Settlers Attack Palestinians. The Israeli Army Punishes the Palestinians. Repeat

The silence of the night in a Hebron neighborhood was broken by a dozen young Jews running down the street bashing cars in front of the soldiers protecting them. It’s not a rare event

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Smashed car windshields in the Jaber neighborhood in Hebron.
Smashed car windshields in the Jaber neighborhood in Hebron.Credit: Emil Salman
Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Certain numbers that appear on my phone screen make me guess before any word is spoken: Settlers have attacked again. This time the phone number was (again) that of Aref Jaber from Hebron’s Old City.

Sure enough, he called to tell me that “sometime after 2 in the morning my cousin called, waking me up and telling me that settlers were throwing stones and breaking the windows of several parked cars, including mine.”

As events in Hebron go, this attack happened quite a while ago, late August. Such attacks in the city have been occurring almost every day. Usually they’re not dramatic enough to make the headlines, they haven’t been caught on video, or the video was from a poor angle.

This time, however, instead of waiting for a dramatic incident that produces good video, let’s tackle the routine – a tiny sample of three incidents and a familiar pattern. Settlers attack Palestinians. The army punishes the Palestinians.

On the night between Saturday and Sunday August 28 and 29, the silence was interrupted in the Jaber neighborhood by loud screaming. Between 12 and 15 Jewish Israelis were dashing down the main street. To bystanders, they appeared to be between 16 and 18 years old. They were yelling and throwing stones at homes and cars. And they wounded M., an 18-year-old, in the head.

Smashed car windshields in the Jaber neighborhood in Hebron, about three months ago.

He and his two brothers were filling a water tank on the roof of their low-slung home from a cistern in their yard when they heard the shouting. They assumed that it was a family feud and two of them walked out of the house to see what was going on.

They reached the “Jaber roadblock,” a metal gate installed by the Israeli army. It’s one of dozens of such checkpoints and roadblocks, concrete barriers, barrels and locked gates that are permanently placed in the middle of the street and cut off the heart of Hebron’s Old City from the rest of town. Cars owned by local residents – who aren’t permitted to drive on the streets of their own neighborhood – are parked behind the locked gate.

An internal checkpoint in Hebron.Credit: Amira Hass

M. and his brother saw the young Israelis smashing the windows and bodies of parked cars, right under the Israeli surveillance cameras. Several armed soldiers were standing near the stone throwers. The soldiers had apparently come down from their military post at the entrance to the alley leading to the Ibrahimi Mosque/the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a short 20 or 30 meters from the Jaber locked gate.

The young Israelis spotted the two brothers, threw stones at them and began running after them. The two escaped back home and went to the roof to warn the third brother. The stone throwers took aim at the roof of the house, which is at the bottom of the street, and one of the stones hit M. in the head from behind. He was rushed to the hospital.

Mohammed Jaber, a tailor, lives in the house behind the iron gate. He was awakened by gunfire, he recounted the following day at his little workshop. Young Palestinians had tried to get the stone throwers out of the neighborhood and threw stones back at them. The soldiers opened fire toward the Palestinians.

Israeli soldiers shoot live rounds to protect settlers who vandalized cars.Credit: B'Tselem

All told, the young Israelis, under the army’s auspices, damaged nine parked cars. The repairs per vehicle cost several thousand shekels, which the car owners don’t have. Some of the car owners, including Aref Jaber, filed complaints with the police. Others, such as the tailor, didn’t. “There’s no point,” he said. “We’re Arabs.”

An internal checkpoint in Hebron.

“The army and the police protect the settlers and say right away that we’re the guilty ones,” the mother of the young Palestinian who was wounded said. “Every Friday, when the settlers go down to the neighborhood [to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs], there’s some kind of attack. We’ve stopped counting. If they don’t break anything and just yell and curse or hit something, that’s still okay and we breathe a sigh of relief.”

For its part, the Israel Defense Forces’ Spokesperson’s Unit said there was “stone throwing between the [Israelis] and the Palestinians that led to damage to Palestinian property and the wounding of an Israeli teen. An IDF force came to the scene and acted to disperse the disturbance of the peace, including by firing into the air.”

Beaten in front of everyone

About two weeks later, 37-year-old Shadi al-Mohtaseb spotted Jewish children pestering Palestinian children near his house. It happened between the Israeli Border Police checkpoint next to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Israeli army checkpoint at the corner of the house of the Qafisah family on al-Sahla Street.

An IDF checkpoint on al-Sahla street.Credit: Amira Hass

Mohtaseb, whose house is trapped between the two checkpoints, went out to protect the Palestinian children. The soldier at the army post pushed and yelled at him, he said, adding that the soldier accused him of hitting the Jewish children. Mohtaseb then challenged the soldier: “I only separated them. Everything is being filmed [by a surveillance camera]. See if I hit them.”

The few residents of the neighborhood opposite the Tomb of the Patriarchs who still live in their homes are known to the soldiers and the police. Still, that week, which was the week of Yom Kippur, the soldiers at the military checkpoint stopped Mohtaseb, demanded to see his ID card and taunted him nearly every day when he was going to or from his home. At least one time a soldier also kicked him, Mohtaseb said.

“What do you think about my arresting you? What do you think about my slamming your head into a wall?” Mohtaseb said a soldier once asked him. Mohtaseb concluded that he was being punished for separating the Jewish children and the Palestinians.

