Battle of Naalan mountain: one town’s fight against the full might of the Jewish settler project

Jewish settlers marching with military protection on the Naalan Mountain (Shreiteh Photo)

Mariam Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  September 16, 2022

The small town of Mazraa Qabaliya in the northern West Bank is fighting the Israeli military and armed Jewish settlers to protect a resource that is both revered and essential to their community — Naalan mountain.

On October 26, 2018, the small town of Mazraa Qabaliya just 11 km northwest of Ramallah witnessed a brutal assault by settlers and their military vanguard. 

As Palestinian men gathered for Friday prayers under a cluster of brown and green leadtrees, they were met with teargas from the Israeli military in tandem with an organized attack by armed settlers. Youth responded by hurling stones back at the settlers and soldiers.

“It was a bloodbath that day,” Jaafar Ladadweh, 55, recalled to Mondoweiss almost four years later on the same Naalan mountaintop where two men were fatally shot.

Two Palestinians from the village were shot — Othman Ahmad Ladadweh, 33, was hit in the thigh and died that Friday evening, while Mohammad Ibrahim Shreiteh, 28, was shot in the head, succumbing to his wounds almost two weeks later, on November 10, 2018. More than a dozen were injured with live bullets while dozens more were injured with teargas and rubber bullets.

Guardians of the mountain: ‘We must keep the light on’

The confrontations in Naalan would intensify in 2018. Protests were being held in tandem with the Great March of Return in Gaza, where Palestinians marched every Friday in the thousands to protest the Gaza siege and its population of 2 million people. 

Like the Israeli military response to Palestinian unarmed protest in Gaza, the youth and residents of Mazraa were met with lethal force — mostly live ammunition. 

Four years later, the sunset from the top of Naalan mountain is calm and the air is crisp, with a breeze reminiscent of Ramallah’s windy evenings. The contrast of the dying colors of orange, red, yellow, and purple blue with a darker sky and almost yellow full moon commands appreciation. 

Under September’s full harvest moon, a group of 11 men gather on plastic chairs and wooden benches they have set up over the years, to revive the mountain and maintain it.

“We all take turns making sure there is electricity extended and that the lights on this mountain are on at all times, to make sure there is a sign of life here” Ahmad Obeid, 62, says with a smile. 

Eager and passionate about sharing their story of successfully holding on to their homes, Obeid points at one of the flickering lights hanging from a treehouse they had built months ago to encourage visitors to come and help protect the mountain from settler takeover.

“We must keep the light on,” Obeid said, his tone passionate. “We must keep the light on here on the mountain at all times. Once it’s off, know that something is wrong, that there has been an attack,” he said to Mondoweiss. 

Abandoned by parties and actors that are supposedly responsible, including the Palestinian Authority (PA), the mountain was nurtured and developed through the power of community initiatives and youth volunteers. 

Through collective conversations, the village of Mazraa Qabaliya organized itself into committees to renovate, preserve, and document the archeological artifacts that sprawl across and inside the mountain. 

“When we pray here, you would find settlers coming to also pray,” Ali Shreiteh, 54, told Mondoweiss. Shreiteh had been documenting the historical significance and archeological richness that is hidden across the mountain top, from Roman wells to centuries-old antiques.

Over the past four years, organized settler visits and attacks on the site in coordination with Israeli army have intensified. These visits seek to establish a presence on the land, which in turn would create a justification for the annexation and forcible takeover of Palestinian lands by judicial decree. 

Yet, these sinister practices do not occur in isolation. They are embedded in, and enforced through, broader Israeli policies denying Palestinians ability to use their resources and lands for growth and building of healthy and unified communities.

Greenlighting ethnic cleansing in Area B

Naalan mountain is located in Mazraa Qabaliya, a town known for its agricultural produce and capacity for sustainable water infrastructure. 

Mazraa Qabaliya and its Naalan mountain are also categorized as “Area B” under the Oslo Accords, which places them under the civic and administrative control of the PA and military control of Israeli army. This power vacuum, combined with the lack of foreign support, has meant that the town residents have had to take it upon themselves to counter the continuous impunity for armed Israeli aggressions and organized settler crimes.

Since the growth of settlement expansion to Areas B in 2017, added to the peak in settler violence in 2018, the townspeople have directed their efforts to ensure that Naalan mountain remains vibrant and accessible to Palestinians.

This has largely only been possible through constant confrontation whereby Palestinians must face armed settlers and soldiers with either their voice, their bodies, or the hurling of stones — a crime punishable by up to 10 years under Israeli military regulations.

“They want to take this mountain by any means, even if it is fabricating a historical association with it,” Yousef Ali, 45, told Mondoweiss. 

According to the Oslo Accords, settlers expanding to Area B are not only in violation of international law, but also Israeli law. The clandestine manner in which Israel takes over lands has been well-documented, but with little repercussions. In 2018, former US president Barack Obama was reportedly “shocked” at the systemic nature of Jewish settlements and their fragmentation of Palestinians from one another. 

This settler expansion has been devastating to Palestinian farmers. Already economically deprived of more than 63% of the most fertile and grazing land as well as agricultural resources in Area C, farmers in Mazraa Qabaliya and the rest of Area B are restricted by Israeli veto power over building and constructing water wells and drilling into reservoirs or springs. 

The wells around the Naalan mountain top could provide the community with the resources that would allow for sustainability and income generation in the face of the economic depression plaguing Palestinian communities.  In fact, the families and communities near Naalan have renovated some old wells, but the energies of the townspeople continue to be occupied mainly with surviving and confronting Israeli efforts to take-over their lands for the purpose of expanding illegal settlements.

In this way, not only are settlements furthering Israeli theft and abuse of natural resources, but are also impeding Palestinian capacities to develop what resources they have.

In contrast, illegal settlers are not only provided with Israeli court-ordered military force as protection, but also governmental financial support from the “Settlement Division” of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) to help link agricultural and natural resource networks with a growing physical settler infrastructure.

In June and July of this year, the WZO declared plans to invest additional $ 8.5 million USD in connecting and legitimizing illegal outposts in the West Bank, a policy pushed forward by former Prime Minister, Naftali Bennet. And not only are settlements expanding but they are even creeping towards Area B of the West Bank also in violation of the Oslo Accords.

What this adds up to is that Palestinian communities lack nearly any form of financial, legal, emotional, or logistical support in their efforts to defend their land while settlers are provided with international impunity, constant and growing economic funding, as well as protection from its military, one of the most advanced in the world. 

Call for solidarity

With what little remains, Palestinian towns and villages are constantly attempting to salvage what they have been able to hold onto in the face of a increasingly emboldened settler population, which maintains a strong hold on military power and international public opinion.

As Palestinian communities attempt to safeguard their communities from settler attacks, they are calling on supporters to join them in ensuring that Palestinian lands remain alive with Palestinian lives. “Just come be with us, build with us, bring nothing but will and joy,” Ladadweh says as the evening fades into darkness, as an LED lightbulb flickers behind him. 

In that moment, words from earlier in the evening seemed to hang in the air and resonate with the 11 men firmly planted at the top of Naalan mountain: “the light must stay on.”

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss