Special feature / The land of unchecked settler harassment
Villagers accuse settlers of burning groves and killing livestock, claim police unresponsive to complaints.
The carcass of a butchered donkey is still lying in the olive grove of the Sufan family. Every single week since mid-June, the family, whose home is on the southern edge of the village of Burin, near Nablus, has suffered harassment by settlers living in outposts near the settlement of Yitzhar.
The mother, Hinan (Umm Ayman), says she has filed an endless number of complaints with the police, "but everything is kalam fadi (empty talk). They do nothing, and they do not even compensate us."
On June 16, Musa'ab, the son, took the sheep herd out with his neighbor Munir and his brother Bashir in the hills surrounding the family home. "At some point," Munir recalls, "we saw a car heading our way from the direction of Yitzhar. Two settlers stepped out of the car, and the vehicle continued on its way, went around a bend and disappeared. But then we saw that eight more settlers were walking toward us, and some had knives in their hands. They set sheafs of wheat on fire and moved closer to the home of Umm Ayman and threw stones at the house. We ran away with our sheep but left the Sufan family's donkey behind. One of the settlers took a knife and stabbed the donkey over and over until he killed him. We filed a complaint with the police, who came and took photographs of the site."
Umm Ayman's home is now surrounded by burned-out hills, the result of repeated arson by settlers. The family home looks like a semi-fortified outpost. The windows in the upper floor are covered with metal nets, to keep stones out, and the windows in the lower level are protected by heavy metal shutters.
Since mid-June, the human rights group Yesh Din registered at least nine attacks on Palestinian families living in Burin, carried out by settlers living in outposts near Yitzhar or the settlement of Bracha, which is situated on the mountain across from the Palestinian village.
The repertoire of settler attacks includes burning down groves and other agricultural produce, killing livestock, setting homes and cars alight, and incidents like the one that took place last Friday, when a settler youth threw a rock on a Palestinian vehicle driving near Route 60, injuring a pregnant mother and her daughter.
Three days after the killing of the donkey, what has come to be called the "Great Blaze" took place in Burin, which is situated in a wadi, between two settlements. That day, security forces had planned to remove a caravan in one of the illegal outposts. Following the evacuation, dozens of settlers congregated near Yitzhar and the IDF and police tried to prevent them from going to the settlement and blocked the path of the buses carrying the demonstrators.
Munir says the passengers disembarked nearby, south of Burin, and climbed to Yitzhar on foot. However, several hours later they climbed down from the settlement toward Burin and began destroying the properties of the Palestinian families, particularly their fields.
Dozens of dunams were set on fire and Umm Ayman's home became the target of settlers' stones. After the fire was put out, the people of Burin were hoping things would go back to normal. But on June 20, according to the family, some of their sheep were poisoned. On Tuesday, one of Umm Ayman's sons took the herd out, and he saw two settlers heading toward him. He fled.
Ten days ago, the home of the Najar family, in the northern outskirts of the village, near two illegal outposts, was set on fire. Unidentified persons broke the window and threw in flammable materials. The family was lucky not to be at home.
It is hard to know what has led to the escalation of the violence by the settlers from the outposts. Perhaps idle settler youths on summer vacation see attacking Palestinian families as a kind of adventure. Or maybe the harvest season is causing the settlers to step up their attacks.
Others might argue that this is part of a new policy of the settlers in the isolated settlements: The minute the security forces try to evacuate an illegal outpost, or just any caravan, their vengeance is meted out in the field, with an outburst of violence against the Palestinians.
In all the incidents, complaints were filed with police, but to date no one was arrested, except in the case of the stone thrower last Friday.
Yesh Din argues, "The increase in the incidents in which Israeli citizens harass Palestinians in the area of the village of Burin and the West Bank in general, recently highlights the lack of action on the part of the authorities to contain the basis of Jewish terrorism that has taken hold in those areas. The authorities must act assertively against the violators and bring them to justice."
For its part, police told Haaretz it was investigating the details of the complaints and would offer a response on the claims of the Palestinian villagers in the coming days.