Since the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, extremist settlers in the West Bank have been emboldened, displacing more than 1,000 Palestinians, according to the United Nations.
“Since 7th of October, the soldier came and sit down under this tree. And they put the Israeli flag here. And right now, if we try to cross 10 meters, the soldier will start to run, chasing us to go back here. And if we say, ‘This is my land,’ they start to shoot live.”
Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel, violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank has intensified. Extremist Israeli settlers have been emboldened in what Palestinians say is an increased effort to seize their land with support from the Israeli Army.
On Oct. 13, Sami Hourani’s cousin Zacharia al-Adara was shot and wounded by an Israeli settler in the Palestinian village of at-Tuwani. It happened just a hundred meters from Hourani’s home.
“The settler was holding a gun and he was clearly with civilian dress coming towards my village, he was attacking a house. The settler started to walk towards Zacharia and just shot him. Zacharia is since the 13th of October in the I.C.U. in the hospital. And the most scary part now is that if this will be the new reality that they want to do after the war.”
Since Oct. 7, the U.N. has recorded more than 280 attacks by settlers in the occupied West Bank, opening fire on Palestinian villagers, destroying their farmland and setting fire to their businesses and homes. Observers say the attacks are part of the campaign for settlement expansion.
“The closed house is here in front of us. Here is the village of Tuba, and that up there, there is the settlement of Ma’on.”
Across the West Bank, there are more than 700,000 Israelis living in settlements that most of the world considers illegal. The Israeli Army says that it takes the violence very seriously and that it’s taken action to apprehend those responsible. However, human rights groups say arrests are rare, and soldiers have been seen accompanying settlers during some attacks, including the man who shot al-Adara on Oct. 13.
Zvi Sukkot is a member of Israel’s Parliament representing the far-right religious Zionist party. He’s become a prominent voice in the movement to expand Israeli settlements. Sukkot first started making headlines more than a decade ago as a member of the hilltop youth, young Israelis who would squat areas of the West Bank with the hope of claiming the land for eventual new settlements.
In 2012, Israel’s Security Agency accused him of leading covert and violent activity against Palestinians, and he was temporarily banned from entering the West Bank. But after Oct. 7, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him to lead a committee handling security issues in the territory.
Reporter: “What changed for you after the Hamas attacks of October 7?”
Reporter: “Do you condemn the acts of violence being committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians?”
But for Palestinians that claim to the land means displacement. In the past seven weeks alone, the U.N. says more than 1,000 villagers have been forced to leave their homes due to settler violence across the West Bank.
Dalal al-Awad and her family are farmers from a village called Tuba. They’ve survived multiple attacks by settlers who told them to leave. For now, the family has little choice but to pack up and move to the hills every night, sleeping outside, away from their home.
Join us this Wednesday for our next webinar of Solidarity Speaks, an emergency series giving people around the world a forum to hear directly from Palestinians and Israelis calling for an immediate ceasefire and an end to collective punishment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
This Wednesday we will be joined by Ahmed Helou of Combatants for Peace, a grassroots movement of former Palestinian and Israeli combatants working together to end the occupation through civil resistance, education, and other means of creative nonviolence.
Ahmed Helou is a second generation refugee whose great-grandparents left Gaza for Bir-Saba before being displaced to Jericho, and much of his family lives in Gaza now. He is a current resident of Jericho, a former political detainee, a former parliamentary aid in the Palestinian Authority, and worked as an ambulance volunteer with the Palestine Red Crescent during the 1996 clashes in Jerusalem. Since 2013 he has been active in Combatants for Peace promoting a future of collective dignity, freedom, and equality for all.
We are honored to speak with him about the events of the last weeks and about the ways the ongoing violence is impacting him, his family, and his community.
Mr. Awad is a Palestinian writer living in the West Bank.
I was born in February 1998 in Tuba, a rural shepherding community of 80 Palestinian residents in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank, where my family has lived for generations. Over the years we have suffered repeated attacks by Israeli settlers, part of an ongoing campaign to remove us from our land. Still, nothing prepared me for what our life has become since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. In the last six weeks, the raids and harassment by settlers have become so intense that I do not know how much longer I and the other members of my community will be able to live here.
Under the cover of war, settlers have been storming villages in the West Bank, threatening Palestinians and destroying their homes and their livelihoods. International attention has been mostly focused on the atrocities in Israel and in Gaza, including the internal displacement of more than half of the population of the Gaza Strip.
In the West Bank, increasingly violent assaults on villages have forced at least 16 Palestinian communities — more than 1,000 people — to flee their homes since Oct. 7. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, settlers have attacked Palestinians in more than 250 incidents in the West Bank. So far, 200 Palestinians have been killed, eight by settlers and the others during clashes with Israeli forces.
In my village and in other villages around us, settlers have been raiding homes and harassing us relentlessly, sometimes multiple times a day. Less than a week into the war, according to a video published by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, an armed settler came into At-Tuwani village in the South Hebron Hills, approached a group of unarmed Palestinians walking after Friday Prayers and shot one of them in the abdomen from point-blank range. Ten minutes down the road, in Susiya, villagers said that settlers threatened to shoot residents if they did not evacuate their homes within 24 hours. On Oct. 30, settlers set fire to several homes in Khirbet a-Safai, a village less than a mile east of Tuba. And residents in the neighboring village to the west, Umm al-Khair, told human rights activists that armed settlers in uniform held people there at gunpoint and forced them to condemn Hamas and promise to raise Israeli flags in the village or they would be murdered.
For those of us in Tuba, this wave of attacks is part of a long string of attempts to force us to leave our homes. And it’s not only the settlers who want us out: Successive Israeli governments have also tried to get rid of us over the last decades.
