We climbed the hill. The chain of peaks and valleys is turning green this time of year, with patches of red anemones and cyclamens in the clefts of the rock, plowed and cleared wheat fields, harvested olive groves and a tiny flock of sheep nibbling the green grass. This could have been the landscape of an innocent and lovely land. At the top of the next hill, a white van containing settlers from the Givat Ronen outpost suddenly appeared. Immediately in the wake of the van came two military jeeps.
The soldiers exited from their vehicles and began looking in our direction. Then eight of them hightailed down the hill to the place where we were standing six armed and armored Israel Defense Forces soldiers, and another two men from the Border Police. We identified ourselves as journalists, and the officer with them photographed our press cards.
“You are not allowed to be here,” declared the young commander, a first lieutenant. We asked why and he replied that we were in a closed military zone. We asked to see an order but he didn’t have one. Instead, the officer said: “You will be held to account for being the chief inciter. I am a prophet and I know what will happen. You will be responsible for a disturbance. If you want explanations, contact the IDF Spokesman. You are the chief inciters,” he said meaning us.
A while later the force departed. Maybe they never found the order.
One of our group, Irene Nasser, is a Palestinian-Israeli woman who works for the Just Vision organization (which documents the nonviolent struggle against the occupation). She had also been here last Saturday, during the evacuation of the protest tent camp that had been established at the site. She identifies one of the Border Policeman who got out of the jeep and approached us as someone who was especially violent during Saturday’s evacuation.
On Monday we climbed the hill between the Palestinian village of Burin (near Nablus) and the settlements of Givat Ronen, Har Brakha and Yizhar. Last Saturday, residents of the village together with Palestinians from surrounding villages had set up a tent camp there as a protest against the IDF and the settlers not allowing them to reach their fields and groves.
The camp arose on private land belonging to inhabitants of the village, in Area B. The IDF and Border Police immediately arrived at the site and destroyed the structures, while displaying considerable violence. A video captures the brutal arrest of one of the inhabitants, Wahib Qadus, 38, as soldiers and Border Police kick and beat him, even after he is lying on the ground unconscious, and up until they carry him off to detention.
As this was happening, settlers also came down from the direction of Yizhar and rampaged through the village. They uprooted a number of olive trees, demolished a car and also fired live ammunition from a pistol at a boy, wounding him in the thigh.
As we climbed the hill in the direction of the Palestinian tent camp of which not a trace remained great tranquillity prevailed there.
The last house at the edge of Burin, an ancient village of some 3,100 inhabitants, belongs to Bruce-Lee Eid. That is what his mother named him: Bruce-Lee. His house is a frequent target of rampaging settlers. Bruce-Lee doesn’t live here any more; he lost his residency and is now living in Jordan while his brother, Bilal, keeps an eye on the unplastered house.
The disputed land, about which there really should be no dispute, is land belonging to the Eid, Qadus, Najar and Zaban families. They call the place where the almond trees are now blossoming Eid Hill. It is quite far from the Jewish settlement on the hill, but nevertheless the IDF allows its owners to go there only during the olive harvest, if they coordinate in advance. The inhabitants are convinced the settlers desire these lands for themselves, too. The olive trees stand along spectacular ancient terraces on the hillside and in the valley.
On Saturday morning the villagers pitched tents and also wanted to build
manatirs (traditional shelters for watchmen over lands). The villagers didn’t want Israeli activists to join them this time; they wanted a Palestinian struggle. This did not prevent Gershon Masika, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, from later accusing activists from the Israeli left of “incitement.” Masika also did not hesitate to claim that it is the Palestinians who are uprooting their own olive trees.
After the tent camp was erected, settlers started coming down the hill and throwing stones at the Palestinians. The IDF stood between them as a barrier until the evacuation began. By 4 P.M. not a trace remained apart from a child’s windbreaker, which is still rolling around on the ground.
‘Next time, I’ll arrest you’
At his home in the village, 10th-grader Zakaria Najar sits with a black stocking cap on his head and a bandage on his leg. After he and his friends were expelled from the protest camp, he went down to the village. There, stone-throwing began between local youngsters and the settlers from Yizhar, who had stormed the village to mete out punishment. The boy recalls that the settlers had their faces masked.
At one point, one of them pulled out a pistol and shot Najar in the thigh, from a distance of about 15 meters. His wound is slight but painful. He was taken to the Rafidia Hospital in Nablus, but released several hours later due to a doctors’ strike (in protest over not receiving the salaries owed to them from the Palestinian Authority). Zakaria manages a weak smile and says he will go back to protest and resistance activity.
One of the leaders of the struggle, Ghassan Najar, 24, is listening to the conversation. He says the decision to set up the protest camp came after attacks by the settlers became frequent in recent weeks. These included the uprooting of trees, sheep-rustling and harassment of locals. He attributes this to the Knesset election in Israel.
On Sunday at around 8 P.M., Najar says an ambulance with Palestinian license plates entered the village. It was followed a few minutes later by a convoy of IDF jeeps about 15 of them along with many foot soldiers. All the entrances to the village were blocked and the soldiers went from house to house. They also came to the house where Najar and his friends were visiting a sick friend. The soldiers ordered Najar outside. They tied his hands behind his back and blindfolded him. “For sure it’s an arrest, tell my parents,” he called out to his friends.
He says he did manage to see five men dressed in black and wearing masks emerge from the Palestinian ambulance. These men joined the forces. Najar was put into a military jeep, where a “Captain Pinto” of the Shin Bet security service awaited him.
“Howya doin’, ya bastard,” the Shin Bet man asked him, he says, and Najar says he asked him to speak to him respectfully. Pinto removed Najar’s blindfold and asked if he knew him. Najar said he didn’t. Pinto said he did know Najar.
“I haven’t come to arrest you this time,” the officer allegedly told Najar. “I have come to educate you, to force you to listen, after what you guys did on Saturday. Have you gone out of your minds, attacking settlers? This is just my first visit, and I am already planning the next ones. We are going to educate the inhabitants of Burin. This time I’m letting you go, but next time you will only dream of getting released before spending three years in prison. I am in a hurry my wife is waiting for me at home but next time I will arrest you.”
At about 10 P.M. the “pedagogical exercise” ended and the IDF soldiers left the village. The next morning, when we climbed the protest hill, Ghassan Najar stayed behind for fear of the soldiers who came down toward us.
The response from the IDF Spokesman’s Office: “From the investigation that was conducted, there was no known use of an emergency rescue vehicle. Inevitably, there is no possibility of verifying the claims of the writer with respect to comments by the officer without identifying details.”
As far as this writer knows, the use of any emergency vehicles for military purposes is not allowed according to IDF regulations.
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