A settler shot my husband. Then Israel bulldozed my childhood home

Zakariyah has suffered immensely since being wounded by an Israeli settler. Yet his attacker roams free, and demolitions continue to devastate our communities in Masafer Yatta.

The day before my husband was shot, he told me to wait to come home.

I had traveled to Al-Jawaya, a neighboring village in the Masafer Yatta region of the South Hebron Hills, in the occupied West Bank, where I had grown up and where my parents and siblings still lived. But this was just days after October 7, and my husband Zakariyah was worried that the short trip back to our house in At-Tuwani had become too dangerous.

When I left for Al-Jawaya on Oct. 10, I thought it would be comforting to be with my family in such uncertain times. I assumed it would be a simple visit — Al-Jawaya is across the highway from At-Tuwani, a journey of just a few minutes that I used to take multiple times a day. While Israeli soldiers had closed many roads in Masafer Yatta on October 7, including those we use to reach the city of Yatta, access to the small agricultural road between Al-Jawaya and At-Tuwani was left unimpeded.

My father came to pick me and my children up in his car, passing soldiers stationed at the entrance of our village. Although eager to be with my family, I was terrified to load my children into the car and drive back with him. I cried the entire way, stopping only once I walked over the familiar doorstep of my family home.

I had only planned to stay in Al-Jawaya for a single day. But later that afternoon, settlers and soldiers brought a bulldozer and sealed off the entry road to the village, shooting at any cars that tried to pass. We could hear the gunshots from my family’s home, so I decided to postpone my return trip to At-Tuwani. Zakariyah and I spoke every day that week, trying to figure out how we could reunite our family, but there did not seem to be a safe way to travel between the villages.

Israeli soldiers are seen during a demonstration near the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills against new structures built in the nearby Israeli settlement of Avigail, August 20, 2021. (Oren Ziv)
Israeli soldiers are seen during a demonstration near the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills against new structures built in the nearby Israeli settlement of Avigail, August 20, 2021. (Oren Ziv)

Then, on Friday, Oct. 13, I received a panicked call from one of Zakariyah’s sisters: Zakariyah had been shot by a settler.

Between two villages

Growing up in Al-Jawaya, I would see settlements gradually crop up on neighboring hilltops, but interactions with the settlers themselves were few and far between, and always from a distance. My memories of childhood are filled with beauty: dew drops in the morning, bright green fields spotted with red flowers in springtime. The winters were cold and quiet, with a beautiful stillness. It wasn’t like now, when the settlers come into our villages to harass, injure, and torment us.

Since Al-Jawaya is very small, my siblings and I, like many other children from the small villages in Masafer Yatta, attended the school in At-Tuwani. To reach the school, we had to cross the Israeli-built highway that separates the two villages. “Be careful,” my father would warn me. But my mind was always focused on my studies, not the growing violence of the landscape I traversed daily.

During my years at school, I used to go to a shop in At-Tuwani to get a snack or pick things up for my family. The shop owner’s son was a boy named Zakariyah. He was a couple years ahead of me in school. I would see him in the hallways and when I stopped in his family’s store, where Zakariyah helped his father. I was always very shy around him, and later would learn that he too is quite shy. After a while, we got to know each other, and he approached my family to ask for my hand in marriage.

Shoug and Zakariyah sitting outside their home in At-Tuwani the week that Zakariyah was released from the hospital, January 2024 (Emily Glick)
Shoug and Zakariyah sitting outside their home in At-Tuwani the week that Zakariyah was released from the hospital, January 2024 (Emily Glick)

We were married in 2017, and I gave birth to our eldest daughter one year later. Like many Palestinians in the West Bank, Zakariyah used to work construction jobs in Israel, and he built our house in At-Tuwani himself. More recently, he returned to farming the land surrounding our village. We now have four healthy children, including twin babies who were born last summer.

Over the last 10 years, however, Israeli settlements around Masafer Yatta have rapidly expanded: from the roof of my house, I can see them covering the hilltops in nearly every direction. As the settler population has grown, violence in the area has skyrocketed. My family and neighbors face constant harassment from settlers while grazing sheep or harvesting crops, and acts of settler violence have become terrifyingly frequent and increasingly bloody.

Excessively heinous wounds

On Oct. 13, Zakariyah was praying in the mosque in At-Tuwani, when he heard children yelling in the street. He hurried outside and saw an armed Israeli settler walking toward the mosque. Zakariyah tried to speak with the settler, but as he approached, the settler reached for his gun and at point-blank range — with hatred in his eyes — shot Zakariyah in the stomach.

The settler immediately fled the scene, while other men called an ambulance. But because the Israeli army had set up a checkpoint at the entrance to At-Tuwani that day, the ambulance could not enter the village. So Zakariyah’s friends loaded him into a private car and drove to Yatta. As they navigated various roadblocks set up after October 7, what was normally a 10-minute drive to the hospital took 40 minutes, and Zakariyah nearly died along the way. He has since told me that he could feel himself losing blood and was only able to see darkness. He felt as though his entire abdomen was on fire.