In the early 1980s, our village, along with a group of others in an area called Masafer Yatta, was designated by the military as Firing Zone 918, land that Israel decided it wanted for training its forces (A government document indicates that there was an intention to displace residents living in the area). We have been fighting for the right to remain on our land ever since. We live in Area C of the West Bank, which means the Israeli military has complete civil and security control over our lives. Israel has tried various tactics to get us to leave, including enacting policies that prevent us from building homes in our own village and not allowing us to be connected to the main electrical grid or water infrastructure.
Sometimes it’s been much less subtle: In November 1999, when I was a year old, the Israeli military loaded all of Tuba’s residents and livestock onto trucks and dumped us on the side of the road several miles away. We spent the following months crowded in makeshift tents, fighting to shelter ourselves and our livestock from the cold winter rain. We were eventually allowed to return to our village “temporarily,” pending a final court decision.
Settlers from the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on — built near Tuba and partly on private Palestinian land not long after we returned — have done their share as well. In 2002, they cut off the main road that connected Tuba to the surrounding villages, including the children’s closest school and the city of Yatta, where we buy all of our food and medical supplies.
Throughout it all, we had been awaiting the final ruling from the Israeli high court about whether the Israeli military could force us to evacuate. Then, last year, the court ruled in favor of the state, allowing Israel to evict about 1,200 Palestinians, including those in my village. We have remained steadfast in the face of this pressure and refuse to abandon our land and our traditional way of life. But in recent weeks, attacks by settlers have rattled our resolve.
We have always felt that the work of the military, which demolishes our houses and prevents our ability to move freely, was intimately intertwined with and reinforced by harassment from settlers. However, since the war started more than a month ago, the settlers and soldiers in the region seemed to have fused into one entity, ending whatever semblance of distance existed between these two violent systems. Settlers whom we recognize from years of harassment in our villages have suddenly become soldiers, as reservists or as part of Itamar Ben-Gvir’s civilian security teams. Army reservists who are new to the area are apparently now taking their orders from local settler-soldiers or security teams. Together they patrol our communities with their M16s and threaten anyone who tries to bring his flock to graze or leave the village for work or errands.
In Tuba, as in nearby villages, settlers have also targeted the water systems and solar panels we have built and are entirely dependent on, as if to remind us of our vulnerability. They are clearly taking advantage of this moment to make our lives unlivable, and we have no reason to believe that, especially during a state of war, any of the violence we are experiencing in our communities will slow or stop soon. Local Israeli authorities say they are investigating some of the more violent attacks, including the killings, but they are showing no signs of being able to control them, and in fact, government ministers are fanning the flames.
In the last five weeks alone, residents from five other villages in the South Hebron Hills have been forced to pack up and flee from their homes. If the situation doesn’t change, I worry that Tuba will be next. As a letter signed by 30 Israeli human rights NGOs recently stated: “The only way to stop this forcible transfer in the West Bank is a clear, strong and direct intervention by the international community.”
Since I can remember, life in Tuba has been difficult, but it has also always been full of beauty and calm. It is the life my family has known for generations, and the traditional lifestyle we live is deeply connected to the land around us and the animals we care for. The hillsides are stamped with our footsteps and those of our flocks, the rocks on the top of the hill neatly arranged so we can watch the sunset over the desert. But the fear we feel, in Tuba and across Area C, now hangs heavy over this landscape. I don’t know if we will be able to stand it.
More on Israel and Palestinian territories
Opinion | Serge Schmemann
Violence by West Bank Settlers Cannot Be Ignored
Nov. 11, 2023
Opinion | Michael Sfard
Israel Is Silencing Internal Critics
Nov. 2, 2023
Ali Awad is a community organizer and journalist living in Tuba, in the Masafer Yatta region of the West Bank.
In support of our colleagues in Palestine, in support of the Palestinian people, and in support of justice for all people, Librarians & Archivists with Palestine(LAP) is honoured to present this roundtable featuring expert librarians, archivists and scholars, Dr. Mazna Qato, Dr. Rami Zurayk, Blair Kuntz, and Tam Rayan, to discuss the urgent need to Preserve Palestine.
Sponsored by the Middle East Librarians Association, this educational event serves as a call to information professionals to take action to protect and safeguard Palestinian cultural heritage institutions and knowledge repositories, including libraries, archives and museums, in defence of Palestinian life, land, and liberation.
Speakers will provide examples and case studies illustrating the impact of a century of theft, plunder, and destruction of Palestinian heritage, libraries, and archives under British and Israeli settler colonialism, as well as the myriad Palestinian social and grassroots efforts to counter this epistemic violence and colonial erasure.
A Public Affair host Esty Dinur will be talking with three local Palestinian women about their families’ stories, what they understand and feel about the Israeli attacks on Gaza and the West Bank, and their hopes for the future.
Tune in to 89.9 FM or listen live online. Call in with your questions at 608-256-2001. The show will be archived if you miss it.
Unhinged, Murderous Settlers Terrorize Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills
As Gaza faces genocide, extremist settlers in the West Bank are running rampant. One Youth of Sumud activist says: “The Israeli settler militias benefit from this state of war, they are the ones who are ruling this area.”
The Israeli military committed a massacre of Palestinians in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza on Oct. 31. The aerial assault struck a densely populated area that an Israeli military spokesman admitted was crowded with civilians—killing more than 100 people, injuring hundreds more, and leaving many trapped underneath the rubble. Young and old. Men, women, and children.
The Israeli government has dropped thousands and thousands of bombs on Gaza over the last few weeks. The bombs don’t discriminate between a cancer patient or a futbol player — and they’ve murdered both orphans and women praying, until their end, that they would one day become mothers.
