Twilight Zone / Field of Nightmares

After settlers from Havat Gilad raided the fields of Farata village, a stone-throwing battle ensued, wounding one of the farmers, who bled profusely. Who was arrested? The wounded farmer and his brother.

A farmer walks through his plowed field, gathering radishes that have begun to thrust up from the soil. In the distance, another farmer, an elderly man, hoes his land. The deeply furrowed earth also yields cucumbers, zucchini, sunflowers, sesame, wheat and watermelon. What could be more beautiful or idyllic than this good earth?

Arriving this week in the village of Farata, southwest of Nablus in the West Bank, we met these two farmers in their fields. Scarecrows, one of them wearing a kaffiyeh and some shirts, have been inserted in the ground to protect the crop from birds and wild boars. A few barking dogs restrained by iron chains are intended to protect the land from the other hazards to agriculture: settlers from adjacent Havat Gilad − a tiny unauthorized outpost that the government has promised to dismantle.

Awad Tawil
Photo by Miki Kratsman

Last Thursday, settlers again raided these spectacular fields, threatening to torch them and uprooting plants as they fled. The two farmers we met in their fields − Awad Tawil, 49, and Hussein Ibrahim, 71 − are survivors of the settlers’ incursions. Tawil was wounded in the forehead in last Thursday’s assault; Ibrahim was hurt in a similar attack a year ago.

Now Tawil is gathering his radishes, stitches on his forehead, his eye still swollen. He leans on a stick because a leg wound makes it difficult to walk. He says the settlers left the stick behind when they ran off, now he uses it to walk through his field. Ibrahim has recovered, which is perhaps why he dares to move closer to the houses of Havat Gilad, part of which stands on village land.

A group of farmers rested in the shade of the olive trees at the edge of this unirrigated land, while their comrades were busy gathering hay. Tawil picks a few sage leaves for us to smell, and as we walk between the furrows he tells us the nightmare tale of the events between last Thursday and Friday.

It was early evening and the village farmers were sitting under a lean-to. The men are here until late every night to protect their fields from marauders. Suddenly they noticed a group of settlers coming down from the ridge behind which Havat Gilad lies and advancing toward the fields.

According to Tawil, four settlers tried to set the edge of the field on fire, apparently hoping the blaze would spread. The scorched earth on the hill shows evidence of a fire, but fortunately it did not spread to the fields. The farmers telephoned the village for help and about 20 villagers arrived immediately. The usual battle of stones ensued: the villagers throw stones at the raiders, the settlers throw stones at the farmers. The farmers summoned the army, which arrived quickly. The soldiers fired smoke and stun grenades.

A stone thrown by a settler from close range struck Tawil in the head, while a soldier stood and watched, Tawil says. His forehead was covered in blood and he fell to the ground. “I am afraid of them,” he says now, using the Hebrew he learned during many years of working in home renovations in the affluent communities of Savyon and Kiryat Ono, near Tel Aviv. When he tried to run, a soldier grabbed him, and then a settler threw another stone, which hit him in the leg. Two soldiers arrested him, tied his hands and covered his eyes with cloth. His brother Adnan got the same treatment. No settler was arrested, of course. Standard operating procedure.

After a time, the two bound brothers, one of them bleeding, were taken to the army base at Hawara, where they were made to sit on the floor. Tawil says soldiers kicked them in the legs, cursed them and humiliated them. Every so often they made howling and barking noises to frighten them. A soldier bandaged Tawil’s forehead, but the blood kept flowing. He asked a soldier to loosen the handcuffs on his brother, whose hands were pulled tight behind his back. The soldier told him rudely to shut up. They sat on the floor for about two hours, he says, his forehead constantly bleeding.

They were then taken to the police station in the urban settlement of Ariel. At 3 A.M. the police summoned an Israeli ambulance. According to Tawil, the ambulance driver asked the policemen, “Why is he here?” Told that Tawil was being detained for interrogation, the paramedic retorted, “What interrogation − he should be in the hospital.” A short time later a Palestinian ambulance arrived and took Tawil to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus, where his forehead was stitched. Tawil’s all-night ordeal finally ended at 6 A.M., when he got back home.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office refused to respond and referred us to the police, claiming that the unit involved was from the Border Police. A spokeswoman for the police Shai ‏(Samaria and Judea‏) District referred us back to the IDF, but also offered the following response: “Regarding the question of why settlers were not arrested on suspicion of throwing stones, the question should be referred to the army [sic] that operated at the site. The police received two Palestinian detainees, who were involved in the act, but because of their wound and their medical condition it was decided to send them to get medical treatment and resume the interrogation at a later date. When they returned, the police noticed that one of the suspects was still not feeling well, so their details were taken, Magen David Adom [Israeli first-aid service] was called in and they were taken for further medical treatment.”

“Do you see that old man working the land over there?” Tawil asks as we continue to walk through his fields. “A year ago, the settlers split his head open.” The incident occurred at midday on February 15, 2010, when the farmer’s tractor broke down. About a dozen settlers moved in, two of them on horseback, with a few dogs. The old man says he was struck in the head and that the settlers continued to kick him as he lay on the ground. Since then he has not worked his land alone, even though he fears “only God.”

Continuing through the fields, we climb a hill that overlooks the homes of Havat Gilad in the valley. It turns out that what we see is only the expansion of the settlement. There are about 15 wooden houses and trailer homes in the valley, some of them painted in bold colors: one is deep purple, another forest-green. A dark blue flag whose meaning is unknown flies over one of them. Close by is a demolished structure with a new wooden building already being erected next to it, still without a roof, on the land of Ibrahim Salah from Farata. In the past, 62 olive trees belonging to another villager, Samih Shana, were chopped down here. Tawil identifies each plot according to its original owners. A new chicken coop is also visible in the valley.

The homepage of Havat Gilad ‏(English-language version‏) says: “In spite of many difficulties, the malevolent plotting of Arab ‘neighbors,’ the bullying by the police, and the destruction wrought by security forces, the settlement is flourishing ... Our presence here is meant to underscore our right to live in Erez Yisra’el [sic], to let the people of Israel and the whole world know that all attempts to weaken and discourage us will fail.”

“Don’t bother looking for us, we’re gone,” is inscribed in Hebrew on a T-shirt that was left in the field. Last Saturday, two days after the first attack, the settlers again raided Farata. Tawil’s wife filmed them with a video camera: a group of young men, all of them in white shirts as befits the joys of Shabbat, is seen descending on the village. The settlers are seen throwing stones. One of them is masked, another wrapped in a tallit, a prayer shawl. A woman shouts at them and they respond with shouts.

Tawil’s daughter shows us a bag of evidence and exhibits. Here is her father’s bloodstained shirt, here are the bandages that covered his forehead, the flannelette that was used as a blindfold, the ammunition casings that were collected in the zucchini field that became a battlefield: “40 mm projective, special launcher,” and also: “Flash stun grenade, 3.5 second delay.”