Numerous Jewish settlers came down from the hills to smash windows and cars in a small Palestinian village. Families hid in their homes while Israeli soldiers watched.
This rural Palestinian area of the occupied West Bank says that last week’s attack was not unusual but particularly violent. They see it as part of an even larger Israeli effort to drive them from their land. This includes cutting off water supplies in a dry region.
Residents of Al-Mufagara looked at the destruction days after the attack in which a 4-year-old boy was injured in the head while his family fled to their home. It also included the water cisterns that the Bedouin community relies on for their livestock.
Mohammed Rahbi, deputy chief of the rural Yatta region council, stated that “they attacked everything we had, our water containers and our animals, as well as our trees, houses, and our houses.” It was an attack on humanity.”
According to 1990 agreements, this 60% of the West Bank is still under Israeli military control. Palestinians claim it is nearly impossible to obtain building permits, even for the most basic infrastructure such as electricity and water. Al-Mufagara has been designated as a firing range by the military, making it difficult for residents to stay on the land.
Israeli authorities have in the meantime tolerated construction of two outposts near settlements, which are illegal under Israeli law. This is where terrorists who participated in Wednesday’s attack are thought to have come.
The settlers ambushed a shepherd in the area and killed a few of his sheep. They then ran rampant through the small group of stone homes and animal pen, shirtless and wrapped in scarves.
B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, released footage showing soldiers from Israel standing alongside the settlers while they hurled stones. One soldier pulled out a tear gas canister and shoved the Palestinian filming the attack. “This is our home,” shouted the Palestinian.
Israeli police claimed they had arrested five suspects in Israel, including a teenager. Since then, all have been released.
The military declined to answer questions. However, the West Bank’s top commander, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuss, met with Palestinian residents last week and stated that Israel is committed towards the security of all people in the region.
Yair Lapid, the Israeli Foreign Minister, condemned the attack as “terror”, and said it was due to a “violent fringe” which should be brought before justice. The violence was also condemned by the U.S. State Department.
Rights groups claim that settlers have carried out similar attacks in the past year with little resistance from the military.
Hagai El Ad, the head for B’Tselem, stated that “this is happening all of the time.” “Some soldiers even take part in these attacks on Palestinians. This is part of a larger state project that forcibly transfers Palestinians from large areas of the West Bank.
Israel took the West Bank during the 1967 war. The Palestinian Authority has been granted limited autonomy in areas and towns which make up less that 40% of the territory. The Palestinians want to make the West Bank the core of their future state.
There are approximately 500,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, along with more than 2.5 million Palestinians. While most settlers reside in the 120 Israeli settlements, more radical settlers have constructed dozens of outposts in rural areas without permission from the state.
The majority of Israel’s nationalist parties view the West Bank and its inhabitants as the Biblical heartland for the Jewish people. They also support the settlers. Naftali Bennett is an Israeli prime minister who has long supported settlements and is against a Palestinian state.
Because it can spark clashes between soldiers, settlers, Israeli authorities are reluctant about evacuating outposts. Several governments have retroactively approved 15 outposts. Israel provides electricity and water to many outposts, and subsidizes settlements.
All settlements are illegal and a hindrance to peace for the Palestinians, which is a position that has wide international support.
The 1,300 Palestinians who live in Al-Mufagara, also known as Masafer Yatta are unable or unwilling to maintain basic infrastructure, despite the rapid growth of settlements. According to statistics, published by Peace Now (an anti-settlement Israeli monitoring organization), around 1% of Palestinian requests submitted for Area C construction permits were approved by Israeli authorities between 2009 and 2016.
Quamar Mishirqi Assad, director at Haqel (a rights organization that works with local communities), stated that Israel is trying to “empty Masafer”
Rahbi stated that he has submitted numerous applications for new housing or irrigation projects, which have all been denied. He claims that Israel approves these projects only in Al-Tuwani near Jerusalem, which is not within its declared firing range.
COGAT, an Israeli defense agency that issues permits, claimed that the refusals to allow residents into the military zone were made for their safety. Under military guidelines, he spoke on condition that he remain anonymous to explain why settler communities (including unauthorized outposts) do not face the same obstacles.
It wasn’t the first time that water sources in local areas were damaged.
According to Al-Haq (a Palestinian human rights organization), the military destroyed almost all of the pipelines connecting Masafer to Israel’s national water carrier. COGAT had no immediate comment.
Many Palestinian rural communities struggle with water shortages. The U.N. High Commission for Human Rights released Friday a report that stated 660,000 Palestinians have “limited” access to water and condemned Israel’s destruction of Masafer’s vital water resources. Israel declined to comment on this report, claiming that the U.N. biases against it.
Rahbi says that most of the communities have constructed small pipes to connect to al-Tuwani which is the only village in the region connected to Israel’s water supply, Mekorot.
Rahbi stated that it’s not enough. Residents can collect rainwater in the winter months and then purchase water tanks from larger cities. Poor roads can lead to extra charges from suppliers.
Many of the pipes and cisterns made of plastic were damaged in Wednesday’s settler attack. It will cost a lot to replace them.
The Palestinians insist that they will stay despite the increasing hardships.
Rahbi stated, “People here are rooted and in love with this land.”