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August in ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah: Settlers and soldiers repeatedly invade village and attack residents

The Palestinian village of ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah in Nablus District is surrounded by several settlements, including Yitzhar, which was established on some of the village’s land. For years, ...
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August in ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah: Settlers and soldiers repeatedly invade village and attack residents

The Palestinian village of ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah in Nablus District is surrounded by several settlements, including Yitzhar, which was established on some of the village’s land. For years, the villagers have been suffering from repeated attacks by settlers, including physical assaults and damage to their property and land.

These attacks, like many that occur throughout the West Bank, form part of an established Israeli policy that does not consider settler violence against Palestinians as criminal or even illegitimate. On the contrary – the state nearly always backs these acts, as they serve its purposes.

In August 2020, settlers attacked the village several times. In most cases, they were escorted by soldiers who did nothing to protect the Palestinians. The soldiers only intervened when the residents came out to defend their homes and property, and fired tear gas canisters and stun grenades at them. The incidents described below took place last month in the village.

The following testimonies were given to B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i by residents.

13 August 2020, just after midnight: Settlers stone homes, soldiers fire tear gas canisters and stun grenades at residents

On Thursday, 13 August 2020, at around 12:30 A.M., settlers set fire to a bulldozer in the nearby village of ‘Urif and sprayed a boulder with a slogan: “Demolition will lead to destruction!”. Ahmad and Maysaa’ Omari, who live in the southern neighborhood of ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah, went up to their roof with their children to watch what was happening. While there, they noticed dozens of masked settlers running towards their home from the settlement of Yitzhar. The family called for help, and dozens of residents came to help them defend their home and nearby houses.

Meanwhile, the settlers drew near and began to throw stones at the family home and at the house next door, where two of the couple’s married sons live. Three military jeeps arrived immediately, along with the settlement security coordinator. The soldiers got out of their vehicles and started firing tear gas canisters at the residents and their homes.

At that point, the settlers headed back towards Yitzhar while the soldiers stayed and continued firing tear gas canisters and stun grenades, until the residents went back inside. The soldiers stayed on the outskirts of the village until 3:00 A.M.

In a testimony she gave on 16 August 2020, Maysaa’ Omari described the attack on her home:

We were standing on our roof watching what was happening in ‘Urif, when I saw a lot of heading our way from the direction of Yitzhar. I was scared. The settlers usually attack us during the day, but not at night. It was dark, but I could see they were masked. They ran towards our house. We started whistling and calling village residents to let them know settlers were coming, and dozens came out to help us.

The settlers threw stones at our home and at the house next door, where my sons Rafiq and Anis live. Three military jeeps and the settlement chief of security arrived immediately. The soldiers got out and started firing tear gas at our homes. They didn’t care that the settlers were the ones who’d attacked us or that there were women, including a pregnant woman, children, and elderly people in the house. They didn’t care about anything. I told my children to go back inside and close the windows. I called my son Anis’s wife, who’s nine months pregnant and lives next door, because I was worried about her. She said she forgot to close the bathroom window and gas had got into the house. I asked her to stay in a safe room and use onions and yeast to make it easier to breathe and relieve the burning in her face.

About 15 minutes later, the settlers started heading back towards the settlement. The soldiers stayed and continued throwing stun grenades and firing tear gas. They shouted at the residents to get inside. I left the roof and ran indoors to get away from the gas. I watched what was happening through a window. My son Ahmad (20), who has dwarfism, gets anxious from these incidents. My daughter Hadil (10) also gets really frightened when the settlers attack us. I stayed by their side and tried to calm them down.

The soldiers rained tear gas down on the neighborhood for about an hour. Everyone ran from the gas and from the explosions of the stun grenades. The soldiers stayed on the outskirts of the village and near our home until 3:00 A.M. I followed what was happening with my husband and children because we were afraid the settlers would come back. I only managed to fall asleep at 4:00 A.M., after the soldiers left.

13 August 2020, 2:00 P.M.: Settlers attack homes again, this time with military back-up

In the afternoon, the incident repeated itself: at around 2:00 P.M., about ten settlers came to the village again, this time with an escort of several soldiers, and began to stone the homes of the ‘Omari and Salah families, which lie about 300 meters apart. Part of the Salahs’ home is under construction. The residents came out of their homes and in response, the soldiers fired tear gas canisters and stun grenades at them.

During the incident, several residents lit weeds by the roadside to keep the soldiers and the settlers from reaching their homes. After about 15 minutes, the Yitzhar settlement security coordinator arrived and the settlers left toward the settlement while the soldiers stayed in the area.

In a testimony she gave on 17 August 2020, Lubna Salah (44), a mother of four, spoke about the settlers’ attack on her home:

On Thursday afternoon, at around 2:00 P.M., settlers came back to the village and attacked our home. I was at home with my husband and three of our sons, working on the third floor, which is still under construction. Suddenly, my husband told me that he heard noises and asked me to look outside. I looked out the window facing the settlement and saw a military jeep and about ten settlers who were throwing stones at the homes of the ‘Omari family.

