Three eyewitness accounts of Israeli settler violence

Three eyewitness accounts of Israeli settler violence

Three recent stories from +972 Magazine contain firsthand accounts by Palestinians of their harrowing experiences at the hands of Israeli settlers – attacked while driving, harvesting olives, and protecting their own land. Israeli military complicity is a recurring theme. 

Keep in mind that Israeli ‘settlements‘ are actually illegal Jewish-only colonies on confiscated Palestinian land

How my family came face to face with settler violence on the road to Nablus

by Yara M. Asi, reposted from +972 Magazine, October 20, 2022

The West Bank is, geographically speaking, a small place. In a normal world, you should be able to get from the north of Jenin to the south of Hebron within just a few hours. A resident of Jericho should easily be able to take a day trip to the Turkish baths in Nablus; a resident of Qalqilya should be able to see the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron without any issue.

But we don’t live in that world, as I was forcefully reminded a few nights ago, driving through the winding mountain roads of the occupied West Bank. These Palestinian cities and towns are separated not primarily by distance, but through an ever-growing infrastructure of Israeli settlements which is shrinking the area where Palestinians are permitted to live, work, play, and travel safely.

There are now at least 650,000 settlers living throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, and new settlements are being approved regularly. One increasingly cannot drive between places in the West Bank that are just a few minutes apart without passing a settlement or an entrance to a settlement, all of which are illegal according to international law. And with the unceasing growth of the settler population has come unrelenting settler violence — with which I came face to face last week.

Family excursion

Originally from Nablus, I moved to the United States as a young child, spending summers in Palestine to visit family, except for a few years during the Second Intifada. So I was thrilled when I won a research grant to study movement restrictions as they affect health in Palestine, for which I would be based back in Nablus. I made arrangements to bring my children and husband with me. This was to be a special family time, in my homeland.

Aside from visiting family and conducting my research, I planned a few excursions, including one to Ramallah. Perhaps my first hint of what was to come was a text from a friend and colleague from Haifa whom I had planned to meet there, asking to reschedule: “We’ve heard from a friend that his friend’s car was attacked by settlers, throwing stones, yesterday next to Ramallah.” He thought there might be an issue coming from his direction.

Of course, I had heard of settler attacks and even seen the videos. I’d read countless reports on the rise of settler violence, and the impunity afforded to settlers. We made plans to meet the following week instead, perhaps in Jericho. In a normal world, this would have happened without any issue.

Chartering a taxi from a well known company in Nablus, my family and I made the hour-long ride to the Ramallah area ourselves, unaware that just outside of Nablus, an Israeli soldier had been shot, and Nablus would soon be besieged.

We first visited the Palestinian Museum in Birzeit, viewing the moving exhibit “A People by the Sea,” which examines how the coastal cities of Palestine were affected by the Nakba and the events that happened thereafter. We moved on to the Yasser Arafat Museum, a shrine not just to the former leader but to a near-century of trauma, displacement, and violence experienced by Palestinians.

My children viewed the photos and videos solemnly. If only I had known that we would soon get an in-person experience of the most alarming recent trend in Israel’s violence against Palestinians.

The trip home back to Nablus started uneventfully. It had been a long day, and my kids quickly fell asleep in the backseat. There was little traffic, and we anticipated being home within the hour. But as we approached the Za’tara area a few kilometers south of the city, we saw the first signs of trouble.

Israeli settlers + Israeli military

Ahead, we spotted a large group of settlers, most of them young men, waving large Israeli flags in the median near an intersection, and a few Israeli military jeeps and a Border Police van parked to the right, its lights flashing. The traffic light was red.

Our taxi driver stopped a few hundred meters short of the light, waiting for it to turn green so as to avoid pulling up right next to the settlers and soldiers. “It’s okay,” he reassured us. That’s when I noticed the large stones littering the road, and the settlers apparently noticed us.

They started screaming and running toward the taxi. I began to tense up. Many had their arms pulled back, loaded with stones. Our taxi driver threw the car into reverse. My husband turned around in his seat and silently gestured toward the kids, a fearful look on his face. I thought that surely the settlers would notice the sleeping children in the backseat and retreat.

They didn’t. They approached, screaming at us, just a few meters from the window. We ducked down as low as we could, my arms covering my kids’ heads. I had heard the stories. I knew people died this way. Could this really be happening?

