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Samir Sawalmeh next to his car after the settlers' attack on 10 Oct. 2018. Photo: Salma a-Deba'i, B'Tselem
From the field

Oct.-Nov. 2018: Settler attacks on village of ‘Urif continue

The entire front of my car was burnt and doesn’t work any more. I bought the car a few months ago for NIS 36,000 (USD 9,630), in installments. I used it for work, to make deliveries in the village. Now I’m out of work and there aren't any jobs available in our whole area. I don't know what to do and how I'll cover the installments on a car I can no longer use. I'm in real trouble.

Mahmoud Shhadeh’s burned car. Photo courtesy of the witness

This is what Mahmoud Shhadeh, an 18-year-old from ‘Urif, related about the incidents that took place in his village on 14 Nov. 2018. Less than two months earlier, settlers had smashed three windows in his car and punctured all four tires.

These are not unusual incidents. For many years, the village of 'Urif has faced repeated attacks by settlers from the adjacent settlement of Yitzhar, with the help and full cooperation of the military. These attacks have intensified significantlysince March 2018. Over the past nine months, B'Tselem has documented 15 instances inwhich settlers and soldiers assaulted residents of the village or vandalized their property. Seven of these incidents occurred in October and November alone.

Most of the attacks occurred on the eastern outskirts of the village, in farmland that lies close to the village reservoir and the school. This area is a mere kilometer from Yitzhar. The closest neighborhood, Um Safafir, lies only 500 meters away from the reservoir.

Soldiers joined the settlers in the attacks, which were carried out in broad daylight. During clashes that ensued, the soldiers fired live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets and teargas canisters at the villagers. The clashes continued long after the settlers had left the scene. Twelve villagers were injured in these incidents. Nine were shot by soldiers, one was beaten by soldiers and two were injured in the head by stones that settlers threw. Settlers also broke windows in four homes, two of which were attacked twice and one of them three times. They also damaged two vehicles and torched another.

These are not random attacks carried out by a handful of “rotten apples”. Quite the opposite: the fact that the soldiers took part in the attacks and protected the assailants proves yet again that this is a deliberate, violent state policy. The state is consistently using settlers and the military to force as many Palestinians off their land as possible, damaging their property and livelihoods, driving them to leave as though of their own free will. This eases the state’s way to seizing the land and annexing it - at least de facto - to settlements.

Following are descriptions of three of the seven attacks by settlers documented in October and November. All the testimonies quoted here were given to B'Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb'i.

10 Oct. 2018: Settlers escorted by soldiers throw stones at homes; clashes erupt between residents and soldiers 

At about 9:00 A.M. on 10 October 2018, some ten settlers came with an escort of three or four soldiers from the direction of Yitzhar to the a-Safafir neighborhood, which lies close to the reservoir and the boys' high school in the village. The settlers threw stones at the school, whose windows are barred with iron mesh as it has been repeatedly attacked. They went on to throw stones at nearby homes, shattering 11 windows in four homes and in a car parked in the yard of a home.

After the settlers left, clashes erupted. Village residents threw stones at the soldiers, who fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets at them. More forces soon arrived, raising the number of soldiers to at least ten.

A shattered window in the Sawalmeh family home. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 10 Oct. 2018

Samir Sawalmeh, 62, a married father of four from a-Safafir, described in a testimony he gave on 10 Oct. 2018 how settlers attacked his home with stones: 

Samir Sawalmeh next to his car after the settlers' attack. Photo: Salma a-Deba'i, B'Tselem, 10 Oct. 2018

At about nine o'clock this morning, I was watering the plants in my garden. My wife M'azuzeh, 56, my daughter-in-law Safaa, 27, and my grandson Zein, 10 months, were indoors. Suddenly I saw several few settlers running towards my home from the east. Safaa shouted out to me from the second floor window that settlers were coming and that I should get inside quickly. I went inside and up to the roof. I saw about ten to fifteen settlers with their faces covered by shirts. They had slingshots and wooden clubs, and one of them was holding a long metal object.   There were some soldiers with them. They were really close and were throwing stones at our home. I didn't know what to do. Some of them moved on towards our neighbors, Raed and Hiyam Sabah. We heard glass shattering on the second floor, where my son Muhammad lives. Every time more glass shattered, it made a terrible noise. I heard my daughter-in-law and wife shout and the baby cry harder and harder. We thought the soldiers would stop the settlers, but they didn't even try. Raed's family were also shouting. 

