Behind the headlines

By EA Veronica, Southern West Bank.

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians, between Israelis and Israeli-Palestinians (Palestinians who live within Israel), and clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians have made headlines around the world in the last two weeks. Since October 1, 8 Israelis and 42 Palestinians have been killed. Each and every loss of life is a tragedy.

The incidents that make the headlines are stabbings or shootings and images of protestors and armed soldiers clashing in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem and Gaza have flashed across television screens. In the South Hebron Hills, there have been some protests on the outskirts of the main city Yatta, and the effects of this and the waves of violence happening elsewhere in Palestine and East Jerusalem have also rippled into small villages and communities across this area.

Mahmoud Abu Qbeita lives in A Seefer, a village in the Seam Zone – an area caught between the 1949 armistice line, known as the ‘Green Line’, and the Israeli separation barrier which cuts deeply, and illegally according to a ruling by the International Court of Justice, into occupied Palestine. Last week on two consecutive nights he was woken in the middle of the night by settlers from nearby Mezadot Yehuda, an Israeli settlement deemed illegal under international law, who came through the fence above his property and threw rocks at his home. On the first night, this damaged several solar panels that provide his home with electricity, rendering them useless.

06/10/15 A Seefer. Solar panels belonging to Mahmoud Qbeita damaged by settles throwing stones at 2 A.M.. Photo: EAPPI/BG. Saltnes

Mahmoud shows the damage to his solar panels [Photo: EAPPI/BG. Saltnes] 06/10/15, A Seefer.

The following night was more serious, when, just after midnight, a rock thrown by a settler flew over Abu Qbeita’s house and hit his 13-year-old son Osama on the head as he slept just outside the family tent (it is still very warm in this area and many people sleep outside). Osama was taken to hospital where he had four stitches. When we met him the following afternoon, he had been off school and was visibly shaken up.

06/10/15 A Seefer. Osama (13) wounded in the head by settlers throwing stones at 12:30 a.m. while he was sleeping. 4 stiches. Photo: EAPPI/BG. Saltnes

Mahmoud’s son Osama, aged 13, following the attack [Photo: EAPPI/BG. Saltnes] 06/10/15, A Seefer.

Mahmoud told us that he didn’t see who threw the rocks as it was very dark. He and others in his village suffer regular harassment from the settlers. He said, “I called the police and they came and looked at the damage and took the rocks away. They come every time, but they never do anything”. Because of where his home is located it comes under the jurisdiction of the Israeli police.

In a separate incident in the village of Birin, the following Friday, around 15 settlers, who had come to visit a memorial nearby, got angry because someone was working his land below the memorial. They came to the home of Naim Nasser Azazmi on the edge of the village and smashed his solar water heater – part of a new project for the village – and broke two water tanks. The settlers were accompanied by an Israeli army jeep. Under international law, an occupying power has a duty to protect the occupied population. But on this occasion, as often happens in situations like this across occupied Palestine, the soldiers did nothing to intervene.

Wife of Naim Nasser Azazmi with solar water heater broken by settlers [Photo_ EAPPI_V.Pasteur] (2)

Naim Nasser Azazmi’s wife with the solar water heater broken by settlers [Photo: EAPPI/V.Pasteur]

These kinds of attacks are a regular occurrence, but they have surged dramatically in the last two weeks. It is hard to estimate to what extent at this stage, but even in early October Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din reported an increase in reports of settler attacks on Palestinians. According to UNOCHA there were 331 incidents involving settlers in the West Bank causing injury to Palestinians or damage to their property in 2014. Villages near to settlements also experience other forms of harassment from settlers that may not be recorded, such as verbal abuse.

This latest outbreak of violence shows no signs of abating yet. As a recent statement from UNWRA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, says: “The root causes of the conflict, among them the Israeli occupation, must be addressed. Across the occupied Palestinian territory there is a pervasive sense of hopelessness and despair resulting from the denial of rights and dignity. In the West Bank communities living under occupation feel profoundly marginalized. […] An entire generation of Palestinians is at risk. All political actors must act decisively to restore their hope in a dignified, secure and stable future”.