That bombardment on Tuesday, which was part of at least two days of assaults on the camp, was so heavy—The Washington Post reported that the destruction spanned 50,000 square feet — that it created craters (including one about 40 feet in diameter) and Palestinians “tried to dig people out from smoldering piles of crumbled cement, rebar and wood” — that is, corpses which cannot be identified because of the intensity of the bombing. Al Jazeera reported that 19 family members of one of its engineers were killed in the attack. In questioning an Israeli military spokesperson, CNN’s Wolf Blitzerwas practically left speechless by the cruel rationale they offered.
No one is safe in Gaza, no one is safe in all of Palestine.
And this did not begin on Oct. 7, 2023. While the Israeli military is carrying out genocide in Gaza, it is also continuing to deploy its twin weapon of ethnic cleansing, a process that began in 1948 and has only accelerated since then.
Bearing witness to acts of genocide carries certain responsibilities, as does bearing witness to acts of ethnic cleansing. One requires that you not look away, despite the horrors. The other requires you to keep looking — and look deeper — for as long as it takes, because the careful work of ethnic cleansing isn’t always so obvious. It is carried out through laws, bureaucratic as well as physical obstacles meant to keep people from their homes, and sustained violence and dehumanization over a long period of time. Both are part of the Israeli settler colonial project in Palestine, facilitated in full force by the United States government, military and mainstream media.
Only 40 miles from Gaza, in the Masafer Yatta area of the West Bank, you can hear and see war planes flying to bombard our people. But with all eyes on Gaza, Israeli settlers in Masafer Yatta and other parts of the West Bank are taking advantage of this moment to intensify their violent attacks on Palestinian communities.
One requires that you not look away, despite the horrors. The other requires you to keep looking—and look deeper—for as long as it takes, because the careful work of ethnic cleansing isn’t always so obvious.
My maternal lineage traces back generations in Masafer Yatta, to the village of Jinba, which was once a hub for merchants and trade and served as a pit-stop for pilgrims crossing from Africa to the Arabian peninsula during the Ottoman Empire. Masafer Yatta lies in the South Hebron Hills, on the edge of the al-Naqab desert. The large rolling hills have been home to communities of shepherds and farmers for generations, which used to be full of life and interconnected with the nearby city of Yatta. Now the area largely lacks basic infrastructure and has been left isolated from neighboring areas as it is difficult to reach and full of violent threats from extremist settlers and soldiers.
Over the last few decades, the settler project has only grown exponentially in numbers (in 2017it was reported that more than 330,000 settlers had moved in to the West Bank in the previous 30 years) and the area has become increasingly violent and dangerous for Palestinians, fueled by settler organizations like Regavim, who operate under the guise of charitable organizations.
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Since the Nakba in 1948, the primary form of resistance for the Palestinians of Masafer Yatta has been asserting — and reasserting — their agency and their relationship to the land. When Israeli settlers demolish the homes of my family and our neighbors, with the full backing of the military, we persistently return, rebuild and remain a thorn in the ultra-Zionist settlers’ plan. My family’s history in the area is a proud one interconnected with other villages and families, a community that has only grown stronger over the past few decades as they continue to fight the settler colonial apparatus determined to disappear them.
The primary form of resistance for the Palestinians of Masafer Yatta has been asserting — and reasserting — their agency and their relationship to the land.
In the late 1970s, the State of Israel established a military firing zone that encompassed 12 of the villages of Masafer Yatta, including Jinba. Shortly after we saw settlements like Carmel developed in the South Hebron Hills. In the decades to follow, my community and our neighbors experienced frequent demolitions of our homes and entire villages, denial of building permits, harassment and violent attacks from nearby settlements, and, on the most basic level, a complete degradation of essential infrastructure. Residents of Masafer Yatta came together to create and maintain their own informal, community systems to provide water, education, roads, and healthcare in the absence of any governmental support.
Settler violence in the villages of Masafer Yatta is relentless and constant as settlements rapidly expand in the West Bank. For many years, school children in the South Hebron Hills have had cohorts of international solidarity activists in and out of their lives as chaperones because of the violence and harassment they face. Schools in Masafer Yatta have been destroyed and many Palestinian schools in the West Bank are now under demolition order.
In 1999, the Israeli army forcibly evicted nearly 700 residents from their homes after issuing them demolition orders for “living in the firing zone” — though their villages were there before the firing zone existed. Many later returned to their villages, either on their own or in the context of an interim legal injunction, which offered little protection for Palestinian communities. In the past decade, settler violence and the challenges of living in Masafer Yatta forced many to leave their homes. Since 2012, my uncle Ziad Makhamra has been the last remaining resident of his village, Bir Il-‘Id. Then, in 2022 the Israeli High Court ruled that there were no legal barriers to the planned expulsion of residents from these villages, effectively giving settlers and the military a green light to enact further ethnic cleansing.
One family, the Hathaleen’s of Umm al-Khair in Hebron, have long been at the front of the fight for Masafer Yatta, and community leader Sheikh Suleiman Hathaleen was a profound source of inspiration. I met him in 2016and, immediately upon meeting, he was planning with me about how to resist efforts to drive Palestinians out of their villages in the West Bank, offering that delegates from Masafer Yatta could help protect our home by speaking out to the world. Liberation was always on his mind. His nephew, Alaa, tells me that he would always pray for Palestinian prisoners and for their freedom, and would always say that change is achieved “with dignity or glory.” He was killed (run over by an Israeli tow truck during a raid) in the winter of 2022while protesting the army confiscating vehicles in Masafer Yatta. Sheikh Suleiman is someone who inspired us for decades and gave us a model of true integrity that was sorely lacking in so-called Palestinian leadership.
“The Israeli settler militias benefit from this state of war, they are the ones who are ruling this area. Israeli settler militias in Israeli military uniforms have blocked and closed all the entrances of the villages in Masafer Yatta, which means all the entrances in Masafer Yatta are under siege,” says Hureini, an activist with Youth of Sumud.