According to the doctors who treated Zakariyah, the settler had fired a dumdum bullet, a kind of ammunition that explodes upon contact with its target and has been internationally banned for over a century because it causes “excessively heinous wounds.” Four of Zakariyah’s ribs were broken, two bullet fragments hit his stomach, and three others entered his abdomen and began to cut everything inside him — just barely missing his liver and kidneys.

Zakariyah shows his bandages and colostomy bag after being released from the hospital, January 2024. (Emily Glick)
Zakariyah shows his bandages and colostomy bag after being released from the hospital, January 2024. (Emily Glick)

Doctors ultimately did manage to save his life, but it was not immediately clear that they would succeed: in surgery, they had to remove half of Zakariyah’s pancreas, his entire spleen, and 20 centimeters of his colon, in addition to repairing other damaged organs.

Zakariyah spent the next two months in the hospital, undergoing more than 10 operations. He still needed one final surgery to repair his colon, but he was too weak for it at the time, so the doctors sent him home to rest and recover. When he arrived, we felt a deep sense of relief and gratitude. But we quickly learned how weak he had become during his hospital stay — and how much care he would now require.

Lives upended

Once lively and strong, Zakariyah had lost 27 kilograms, or nearly 60 pounds. He had an external colostomy bag that I had to learn how to change and clean for him daily, and extra bags were hard to find. His diet was restricted to liquids and very soft foods, so we had to prepare separate meals for him. He was required to sleep sitting up, so we created a makeshift bed for him in the living room. And while he has gained strength over the last few months, his mobility is limited and his energy levels remain extremely low.

Zakariyah himself is completely changed. He used to be strong and self-sufficient, and rarely prone to anger or sadness. Now, he has a lot of fear, and requires constant care to get through the day.

Before the attack, we faced our normal share of problems, but we were comfortable and always persevered. Zakariyah always talked about how he wanted many children, and he used to pray in the mosque for twins. He found great joy in raising our family together: when our twins were born, four months before Zakariyah was nearly killed, he would rock them every night until they fell asleep. In wintertime, he would go to Yatta to buy chicken, bake it in the soba (oven), and dance around it with the girls.

Shoug, Zakariyah and one of their twins, Sagi, February 2024. (Emily Glick)
Shoug, Zakariyah and one of their twins, Sagi, February 2024. (Emily Glick)

Today, he can’t hold the babies, because his muscles are too weak. He can’t even hug or kiss his children: due to his weakened immune system, any exposure to germs could be fatal. Recently the children and I fell ill, and I had to keep my children away from their father, while I continued to care for him as safely as I could.

Despite these challenges, slowly but surely, Zakariyah has regained strength. He has started walking without a cane and playing with the children again, albeit gently. He takes delight in visits from friends and family, who sit with him to share news and drink tea and coffee.

But even as Zakariyah has begun to recover, the attack has had lasting effects on everyone around him. At the beginning of the war, Israel revoked entry permits for West Bank Palestinians, including Zakariyah’s father and brothers — who also worked construction jobs inside Israel — and his mother, who had a permit to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Yet when they tried to renew their permits, as Zakariyah remained convalescent in the hospital, the response from the Israeli Civil Administration — the bureaucratic arm of the occupation — only added insult to injury: my mother-in-law was told there were concerns that her family would try to avenge Zakariyah’s shooting, so they couldn’t be let into Israel.

Meanwhile, the settler who shot my husband continues to roam freely, even though the attack was caught on camera and documented by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. About a week after the attack in October, Zakariyah’s cousin and an activist in Masafer Yatta went to the Israeli police — which is responsible for investigating Israeli civilian violence against Palestinians in the West Bank — to report the shooting and file charges against the settler. During the winter months, the police called five eyewitnesses to testify, and we also learned that they questioned the settler. Yet we have heard nothing since then; more than eight months after the attack, there has been no accountability. 

‘We were shocked when the bulldozers arrived at our doorstep’

On May 7, seven months into the war, some friends came to visit us in At-Tuwani, to catch up and hear how Zakariyah and our family were doing. As we were sitting together, we got a call: there were bulldozers driving up the road toward my parents’ home in Al-Jawaya. 

The Israeli army demolishes Shouq's family's home in Al-Jawaya, May 7, 2024 (Emily Glick).
The Israeli army demolishes Shoug’s family’s home in Al-Jawaya, May 7, 2024. (Emily Glick)

In the South Hebron Hills, the sight of bulldozers means that there is about to be a home demolition. We ran to the window, where we could see my family’s home on the opposite hillside across the highway. We watched as the bulldozer moved slowly up the hill, followed by army vehicles. They were driving on the road that has been closed since October 7 — the closure that made it nearly impossible for me to see my family during the first days of the war, or to return to Zakariyah the day that he was shot. That day, the road had been opened only to let in the occupation’s tools of destruction.

I tried to call my family, but no one answered. Finally, I got through to my mother, who confirmed my fears: our house was about to be destroyed.

