and AIPAC supporter. He or she sits in a town in the United States reading the New York Times or the local paper, plus the Jerusalem Post. He never ever reads about the day in day out terror the settler lords commit, nor about their ugliness, nor of the IDF’s routine day in day out complicity, the IDF’s handmaiden role in this, nor about the whole sick, Orwellian machinery of the occupation and the Israeli disinformation network that lies about it. He hasn’t got a clue. And likes it that way. “Occupation? What occupation? Poor little Israel, plucky little underdog fighting against the whole world!” He or she has a Disneyland kitsch view of the situation, at best. And the vast majority of US Congressman do also, or live in fear of upsetting the fond Disneyland dreams of these people. Along comes someone like AOC or Ilhan Omar and “It’s an outrage! The horror!” It’s a farce.

      Reply to Comment
      • john

        that’s assuming they know enough about coded language to recognize genuine antisemitism, because it’s likely that israel is the only litmus test there: pro- or anti-? in this way, judaism is reduced to israel by zionism.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Lewis from Afula

      I agree with the headline.
      The Arab Settlers have declared war on us Israelis.
      Only yesterday, they murdered a father of 5 near Ariel. Abbas (that bastard with a PhD in Holocaust Denial and Organizer of the Munich Olympics Massacre) will be paying $$$ to the murderer and their family.

      In the long term, the Arabs must be repatriated.
      Their relatives in Amman are waiting for them !

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        More news from Afula: https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/197046-190314-israel-ag-urges-high-court-to-bar-far-right-leader-from-elections

        Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit urged the Israeli High Court of Justice to bar the head of the far-right Otzmah Yehudit party from running in the April elections…Submitting an opinion to the High Court, Mandelblit cited Michael Ben Ari’s long history of “severe and extreme racism”…State prosecutor Aner Helman said that Ben Ari, in his statements during his time as a parliamentarian and afterwards do not differentiate between Arabs. According to him, Ben Ari believes Arabs “have no faces, they are all traitors, a fifth column, a murderous nation.”…High court justice Uzi Fogelman noted that Ben Ari led a demonstration against Arab Israelis buying property in the northern town of Afula. “

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          I have news for Bruce:
          I am not Michael Ben Ari.
          Please your critiques about this person to Ben Ari himself, thank you.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Lewis: In what way are you possibly distinguishable from Ben Ari? You’re further to the extremist ethnic cleansing right?

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Lewis your posts never rise above the level of an obscene “Death to Arabs” graffiti spray painted on a firebombed Palestinian home or at the scene of torn up olive trees. They display the same adolescent immaturity and loathesome antisocial narcissism as the hilltop youth.

        Reply to Comment
      • Mikesailor

        I am curious as to your definition of terrorism. Is it only reserved for those who attack and/or kill Jews in Israel? The first person killed was a soldier. Is it terrorism to kill a soldier enforcing the occupation? It is supposed to be the right of any population under military occupation to attack such soldiers. As to the so-called rabbi, according to all news reports I have read he was 1) a settler running a yeshiva devoted to turning out Orthodox soldiers for the IDF and 2) he apparently began firing at the Palestinian before being shot in return> Was this a “terrorist” act or merely combat which the “rabbi” lost? And the third “victim” was another soldier. So, where was this “terrorism”? Is it terroristic only when Jews are the “victims”? Isn’t the wanton killing and wounding of unarmed civilians by the IDF terror? Even when the Palestinians are children? Or medical aid workers? Or journalists? You are a hypocritical Jewish racist.

        Reply to Comment
    4. itshak Gordine

      Yesterday an Arab terrorist killed Rav Ettinger, father of 12. The Israeli army is trying to find the terrorist.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        I fail to see how that matter affects this. What about all the PalestiniaN civilians who have been killed or harasses by settlers/the IDF over the years?

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “The problem is that terror has long since become the reality, and the entity that has allowed and is allowing this to happen is the State of Israel…maybe you’d even be interested in going there and seeing and hearing…this reality is a product of the ongoing policy of terror pursued by generations of Israeli governments, and that it is this policy that gives rise to the acts of resistance against it. What’s amazing is only that there aren’t more such acts, because it’s really and truly an intolerable situation.”
        https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-israel-is-the-terrorist-1.5976966

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          The problem is that terror has long since become the reality, and the entity that has allowed and is allowing this to happen is President Abbas. This guy has a PhD in Shoah Denial and he organized the Munich Olympics Massacre of Israeli Athletes.

          There, fixed it for you, Ben.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This response is nothing more than spray painting, over Ilana Hammerman’s inconvenient truth telling, a mindlessly mendacious slogan.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Yes, spray painting !
            The “Moderate” Leader of the movement you continuously support just happens to have a PhD in Holocaust-Denial and organized the Munich Olympics Massacre.

