West Bank villagers vigilant but vulnerable after Israeli settlers' attacks

AFP , Friday 19 Apr 2024

Sitting around a fire in the hills of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Ibrahim Abu Alyah and some friends stood watch over his herd in the aftermath of a settler raid on their village.

West Bank
Smoke rises among buildings in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, during an Israeli army raid. AFP


"We are here so that we can put away the sheep and tell people to protect their homes in case settlers come," Abu Alyah told AFP.

After 14-year-old Israeli herder Benjamin Achimeir went missing on April 12 in the nearby illegal settler outpost of Malachi Hashalom, dozens of Jewish settlers stormed his village of Al-Mughayyir, north of Ramallah.

Armed with rifles and Molotov cocktails, they set houses ablaze, killed sheep, wounded 23 people and displaced 86, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA.

They killed at least one Palestinian.

Abu Alyah, a shepherd, lost "20 or 30 sheep" and the cash he made from selling milk products when his house was set alight.

Al-Mughayyir mayor Amin Abu Alyah said the settlers, who were part of the search party for Achimeir, burnt "everything they found in front of them" including houses, a bulldozer and vehicles.

Several people tried to organise protection committees to defend themselves from raids, but were prevented from doing so, he said.

"We currently have more than 70 prisoners inside Israeli prisons on charges of joining protection committees or trying to form an organised body," he said.


Duma, struck twice

In the nearby village of Duma, north of Al-Mughayyir, old fears came true when hundreds of terrorist settlers came down through the surrounding fields on Saturday.

That day, Achimeir's body was found bearing marks of a stabbing attack. People watched powerless as settlers rampaged through the village.

"Hundreds of settlers entered the village followed by more than 300 Israeli soldiers who stormed the village and declared it a closed military zone," Suleiman Dawabsha, head of Duma's village council, told AFP.

The Israeli army has not commented on Dawabsha's accusation of soldiers storming the village along with the settlers.

Mahmud Salawdeh, a 30-year-old iron worker whose house was torched, felt vulnerable when he realised the soldiers were not stopping the attack.

"We feel helpless because we are unable to protect ourselves, and the settlers are protected by the army," he said.

"I lost all my money and my future," he added from the ground floor of his charred house on the outskirts of Duma, near the fields the attackers came through.

At his feet, burnt furniture and shattered glass covered the floor, while walls black with soot served as a reminder of the firebombs thrown at the building.

His workshop in the adjacent room was torched and charred remnants of old tools lay around, while a large wooden box where he had been raising 70 chicks was now empty.

The incident opened old wounds for Duma residents, who still remember the tragedy that struck another Dawabsha household.

In 2015, their family home was set ablaze by a terrorist settler, killing the parents and their toddler, and leaving only one surviving member, four-year-old Ahmed.

'We will never leave'

Duma residents, like many West Bank villagers, say they are protected neither by Palestinian security, which is only allowed by the occupation to operate in 40 percent of the territory, nor by Israel, which controls the rest.

Israeli soldiers do not always restrain settlers from attacking Palestinians, OCHA said.

In January, "in nearly half of all recorded incidents (of settler violence) after 7 October, Israeli forces were either accompanying or reported to be supporting the attackers," it said.

OCHA recorded 774 instances of Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians since war broke out in Gaza on October 7, and said 37 communities had been affected by violence between April 9 and 15, "triple the number" of the preceding week.

At least 469 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops or settlers in the West Bank since the start of the war in Gaza.

The West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, has seen a surge in violence since early last year, which has intensified since the Israel war in Gaza erupted.

Despite the hardships, "we will never leave", herder Abu Alyah told AFP.

But the 29-year-old already had to move from his former herding grounds on the other side of Al-Mughayyir, closer to the settlement outpost, in September.

The weekend's attacks marked a peak in violence due to the sheer number of people who took part in them, but also reflects a wider trend in the West Bank, NGOs said.

"It is clear that the escalation of violence in the West Bank has occurred in tandem with the crisis in Gaza," charity ActionAid said.

On Wednesday evening, settlers were planting Israeli flags along the road that runs between Al-Mughayyir and Malachi Hashalom.

* This story has been edited by Ahram Online.

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