Another expulsion attempt: Settlers raid Kh. al-Mufaqarah, attack villagers, crack toddler’s skull, and cause heavy property damage
On 28 September 2021, at around 1:00 P.M, about 10 masked settlers, some armed with clubs and one with a knife, attacked two shepherds grazing their flock on the outskirts of Khirbet al-Mufaqarah, close to the road leading to the outpost of Avigail. Two children of one of the shepherds were also with them.
The shepherds and the children fled with the flock towards the village, with the settlers chasing them and throwing stones at them. The settler armed with the knife tried, unsuccessfully, to attack the shepherd Raed Hamamdeh (44), a resident of the nearby community of Khirbet a-Rakeez. Three soldiers who passed by in a military jeep tried to block the settlers’ way and even pushed the knife-wielding settler to the ground. The other settlers managed to extract him, and then he stabbed five sheep, four of whom died. The remaining settlers chased Hamamdeh, hurled stones at him and lightly wounded him.
Meanwhile, several residents of al-Mufaqarah came to help the shepherds and defend their homes from the settlers who had arrived. The soldiers began throwing stun grenades and firing tear gas canisters and live fire in the air in an attempt to keep the settlers away and separate them and the residents, who threw stones back at the settlers.
At this point, dozens of other settlers invaded the village in cars and ATVs from the direction of the Havat Ma’on and Avigail outposts, some of whom were carrying firearms. They spread out among the village homes, throwing stones at their windows and vandalizing many vehicles and solar panels. Some of the settlers even entered several houses and destroyed their contents.
Several women hid with their young children in a relatively safe room with an iron door, which they locked behind them. The settlers tried to break into the room by force, and when they failed, they surrounded the house and hurled stones into it through the window. Some children were hit by the stones, including 3-year-old Muhammad Hamamdeh, whose skull was cracked by a stone, causing him to lose consciousness. His cousin, Usayed Hamamdeh (3), was injured in the shoulder, and another cousin, Sawsan Hamamdeh (3), was hit in the face and arm.
During the attack, many soldiers came to the scene. They fired live rounds in the air and tear gas canisters and hurled stun grenades. Many of the residents suffered gas inhalation, and women from the community fled with their children to caves in a nearby valley.
Muhammad Hamamdeh was evacuated by an Israeli ambulance to Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva along with his uncle Suhaib, who was stabbed in the thigh by a settler. Muhammad was discharged five days later. During their transfer in a military jeep to the ambulance, settlers tried to attack Muhammad and Suhaib again. Three other people injured by stones were taken to the hospital in Yatta: Mu’az Hamamdeh (27), who was hit in the head, Nu’man Hamamdeh (56), who was hit in the leg, and Usayed Hamamdeh (3), who was hit in the shoulder. Other residents lightly injured by stones and tear gas inhalation were treated on the spot by the crews of two Palestinian ambulances that came to the scene.
About an hour and a half later, the settlers left the village and entered the nearby village, a-Tuwani, where they stoned the Rab’i family home. Several soldiers fired tear gas canisters at a-Tuwani residents who tried to defend the home and repel the assailants with stones. Stones thrown by settlers injured two village residents. The attack on a-Tuwani lasted about an hour, until more soldiers arrived, and only then did the settlers leave the area and return to Havat Ma’on. A Red Crescent ambulance came to the scene, and paramedics treated those injured by the stones and tear gas. Police officers arrived at the scene, photographed the damage, and collected statements from the residents. In addition, a village resident who was arrested was released later that evening, and, according to media reports, several settlers were also arrested and eventually released.
In the past year, settler attacks in Masafer Yatta have intensified, especially since the establishment of a new “agricultural farm” by settlers about two months ago, near the Avigail outpost. These attacks are usually carried out in an organized fashion, on weekends and holidays. However, the attack described here is one of the gravest attacks recalled by residents.
Residents of the area have been suffering attempts by the state to expel them under various pretexts, chief among them the allegation that they live in an area that has been declared a “firing zone” – although they have been living there before the Israeli occupation began. As part of these attempts, the state forbids them to legally build their homes, connect to water and power grids, and restricts their grazing land. Acts of settler violence against Palestinians are part of these efforts. State authorities – including the military- are well aware of these violent acts but chose to do nothing and enable them to take place. All this, in an attempt to make the lives of residents so unbearable that they will leave on their own volition, while completely shirking responsibility for their lives, safety, and wellbeing.