Today, the Hathaleen family homes — like my family’s homes — are under threat. On Oct. 12, the Israeli Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, was seen handing out assault rifles to settlers who are part of a violent history of attacking Palestinians in the West Bank. The day after these guns were handed out, Zakariya Adra, a young man in at-Tuwani who was leaving Friday prayers, was shot by a settler. According to residents I spoke with, the community responded by collecting blood at the local hospital in Yatta and Zakariya is now recovering, with a spleen removed.
According to Mohammad Hureini, Zakariya’s cousin who is also a resident of at-Tuwani in Masafer Yatta, the settler shot him with a dumdum bullet, which expands dramatically on impact, and that has been internationally prohibited since the 1899 Hague Peace Conference.
“The Israeli settler militias benefit from this state of war, they are the ones who are ruling this area. Israeli settler militias in Israeli military uniforms have blocked and closed all the entrances of the villages in Masafer Yatta, which means all the entrances in Masafer Yatta are under siege,” says Hureini, who is also a local activist with Youth of Sumud, a long-running community group in the area (that has Jewish partners) which has consistently supported residents of Masafer Yatta by helping protect their villages through, among other things, agricultural and advocacy programs.
“These militias have destroyed agricultural lands, [they are] destroying crops, demolishing homes and burning their homes, attacking people in their homes, and shooting people with intent to kill,” Hureini says.
Relatedly, one of the most shocking settler and soldier attacks in the West Bank since Oct. 7, outside of the South Hebron Hills, was in the village of Wadi as-Seeq near Ramallah. And near Nablus, Bilal Saleh was shot and killedby a settler while collecting olives.
In the South Hebron Hills, Alaa Hathaleen has been making regular demands for the international community to not abandonMasafer Yatta, where the Palestinian population has fallen drastically and extremist settlers are regularly violent. At least 84 people have left in just the past few months alone in part because their vehicles were confiscated, making it impossible to travel to and from their homes in the already difficult-to-reach villages. Settler militia violence, fully under the watch and guard of the Israeli army, has only intensified and smaller communities have been subject to daily harassment and relentless destruction until residents have no choice but to leave. In the greater South Hebron Hills area, at least two villages have been depopulated as well as 13 other communities in the West Bank. When Alaa demands support, he demands all eyes on Masafer Yatta, because we as a people can sometimes count on our hands how many eyes are watching for us.
Alaa said that near the end of October, he and his family were attacked by one of the violent gangs of settlers, dressed in reserve soldiers’ uniforms and roaming around Masafer Yatta and other parts of the West Bank. Settlers lined up members of the Hathaleen family and made them sit facing the walls and took their phones. Alaa said they beat them and threatened them at gunpoint, forcing one member of the family to record a video praising Israel. Alaa made sure to tell his Instagram followers that anyone who views the forced video should understand that it is full of lies and done under duress. When the settlers finally left, Alaa said they told them that if they didn’t have an Israeli flag flying above the village in 24 hours, they would come back and massacre everyone.
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Another night, settlers burned a home in the village of a-Safai at-Tahta and attacked Tuba where, according to an activist, they ransacked a home, “cut off the small village’s lights, punctured the water tank and threw the food for their animals on the floor.” The Israeli army then, according to a resident, barred Palestinians in those villages from even entering their destroyed homes.
Awdah Hathleen, writer, English teacher and resident of Umm al-Khair, shared with some comrades that, “The settlers were attacking many villages in Masafer Yatta last night. They burnt houses in a-Safai and they cut electricity in Tuba. … Let’s all pray that all this violence against Masafer Yatta will end.”
The scenes were a reminder of the pogrom against Huwara in the Nablus area in February and a similar pogrom against Turmus Ayya in June, when hundreds of Israeli settlers stormed the town and burned houses and cars and terrorized residents. These types of attacks, at various scales, occur with horrifying regularity for Palestinians living in Masafer Yatta and other parts of the West Bank. Villages are being dismantled, histories are being erased, generations of memories lost.
A few days before the assault on a-Safai at-Tahta, in nearby Susiya, settlers stormed the village, pulling men from their homes. Fatma, a resident of Susiya, confirmed the harrowing experience and wrote in a text that “they cursed our father yesterday at night, searched them, took his phones, threatened us, and filmed a video at gunpoint, denouncing Hamas and the terrorism it committed on the 7th of the month.”
The settler, Fatma said, told them, “Tomorrow I will come back to you and I want to see the Israeli flag flying over the houses in Khirbet Umm al-Khair. … If you fail, we will punish you with a severe punishment — all at gunpoint.”
“Tomorrow I will come back to you and I want to see the Israeli flag flying over the houses in Khirbet Umm al-Khair. … If you fail, we will punish you with a severe punishment—all at gunpoint.”
About a week ago in Jinba, a settler militia attacked the village mosque and destroyed its speaker, apparently in order to prevent the call to prayer. According to my cousin and local journalist, Mahmoud Jamal, people stayed inside of their homes during this attack because it is understood that these kinds of acts are designed to bring people out of their homes and into danger. After the settlers destroyed the mosque speaker, Jamal says they then traveled to neighboring villages to harass shepherds and their flocks.
These violent methods by settlers, the military, and the Israeli and U.S. governments, are all echoes of each other. They’re connected to the same trick that Biden was apparently using to try and convince Jordan and Egypt to enact the mass forcible transfer of our people in Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula or somewhere else. The people of Gaza have been clear — as have the people of Masafer Yatta — that this is our home. If it was up to us, we would remain in our homes. Unfortunately, there are world powers that want to keep us from those homes.
