A smell of fire and smoke still hung in the air when we arrived on Monday this week at the residential compound of the Abad family in the West Bank village of Jalud. During the night, their parking area had become a graveyard for skeletons of cars. On the hill opposite, around 300 meters away, two hydraulic excavators were at work in the settler outpost of Ahiya, thrusting their shovels repeatedly into the earth, as part of the effort to expand the outpost. The panorama here is stunning.

The Abad family once had 50 dunams (12.5 acres) of land where Ahiya now stands, but Israel expropriated them with the claim that they were “state lands.” The compound of the extended family is fenced off and has an iron gate. All the windows are covered with thick steel bars, for fear of the settlers.

A brutal sight greeted us.

During the night, five cars that were parked next to each other had been reduced to a gray sludge of ashes and charcoal, of melted slices of steel. Only one car, a Mazda, had survived. The raid had taken place very early Monday morning, about three hours after the terrorist attack in Hadera, in which two police officers were killed. For the settlers in the wild outposts in the Shiloh Valley, the most violent valley in the territories, anytime is a good time to brutalize Palestinians, launch a pogrom and flaunt evil. Every terrorist attack is a good excuse for them to wreak acts of vengeance on their innocent neighbors.

Palestinian villagers here cower at the sight of the settlers all year round, but after there has been a terror attack in Israel, they go into defensive mode. There isn’t much more that these abject and helpless farmers and laborers can do against the crime families that have seized their lands and are subjecting them to a reign of terror. They have no protection, not from the Israel Defense Forces, whose soldiers sometimes accompany and shield the pogromists, as happened here a year ago, and not from the police. This week, the police arrived at the scene of the fire before dawn. However, past experience shows they, too, will not lift a finger to bring to trial the assailants who swooped down in the dead of night to burn cars and perhaps also people, solely because they are Palestinians.

Settler terror is again lifting its head here in a wave of attacks, and there is no one to stop it. About the same time the cars were torched in Jalud, settlers also punctured the tires of cars in a neighboring village and beat an elderly man bloody in a nearby town. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem documented 15 instances of settler violence during the past week.

Mahmoud Hajj Mohammed, a 30-year-old father of two, works as a room attendant in Tel Aviv’s Crowne Plaza City Center Hotel. On the night of the attack in Jalud, he was on duty in the makeshift preparedness unit of his village, Qusra, which lies below Jalud. Almost every night, and certainly after terrorist attacks in Israel or the territories, volunteer observers are positioned at all the village’s entrances. In Qusra, too, the residents are well versed in settler-inflicted suffering. Shortly after midnight, Hajj Mohammed noticed that a large fire had broken out in the southern section of Jalud. He summoned some of his fellow villagers and together they made their way there.

Just then, Mohammed Abad, 39, a construction worker and father of six, who lives in his family’s compound in Jalud, heard noise coming from the area where the cars were parked. He hadn’t gone to sleep yet, after hearing about what had happened in Hadera. He was certain something bad would happen. Settlers had already burned cars here four or five times before. He knew the terrorist attack would bring revenge in its wake.

He was afraid to go outside to check out the source of the noise, and instead went up to the roof of his two-story house to see what was going on. By the time he got up there the settlers had gone, and the yard below was ablaze. The flames leaped several meters into the air and threatened the homes of the 13 families who live there – seven brothers of the Abad family, their children and their grandchildren. The walls of one house were already scorched. B’Tselem posted a video this week showing the cars lit up like torches, against the background of the residents’ cries.

Footage from the security camera the villagers installed at the compound’s entrance long ago recorded the aftermath of the outrage. It shows 11 men walking in a column, slowly and confidently, on their way out of the area after having completed their handiwork. According to Mohammed Abad, the number of raiders was double: He says another group not caught on camera left in a different direction.

Local residents mispronounce Ahiya (a biblical name) and call the outpost “Yihyeh.” They are certain the assailants of early Monday morning came from there, having seen settlers absconding in that direction. Still, the area is teeming with many other violent outposts: Esh Kodesh (Holy Fire), Shvut Rachel, Kida, Adei Ad (Forever and Ever), Ahiya, Yeshuv Hada’at (Settled Awareness) and the latest hit, Amichai (My People Lives). Palestinian villagers can rattle off all the names at the drop of a hat. It’s unlikely outpost residents even know the names of the local Palestinian villages, which were here long before them and perhaps will remain long after them.