            Truth is ugly isn’t it Ben ?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is not an honest accounting. It’s propaganda at the level of graffiti.
            Nor do I “support his movement.”
            Tell me, I hear tell Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Ganz organized the Gaza massacre. By your own incessant “reasoning,” Lewis, it’s time to pack those two off to Poland, and Hungary or Romania, respectively. (But if you’ll want to pack off Mahmoud Abbas to his origins, you’ll be putting him on a bus to Safed.)

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            So Ben claims he NOT support the movement run by the Shoah-Denier PhD and Chief Organizer of the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre.
            So does Ben support the MORE RADICAL Hamas with its woman-oppressing, honor-killing, throw off Gays of the Roofs, murder all our political opponents and kill every Jew in the World policies ?
            Because these 2 alternatives are the only players in town.
            There is no some fakestinyan “Peace Now” movement that Ben can make a deal with.

            That’s why I believe, in the long term, these people will have to go !

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Inveterate black and white simplemindedness and feigned helplessness is the last refuge of the scoundrel. I can support the moderates who would indeed so obviously make a fair final peace, and at the same time not support an inept, corrupt kleptocratic quisling regime (Bibi and Co. of course work incessantly to undermine the former and encourage the latter, while I would do the reverse–because I actually want peace and justice while peace and justice is their worst nightmare). You OTOH spawn single-faceted cartoon straw-men to populate your world so you can push the manichean, neo-fascist anti-miscegenationist, rejectionist, primitive tribal land-grabbing maximalism of your ways. So obvious. You love the Hamas, not I. So true. You are not one whit better, or less ultimately Darwin-Award-winning in my view, than the hypernationalist, fondly grievance-nurturing, fondly hatred-stoking, in-victimhood-stewing Serbs who nattered on about 14th century battles on the Field of Blackbirds right to the very bitter end. Mass personality disorder.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Anyway, a waste of time, feeding a troll. Gershom and Carmen are right.

            Reply to Comment
    5. I have stopped reading the comments of certain characters as I can only understand, as too many do, that the zionist trolls are trying to teach superior rights for their definition of Jews,(as “uber mentch”) and thus are fitting the (exclusivist) definition of “anti-Semites”, “anti-Semitic”. I wish there was a way to diminish the ugliness of their content and more the very real harm they are doing through the facilitation of this site.

      I cannot bear to read the statements of such only to find myself being sickened and in terror that the trolls really might represent some majority. If such would be true, Judaism is finished and who could regret it’s passing?

      Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        @Gershom –
        Judaism isn’t finished. Zionism isn’t judaism. The end of zionism is not the end of judaism. Too many trolls conflate the two to suit their agenda. Don’t buy into it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Regarding Judaism, Carmen has said “It is only a religion”.
          With this and other statements, she has indicated that she is not bothered if Judaism disappears in America in a few decades time.

          Regarding Israel, Carmen sees it as a deviant alien construct inhabited by evil people. Carmen pines that Israel will vanish ASAP.

          I hope everyone on this website can see Carmen as the most negative, nihilist personality she is.

          Reply to Comment
        • Dear Carmen, Bless you. I know zionism isn’t Judaism. I am an Anti-Zionist because I am a Jew and know zionism to be Anti-Semitic. The Occupation uses Jews to “do to others what had been done to Jews.” (Einstein)
          Trolls conflate..Corpo-zionists, like, “Lewis from…”, if he is real, are with those who declare, in many countries, that “criticism of capitalism is anti-Semitic”. I understand we are being set up to take the fall for the Corporate created climate shoah coming. And it is the Zionists who sell us to the 1% as scapegoat, AGAIN, who walk us into the labor camp and crematoria, AGAIN.
          I know “the end of Zionism isn’t the end of Judaism”. I work to end the former because it’s ending may be the only chance to save Judaism and… Jews.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            “I understand we are being set up to take the fall for the Corporate created climate shoah coming. And it is the Zionists who sell us to the 1% as scapegoat, AGAIN, who walk us into the labor camp and crematoria, AGAIN.”

            I think you need to up the dose in your medication.
            Nobody understands what your waffling on about, mate.

            Reply to Comment
    6. average american

      You guys think this is done? This tiny sliver of land? This is just Step One. The Zionist leaders of Israel, who are on a campaign, claim far greater land than now. And, prophets fulfilled, you and I non-Jewish will pay tribute to the Third temple which houses The Devil, and will learn how wrong we have been at the Jewish Teacher’s word. Seven simple rules of subjugation.

      Reply to Comment
    7. C. Mahon

      First time visitor to Israel here. I’m from California.
      With the hatred I see here it’s going to be a long sludgy slog of violence.
      I could be wrong but the ultra orthodox seem to be the primary catalyst in the violence. On some days I’ll feel like Israel is such an economic miracle in a region of chaos, the next day as a zealous ultra right wing Jewish Taliban thug state that needs too be destroyed. What a conflict in my head!

      Reply to Comment
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