I didn’t fear for my own life, but I was afraid they’d harm my wife, daughter-in-law and grandson. The moment the settlers left, young men from the village started clashing with the soldiers. Some jeeps drover over from the direction of the settlement, and the soldiers fired teargas canisters and "rubber" bullets until the guys retreated. Then the soldiers left, too. I don't know exactly how long the attack lasted, but it felt like ages.

Stones and shattered glass in the Sawalmeh family home. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 10 Oct. 2018

Later, my wife and I checked the house from every direction. We found two broken windows in Muhammad's apartment and several broken windows in my car, which was parked out front.

This isn't the first time settlers have attacked us. In July, they attacked the entire neighborhood and torched trees. On my plot of land, next to the house, they torched seven olive trees, nine almond trees, three vines and two fig trees. We fear for our lives and don't feel safe any more in our own home. We're just civilians, in our houses, minding our own business. Why do the settlers come to our houses?

'Issam a-Safdi, 41, a married father of seven from a-Safafir was on his way to work when he noticed soldiers close to the school. A teacher joined him and they drove to the nearby reservoir together.  When he didn't find them, he drove to a-Safafir. In a testimony he gave on 10 Oct. 2018, he described what happened that morning::

‘Issam a-Safdi. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 10 Oct. 2018

I saw about ten to fifteen settlers throwing stones at the homes of Samir Sawalmeh and Hiyam Sabah. When the settlers saw us, they started throwing stones at my car. I honked to get them away, while the people in the houses attacked called for for help. The settlers did all this in front of the soldiers, who did nothing to stop them. On the contrary, the soldiers fired "rubber" bullets at us. Some of the bullets hit the front of the car and I decided to drive away. The settlers kept throwing stones at us while I backed up. The windows were open and two stones entered the car. One hit the back seat and the other the back of 'Amer Qawariq, a teacher who was with me. He bent down and put his head between his knees to protect himself from the stones. If the windows had been closed, the stones would have caused more damage. Meanwhile, more youths from the village came to help the residents. Then the soldiers began to fire "rubber" bullets and throw teargas canisters at them. The settlers left and then it was all over.  

Because of the danger, the school closed at ten o'clock. Most of the families came to pick up their children. I also took my son, Osama. When I got home, I checked the damage to the car. The taillight was broken and there were some marks from “rubber” bullets. 

7 Nov. 2018: Settlers escorted by soldiers attack farmers, homes and school with stonesIn ensuing clashes, soldiers fired live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets at residents, injuring five.

At about 10:30 A.M., some 40 settlers started throwing stones at four villagers who were working their land, which lies near the school and the reservoir. The settlers went on to throw stones at the school and at homes adjacent to the reservoir. Some of the settlers were carrying slingshots and wooden sticks, and several had covered their faces with shirts. Residents arrived at the spot, and along with school students threw stones in an attempt to drive the settlers and their military escort away.  The soldiers fired live rounds, rubber-coated metal bullets and teargas canisters at them. One of the settlers, whom residents recognized from previous attacks, also open live fire at them. Three villagers were injured: a 16-year-old youth was injured in the hand by live fire; another resident was injured in one foot by live fire and in the other by a "rubber" bullet; and a third was injured in the foot by a "rubber" bullet. Two other residents, one a 17-year-old, were injured in the head by stones the settlers threw. The clashes lasted about two and a half hours.