Palestinians everywhere, like me and Alaa from Masafer Yatta, our people in Gaza, in Jerusalem, Palestinians inside Israel, and in the diaspora, need the world to stop looking away from what is happening. We need eyes on us for protection — and we need eyes on us for accountability.
Above all, we need those eyes to turn to action, and that action needs to end genocide and ethnic cleansing in Palestine.
RYAH AQEL is a filmmaker and creator based in Michigan and New York. Since 2015, she has been documenting her family’s decades-long battle to remain on their land in the South Hebron Hills.
Join us this Wednesday for our next webinar of Solidarity Speaks, an emergency series giving people around the world a forum to hear directly from Palestinians and Israelis calling for an immediate ceasefire and an end to collective punishment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Life in the last weeks has become nearly impossible for Palestinian communities in Area C. They are experiencing dramatic escalations of settler violence, severe military lockdowns, and frightening threats to forcibly expel them from their homes.
Settlers have taken up arms, given to them by Israeli state officials, and are dressed in army uniforms, making it almost impossible to distinguish between settlers and soldiers. All aspects of life have effectively been shut down for these communities. Under this unlivable reality, many Palestinian families have already been forced to flee. Join us for an emergency fundraiser to materially support communities facing one of the largest mass expulsions of Palestinians since 1948.
We will be joined on Wednesday by Ali Awad and Awdah Hathaleen, two long standing advocates against the expropriation of Palestinian land in Masafer Yatta and for the collective rights of their communities in Area C.
Wednesday, November 8th:
8PM Jerusalem, 7PM Berlin, 6PM London, 1PM NYC, 12PM Madison
Please help us spread the word and share this emergency webinar series with relevant activist, faith, and learning communities. We know many people are looking for perspective in this moment of urgency and want as many people as possible to hear directly from Palestinians and Israelis calling for justice.
This is an emergency fundraiser for Palestinian communities in Area C defending their lands from military incursions, settler militias, and displacement.
We, the undersigned human rights and civil society NGOs in Israel, call on the international community to act urgently to stop the state-backed wave of settler violence which has led, and is leading to, the forcible transfer of Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
For the past three weeks, since Hamas’s atrocities of October 7th, settlers have been exploiting the lack of public attention to the West Bank, as well as the general atmosphere of rage against Palestinians, to escalate their campaign of violent attacks in an attempt to forcibly transfer Palestinian communities. During this period, no fewer than thirteen herding communities have been displaced. Many more are in danger of being forced to flee in the coming days if immediate action is not taken.
Palestinian farmers are particularly vulnerable at this time, during the annual olive harvest
season, because if they are unable to pick their olives they will lose a year’s income. Yesterday Bilal Muhammed Saleh from the village of As-Sawiya south of Nablus was murdered while tending to his olive trees. He was the seventh Palestinian to have been killed by settlers since the current war began.
Unfortunately, the Israeli government is supportive of these attacks and does nothing to stop this violence. On the contrary: government ministers and other officials are backing the violence and in many cases the military is present or even participates in the violence, including in incidents where settlers have killed Palestinians. Moreover, since the war has begun there has been a growing number of incidents in which violent settlers have been documented attacking nearby Palestinian communities while wearing military uniform and using government-issued weapons.
With grave concern and with a clear understanding of the political landscape, we recognize that the only way to stop this forcible transfer in the West Bank is a clear, strong and direct intervention by the international community.
Now is the time to act.
A Land for All – Two States, One Homeland | Akevot Institute | Amnesty International Israel | Association for Civil Rights in Israel | B’Tselem | Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights | Breaking the Silence | Combatants for Peace | Comet-ME | Emek Shaveh | HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual | Haqel – In Defense of Human Rights | Itach-Maaki – Women Lawyers for Social Justice | Ir Amim | Jordan Valley Activists | Kerem Navot | Machsom Watch | Mothers Against Violence Israel | Other Voice | Parents Against Child Detention | Physicians for Human Rights Israel | Policy Working Group (PWG) | Psychoactive | Rabbis for Human Rights | Re’acha Kamocha | Social Workers for Welfare and Peace | The School for Peace in Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom | Torat Tzedek | Yesh Din | Zazim – Community Action | Zochrot
Maria Abi-Habib reported from London, and Rami Nazzal from Ramallah
Attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are surging, with at least 115 killed, more than 2,000 injured and nearly 1,000 others forcibly displaced from their homes because of violence and intimidation by Israeli forces and settlers since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, according the United Nations.
Confrontations in the West Bank have been a longstanding issue, but the violence has intensified over the last three weeks, more than doubling to seven incidents a day, on average, compared with three incidents a day since the start of 2023, according to the U.N.
“We’ve observed more incidents where armed settlers have threatened Palestinians,” Andrea De Domenico, the head of the U.N. humanitarian affairs office, told The New York Times. “In several areas, Palestinians have been ordered to leave under the threat of firearms.”
An ever-growing number of Israeli communities have taken root in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967. The settlements cut into land Palestinians have title to and also undermine the territory needed for any two-state solution, fanning tensions in the region. They also draw many residents who consider the West Bank to be Jewish by birthright.
In the clashes since Oct. 7, almost half have involved “Israeli forces accompanying or actively supporting Israeli settlers while carrying out the attacks,” according to the U.N. report.
The Israeli military declined to comment.
In the days after the Oct. 7 attacks, Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, announced that his ministry was purchasing 10,000 rifles in order to arm civilians, specifying among the intended recipients those in West Bank settlements.
Much of the violence in the territory has been directed at herders and Bedouin communities. The U.N. said those Palestinians have faced physical violence and intimidation and also been denied access to their lands, a particular hardship given that many are farmers.
