Looking at the smashed car windshields in my village terrifies me. Large stones which Israeli settlers had thrown through the glass lie on the seats. The scenes remind me of the pogrom that settlers had carried out last September in Mufagara, just a few kilometers from my house in Tuba, in the occupied West Bank.
The day had started fairly normally. On Wednesday morning, the shepherds from my village went out to graze their flocks, and I went with my grandfather from Tuba to plant olive trees on our land in Umm al-Khair in a nearby area of the South Hebron Hills.
Later, I received a call from my neighbor Radwan Abu Jendia. “The settlers are grazing their sheep in our fields,” he said. “We should film what’s happening and call the authorities to get them to stop harming our land.” I hung up and called activists in the area to go and take pictures. I continued watering the trees, thinking that if we at least had some photos, the Israeli police and army would see clear proof and take some responsibility for stopping the settlers.
However, just an hour later, Radwan called me again. “The settlers are destroying Tuba,” he yelled, explaining that they were smashing peoples’ property. I immediately rushed back to my village and called others to come quickly and help us stop the attack.
When I arrived at the home of my neighbor, Omar Abu Jendia, the first thing I saw was the broken glass from his car, which was parked right by his home. Israeli soldiers were blocking Omar’s family and my family in front of his house. One of the settlers was still inside the village, right next to the destroyed cars, standing next to the soldiers and filming with his camera. Everyone was shouting at the soldiers, “But the settlers are still grazing on our land!”
I decided to walk toward the grazing fields to try getting the soldiers’ attention, hoping they would eventually make the settlers take their sheep away. It was just one hundred meters from my home, and with every step, the soldiers kept shouting at me in Hebrew to stop. I calmly responded, “I’m in my village, and I’m allowed to walk here.” Before I reached the settlers, one soldier came up to me and said, “I don’t want to argue with you. If you pass this line, I will arrest you.” I stopped because I didn’t want a fight; I just wanted to preserve our flocks’ food and make sure the settlers left.
The soldiers approached the settlers, but instead of making them leave, they listened to the invaders’ claims. They returned and walked to my neighbor Riad Awad, who had just arrived at the scene. He was standing right next to me when the Israeli commander, carrying plastic handcuffs, immediately said to Riad, “You are under arrest for throwing stones.”
The commander and other soldiers then violently pushed him to the ground. Riad and his sister kept trying to understand what was going on, repeatedly explaining, “We did nothing; the settlers are the ones who threw stones at our village!” The soldiers didn’t listen and shoved Riad further into the dirt. I filmed a video in which one soldier pushed back his legs and another bent his back and sat on him, while the others handcuffed him and forced him into the military vehicle.
The settlers continued grazing in our field, while the soldiers made us walk back toward our homes. Eventually, after almost two hours of harassment, a van of Israeli police officers arrived. We thought this was our last chance to explain the attack. However, the police officers immediately went up to the army commander who had detained Riad, hearing his claims that we were in fact the suspects.
The officers then came to me and, speaking in Hebrew, asked, “What’s going on, and what are you doing here?” I explained what had happened, adding “The army was there while the settlers were throwing stones, and now they are arresting my friend instead.” They both responded, “None of this is your business, and if you stay here any longer, you will be under arrest too.”
Omar, my grandfather, and I decided to go to the Israeli police station in the settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron to file a complaint against the settlers. On our way to the station, the army set up a flying checkpoint at the exit of our village. We were prevented from passing through for over an hour, and when we asked the army commander for a reason, he simply said that he had received an order to do so.
We eventually made it to the police station, and when Omar and my grandfather got inside, they found out Riad was being interrogated as a suspect; one of the settlers who attacked us was filing a complaint against him. Hours later, the interrogator decided to release Riad with a fine and banned him for 10 days from the place where the settlers had committed the attack — which is his home. Where was he supposed to go after getting released?
Constant state of terror
Wednesday’s attack on Tuba took place the day after a shooting attack in the Israeli city of Bnei Brak, miles away from my village, on the other side of the so-called Green Line. We suspect that the settlers decided to invade our village that morning as “revenge” for the shooting. But while the world sent messages of solidarity to the Israelis killed and hurt by the attacks, nothing was said about the violence and havoc wreaked upon Palestinians that same week — and in fact, every week — including in my village.
The settlers who attacked us come from Havat Ma’on, an illegal outpost built in the late 1990s on private Palestinian land, and which is part of a settlement chain that separates my village of Tuba from the rest of the occupied West Bank.
The settlers from this outpost are routinely violent toward us. For 18 years, the children of Tuba have had to walk to school with an Israeli military patrol to protect them. Havat Ma’on also controls much of the land around Tuba, and the Palestinian owners cannot cultivate their fields because of their fear of settler violence. The settlers also enter Palestinian villages to graze or destroy our crops with their flocks. All these attacks, of course, take place with the protection and support of the Israeli army and police.
My community and others in the South Hebron Hills have sadly grown used to this settler violence, knowing that such attacks could happen at any moment. But for me, what happened on Wednesday starkly echoed the frightening pogrom that happened in the neighboring village of Mufagara several months ago.
In Mufagara, all the destruction that occurred took place in the presence of the army, who watched while settlers destroyed houses and dozens of cars, stabbed animals, and injured people with stones; a four-year-old child had his skull broken while sleeping in his bed, hit by a stone thrown by settlers. Instead of stopping the violence, though, soldiers actively took part in the pogrom, shooting tear gas at the Palestinian residents and arresting six victims after they were attacked by the settlers. The attackers left Mufagara without a single arrest.
What motivates soldiers to treat us so unfairly? Why am I the one to get assaulted and arrested, while my attacker walks away? I have no answers to these questions. For years, soldiers did not prevent Israeli settlers from inflicting terror upon us, but now it has become even worse: the army itself is happy to be a part of this regular violence.
I am not surprised by this. We are living in a constant state of terror, and suffer the violence of that terror every day. The army claims it is here for the security of everyone, but its efforts to displace Palestinians, steal our resources, and confiscate our land in tandem with settlers shows what it is really here to do. Their mission is carried out not only through their racial discrimination on the ground, but also through the court system, where the Israeli army is fighting to expel us from our homes in Masafer Yatta under the guise of a military training and firing zone.
It could not be clearer: settler violence is state violence. And if that is not ethnic cleansing — if that is not terror — then what is?