Settlers Are Taking Their Anger Out on Palestinians – as Israeli Troops Watch

Since the death of a settler teen in an accident a month ago, there have been some 44 attacks by settlers on Palestinians – but not one arrest. Three of those assaulted recount what they endured

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Izz a-Din Zinadin, left, and his father Mohammed, this week. After they filed a complaint, the investigator told them to go home and wait for a call. It’s unlikely to come.
Izz a-Din Zinadin, left, and his father Mohammed, this week. After they filed a complaint, the investigator told them to go home and wait for a call. It’s unlikely to come.

Fourteen stitches in the head of Izz a-Din Zinadin, six stitches in the head of his father, Mohammed. Father and son, two farmers on the way to plow their land. Mohammed is 70 years old, the father of 11 children; his son, Izz a-Din, is 43 and has seven children. The father was beaten by settlers in front of his son. He heard his shouts and saw a settler continuing to pound his father with a club even when he had fallen to the ground, but couldn’t come to his aid because he, too, was being beaten.

The hilltop hoodlums, with curly earlocks and the backing of the Israel Defense Forces, did not hesitate to batter an elderly man on the head, knock him down and go on hitting him with clubs as he bled. His son was beaten in every part of his body and also collapsed to the ground, bleeding. The images were broadcast on local Palestinian television in Nablus.

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The event occurred last Wednesday, in the fields near the settlement of Gitit, in the Jordan Rift Valley. Two weeks earlier, settlers had attacked 64-year-old Nasser Nifal in his car, hurling stones and rocks at him. The vehicle was badly damaged.

Both incidents occurred as soldiers looked on. In the Zinadin's case, they made do with removing the thugs from the field, and in Nifal's case they didn’t lift a finger.

These are turbulent days in the West Bank, when the hilltop hoodlums are venting their anger on the Palestinians as revenge for the death of their friend, Ahuvia Sandak, who was killed in a car accident during a police chase. In light of the indifference of the Israel Defense Forces and the police, and their inaction, which is being seen, justifiably, as support for the pogromists, such assaults on Palestinians are only proliferating.

During the month since Sandak’s death, researchers of the Israeli NGO Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights have received confirmed reports of 44 incidents in which Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians across the West Bank. In 31 cases, settlers blocked central junctions along Highway 60, the main road in the West Bank, and threw stones at Palestinian vehicles. Yesh Din reported that at least nine people were wounded in these incidents, including one child. In 10 cases settlers invaded Palestinian communities, throwing stones at people and houses and torching cars. In the other three cases, groups of settlers attacked Palestinian farmers as they worked their land. One of those incidents targeted the two Zinadin men – both of whom now have their heads bandaged, their stitches not yet removed.

Izz a-Din Zinadin and his father Mohammed following the attack.

The village of Majdal Bani Fadal lies on the summits of two hills, on the edge of the Jordan Rift Valley, across from the settlement of Migdalim. Mohammed and Izz a-Din speak good Hebrew – they have worked all their life in the settlements in the valley and in Israel. On Wednesday of last week, they tell us, they set out in the morning for their land, or what they are convinced is their land, east of their village, hard by the settlement of Gitit; their family has 50 dunams (12.5 acres) on which they grow wheat. On the day in question they planned to plow the land ahead of sowing it, with the aid of a tractor that they keep at the site.

At 9:30 they parked their car around 500 meters from the field, alongside the access road to it. As they started to walk they suddenly heard quick footsteps behind them. “I told Dad, ‘Watch out, there are people behind us,’” the son recalls saying. But it was already too late. Izz a-Din turned around and saw a settler attack Mohammed, hitting him on the head with a club. His father fell down but the settler did not let up. Instantly another settler joined in and started to pound the son, also with a club.

Dozens of people who were in the fields began to approach. The Civil Administration of the Israeli military government has stated that these lands should be expropriated from the Palestinians and transferred to the settlement of Gitit. As a result, army and police forces were in the area, as were residents of the two villages that own land there, Majdal Bani Fadal and Aqraba. The two settlers continued to batter their victims. Izz a-Din says that he felt dizzy and that his father was semi-conscious. According to Izz a-Din, the soldiers arrived at the site and placed the two settlers in their vehicle. But they weren’t arrested, only removed from the field. The son managed to get up somehow; his father lay on the ground, bleeding.

Izz a-Din remembers only the long, curly earlocks. The assailants weren’t masked, but he doesn’t remember their faces. “We didn’t look much at their faces, because they kept pounding and pounding. They didn’t say a thing. Just kept pounding and pounding us with the sticks. I was afraid for my father. Of course I was afraid.”

An IDF paramedic who arrived with an ambulance treated both father and son and dressed their wounds. Now they waited for a Palestinian ambulance, which arrived about a quarter of an hour later and took the two to Rafadiya Hospital in Nablus. Izz a-Din needed 14 stitches in his head, and his leg and left hand had swelled up from the bruising blows. His back still hurts. His father needed six stitches in his head and also in his lower lip, which was torn from the battering. It’s heartrending to see these two affable men sitting in the living room this way, their heads bandaged.