The Palestinian hamlet of Khirbet al-Ratheem, in the hills of Hebron, is now completely emptied of its population of about 50 people. Israeli settlers from a nearby outpost began to close roads leading to the hamlet on Oct. 14, according to Palestinians who lived there.
On the night of Oct. 14, “they returned to attack us, pointing their guns at us while forcing us all into one room,” said Amir Abdullah Hamdan al-Maharak, a 50-year-old farmer who has seven children.
Mr. al-Maharak said that the settlers dragged and shoved his elderly father around the family’s home, and then used their knives to cut through the family’s water barrels and slash the pipes for their propane canisters.
Fearing for their lives, he and his family decided to take their sheep and flee.
Maria Abi-Habib is an investigative correspondent based in Mexico City, covering Latin America. She previously reported from Afghanistan, across the Middle East and in India, where she covered South Asia.More about Maria Abi-Habib
Sliman al-Zawahri, 52, prays in the empty village of Ein Rashash in Area C of the West Bank. (Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum/The Guardian)
The tiny settlement overlooking the Bedouin village of Ein Rashash is named “Angels of Peace”, but, says Sliman al-Zawahri, its residents have visited only violence, fear and despair on his family.
This week the Bedouin community packed up most of their belongings and drove all the women, children and elderly people from the West Bank ridge they had called home for nearly four decades, perched above a spring and beside an archaeological site.
“They didn’t leave us air to breathe,” said Zawahri, 52, describing a months-long campaign of violence and intimidation that intensified in the last two weeks. First villagers were barred from grazing lands, and the spring, then violence reached their homes.
“They came into the village and destroyed houses and sheep pens, beat an 85-year-old man, scared our children. Slowly our lives became unlivable.”
A few men are trying to stay on amid the shells of homes, empty animal pens, smashed solar panels and broken windows, staking a fragile claim to their own village.
This was not an individual tragedy. Men from Angels of Peace are part of a broad, violent and very successful political project to expand Israeli control of the West Bank that has accelerated, say activists, since the 7 October attacks by Hamas launched a war with Israel.
The unlikely agents of this land grab are sheep and goats, herded by radical settlers on small outposts.
Taking land by building homes and communities on it is slow and expensive. Taking control of large swathes of dry hills needed to feed a herd of animals, by intimidating and isolating Palestinian shepherds and bringing in another herd, is much more efficient.
“This has been the most successful land-grab strategy since 1967,” said Yehuda Shaul, a prominent activist who is director of the Israeli Center for Public Affairs thinktank, and a founder of Breaking the Silence, an NGO that exposes military abuses in occupied areas.
Over the last year alone, 110,000 dunams, or 110 sq km (42 sq miles), was effectively annexed by settlers on herding outposts, he said. All the built-up settlement areas constructed since 1967 cover only 80 sq km.
It was also the biggest displacement of Palestinian Bedouins since 1972, when at least 5,000 – and perhaps as many as 20,000 – people were moved from the northern Sinai to make way for settlements, Shaul added.
Settlers and their political allies have celebrated this relatively new approach.
“One action that we’ve expanded over the years is the shepherding farms,” Ze’ev “Zambish” Hever, the secretary general of the settler organisation Amana, told a 2021 conference.
“Today they cover close to twice the land that the built-up communities cover … we understand the significance of the matter: see, it is a lot.”
About 450,000 Israelis have settled in what is now Area C of the West Bank – the area under full Israeli military and political control – since the occupation of the Palestinian territories began in 1967, some motivated by religious or nationalistic reasons, and others by the cheaper cost of living.
Their presence is viewed by most of the international community as a major obstacle to lasting peace, but until recently most focus has been on communities of houses rather than herder outposts.
In September, the UN warned about rising settler violence targeting Palestinian herders and driving them from their homes and land.
“A total of 1,105 people from 28 communities – about 12% of their population – have been displaced from their places of residence since 2022, citing settler violence and the prevention of access to grazing land by settlers as the primary reason,” the United Nations office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA) said.
Now with the Israeli military preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza, diplomats concerned about rescuing hostages in Gaza and averting regional war, and a national mood of fury after the massacre of 1,400 people on 7 October, there is little focus on the West Bank.
In a climate of fear for Palestinians – the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said soldiers and settlers have killed 62 Palestinians over 10 days – the displacement of herders has sped up, say activists.
The Guardian visited two villages abandoned in less than a week, Ein Rashash and Wadi a-Seeq, and a third where some families were discussing leaving.
“This was already the most significant displacement we’ve seen since the 1970s. Now you have seen two villages abandoned in one week,” Shaul said. “This is on steroids.”
Herder settlers living near the village of al-Mu’arrajat had begun stopping Palestinians, asking for their IDs and telling them they had 24 hours to leave their homes, said Alia Mlehat, 27.
They had blocked people from leaving the village, pulled people out of their cars, and driven between homes, she said. They all had assault rifles and sometimes shot into the air.
“Since the beginning of the war, no one can go anywhere,” she said. “It is a slow process of deepening fear … there is no way out, as the war has restricted our lives.”
The only journeys out of her community now were one-way trips. “One man left already with his wife and children. Five other families are considering leaving,” she said.
Israeli herder settlers had taken control of 10% of Area C and 6% of the entire West Bank in about five years, Shaul said, citing figures compiled by Kerem Navot, an NGO that tracks settler activity.
The denial of grazing access adds economic warfare to physical violence. Cutting off land for grazing and growing fodder forces herders to sell off some animals, and with smaller flocks, they make less money and are more vulnerable to sickness, injury or other loss.
“Palestinian herders should be self-reliant based on their established livelihoods. Instead they need humanitarian assistance because of settler violence and the failure of Israeli authorities to hold perpetrators accountable,” the UN OCHA report said.