During the incident, B’Tselem field researcher Naser Nawaj’ah was called to the scene, and he and B’Tselem volunteer Basel al-Adraa captured part of the incident. B’Tselem field researchers Musa Abu Hashhsash and Manal al-Ja’bari arrived at the scene the following day and collected the testimonies of 10 residents of al-Mufaqarah, a-Tuwani, and a-Rakeez.
In her testimony, the mother of the toddler who was severely injured in the head, Baraa Hamamdeh (24), a mother of three, recounted:
I live in Khirbet al-Mufaqarah with my husband, our three children, aged six months to four, and my mother-in-law. My husband is a laborer and works odd jobs.
On 28 September 2021, at around 1:30 P.M., I was at home with my children, eating lunch. Suddenly, we heard shouts coming from the asphalt road leading to the settlement of Avigail, several hundred meters from my home. From a distance, I saw settlers running towards the village. They were chasing the shepherd Raed Hamamdeh, a resident of the nearby village of Khirbet a-Rakeez. I also saw several men and young guys from the village running towards the settlers and confronting them. There was mutual stone-throwing on the southern side of the village. I heard stun grenade explosions and soldiers shooting live fire.
A few minutes later, more settlers arrived in jeeps and ATVs on the dirt road that leads from Havat Ma’on to the northern part of the village.
I quickly put my children into a small room, and my sisters-in-law, Mariam (30), Razan (26), Iman (27), and Afnan (29), also put their children in the same room. We all crammed into this tiny room: five women and 17 small children, including my six-month-old baby Shifaa. We locked the room’s iron door and surrounded the children to protect them from the settlers.
The settlers were already around the house and all over the village. They threw stones at the houses and everything in their way while shouting in Hebrew. I heard them trying to break down the door of the room we were hiding in. When they were failed, they walked around to a side of the house with a small glass window and started throwing stones at it. The glass shattered, and stones started flying into the room.
My sisters-in-law and I tried to shield our children with our bodies. They clung to each other as they screamed and howled in fear. More than six stones the size of a fist landed into the room.
I saw my son Muhammad falling to the floor. Because of the panic and the children’s screams, it took me a few minutes until I realized he’d been injured – when I saw the blood coming from his head and realized that he was on the verge of fainting. I started screaming for help, and so did my sisters-in-law.
In her testimony, Iman Hamamdeh (26), a relative of Baraa, described what followed:
The settlers spread out among the village homes and attacked us with stones. Then I saw them attacking Baraa’s house and breaking its windows. The women locked themselves in a room inside the house, and I heard the children screaming. We couldn’t get to them for about half an hour. We only heard the children screaming and crying inside while the settlers surrounded the house.
Meanwhile, I saw settlers slashing the tires of the family’s tractor, and then many more soldiers arrived and managed to keep the settlers away from the house. It was only then that I could reach the room where the women and children were. There were about 15 children, ranging in age from one year to 12, and they were all screaming and crying. I saw little Muhammad lying unconscious with his face covered in blood. I picked him up and ran with him to one of the soldiers. I asked him to help the child, and he pointed to an Israeli ambulance that was standing about 350 meters from us, next to the settlement of Avigail, around which stood several settlers. The soldier asked Suhaib, who was injured, and I to take the boy to the ambulance, but we were afraid the settlers would attack us. He asked us to wait and called someone on his cell phone. About 15 minutes later, a military jeep drove up and took Suhaib and the boy to the Israeli ambulance standing on the road.
From where I was standing, I saw settlers trying to attack Suhaib and the boy as they were being transferred from the jeep into the ambulance. They put them in the ambulance, and it drove away. I later found that it had evacuated them to Soroka Hospital in Israel.
This isn’t the first time settlers have attacked our village, but this was the most violent, frightening, and vicious attack that ever happened here.