On Friday September 17 at around 3:30 P.M., he and his younger brother were detained there again. He was asked annoying questions, placed against a wall to be searched and was required to show ID documents. When it turned out that his brother had forgotten his ID, the two brothers called their mother to bring it. Then the soldiers left them alone, but as they walked away, they heard one of the soldiers yelling at their 57-year-old mother and calling her a slut.

Shadi al-Mohtaseb and his mother Arfat, in their home.Credit: Amira Hass

They quickly backtracked and chided the soldier. He stopped swearing and they began walking away when they again heard the soldier cursing their mother. They again angrily went back to the soldier, who began pushing Mohtaseb as other soldiers and members of the Border Police arrived. The two brothers were knocked to the ground. Footage shows a huddle of soldiers and police waving batons and rifles and landing blows in plain view.

Settler violence in the middle of Hebron.Credit: B'Tselem

“I and two other women from the family tried to protect them and get the soldiers away from them,” said Mohtaseb’s mother, Arfat.

The soldiers arrested the two sons, who had been bruised on their bodies and faces, and confiscated their phones. They were moved around for a whole day, shackled and blindfolded and hurting all over. They were taken from detention stations to a car, to a military base and then to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. (The elder Mohtaseb remained chained in the car while his brother was treated in the hospital.)

From there they were taken to Ofer Prison. Then Shadi was taken back to Shaare Zedek for a brief and superficial checkup and then returned to Ofer. After four days, they were released on bond.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that “on September 17, there was friction between a military force and two Palestinians during a routine security check. There is no known claim that the force used verbal violence.”

The soldiers made little effort

Serious bruises, hospitalization and arrests were also the punishment that members of the Sidr family had to endure when they dared call the police when Jewish Israelis threw stones at their home. Footage from August 6 at around 11:30 P.M. shows masked people in white throwing large stones from the roof of Hebron’s Beit Hadassah building.

Footage from August 6, at about 11:30 P.M., shows figures with their faces covered throwing stones from the roof of the building.

Two soldiers who were nearby made a half-hearted effort to stop them, 19-year-old Yassin Sidr said. The father of the family, Abd al-Halek Sidr, called the police, who arrived. The stone throwers left the roof, and after things calmed down, the members of the family and their neighbors, whose home was also targeted with stones, sat down at the entrance to the Sidr home and began talking.

According to the IDF spokespeople: “Stone throwing ensued between settlers and Palestinians in the Beit Hadassah area. An IDF force arrived and strove to halt the friction, and during the incident a settler and a Palestinian who threw stones were arrested.”

The Palestinian here is Yassin Sidr. According to the Spokesperson’s Unit, members of his family “tried to prevent the force from arresting him, and his brother even used violence against the soldiers, so he was arrested. The two detained brothers were taken to one of the checkpoints. The first detainee was handed over to the police, and the second was released and taken by the Red Crescent for medical care.”

And this is what happened later that night, according to Yassin and Abd al-Halek Sidr: While they were sitting in the doorway of their house, about 20 soldiers showed up, walking briskly toward them. Four of them set upon Yassin, kicking and striking him, he later told the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. He screamed and asked them why they were doing this, but they kept kicking and hitting him in front of everyone, pushing his face into the gate of a shuttered store and handcuffing him from behind with plastic zip handcuffs. Protests from his father and others were of no avail.

An IDF post near the area where cars were vandalized.

Yassin’s 17-year-old brother Saed shouted at the soldiers, after which six of them arrested him as well. They were taken to Beit Romano in Hebron, another of the city’s settlement compounds. (The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the two “suspects” were not in Beit Romano.)

One soldier punched Yassin in the face, and he bled from his mouth and nose. “It felt like the glove that he was wearing was made of iron,” Yassin said later. The soldiers also swore at the brothers’ mother and other family members and continued hitting and kicking him for 10 minutes, he estimated, until he felt that he was losing consciousness. His wrists hurt and he realized that someone was cutting off the plastic handcuffs.

Then he discovered that he was in an Israeli ambulance, which transferred him to a Palestinian one. He again lost consciousness. When he awoke, he was in a Palestinian hospital.

Saed, the brother, was taken to the police station at the settlement of Givat Ha’avot in Hebron (built on land of the extended Jabari family). He was immediately released but was told to report for an interrogation the following day, August 8. He reported and was told that he was free to go.

A car that was smashed in the Jaber neighborhood in August.

He and his father filed a complaint against the settlers and soldiers who launched the attack. About two hours later, near their home, soldiers set upon Saed, striking him and arresting him again.

His father came to the police station to have him released. The police officers told the son that he had to report back to the police station the following day, August 9. He did so and was again told that there was no investigation and he was free to go home.

In response to Haaretz’s conclusion that “Jewish settlers feel so comfortable rampaging in the middle of the night in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood, and also at other times, because they know the soldiers won’t prevent this but will only protect the settlers and eventually hit and shoot Palestinians,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit replied: “Any claim that the IDF supports and permits settler violence is a lie.”

Hebron. Dozens of checkpoints, cement blocks and locked gates. Credit: Amira Hass

“It’s precisely for these reasons that so many people have left the Old City” of Hebron, I told Shadi al-Mohtaseb and his mother, Arfat, in late September. “Where do you get the strength to stay?”

The mother responded with a question: “We’re from here. Where can we go?

To which her son answered: “The tree is 2 meters high. The roots are 6 meters long.”

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