They started to throw stones. One of the soldiers waved on for our driver to go through the red light. He hit the pedal and we sped past the angry mob, their faces twisted with anger as they chased us through, our taxi bumping around on the stone-filled road.

I finally exhaled. It lasted maybe two minutes, but it was the first time I ever felt scared being in the West Bank — made even more terrifying by the sense of duty I felt to protect my kids and how powerless I was to do so in this situation.

I called my family in Nablus to tell them what had happened. They had heard that the roads to Nablus were full of settler mobs, some armed, some starting fires, and there were rumors that all the entrances to Nablus were closed.

We drove by a few more groups of settlers who were crowding intersections and roundabouts, waving flags, screaming, and some appearing to be singing joyfully. Each time I saw them, I was thankful beyond belief that my kids were asleep and couldn’t see what was happening.

I saw men and women, young and old. I looked at some of the women, many seemingly my own age and older, maybe some of them mothers. How did they justify terrorizing another family, as they beamed, waving their country’s flag?

Another attempt

We approached the entrance to Huwara, a town outside Nablus that has become a flashpoint for settler violence over the last year, and just minutes away from where we were staying. But it quickly became apparent that we wouldn’t be entering this way.

There was an enormous military presence, and a flying checkpoint had been erected in the hours since we left the city. To the right was a soldier in a watchtower, sweeping the area with a mounted gun pointing a green laser that passed over our car multiple times. We waited in line, afraid to make a single false move, while yellow-plated Israeli cars filled with settlers overtook us. The settlers confidently stepped out of their cars, spoke to the soldiers, and passed through.

When we reached the checkpoint, our taxi driver explained that we were Americans, and that he was just trying to get us to our apartment a few kilometers ahead. “Closed. Closed. Don’t make trouble,” the soldier told us in English.

My husband, the barrel of the soldier’s gun essentially in his face, told the driver to just turn around. My smart watch warned me that my heart rate was abnormally high. “Yeah,” I told myself, “I know.”

By this point, members of my family were calling every few minutes. Where are we? What happened? Meanwhile, our driver was fielding calls from the taxi office; other drivers were calling in to share that there were checkpoints and settler mobs everywhere. How would we get into Nablus?

Our driver, who seemed to have experience at dealing with situations like this, quickly turned off the main road to avoid running into more settlers, and entered Odala, a nearby Palestinian town. We drove through the streets, where locals were aware of what was happening just a few minutes away.

Then, another Palestinian taxi approached from the opposite direction, its windshield smashed. The driver explained that the road ahead was blocked — we would have to find another way.

Panic started to set in; I had the sinking feeling that we would not enter Nablus that night. I worried about exposing my kids to this traumatic situation, and thought about all the other Palestinian families who were exposed to these stressors on a daily basis.

Our previously unflappable driver pulled over to have a cigarette and think about what to do. He told me, “This is why my wife has a picture of me by the bed,” indicating that it was not the first time he would return home much later than planned — or was perhaps worried he would not return home at all.

My phone was ringing non-stop. Did you try this route? We heard it was closed. Where are you? My aunt suggested we stay the night at the home of a friend of hers to avoid driving during what was clearly an extremely violent night on the roads.

Third time is the charm

The driver got back in the vehicle. He knew another path. It wouldn’t be fun, he said, and it would take a while. My children were stirring, asking what was taking so long. I told the driver, “As long as you do not get back on that main road, try it.” He assured me we would stay in the Palestinian towns where it was safe.

As we made our way through the alternative path, we passed multiple crowds of Palestinians. They either asked us for updates or updated us themselves on what they were seeing on WhatsApp and social media. Passing taxis stopped to ask us which way we were trying.

The sense of community and shared experience was, even in those uncertain and dangerous moments, soothing. Eventually we formed a small convoy of Palestinian taxis and private vehicles heading to Nablus, all attempting this last-ditch route.

The rest of the ride passed mostly in silence. After about an hour, the driver looked back at me. “Alhamdullilah. We are in Nablus,” he said jovially. “My wife will have to see me tonight after all.” I wanted to cry.

Nablus remains closed this week, its entrances blocked by Israeli checkpoints, gates, and dirt mounds. The olive harvest that we were planning for this week has been effectively canceled. But even if the city were open, I remain worried about traveling on these roads with my own children, in my own homeland. We were lucky on this night. Many others have not been.