Kaeid Sabah, 58, a married father of 11, was one of the four farmers attacked by the settlers. In a testimony he gave the day after the incident, he stated: 

I own seven dunam (0.7 hectares) of land near the reservoir. Until 2000, I grew zucchini, tomatoes, spinach and other vegetables there.  After that, we stopped farming the land because of all the attacks by settlers. This year, I decided along with other farmers in the area to plant olive trees, which need less care than other crops. 

The tractor driver, Murad, began to plow the soil. At around ten o'clock, we noticed three settlers standing about one kilometer away from us, in the direction of Yitzhar. We were afraid they were going to attack us. After about half an hour, several other settlers joined them and about twenty settlers approached us. They stopped about 200 meters away. We immediately phoned some people from the village and asked them to come so we wouldn't be alone. We asked the driver to go back to the village so they wouldn't damage the tractor.

Kaeid Sabah. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i i, B'Tselem, 8 Nov. 2018

In the meantime, another twenty or so settlers came from the settlement. Some of them had covered their faces with shirts. They were holding slingshots and wooden sticks. One of them was armed. We know him because he's attacked the village many times. A few minutes later, a group of settlers approached us and threw stones in our direction. We started heading back to the village. Then the settlers threw stones at the school, and students came out and threw stones back at them. Some residents who were worried about their children started began arriving. The soldiers fired live ammunition and "rubber" bullets in their direction and threw a lot of teargas canisters. The settler also fired live bullets in the same direction. Some of the settlers were right next to the residents. Fights broke out between them and some residents. They beat the residents with sticks. I hid behind the fences of nearby homes and large rocks. I'm not a young man, what else could I do? I tried to get the young guys from the village to calm down. Instead of protecting us, the soldiers opened fire at us and threw teargas at us. The settlers got as far as the first homes on the edge of the village. After a few residents were injured, the settlers left. Then everything was calm, but the soldiers hung around for another half hour or so before they left. I got home at 1:30 P.M. 

This morning, we went out with Murad to the same plot of land, to finish the plowing. We started to work, when suddenly the armed settler from yesterday drove up and told us to stop working because we didn't have coordinated days with the military. We told him that we don't need coordination to farm this area, but he insisted that we leave. We refused and he left. About half an hour later, he returned with two jeeps carrying soldiers. The soldiers ordered us to stop working and told us that we had to get a permit. We argued with them and then one of the soldiers threw a teargas canister at us. We decided to go back to the village because we didn't want the students at the school, which is close by, to lose another day of studies after yesterday. We hope we'll be able to finish plowing our land. Members of the village council have contacted the Palestinian DCO and asked them to make sure that the soldiers and settlers don't bother us in the future. 

Muntaser 'Amer, 30, a married father of two, is on the ‘Urif village council. He was called to the scene of the clashes by a resident and arrived there with one of his laborers. He parked his car by the home of the a-Nuri family, which was attacked with stones. In the clashes that ensued, 'Amer was injured in his right leg by a "rubber" bullet and in his left leg by a live bullet. In a testimony he gave on 13 Nov. 2018, he described the incident:

When we arrived at the plot, there were about forty settlers there, some of them with their faces covered. They were throwing stones at homes. There were also ten to fifteen soldiers firing in the direction of students who had run out of the school because of the attacks and were throwing stones at them. The settlement guard was also shooting. We got out of the car and the soldiers fired at us and threw tear gas canisters in our direction. We saw the earth move right by our feet because of the bullets. Mazen Shhadeh, the head of the council, was also there. He told the soldiers he’s head of the council and asked them to move the settlers away to calm things down. While he was talking, one of the settlers threw a stone that hit him in the head. He lost a lot of blood. I tried to persuade him to let us take him to hospital but he said he was fine. I started walking over to the soldiers to talk to them, but they shot right by my feet so I had to go back. I got in my car to move it away, so it wouldn't be damaged by the stones. But I couldn't drive because the settlers threw stones at the car while I was inside. I got out and hid behind the fence that surrounds the home of the a-Nuris. The settlers threw stones at me and shattered the car windows.  