The impact was so serious, it may amount to a war crime, the statement added. Along with demolitions, evictions and restrictions on movement and construction, the attacks on herders created “a coercive environment that contributes to displacement that may amount to forcible transfer, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva convention”.
The enclosure of herding lands has also left some villages virtually besieged, with people forced to take long circuitous routes to land that is near home but on the other side of a section claimed by settlers.
In the most extreme cases, villagers are so frightened of travelling on roads controlled by settlers that Israeli activists from groups that try to protect Bedouin communities – living with them, walking with them as they herd flocks and documenting abuses – are bringing them food and water.
They too sometimes become targets. Hagar Gefen, 71, was beaten so violently last year that she ended up in hospital with broken ribs and a punctured lung.
“Nothing could make me stop,” said Gefen, an anthropologist whose sense of humour matches her courage. “Unless maybe they cut off my legs – you have to be able to walk to be with the shepherds.”
No one has been prosecuted for that attack, and activists and Palestinians say they have little faith in Israeli authorities in the West Bank. The UN said that in four out of five communities, residents had filed complaints about settler violence, but only 6% knew of any follow-up.
For many communities the displacement is a second upheaval driven by the Israeli state and its citizens. Al-Zawahri’s family were forced out of the Negev area in 1948, and wandered for several years before settling in their current homes.
They hope that when the war is over, the Israeli state – or international pressure – will ensure this new exile is not permanent.
“We are eager for the war to finish, to try to come back home,” said Ayoub al-Zawahri, 50. “We are living in places that don’t belong to us.”
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Co-writers/directors: Erin Axelman and Sam Eilertsen Run Time: 1:34 Language: English Style: documentary Year: 2023 Awards:
Best Documentary, Arizona International Film Festival 2023
Documentary Audience Award Winner, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 2023
Projection medium: DCP Tickets:free with registration
About The Film
Our guides through this movie are two young American Jews:
Simone Zimmerman attended a “Jewish state school”, took part in a high school program in Israel, is a 2013 UC Berkeley grad, former Hillel member, and co-founder If Not Now
Eitan grew up in a conservative Jewish family in Atlanta. Took his first Israel trip at age 8. After school graduation, volunteered for the IDF, speaks of a beating, which he didn’t report
When they witness Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinian people with their own eyes, they are horrified and heartbroken – the Jewish institutions that raised them not only lied but built their Jewish identity around that lie. They join the movement of young American Jews battling the old guard over Israel’s centrality in American Judaism, and demanding freedom for the Palestinian people. Their stories reveal a generational divide in the American Jewish community as more young Jews question the narratives their synagogues and Hebrew school teachers fed them as children.
Co-writer/director Erin Axelman
By video conference
Erin is a trans Jewish filmmaker, based out of Somerville, MA. Israelism is their directorial debut. Erin and co-director Sam Eilertsen founded Tikkun Olam Productions, a nonprofit filmmaking collective that focuses on documenting and supporting movements for justice. Erin has produced videos for Senator Ed Markey, as well as Congressman Jamaal Bowman. They’ve also produced a series of short videos with Jacob Blake, who was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In addition to Israelism they are currently producing the upcoming feature documentary Generation Green New Deal.
Since 7 October, our lives have been profoundly disrupted—our daily routines upended, and our sense of safety shattered. We find ourselves constantly glued to the news, desperately searching for any glimmer of hope amidst the turmoil. Due to Meta’s collaboration with our adversaries in monitoring, censoring, and limiting Palestinian content, we are compelled to resort to alternative platforms like Telegram to stay informed about the situation in Gaza.
In the initial days, our vibrant city of al Khalil/Hebron metamorphosed into a desolate ghost town. Shops closed their doors, children remained concealed in their homes, and even the sun seemed reluctant to rise. Soldiers were a ubiquitous presence, seemingly wielding unrestrained power, cultivating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. For almost 75 years, Palestinians have endured the traumas of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and dehumanization, as displayed by the recent comments from the Israeli Defense Minister. Our rights have been systematically eroded, our homes demolished, and our land usurped by colonial settlers. To gain insight into the dehumanizing experiences of detained CPT members, please read their reflections here.
As time passed, restrictions continued to tighten throughout the West Bank. The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) closed the entrance to Hebron and assumed control over the city, despite, or perhaps because of, its pivotal role in contributing to the Palestinian economy. Reports about the treatment of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers have grown increasingly alarming, making it even more challenging for us to leave our homes.
Currently, some schools are operating with a mix of online and in-person classes. In the H2 area near the Ibrahimi Mosque, other schools have transitioned to online classes due to the intensifying crisis and concerns for the safety of students. Even in normal times, safety was a concern, but the situation has become even riskier. In the first two days of the war, the Ibrahimi Mosque was closed to the public.
Movement restrictions have existed for generations, but they have become more challenging to navigate in the current context, depending on where you live. For instance, CPT local members reside in different areas; one of them lives in Area C, very close to the Kiryat Arba settlements. He has remained in his home to protect it in case settlers attack. Additionally, soldiers have blocked the main route to his house, preventing any Palestinians from using it. Instead, they must traverse hilly terrain to reach a nearby village to shop for food and continue resisting and defending their homes.
Meanwhile, Palestinians living in restricted areas, like Tel-Rumeideh near the Ibrahimi Mosque, face restrictions that limit their movements:
To exit the Old City, the following times and checkpoints apply:
08:30 – 09:00 for the Jaber neighborhood via the al Salaymeh checkpoint.
08:00 – 08:30 for the area near Ibrahimi School via the Abu Al-Rish checkpoint.
07:30 – 8:00 for Tel-Rumeideh and the surrounding areas via Tamar checkpoint.
To enter your neighbourhood, the schedule is as follows:
18:00 – 19:00 via al Salaymeh and Abu Al-Rish checkpoints, once every two days: Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and then Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
We are left to wonder if these restrictions apply to settlers as well.