Ahiya was originally called Shvut Rachel D. “Feeling a sense of mission to redeem the land, a first [shipping] container was installed at the site on 18th Tammuz 5757,” the website of the Binyamin Regional Council states about the site, referring to the Hebrew equivalent of 1997. “The owners of the first permanent home built it with their own hands. The warm and vibrant community includes a variety of age groups. If the living Torah is the foundation of your day-to-day life, if settling the Land of Israel is a challenge for you, if genuinely Hebrew work is important to you, and if you want to integrate all of that with a warm, family-oriented community – Ahiya is the place for you!”

Abad descended from the roof and tried to extinguish the blaze. In the meantime, others in the compound awoke, and the volunteers from Qusra arrived. They put out the fire together, before it could reach the homes, where many children were sleeping. They used water at first, but the flames rose even higher. Finally, they suffocated the fire with blankets. A Molotov cocktail remained intact next to one of the cars. The settlers had smashed the vehicles’ windows with large rocks and then threw Molotov cocktails into them, setting the cars alight instantly. Using this simple method with car after car, the whole thing took only a few minutes. They didn’t manage to get to the sixth car.

The settlers succeeded only partially with the first car, too, an old, silver-gray Citroen C4, which belonged to Salem Abad, a chicken breeder and father of five; only the engine was completely burned. A regional parking sticker from the Tel Aviv Municipality, valid until July 21, 2021, is pasted in the intact part of the windshield. Another sticker attests that the car was serviced by the Lot Garage in Ramle. Next in line is a Chevrolet Spark that belongs to Saleh Abad, Salem’s cousin, a 24-year-old home-renovation worker who’s employed in Israel. All that remains of his vehicle is a scorched, smoking skeleton. Parked next to it was an Opel Ascona belonging to Mohammed Abad, the first person to arrive on the scene as the cars burst into flames. The damage here is double: The vehicle was totally gutted, and Mohammed’s tools, including power drills, are now congealed lumps. Only his level remains intact, amazingly.

What is the next vehicle in this graveyard? A Volkswagen Golf, now an unrecognizable carcass. All that’s left is the chassis, lying on its belly because all the tires were consumed in the blaze. The lump of molten metal someone placed next to it was, until this week, one of the tire rims. The VW belongs to Fawzi Abad, a 41-year-old construction worker who has two children. The Peugeot next to it, which also belonged to Mohammed, was reduced to a charred ruin as well.

The last violent raid on the Jalud compound occurred about a year ago, also a few days before the start of the holy month of Ramadan. More settlers showed up then, around 50, together with army troops, who clashed with the residents and threw stones at them. The result, naturally, was that the army detained 12 Palestinians, who were released 24 hours later. None of them was brought to trial. This time, the police arrived at 4 A.M., a few hours after the incident, took photos and also dusted for fingerprints. A few hours later, army trackers arrived to examine the assailants’ getaway route. Mohammed Abad tells us that he has lodged 12 complaints with the police about his uninvited neighbors over the years; none of them ever stood trial. “We pray five times a day, but I pray a million times a day only for the settlers not to come,” he says.

Hours after the arson attack, the atmosphere among the residents is despairing but calm. The women are in a corner of the yard talking among themselves, as though nothing happened. The children are touching the skeletons of the cars. The men are silent. They appear to have accepted the evil here, as though it were not the work of humans, which could easily be prevented. Rather, it’s like a divine force, or an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, about which nothing can be done, only to wait for the next time.

Says Hajj Mohammed, the hotel worker from Qusra: “We say, thank God they touched the cars and not the people. That they didn’t do here what was done to the Dawabsheh family in Duma [a reference to the 2015 arson attack that killed three members of that family]. The people here are suffering, in Qusra, too, also in Qaryut. A week ago a mosque was set on fire in Zeita Jamma’in. The settlers take no account of anyone. The Shin Bet [security service] knows all of them and does nothing, and the army protects the settlers.”

As we stood there, a settler youth from Ahiya suddenly appeared on a bicycle. He positioned himself opposite us, as though in provocation, or maybe to see the results of what he and his buddies had wrought that night. “What does he want here?” Mohammed Abad asks.

“If the living Torah is the foundation of your day-to-day life… Ahiya is the place for you!”