Muntasar 'Amer after his injury. Photo: Salma a- a-Deb'i, 13 Nov. 2018,

I tried to explain to one of the soldiers that I just wanted to move my car away, but he fired a "rubber" bullet in my direction. There was another guy next to me, 'Ammar Shhadeh, 33, who was injured in the knee by a "rubber" bullet and fell over. I tried to lift him but the soldiers fired at me, too, and I was hit in the right leg by a "rubber" bullet. I also fell down. The settlers started coming towards us, so we had no choice but to stand up. 'Ammar helped me and we both limped towards Munir a-Nuri’s house. Ammar’s leg was bleeding. I tore open his jeans with a piece of glass I found lying on the ground and saw that his wound wasn’t deep. Some guys from the village lifted him up and drove him to hospital. I was okay at that stage, so they didn't take me. I managed to get to my car and move it bit farther away. Then I asked one of the guys to park it somewhere else. I went back to where the scene of the incident, because the settlers were approaching the school again. They threw stones at us again, and the soldiers fired at us again. One of the settlers was right in front of me, throwing stones at me. I saw a soldier standing about ten meters behind me, but before I managed to run away, he fired a live bullet and hit my left leg.  

Muntaser 'Amer was taken to Rafidya Hospital in Nablus by villagers. He was treated for the wound caused when the bullet entered and exited his leg and released the next day.

19 Nov. 2018: Settlers attack five homes with stones and leave. Soldiers who arrived after the attack clashed with residents, firing tear gas and "rubber" bullets. They beat two of them, 16 and 19, and detained both.

At about 5:30 A.M. on 19 Nov. 2018, around 15 settlers threw stones at five homes in the a-Safafir neighborhood, including the home of Samir Sawalmeh, which was attacked twice in the preceding weeks. The settlers left after about 10 minutes, without damaging property. In the meantime, several residents gathered at the scene. Some 15 soldiers arrived and a confrontation developed. The soldiers fired rubber-coated metal bullets and teargas canisters. At around 9:00 A.M., the soldiers attacked Salah a-Din a-Safdi, 16, and his friend Rani a-Nuri, 19, beating them and breaking a-Safdi's finger. The soldiers detained the two youths and took them to a military base. A-Safdi was released at 2:00 A.M. that night, without receiving medical attention. A-Nuri is still in detention as of the time of writing. At about 11:30 A.M., the soldiers left the neighborhood. 

In a testimony she gave on 28 Nov. 2018, Asmahan Shhadeh (Safdi), 43, a married mother of six, described the attack: 

After I finished the dawn prayer, I heard noises coming from outside. I got up straight away to see what was going on. I heard the sound of stones hitting the walls of our neighbors, Samir and M'azuzeh Sawalmeh. I was afraid to look out the window because it was still dark outside. I rushed to the bedroom of my oldest daughter, Du'aa, 19, and told her to get up quickly. She asked what was happening and I told her, "It's the settlers. Quick, get your brother 'Abdallah." Then I went to the other children's room and woke them up. I heard banging on the iron mesh on their window. The settlers were banging on the mesh with an iron bar. The children woke up in a panic. I told them, "The settlers are throwing stones at us." I asked them to move into the living room, away from the windows. They were all very scared. My husband was at work. I tried to call my brothers but no one answered, because they were all asleep. I stayed frozen on the spot.