The skies have grown increasingly active, with constant presence of helicopters, airplanes, and other unidentified noises overhead. Despite the continuous sounds, it remains difficult to discern their origin. The evening skies have become particularly congested.
Furthermore, peaceful demonstrations have become a recurring expression of solidarity in the West Bank with the people of Gaza. On Friday, 13 October in Hebron, thousands of individuals participated in a demonstration against the apartheid policies of Israel and their ongoing genocide against our people in Gaza. Demonstrations occurred again on Saturday, 14 October and demonstrations have continued this week following the atrocity at the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza.
Inside the Old City of Hebron, families continue to experience the daily trauma of living in close proximity to military outposts that protect the illegal settlements in the town. Yesterday, a family shared with us the anxiety of their six-year-old boy, who asks constantly, “Why?” He questions and struggles to understand, as we all do, why Gaza is being bombed, families, homes, schools and hospitals decimated. He wonders if his house will be destroyed as so many homes are. He asks anxiously before he goes to sleep, “Will my house be bombed tonight?”
Business owners and community leaders are angered by the West’s reaction to the genocide in Gaza. They ask how the USA, the so-called most powerful nation on earth, could brush aside their 70 plus years of struggle and continue to pour money and support to the Israeli military, the fourth most powerful army in the world, against an unarmed civilian population.
In the villages around Hebron, settler violence has increased. Encouraged by the whole-hearted support of Western powers for the genocide in Gaza, settler attacks, under the protection of the Israeli army, have exploded in intensity and frequency throughout the West Bank.
On Friday, 13 October, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, documented the killing of a Palestinian in At-Tuwani, a village in the Masafer Yatta area south of Hebron. He is in critical condition after a settler, accompanied by an Israeli soldier, invaded the community on Friday and shot him at point-blank range.
On Monday, 16 October, the residents of Al-Qanub, a small village north of Hebron comprising eight families, faced the burning of their village. It is reported that settler violence led to the expulsion of every resident of the village, located near the settlements of Ma’ale Amos and Asfar. Settlers burned three houses with all their belongings inside.
On Tuesday 17 October, in Simri, southern Hebron, settlers violently attacked residents of two tiny villages, and settlers bulldozed two vacant houses whose residents had previously been forced to leave due to settler violence.
On the same day in the town of Halhoul, north of Hebron, the soldiers killed a 17-year-old boy, Mohammad Nidal Mohammad Milhem, after shooting him with live fire in the abdomen, causing extensive internal organ damage and bleeding. Mohammad was shot after dozens of soldiers invaded the Industrial School in Halhoul, where dozens of Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip have been staying after the Israeli soldiers detained them in occupied Jerusalem and other parts of the country. The army caused damage to the school and interrogated the workers before abducting 50 of them, in addition to 26 Palestinians from several parts of the governorate. The attacks led to protests in several parts of Halhoul before the soldiers fired many live rounds, wounding three Palestinians, including Mohammad. Mohammad’s death is the 61st Palestinian killed by the Israeli army and settlers in the West Bank since 7 October.
On 18 October, after the inexcusable bombing of the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza the streets of Hebron filled with demonstrators in support of the people of Gaza. Snipers dominated the buildings above, injuring several people.
Many kidnappings of Palestinians under the guise of arrests and detentions have occurred here since 7 October. On Monday night and early this Tuesday, at least 70 Palestinians from the West Bank were arrested by the Israeli occupation forces, including two women from Jerusalem, journalists, and former detainees as reported by the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society. The Israeli forces have taken 540 prisoners since 7 October, and made more than 6,000 arrests since the beginning of this year.
Hundreds of workers working inside the occupied Palestinian territories from the Gaza Strip were detained for days at checkpoints before being sent to the West Bank away from their families. Most of them were cut off from contact with their families in Gaza. On Wednesday night, dozens of the Gazan workers were arrested, among those who were deported to Hebron, Al-Dahrieh, and Yatta.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society reported that since 7 October, the Israeli occupation forces have escalated unprecedented acts of torture and systematic crimes against detainees and their families, threatening, intimidating, and assaulting prisoners and their families and destroying and vandalizing homes of detainees. The occupation authorities have imposed measures making it extremely difficult for legal teams and lawyers to monitor detainees since 7 October, particularly in acquiring information about newly detained individuals and their locations and visitation rights.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society stated that the Israeli prison administration is imposing escalating retaliatory measures on a daily basis against women prisoners as part of continuous collective punishment. Besides the general abuses on basic elements of prisoners’ lives like restrictions to water, food, healthcare, and electricity, the prison authorities have resorted to physically assaulting prisoners during the ongoing raids. Furthermore, one of the most dangerous current measures affecting prisoners’ lives is the denial of medical care, meaning that the prison administration has effectively ceased medical treatment for prisoners. There are serious concerns about the potential spread of diseases, as prison authorities refuse to remove waste from prisoners’ cells while reducing the water supply and shutting it off for extended periods in some prisons, like Negev, where water is provided to prisoners for only 50 minutes a day. The prison administration has confiscated prisoners’ clothing in some prisons, leaving each prisoner with only one set. Most prisoners in various prisons are not allowed to use designated showers.
These arrest campaigns represent a central and systematic policy employed by the occupation forces to undermine any rising confrontational situation and serve as a primary tool for collective punishment, targeting civilians. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society reiterated its calls to all relevant parties, especially the International Committee of the Red Cross, to put an end to these crimes.
Given this never-ending and violent suppression of the rights of the Palestinian people, the majority of Palestinian people are hanging on by a thread. How much more physical and psychological trauma can they endure? The international community must be more vocal in calling for a swift end to the genocide and the apartheid system to prevent further suffering and abuse.