They are not angry, at least not overtly so, only thankful that they came out of the assault alive. On Sunday they went to the Binyamin District police station to file a complaint, waited two hours outside and left in despair. They returned the next day and after another wait of a few hours they were allowed in and filed a complaint; they also brought the police a disk with video footage of the attack. The investigator told them to go home and wait for a phone call. It’s unlikely to come. In the meantime the Shai (Samaria and Judea) District police are investigating.

Mohammed Zinadin.

Did the two men return to their land? No. Farmers from Aqraba told them that on the day after the incident officials of the Civil Administration arrived and informed them that they are all henceforth barred from working the land – it’s not theirs.

A spokesperson for the unit of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories this week stated to Haaretz: “The plot of land in question, where the land dispute between Palestinian residents of the area and residents of Gitit took place, is within the bounds of a valid, national zoning plan of the settlement of Gitit. In light of complaints that reached our office from a number of Palestinian residents, claiming that the lands belong to them and that they have documents to support this, a comprehensive examination was conducted by the Civil Administration’s staff officer for government and abandoned property, to examine the claims.

“According to the documents presented by the Palestinian residents, and after a tour was made of the site led by a staff officer, at which representatives from the Aqraba Council and the Palestinian Liaison Unit were present, the sector boundaries of the plot were made clear to both sides, including the demarcation of the Palestinians’ private land and the demarcation of the farmlands that lie within the bounds of the national zoning plan for Gitit. The decision was made in accordance with the proper powers and procedures.

“We emphasize that the Palestinian residents are not forbidden to work their lands as they were defined during the tour, but are only forbidden to work the lands that are defined in the zoning plan of the settlement of Gitit. As is the practice under the law, anyone who considers himself adversely affected by the division of the territory that was carried out during the tour, is eligible to submit an appeal to the staff officer for government and abandoned land, according to the procedures set forth for that purpose.”

In response to the allegation that the soldiers at the scene did not intervene, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit issued the following statement to Haaretz this week: “On Wednesday, January 13, 2021, a violent disturbance with the participation of dozens of disturbers of the [public] order took place near the settlement of Gitit, which lies within the bounds of the Rift and Valley Brigade. The disturbance extended across the area and included stone throwing. At a nearby spot, a physical altercation developed between Palestinians and settlers who arrived at the site. When the army and police forces reached the focal point of the altercation, the settlers fled. The subject was referred to the police for further handling.”

Now the father and his son have apparently lost their land and are also afraid even to approach it. Izz a-Din Zinadin: “From the age of 20 I have worked for the settlers. In my life we’ve never touched anything. My father built the whole fence of [the settlement of] Ma’ale Efraim, of Gitit and part of the fence of [the urban settlement of] Ariel.”

Nifal, next to his car after it was fixed.

Regarding the settlers’ attack on Nasser Nifal in his car, two weeks earlier, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said: “On Monday, December 28, 2020, a demonstration was held at night at the Givat Asad Junction in the area of the Binyamin territorial brigade. During the demonstration friction developed between Palestinians and settlers. IDF and Border Police forces that were at the site operated to disperse the demonstration and end the friction.”

That was on December 28 when Nasser Nifal paid a visit to friends in Bitin, a village near Ramallah, he tells us. He’s an official in the Palestinian Religious Affairs Ministry, who lives in the village of Ras Karkar, northwest of Ramallah. He set out for home around 10:45 P.M. in his Peugeot Partner. His friends warned him not to take the shortcut, because there were settlers along the way, so he decided to go by the long route, through the small town of Ein Yabrud – 15 kilometers instead of four.

Nifal arrived at the checkpoint next to the Beit El settlement. A few soldiers were standing on the side of the road but didn’t check his car. He slowed down on the speed bumps. The soldiers were about 25 meters from him on the left side of the road. Suddenly he heard noise that sounded like a powerful explosion. He thought that one of his tires had blown up, but then a hail of stones and rocks descended on the car from the right side of the road. The assailants were hidden behind a concrete barrier and threw the stones from close range. This was not the first time in recent days that settlers have utilized an IDF checkpoint, where Palestinian drivers are compelled to slow down, in order to hurl stones from a short and effective range.

Five or six stones slammed into the right side of the car; the front and back windshields were also shattered. Nifal was not hurt but was paralyzed with fear. He says he is convinced that the soldiers saw what was happening. They did nothing. He was certain that his car wouldn’t start after the onslaught, but he managed somehow to move ahead slowly with windows smashed and chassis damaged.

He drove to the Ramallah police but was told there was nothing they could do for him and that he should thank God he emerged unhurt. He says he has no intention of going to the Israel Police, knowing what will come of that. Here’s the receipt from the People’s Garage in Deit Qaddis, near Ramallah: 4,250 shekels ($1,315). “That’s the occupation,” Nifal says, and quotes Moshe Sharett, Israel’s second prime minister, who promised equality for the two peoples.