Palestinians mount patrols fearing attack by Israel settlers

AFP , Thursday 2 Mar 2023

Wielding long sticks and with their faces wrapped in Palestinian chequered keffiyeh scarves, young men set out on a night patrol to guard their village in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Palestinians run away from tear gas shot by Israeli forces during clashes, following a raid at the entrance to Aqabat Jaber refugee camp near the West Bank city of Jericho, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. AP


Each night, the team gathers at Turmus Ayya in the north of the West Bank, ready to raise the alarm in the event of a raid by Israeli settlers, who have set up bases in outposts around the village.

"We do not intend to attack anyone -- we work to defend our people and our village, our home, our land and our honour," one said, requesting anonymity for fear of arrest by Israeli forces.

"These are our weapons -- sticks and flashlights -- and we have nothing but them to defend ourselves", he said, raising a baton and a powerful electric torch.

Tensions are high, especially after the nearby Palestinian town of Huwara came under aggressive attack by Israeli settlers on Sunday, hours after two Israeli settlers were shot dead as they drove past.

Hundreds of rampaging settlers -- 300 to 400 people, according to the Israeli occupation army -- set homes and cars ablaze, while a Palestinian man was killed in the nearby village of Zaatara.

After the attack, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant deplored the situation as "intolerable" and warned that Israel "cannot allow a situation in which citizens take the law into their (own) hands".

Police said they had made a handful of arrests.

"After what happened in Huwara, we have become more vigilant than before," said one of the leaders of the patrol, his face concealed.

The team first formed last year after tensions with the settlers rose following a clash, but they increased patrols after attacks this year, moving around on foot or on off-road buggies. Some carry baseball bats.

"We, the youth, formed guard committees... we take turns with each other to fend off any possible attack," another said.

Lookouts on the hills

Turmus Ayya, home to some 4,000 people, many of them Palestinian-Americans, has seen a number of recent attacks by settlers.

In January, a Palestinian home and vehicle were torched in the village, in an arson attack in which Israeli extremists were the suspected perpetrators, an Israeli security official told AFP.

"The village is surrounded by settlement outposts, and every two weeks there is an assault," another member of the defence group said.

In recent weeks, a group of settlers were seen coming close to the village, but on spotting the patrol, they retreated.

Excluding Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, the West Bank is home to about 2.9 million Palestinians as well as an estimated 475,000 Jewish settlers, who live in state-approved settlements considered illegal under international law.

The young men move in groups, monitoring the area from a hilltop to watch for any movement from the settlers on hills across the valley.

Abdul Karim al-Zaghloul, a Palestinian-American from Ohio who was visiting family in the village, brought cups of hot tea to the young men on a cold night.

"We are ready for any attack, God willing," another patrol member said.

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