An olive harvest lynching

by Yuval Abraham, reposted from +972 Magazine, October 20, 2022

On Wednesday afternoon, a group of masked settlers lynched a 70-year-old Jewish Israeli woman who was accompanying a Palestinian farmer for the olive harvest in the occupied West Bank. Her name is Hagar Geffen. They attacked her with clubs until she bled, after which they beat her in the head with rocks.

She is currently hospitalized in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center with broken ribs and a punctured lung. I wasn’t able to speak with her, but Yasmine, a Palestinian activist who was with Geffen, saw everything.

The settlers arrived from a settlement named Ma’ale Amos, located next to the Palestinian village of Kisan, less than 20 kilometers south of Jerusalem. Hagar was in Kisan, along with other Palestinians and Israelis, to accompany Ibrahim, an elderly Palestinian whose land is located next to the settlement, as he harvested his olives.

Below is Yasmine’s testimony from the attack. Her words are backed up by testimonies from three other people who were present during the attack, and with whom I also spoke.

Israeli settlers attack peace activists

The following contains graphic depictions of violence.

***

When we approached the farmer’s land, there were eight settlers — teenagers — with clubs. They didn’t attack us, they only cursed. We passed them and saw that they had stolen all the olives and sprayed a toxic chemical on the trees in order to kill them.

They sprayed 180 olive trees. As a farmer myself, I know that this chemical first affects the leaves, then moves to the rest of the tree, and finally to the trunk. It kills everything.

Ibrahim, who is an elderly man, began crying and shouting. I quickly started pouring water on the trees in order to save them. I knew that it takes time for the chemical to kill them.

The eight settlers tried to expel us. We sang. We didn’t speak a word to them. We only tried to calm the farmer who could not stop crying.

Suddenly, dozens of people, more than 50 of them, descended toward us from the hills. All of them were masked, holding clubs, and some of them had machetes and knives. I saw two of them holding axes. They ran toward us and began throwing stones like crazy.

We had young girls with us. Teenage girls and boys, as well as the farmer and his elderly wife. No one expected us to be attacked like this. We are a group of volunteers that came to help farmers whose land is close to the settlement.

Hagar filmed everything. I think she thought they wouldn’t attack her because she is older and does not look Palestinian. They began to beat her mercilessly. Then they stole her phone, bag, and camera.

I saw how they dropped her body on the large rocks and then beat her with their clubs. All while they held her down. She really screamed. Some of them brought over rocks and dropped them on her head. They struck her with clubs in the leg, in the back, and repeatedly in her chest. It lasted a long time; there are photos to prove it.

Every time I tried to get closer, another group of settlers threw stones at me and I could not approach. I saw the axes and the knives and knew that if they caught me, they would stab me. We were only 20 people — they were dozens, all of them young. The farmer and his elderly wife barely escaped. I was with them, trying to help them.

I feel a lot of guilt that Hagar was left there. That we left her there. She bled for a while until an Israeli ambulance arrived.

***

In the immediate aftermath, settlers began spreading lies about what happened, including telling the media that they were the ones who were attacked. That two settlers had been wounded. That a group of “anarchists and Arabs” were causing trouble.

One Israeli outlet even referred to the incident as a “confrontation between settlers and left-wing activists.”

Yes to attacking Israeli activists, no to attacking Israeli soldiers

I do not know whether the attackers were indeed wounded, but if they were, then it happened as they were busy lynching a 70-year-old woman. I also know that later that night, settlers attacked a group of Israeli soldiers near Nablus, wounding at least four. That particular act of violence was roundly condemned, from Prime Minister Yair Lapid to far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir.

The Israeli army said that attacks against soldiers by settlers “who are being protected by them, is unacceptable behavior which must be vigorously stamped out.” Not a word was spared for the Palestinians or for those in solidarity with them, who have been facing an increase of settler violence over the last weeks.

I think about the Israelis of my generation who know nothing about the horrors of Israel’s apartheid regime, or worse, know and simply let them happen. What needs to change for them to do something? Why is a 70-year-old woman lying in a hospital? Do they not see what is happening around us?

How did we create such a violent regime of colonialism and Jewish supremacy here?


Armed Israeli settlers assaulted a Palestinian man. Guess who’s in jail?

by Oren Ziv, reposted from +972 Magazine, September 19, 2022

The Israeli police on Monday reduced the charges against a Palestinian farmer, Hafez Hureini, who had been accused of attempted murder after defending himself against a settler attack while working on his land last week.

