Opinion |

I Grew Up Watching Settlers Attacking My Palestinian Village. They're Getting Bolder

Settler attacks on Palestinian communities are growing larger in scale and more coordinated, and now also involve guns. And they're getting away with it

Basil Al-Adraa
Basil Al-Adraa
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A screenshot from a video shot by the author, showing settlers throwing stones and setting fires.
A screenshot from a video shot by the author, showing settlers throwing stones and setting fires.
Basil Al-Adraa
Basil Al-Adraa

In 2005, on the day I celebrated my tenth birthday, I saw settlers attacking my family for the first time. I remember my father plowing my family's land in the southern Hebron Hills, as my mother and I watched from nearby. I remember holding her hand as a group of masked men, from the adjacent Israeli settler outpost, ran toward us and threw stones at my father. He started to film the attackers with his camera, and I tried to walk towards him, but my mother grabbed me.

"Don't you dare move," she said. I noticed how terrified she was.

I am now 25 years old. I grew up with these attacks and, as their frequency increased, they became a central part of my life – particularly since the situation has worsened dramatically over the last few months. I live in a small Palestinian village named Twani, in the southern hills of the West Bank, and, like both of my parents, I am an activist who believes in non-violent resistance to the occupation. All I have at my disposal is a camera and a notebook.

Over the past two months, since the latest war in Gaza, the settlers' attacks have become larger and more coordinated, and have started to involve guns.

A recent investigative article I helped write revealed that on a single day in May – while bombs were being dropped from Israeli fighter jets over Gaza – at least four Palestinians, from four different areas of the West Bank, were shot dead after armed settlers simultaneously attacked their villages, while Israeli soldiers stood by or joined the attacks.

The massive use of live fire during premeditated settler attacks is a new and dangerous phenomenon. My own village of Twani has been targeted. During the past two months, every Saturday, settlers from the outpost of Havat Ma'on have attacked our homes violently. I managed to catch four of these attacks on camera.

In one video that I took, a group of masked settlers can be seen invading our village's land, carrying wooden bats and slingshots. They start to burn down our fields and throw stones at us, while Israeli soldiers are right next to them, doing nothing.

I ran to the area with other residents and we tried to block them, but the Israeli army pushed us back using stun grenades. It was at this moment that one settler fired his gun, several times, directly at us. The video I took of the gunshots is shaky because I couldn't steady my hands from fear. I turned around, to discover that, thankfully, none of my loved ones had been hit. Soldiers witnessed all of this and did nothing.

The Israeli settlers' attacks are not random, nor do they reflect some kind of penchant for violent outbursts. They do what they do in order to create facts on the ground. They're after our land.

Over these past two months, settlers have established three new outpost farms near my home. They received over 4,000 dunams (around 998 acres) from the Israeli army, a vast area of land which was expropriated from Palestinians in the 1980s and declared "state land." Entire Palestinian communities use these lands every day for agricultural purposes and herding sheep, and the violence inflicted against them is a central tool used to deter them from continuing to do so. The land was stolen from Palestinians legally, by the state; this is "legal" violence. The illegal violence of settlers just completes this process.

Understanding the interplay between the settlers’ attacks and the racist laws that complement them is important. Four legal mechanisms and practices used by the military regime deserve special attention.

First, the state expropriates Palestinian land by declaring it 'state land' using a highly discriminatory law, and then allocating 99.76 percent of these state lands to settlers alone, according to Peace Now.

Second, the IDF turns a blind eye as outposts on this so-called "state land" are built illegally, while allowing them to connect to the national electricity and water grids.

Third, the IDF prevents most Palestinian communities in my area, which is under direct military control in a space designated by the Oslo Accords as “Area C,” from connecting to water and electricity, and rejects over 98 percent of our requests for building permits.

Fourth, in this context of dispossession, when settler violence takes place, the police don't actively investigate the crime and only rarely arrest the Israeli perpetrators. Research by the anti-occupation group Yesh Din indicates that 91 percent of complaints filed by Palestinians with the Israeli police in the West Bank between 2005-2014 about ideological crimes committed by Israelis were closed without an indictment.

I personally faced the painful consequences of systematic police neglect in 2019. It was a sunny day, and I received a phone call from my neighbor, telling me, in a shaky voice, that a group of settlers was throwing stones at him and his family.

I ran to the field they were calling from, camera in hand, and saw six settlers and a dog. When I started to film them, one of the settlers unleashed their dog on me, and it bit my hand. I felt a sharp pain, and noticed I was bleeding.

When the army arrived at the scene, they refused to call an ambulance for me. I lay on the ground, bleeding, for almost 40 minutes. Finally, a Palestinian ambulance arrived and took me to the hospital.

Two days later, upon leaving the hospital, I went directly to an Israeli police station in a nearby settlement. It's not an easy experience for me to enter a settlement, but the injustice done to me was so painful that I felt I must go. As a Palestinian living under foreign military occupation – this is the only way for me to demand justice.

Luckily, I filmed the entire incident. The settler's face could clearly be seen in my video. Yet the police officer taking my statement turned the whole thing into an investigation against me. He asked me: What were you doing there? Why didn't you run away? Why were you filming? Why are you bringing other activists to film and cause problems?

I managed to file my complaint in the end, following a long, nerve-wracking day. Unsurprisingly, no one was ever arrested. The same settler recently unleashed his dog on two other people from my town.

The settler impunity that arises from my experience and Yesh Din's research is the context that has enabled the perpetrators to begin using guns over the past two months. I am deeply afraid for my community, which is completely helpless and must defend itself against armed forces and individuals. Settlers are able to do what they do because there's nobody to stop them, and no one to hold them accountable. The direct result is that members of my community are getting hurt and losing their livelihoods. Some have been killed, and many more lives are on the line as long as this situation is not taken seriously. When will the world wake up?

Basil Al-Adraa is a human right activist and journalist.

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