Du’aa Hamamdeh (27), a mother of four, fled with her children to a family-owned cave when settlers attacked her house. In her testimony, she recounted:
I live in Khirbet al-Mufaqarah with my husband, our four small children, my mother-in-law, and four of my husband’s brothers with their families.
On Tuesday, 28 September 2021, at around 1:00 P.M., I saw from our house window a procession of more than 50 settlers marching from the settlement of Havat Ma’on towards our village and another procession of settlers coming from the direction of the Avigail outpost. The two processions met in the center of our village, and I saw the settlers shaking hands and hugging. I ignored them and made lunch for my family.
At around 1:30 P.M., We heard screaming and gunfire inside the village. I heard residents calling other residents to come to fend off the settlers and protect the village. I heard them saying that settlers were killing the sheep of one of the shepherds from the village. Men and women from the village went out to help them, and so did the men of my family. My sisters-in-law and I watched what was going on from a distance. Our house sits at the top of the hill at the entrance to the village, and from there, we saw settlers chasing the flock. Several soldiers who were there tried to prevent it, but they were unsuccessful, and the settlers reached the village. The residents started throwing stones at the settlers to keep them at bay, but they continued their attack and started moving between houses throughout the village. They destroyed vehicles and threw stones at the windows of houses.
Then, a large force of the Israeli military arrived, and the soldiers started shooting live fire in the air and tear gas canisters at the houses. I saw settlers approaching our homes, so my sisters-in-law and I decided to run with the children towards the valley because we were afraid the settlers would hurt or kill us. We hid in a cave in the valley, and then a tear gas canister landed next to it, and we all suffocated. The children started screaming and crying because of the gas that penetrated their eyes and fear from the settlers.
About 10 minutes later, we saw the settlers moving away towards the village of a-Tuwani, and then we went back to our house. We discovered that the settlers had caused a great deal of damage: they smashed windows and solar panels and then went into the house and broke the water filter, the closet, and a phone. The settlers smashed the rooms of all the homes in the village and destroyed all the vehicles. They didn’t leave anything alone .
Two police cars arrived and stopped near our house. The officers photographed the property that the settlers had damaged in the house and took statements from residents.
I don’t know what would’ve happened to the children and I if we hadn’t run away from home. It was a horrific and vicious attack, and now I’m afraid to sleep even one night in the village for fear that they’ll return. The children also suffer from stress and have trouble sleeping at night, and they sleep close to me and refuse to sleep alone.
R.R. (32), a mother of six from a-Tuwani, described the attack on her home by settlers:
I live with my husband (33) and our three small children in the village of a-Tuwani, east of Yatta. Our house is located about 100 meters from the edge of Havat Ma’on’s wooded area.
On 28 September 2021, in the afternoon, I saw from my house settlers getting into four-wheel-drive vehicles and ATVs and driving towards Khirbet al-Mufaqarah on the dirt roads that connect a-Tuwani and al-Mufaqarah. After a short while, I started hearing gunshots and explosions, probably stun grenades hurled by the soldiers. I didn’t know what was happening, but then information started circulating on the phones that settlers were attacking the residents of Khirbet al-Mufaqarah.
I went up to the roof of our house with my husband. The gunshots and explosions continued. I heard calls in our village to get to al-Mufaqarah to help them. After 3:00 P.M., I saw dozens of settlers returning from there with several soldiers. They reached the edge of the woods near our house. Meanwhile, some relatives of ours and other village residents came to protect us. About 30 people gathered here.
After a few minutes, the settlers started showering stones on the front of the house and its eastern side. The residents tried to fend them off by throwing stones back at them. The soldiers fired a massive amount of tear gas in our direction. I entered the house and closed the door. I wanted to protect my little ones from the gas, so I took them through the back door to my sister-in-law’s house, which is relatively far from the road the settlers were standing on. Then I went back with my sister-in-law to my house, and we passed water and onion against the gas to other residents who were fending off the settlers.
The attack lasted about an hour, and then more soldiers arrived, and the settlers drew back towards the woods.
During the attack, my brother-in-law (38) was injured lightly in the leg by a stone. An 18-year-old resident was also hit in the leg. A Palestinian ambulance that came to the village treated them and the tear gas victims on the spot.