Hureini, from the village of A-Tuwani in the occupied South Hebron Hills, is now accused of grievous bodily harm following a hearing at Ofer Military Court.

Hureini was arrested and has been held in detention since last Monday amid false claims by settlers, which were amplified by the Israeli mainstream media, of a “lynching” by dozens of Palestinians against a settler named Itamar Cohen. But an investigation by +972 and Local Call showed that Cohen was one of a group of settlers, armed with a rifle and metal pipes, that had invaded private Palestinian land and attacked a small group of Palestinian farmers, including Hureini.

During the altercation, in which Hureini was acting in self-defense, Cohen was struck and sustained fractures to his skull while Hureini had both his arms broken. Following the investigation, the police reduced Hureini’s charges.

No mercy for Palestinian victim

The court extended Hureini’s detention by three days, while the judge criticized the police for the lack of progress in the investigation and did not respond to their request to extend Hureini’s detention for another nine days due to the upcoming Jewish holidays.

The judge also refused the request of attorney Riham Nasra, who represented Hureini, to release him from custody. “A 52-year-old man with two broken arms does not constitute a danger,” Nasra claimed.

Hureini arrived at the hearing with both of his arms bandaged, and looking tired. Present in the hall were two of his family members, along with MK Ofer Cassif from the left-wing Hadash party and European diplomats.

Outside the court, dozens of Israeli left-wing activists demonstrated calling for his release, which could be heard clearly inside the hearing.

The police prosecutor confirmed during the hearing that the incident took place on “land registered in the name of Palestinians,” and that the settlers arrived holding “sticks.” He added that the police had made attempts to locate the settlers who participated in the attack, but had so far been unsuccessful.

As for the settler who was injured in the incident, it was noted that his testimony was only collected at the hospital and, according to the prosecutor, he will likely be questioned in the coming days.

Whole incident caught on film

Despite the fact that the entire event was documented in an uninterrupted video filmed by somebody present at the scene, the prosecutor insisted that it was a “complex case.” He said that a confidential report was submitted to the court, and refused to answer many of the questions presented by Hureini’s lawyer.

The prosecutor also confirmed that three investigative actions, about which he provided no further details, have not yet been carried out; during the previous hearing, which took place on Thursday, the police claimed that releasing Hureini from detention might disrupt those efforts.

Nasra once again presented the video documenting the incident in court and said that while there was “no disputing the fact that one of the settler attackers was injured,” the footage also made clear that Cohen was “attacked or pushed back only after he attacked Hureini and broke his arms, on his private land.”

Hureini, Nasra continued, acted “out of an immediate and tangible sense of danger” — permissible, she said, under the Dromi Law, which provides for the possibility of self-defense in the event of an invasion of private property.

“The question is not whether the detainee pushed back [the settler] or not, but in what context he did it. There was an objective danger here,” Nasra continued. In the previous court hearing, the judge did not rule out the possibility that Hureini had acted in self-defense.

Nasra added that while Hureini is detained, his Israeli attackers are free and have yet to be questioned under caution.

Village collectively punished

Since the incident, the army has stepped up its crackdown on A-Tuwani. For three days in a row, soldiers raided the village during the evening and at night, throwing stun grenades into homes and detaining residents. Last Friday, the army raided the home of +972 writer Basil Adra.

Earlier that day, settlers protested the incident at the entrance to Havat Ma’on; meanwhile, soldiers prevented Palestinian residents and left-wing activists from approaching the agricultural land.

On Saturday, Palestinian and Israeli activists held a small protest on the land beside A-Tuwani demanding Hureini’s release. The army dispersed the protest and arrested six demonstrators, who were later released.

Since last week’s protest, the army has intermittently ceased accompanying Palestinian schoolchildren from the hamlet of Tuba to their school in A-Tuwani, which is supposed to protect them from attacks by the settlers of Havat Ma’on.

On Sunday, right-wing politician Amichai Chikli visited the area and repeated the false claims — despite the fact that they had already been refuted — that the confrontation was in fact an “ambush” and “lynching” of Jews. By Monday morning, in Ofer Military Court, even the police had changed their tune and no longer repeated the fake news.

Meanwhile, Hureini’s attackers are yet to come under formal investigation.


OTHER RECENT ISRAELI SETTLER VIOLENCE:

ISRAELI MILITARY COMPLICITY IN SETTLER VIOLENCE:

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