Asmahan Shhadeh (Safdi) with her son ‘Abdallah. Photo: Salma a- a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 28 Nov. 2018

I heard my neighbor M'azuzeh Sawalmeh shouting. She always gets very stressed when the settlers come. But who isn't afraid of them? The army gives them free rein and they do whatever they want without answering to anyone. The army even protects them when they attack us. After the settlers left, at about six o'clock, soldiers came from the direction of Yitzhar. Residents of the village who came to the area in the meantime threw stones at them. The soldiers responded with "rubber" bullets and teargas. The gas got into the house. We were afraid to go outside and choked on the gas. My baby 'Abdallah, who is one year old, was crying all the time. 

My children are scared of the attacks by the settlers. My daughter Zainab, who is eight, is very scared of them and clings to me all the time. In general, my children hardly ever go out to play like they used to, before the recent wave of attacks. They complain all the time and ask, "Why did you build a house here?This is the worst place in the world. We want to move somewhere else." We reply: "But this is our home. We don't have anywhere else to go, so we have to stay here." 

The clashes went on until eleven-thirty. Of course the children didn't go to school. Every time the settlers come here they miss studies, because everyone's worried about their children.  

Rabihah Shhadeh, 49, a married mother of two, lives about 120 meters from the water tower. In a testimony she gave on 28 Nov. 2018, she described the attack:

Rabihah Shhadeh. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 28 November 2018

At about five-thirty on Monday, 19 Nov. 2018, I was in bed after saying the dawn prayer.  I heard voices outside. My husband asked me what was going on and I said that I didn't know, and that I could hear someone crying. We went up to the roof to work out where the noise was coming from. I saw about 20-25 settlers throwing stones at the neighboring house, and we heard the neighbors yelling. Some of the settlers threw stones at the home of my brother, Jamal Shhadeh, who lives next door. Other settlers attacked the home of Samir Sawalmeh, and some attacked the home of Abu Seif. They also started throwing stones at our house and I was scared. 

Then the settlers left. I heard someone calling residents on a loudspeaker to come to our neighborhood, and some arrived. I rushed over to my brother Jamal’s house, because I knew that he leaves for work at half past four and his wife and children are on their own. His children were very scared. I felt sad for them and thanked God that my children were still asleep and hadn't woken up from the noise. I went to the home of my brother and his wife to ask how they were doing. They were all okay, but they were very scared about what had happened. I'm afraid the settlers will throw grenades into our homes and we'll be burned. 

In a testimony he gave on 21 Nov. 2018, Salah a-Din a-Safdi, 16, who was beaten and detained by soldiers, stated:

Salah a-Din a-Safdi, Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, 21 Nov. 2018

At about nine o’clock, I arrived at the home of my friend, Rani a-Nuri. Just before I knocked on the door, Rani came up behind me and told me that they'd left the house, because soldiers had thrown a lot of teargas canisters and the gas had entered the house. Suddenly, two soldiers came out of the yard and jumped on us. One pushed me down to the ground and tied my hands behind my back with plastic cable ties. The other did the same to Rani. The soldier tied a piece of cloth over my eyes. The soldiers hit us with their weapons and hands and kicked us. I felt strong pain in my left hand and shouted, "My hand, my hand." But the soldier didn't stop beating me. In fact, every time I said “My hand" he deliberately hit my left hand. It hurt so much I was shouting uncontrollably. I couldn't feel anything except the pain in my hand. The pain was indescribable. I realized that my hand was probably broken. 

I heard stones being thrown and shooting. The soldiers dragged me a few meters across rocky ground. I think they did that to move out of the range of the stones. It really hurt, but it was nothing compared to the pain in my left hand. Then they lifted me up and led me to the jeep. I heard the other soldier say to Rani, "Come on, come on." The soldier lifted my leg onto the step of the jeep so that I would climb up, because I couldn't understand what he was saying. He was speaking Hebrew, which I don't understand at all. I told the soldier twice “My hand is hurting," and then he hit me on my hand. I thought that maybe he would take the cable ties off and that would relieve the pain a bit. He told me to shut up. I didn't want to be hit any more so I stayed quiet. The jeep drove off. I don't know where to or for how long. I couldn't think of anything but the pain.