TEL AVIV–Violence erupted in the Palestinian town of Safa today as fanatical masked settlers from the Jewish settlement of Bat Ayin set upon a group of activists from the peace group Ta’ayush, destroying their cameras and badly vandalizing one of their cars. According to Ta’ayush member Joseph Dana, the Israeli army scrambled to the scene with a “closed military zone order,” allowing the masked settlers to remain while ordering the activists to leave under threat of arrest. When the activists failed to leave rapidly enough, the soldiers also turned violent, forcing several of them into a jeep and hauling them away to prison. The army’s action directly contravened an Israeli Supreme Court decision ruling the army could not used closed military zones to prevent Palestinian farmers from working their land. The West Bank is apparently a legal gray zone where even high court rulings are voided by the whims of soldiers and settlers working hand-in-glove.
Video after the jump and check Ibn Ezra’s photos and updates.
On Saturday I traveled to the South Hebron Hills, to the Palestinian village of Safa, with an Israeli group called Ta’ayush that works to protect Palestinian farmers from settler violence and documents the proliferation of illegal settlements (Ta’ayush is Arabic for partnership). Things were peaceful when we arrived in the verdant grove of grape trees below Safa. A tractor plowed the land, a few farmers picked grape leaves, and the Ta’ayush activists greeted members of Anarchists Against the Wall, and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteers were already on the scene.
Within minutes, however, a group of settler children clad in white tsitsis assembled on the hill high above the valley, rolling tires down the hill and chanting in a single, piercing cry, “Death to Arabs!” The children were residents of Bet Ayn, one of the most fanatical Jewish settlements on the West Bank and home to a terrorist underground that planned to bomb a Palestinian girls’ school in Jerusalem. Recently a Palestinian resident of Safa killed a 13-year-old boy from Bet Ayn, setting off a series of violent reprisals that culminated when a masked mob of 30 settlers attacked two elderly farmers with clubs, breaking one man’s skull and seriously wounding the other. Since then, the farmers of Safa have been reluctant to work their fields without international and Israeli activists present.
The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has lined up firmly on the side of the settlers of Bet Ayn. This means that the army is a de facto arm of the settlers and responds to their every command. As soon as the settlers became agitated by our presence, they called an army unit to remove us. Four soldiers rushed to the scene in a jeep, a commander ambled down the hill — he seemed tired and unhappy about leaving his air-conditioned vehicle — and presented the farmers and activists with a closed military zone order. We had five minutes to leave the scene or be arrested.
I have been in the West Bank of Palestine all week filming a video series on the Occupation that I will release in a few days. Yesterday, I traveled to Ni’lin, a town in the West Bank that has been the site of weekly demonstrations against the construction of a portion of the Israeli separation wall that would effectively and deliberately annex farmland from the villagers for a nearby Jewish settlement. Each week the Israeli Army puts down Ni’lin’s demonstrations in a draconian manner, escalating from the firing of teargas from surrounding hillsides to rubber bullets and live fire when they invade the town center.
Yesterday, true to form, the army set up positions in the hills above the village and began firing teargas volleys towards a cluster of about 30 demonstrators seeking to block the path of the wall’s construction. I stood behind the demonstrators and filmed. Within minutes we were blanketed by teargas as canisters exploded all around us. My eyes burned until I couldn’t see; I struggled to breathe as I ran down a narrow street, seeking cover behind walls. This happened over and over throughout the day. At one point the army cornered journalists and a group of demonstrators in a parking lot then appeared to pursue us until we leapt over a series of backyard walls and scattered. Afterwards the Shabab assembled at various points and began slinging rocks towards the Israeli positions.
By 3 pm I was exhausted. My head was searing with pain and my clothes were immersed in teargas residue. Most of the journalists and many of the international demonstrators had left, so I followed them out of Ni’lin, passing on my way out through an Israeli flying checkpoint that had sealed off the town’s main entrance. With the media and international presence gone, Israeli forces transitioned from tear gas to live bullets.
At approximately 4:30 pm, a 12-year-old girl named Summer Amira was struck in the arm by a .22 caliber bullet from an Israeli rifle as she passed by the window of her home. She was taken to the hospital fifteen minutes later and released (luckily) with superficial wounds but in a state of shock. This is nothing new for the residents of Ni’lin. The town of only 5000 residents has lost four young people to Israeli gunfire since May, including an 11-year-old boy. An American activist named Tristan Anderson lies comatose in a Tel Aviv hospital, the victim of a direct cranial hit from an Israeli teargas canister. This is the price Ni’lin pays for daring to resist the impending destruction of its farmland and the irrevocable rupturing of its community. Next week the town’s residents will try again to stop the wall.
I will post hopefully later today on a series of actions against settler violence against Palestinian farmers in the Hebron hills. The ISM’s account of Summer Amira’s shooting is here.