The soldiers fired tear gas at the residents who came out to defend their homes. A few minutes later, the settlers approached our home and started throwing stones at it, too. The soldiers who escorted the settlers came closer, and it was clear they were guarding them. My husband and I went up to our roof, where I filmed part of the incident. My husband said he heard the soldiers talking with the settlers and asking them to stop throwing stones, so it wouldn’t cause problems. My husband shouted and cursed at them, and then the soldiers fired tear gas and threw stun grenades at us.

We didn’t know where to go. I was scared to go down to the ground floor because I feared the settlers and soldiers would come in and attack us. In the end, we hid in the stairway. It was the safest place because there’s no windows, so the gas didn’t enter. Fifteen minutes later, some village residents and the settlement security coordinator arrived. He talked to the settlers, and they left toward the settlement. It seemed like they were only willing to listen to his orders.

15 August 2020, two days later: settlers escorted by soldiers attack again, twice on the same day

On Saturday, the settlers attacked two homes of the ‘Omari family once again, twice on the same day. At around 4:00 P.M., two settlers showed up, threw stones at the homes of Rafiq and Anis ‘Omari for a few minutes, and left towards Yitzhar. At around 6:00 P.M., about 15 settlers returned and started throwing stones at one of the family’s homes. A few soldiers who escorted the settlers fired tear gas canisters and hurled stun grenades at the residents who came out to defend their homes. Even after the settlers had left, the soldiers continued firing and only left the area at around 8:00 P.M.

In her testimony, Maysaa ’Omari further recounted:

On Saturday, 15 August 2020, at around 4:00 P.M., I was on the roof my house with my husband and sons, when I saw two settlers standing a few meters away from my sons Rafiq and Anis’s homes. The settlers threw stones at their homes and then ran towards the settlement. Two hours later, about 15 settlers arrived from Yitzhar with three or four soldiers. The settlers threw stones at our homes, and the soldiers fired tear gas and threw stun grenades at us and at other residents who came out to defend their homes. A few tear gas canisters landed on our roof and in our yard. I didn’t know what to do. Rafiq, his wife, and their three little boys, aged three, four, and five, were at our house, and so was my son Anis’s wife, who’s nine months pregnant. I looked for a safe room, as far as possible from the smell of gas, and took onions, water and yeast with me. I turned on the fan and closed the windows. The soldiers kept firing tear gas at us even after the setters went back to the settlement.

Things only calmed down after 8:00 P.M., when it got dark and the soldiers left. We couldn’t sleep all night for fear the settlers and soldiers would come back. The settlers vandalized our cars in the past, and we feared they’d do something similar again. My young children and my little nephews, including 3-year-old Ra’d, ask me all the time if they’ll come back and use tear gas against us.

Every time we try to forget about the bad things that happened to us, the situation repeats itself and gets worse.

The inscription “Jewish life is not cheap”, sprayed by settlers on the ’Assayreh family’s wall on 28 Aug. 2020. Photo courtesy of village council

28 August 2020: Settlers torch car and spray hate-graffiti on the wall of a home

On Friday night, 28 August 2020, at around 2:30 A.M., settlers torched the ‘Assayreh family’s car, parked near their home in the southern neighborhood of the village. Lama’ Assayreh (21) awoke to the sound of an explosion and woke up her parents, Wael and Suhair (47). Lama’s two sisters, Lana (14) and Lin (5), also woke up due to the commotion outside. The family members extinguished the fire and discovered that settlers had sprayed their wall with a slogan: “Jewish blood is not cheap.”

Wael ’Assayreh notified the village council about the incident, and at midday, Israeli military officers, DCO personnel, and police officers arrived at the house. The latter took ‘Assayreh’s statement and photographed the torched car he had bought only two months before.

In a testimony she gave on 30 August 2020, Lama’ Assayreh described what happened to her and her family that night:

The torched car of the ‘Assayreh family, ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah, 28 Aug. 2020. Photo: courtesy of village council

I woke up because of noise outside my bedroom window but fell back asleep. Seconds later, I heard an explosion. I jumped out of bed, looked out, and saw my father’s car burning. I rushed to my parent’s room, woke them up and went out without thinking to put out the fire before the gas tank exploded, and a big disaster would’ve happened.

My sisters, Lana and Lin, woke up, and we all helped my dad bring water from a container in the yard to put out the fire. Then, we noticed graffiti in Hebrew on our fence. The whole thing made me terrified: I thought about what would’ve happened if the settlers had attacked us while we were inside the house. Our home is far from the rest of the village houses.

I couldn’t sleep that night or the night after. I kept imagining the flames reflected on the ceiling of my room on the night of the fire. I can’t let go of that sight or the noises I heard outside. It was a horrible night. My little sister Lin asked if they’d also burn down our house. She got very nervous about what had happened.

We don’t feel safe in our own home and are thinking about building a wall around us, so that no one can reach us. I asked my dad to install security cameras so we can see what’s happening around our house.