Iyat Hamamda, 22, was at home on Tuesday in the village of Khirbet al-Mufkara in the South Hebron Hills when she heard yelling mixed with laughter and singing in Hebrew. Outside her home, dozens of masked men were throwing stones at houses and cars. “We all hid in one room and closed the door, and then suddenly a stone flew through the window,” she recalled.
The frightened family ran outside, Hamamda carrying her three-month-old daughter. But then the army fired tear gas, and Hamamda hurried back into the house. She ran into an inner room and closed the door behind her. After a few seconds, she said, she heard a man come into the room in which she’d been only a moment before. “I was scared to death, I thought they’d kill me,” she said.
The rest of the family had gone to hide in another house. “We closed the door behind us, and in a second someone came and tried to open it. After that, a stone was thrown through the window and hit the mirror opposite it,” said Rasmiya Hamamda, 53, a relative of Iyat Hamamda. As the family hid behind a closet, they heard another window shatter in an adjacent room.
On the morning after the violent incident in the village, which is near the illegal outposts of Avigayil and Havat Maon, the residents still appeared to be in shock. The windows of most of the village houses were smashed; most of the cars and one tractor were vandalized; and solar panels and water tanks were punctured with knives. The Palestinians initially reported that 12 had been injured, but on Wednesday the villagers said the number was really six, including two children.
According to Israeli security officials, three settlers were slightly injured by stones thrown at them and a vehicle belonging to Havat Maon’s security coordinator had been pelted with stones.
The 11 families living in Khirbet al-Mufkara, none of whom have access to running water or are connected to the electrical grid, are no strangers to violence. But the villagers agreed what happened on Tuesday night was in a class by itself.
“It was the worst ever. We never imagined they would come right up to our houses. In the past, most of the incidents were farther away, not in the village and not this bad,” said Maryam Hamamda, 30, whose son was struck in the shoulder by a stone.
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According to the villagers, the incident began when a group of settlers threw stones at a shepherd and stabbed four of his sheep. A few Palestinians came to help him, and some threw stones at the settlers. At this point, they said, five armed settlers arrived, one of whom fired at the Palestinians’ legs. A few bullet casings were found at the scene. According to the Palestinians, both settlers and soldiers fired live ammunition. One of them hit a wall of the house where Iyat was hiding.
Later, the Palestinians said that somewhere between 80 and 100 masked men entered the village, some on foot and some by car and some by ATV. Most were teenage boys, some armed with clubs.
“The children were outside. When we saw a crowd of masked setters approaching, we took them all in quickly and closed the door,” Maryam said. Shortly afterwards, a large stone broke a window in the house and struck 3-year-old Mohammed, who was taken Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva. “The children started to scream and cry, and there was a sense of total terror,” she said. According to the women, seven stones were thrown into the room where they were sitting.
The villagers don’t deny that some of them threw stones at the settlers who came to the village. But they said that they were acting in self-defense and because they were so outnumbered by the settlers.
Mohammed’s father, Bakr, was at work at the time. “When I got home I saw Mohammed’s blood on the floor, and I started to scream and cry. I didn’t know what to do with myself,” he told Haaretz. The bloodstains could still be seen Wednesday morning on the floor of the room where the boy was injured.
Basel al-Adra, of the village of al-Tuwani, said he tried to reach Khirbet al-Mufkara during the incident but that a group of masked men blocked the road leading to the little village to prevent the Palestinians from helping the residents. According to the Palestinians, a Red Crescent ambulance that arrived at the scene to transport the wounded to the hospital was also stoned.
The police arrived in the village only after the settlers had been driven away by soldiers using riot-control gear. One Palestinian was arrested on suspicion of throwing stones, and a resident of Havat Maon was arrested for refusing to obey soldiers’ instructions. Soldiers who witnessed the incident and videoed close-ups of some of the masked men did not detain any others. On Thursday, two other Jewish suspects were arrested.
The police said that on Wednesday morning both Palestinians and settlers filed complaints and that the Judea and Samaria district commander had ordered the investigation transferred to the district’s central unit.
Residents of the village said Israeli soldiers remained near the village all night, but that did not help quell their fears. “At night we all slept together in one place. I didn’t close my eyes all night,” said Mohammed Hamamda, Maryam’s husband. “The fear is that they’ll return.”