My father built the house 10 years ago. Recently, he had been working to add an apartment on the second floor, so that one of my brothers can move in after he is married, as well as another house next door for my other brother. My family are among the 99 percent of Palestinians in Area C to whom Israel has denied construction permits, so our home, like virtually every home in Masafer Yatta, was built without official authorization from the Civil Administration. 

Two years ago, when my father was working on the house, the Civil Administration handed him a stop-work order. While we knew there was a risk of demolition, we hadn’t received any notification that a demolition was imminent, so we were shocked when the Israeli soldiers and bulldozers arrived at our doorstep.

First, they sent in a team of workers to remove my family’s belongings from the house. A crowd of neighbors and activists gathered to watch and film the demolition from a distance, as dozens of Israeli army officials prevented anyone from approaching the house. They carelessly threw our family’s possessions on the ground, creating a messy pile of mattresses, teacups, furniture, and food.

The contents of Shoug's family home in Al-Jawaya, which the Israeli Civil Administration emptied before they demolished the house entirely, May 7, 2024 (Emily Glick)
The contents of Shoug’s family home in Al-Jawaya, which the Israeli Civil Administration emptied before they demolished the house entirely, May 7, 2024 (Emily Glick)

Then, from the window of our home in At-Tuwani, I watched as the bulldozers demolished my family’s house across the hillside. After an hour and a half, the bulldozers slowly backed away, leaving behind a pile of rubble.

“Stay strong,” my mother told me over the phone. “We are not the first Palestinian family to endure the hardship of a home demolition.” She reminded me to think of all of those whose homes and lives have been destroyed in Gaza, and to count ourselves lucky.

But I couldn’t bear it. Zakariyah’s injuries had forced me to abandon certain visions for our future, and now I was losing part of my past — my family’s home, a place of warmth, comfort, and stability.

‘He was in so much pain he wished to die’

Soon after the demolition, Zakariyah’s doctor decided he was ready for the final colon surgery, which would eliminate the need for the colostomy bags. We hoped that this would also allow Zakariyah to resume his normal diet, sleep lying down, and walk long distances.

But following the operation, which took place on May 13, Zakariyah was hospitalized for 10 days. I had to stay at home with our children in At-Tuwani, so we could only speak over the phone or text, and what Zakariyah said terrified me: he was in so much pain he wished to die. I tried to comfort him, to give him strength, but I hadn’t expected this new degree of suffering — after all, this surgery was supposed to mark the last stage of his recovery.

Zakariyah and his daughter Aretha in their home in At-Tuwani, March 2024 (Emily Glick)
Zakariyah and his daughter Aretha in their home in At-Tuwani, March 2024. (Emily Glick)

When he came home from the hospital, I was shocked. He looked haunted. Somehow, he had lost even more weight, and was having difficulty walking. I went to greet him, but he pushed me off. “Stay away from me,” he said, shuffling into the house.

In our culture, when someone comes home from the hospital, family, friends, and neighbors all come to visit. But Zakariyah, who had found comfort in the presence of loved ones around his bed over the previous months, could no longer bear to sit with anyone. He did not want to hear any sound or disturbance. Even with our children, he would greet and kiss them quickly, and then move away. I was overwhelmed and exhausted, caring for him and our four children, while simultaneously trying to host our visitors.

One morning, a few days after Zakariyah came home from the hospital, I woke up to him calling my name. He needed my help changing the bandage and cleaning the wound from the latest operation, where the port for the colostomy bag had been removed, and it was immediately clear that it was not healing correctly: a yellow liquid was oozing from his skin. I told him I was going to call his father to drive him to the hospital, but Zakariyah didn’t want to go back. “Let’s just put water on it, or iodine,” he pleaded.

But two hours later, it began to bleed. I called his parents, and we returned to the hospital, where the doctors found that the wound was infected and that they would have to re-open his stomach to re-suture his colon. But Zakariah was not strong or well enough to endure another operation, so they cleaned it as best they could and sent him home a few days later. We continue to monitor and clean the wound daily, and the doctors now hope that both the gunshot wound and the colon may heal naturally.

‘In At-Tuwani, there is no Hamas’

The past few months have been some of the most difficult in my life. I notice how they have changed me: I am tired and angry all the time. I want to rest, to take just one week to get away. But there’s no time. I have four children and a wounded husband to take care of. And on top of everything, I now have nerve pain in my wrist, and my doctor has advised me not to pick up my babies.

Since October 7, the entire world has focused on the war between Israel and Hamas. But here in At-Tuwani, there is no Hamas. I want the whole world to know that an Israeli settler shot my husband with an illegal bullet, and see the lasting effects of settler violence on our families and communities. I want the whole world to understand what it is like to watch Israeli soldiers turn your home to rubble, while you stand helplessly by.

The settler who shot Zakariyah hasn’t been seen in At-Tuwani since, nor has he been charged or prosecuted for his crime. Meanwhile, Zakariyah and our whole family continue to suffer. Occupation and war inflict wounds that are slow to heal.