Saturday, March 05, 2005

Settler Violence in Kafr Thulth & Yasouf

Recently, I have been working closely with a woman from AmnestyAmnesty International, interviewing victims of settler attacks in our region of Salfit. I have been trying to find a way to give each story the mention it deserves without becoming tiresome or repetitive. These reports are just one blow after another, and I know it must be hard to keep reading, and to keep feeling. As I write, I try to remember that Palestinians don’t have the luxury that I have of getting bored or jaded. Day after day, year after year, this is their life. The least we can do is to hear their voices and stories.

Hameed is a sweet elderly farmer from the village of Kafr Thulth. Near his village is the settlement of Ma’ale Shomeron. Settlers arrived more than 20 years ago and have been setting up outposts ever since. Hameed woke up one morning to find a group of trailers on his land. Not long after that, he discovered a small road leading from the new outpost to Ma’ale Shomeron. Next, the settlers brought 10 more trailers, installed water pipes underground, and built an asphalt road.

Hameed took me to his land one day and pointed out stump after stump of trees cut down near the outpost. As we toured the damage, Hameed continued to work, pulling out weeds and throwing away stray stones that he saw. He had to sit down every 10 minutes or so to catch his breath, but still he worked. I struggle to find the words to describe the love exuded by this man for his land. His deep connection to and complete knowledge of each tree and stone wall were evident from every gesture, and from the bruises and cuts all over his rough hands, scars of his endless work as a farmer. He pointed out a little clearing next to an old tree guarded from the wind and said he likes to sleep there in the summer, all by himself.

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to hurt Hameed, but last Tuesday he was thrown off his donkey cart by three armed settlers who hit him in the head. He showed us the wound. Hameed’s friends came up to us as we walked, trying to get their stories heard at last. One 72-year-old farmer with heart problems said settlers cut down 235 of his trees 6 months ago. Another friend said 150 of his trees were cut down by someone in uniform, not a settler. “This is a war of attrition,” he said. “Not day by day—hour by hour!”

The settlers surrounding Hameed’s land are moderates compared to those living in Kfar Tapuah, home to many supporters of the settler extremist group Kahane Chai (meaning “high priests of life” in Hebrew), which favors the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel and the Occupied Territories. The Israeli government declared Kahane Chai a terrorist organization over 10 years ago but still facilitates their attacks on Palestinians by financing settlements and providing army protection to violent settlers. Kfar Tapuah is built on land belonging to Yasouf village in Salfit. I took stories from three Yasouf farmers—Suleiman, Wasfiyah, and Marouf—about their encounters with their settler neighbors.

Suleiman was harvesting olives with his wife last November when three settlers—two carrying guns and wearing masks—began throwing stones at his wife. Suleiman was on a ladder at the time. They ordered him to come down, and when he did they beat him with an iron bar, breaking his arm. Then they stole his olives and two donkeys. The couple appealed to soldiers in the area for help, but the army responded, “We are in charge of protecting the settlers from you, not the other way around.”

Wasfiyah was walking to a bus stop on her way to Nablus to see her sister in the hospital less than a year ago when a gang from Tapuah attacked her with stones. She escaped and ran to the police, who said they would help. But nothing was ever done, despite a history of complaints against one of the perpetrators. Her husband recently found the family’s crops poisoned as well.

Marouf is a sweet old man who wouldn’t tell us his story until we were served tea and introduced to the whole family. He said that just last week seven soldiers approached him while he was working alone on his land, and without saying a word began to beat him. He said one grabbed his hands and pinned them behind his back while another picked up a large stone and beat him in the head with it. Marouf paused to show us the deep gash along the left side of his face, above his forehead and near his temple.

Marouf explained that the attacks continue on his family and community. His granddaughters have been intimidated by settlers, and his village is surrounded by expanding outposts. Much of Yasouf’s land lies far beyond the outposts, but the owners can no longer go to it because that would require crossing a road linking the outposts back to Tapuah. The outposts themselves—not to mention their roads on Palestinian land—are illegal, but the only rule enforced by soldiers is the one barring Palestinians from crossing the outpost road to reach their land.

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