Middle East Eye / August 31, 2021
This strategic West Bank town has long been eyed by Jewish settlers, but its residents resolutely refuse to give up their lands, despite suffering repeated tragedies.
Alaa Dweikat grew up playing hide-and-seek with her father, Imad, and four siblings. The nine-year-old Palestinian never expected it to turn into reality.
On 6 August, as Imad’s family waited for him to come home for lunch, phones began ringing. Imad had been killed, they were told, shot by Israeli soldiers who were confronting protesting Beita residents on the nearby Jabal Sbeih, south of Nablus.
He is one of seven Palestinians, including two teenagers, killed since a protest campaign against an illegal Jewish settlement on the town’s outskirts broke out in May. Three of them are fathers, leaving behind some 15 children.
The Palestinians of Beita demonstrate against the Israeli expansion with peaceful methods. They are met with live bullets and teargas, leaving dozens wounded, many shot in the leg.
Mass arrests have seen more than 30 Palestinian men from the town detained in Israeli jails.
This once-sleepy West Bank village has become an epicentre of Palestinian resistance.
Met with bullets
Alaa, who is Imad’s eldest daughter, says she dreams of being an ambulance worker so she can prevent people’s deaths, like that of her father.
“Every day, I think of asking my mother when our father will be home from work, but then I remember that he’s dead and that he will never return,” Alaa tells Middle East Eye. “That is very difficult. I miss him every day.”
Like most young men in Beita, Imad went to Jabal Sbeih every Friday to participate in the peaceful popular activities defending their land against settler takeover.
He was hit with a “direct bullet to the chest, and he died immediately”, his brother Bilal tells MEE. “Imad was participating, like the rest of the people, in peaceful activities and not in a war. There is no justification for Israeli snipers to fire live ammunition.”
Since his killing, Imad’s mother Fathiya, 77, can no longer sleep through the night. Sometimes she manages to get a few hours’ sleep, before waking up startled and sitting at the front door awaiting Imad’s impossible return.
“Wherever I look, I see Imad. I cannot stop waiting for him to return, even though I bid him farewell and I know that he is dead. We are living in a pain that will go on forever,” she told MEE, cradling Imad’s three-month-old son.
Families living the same pain
Said Dweikat sits in front of his house overlooking Beita, drinking his coffee. Flocks of birds swirl in the sky.
The town seems calm, but its residents have undergone daily violence. Every home has a connection to someone killed in the protests. Many residents nurse wounds, too, and many houses have been subjected to frequent raids and arrests.
“Every day, there is a family here waiting for one of its sons to be killed, wounded or arrested by the Israeli army. We all say ‘it’s our turn now’,” Said tells MEE.
Usually, Said shares his coffee with his brother Shadi. But Shadi was shot dead on 27 July, not as he protested, but as he voluntarily helped the Beita municipality open water pumps at the town’s entrance. The Israelis claimed he was armed with a metal rod – in fact it was his plumbing tools.
He left behind five children.
“His children ask us where their father is; we tell them that he is in heaven. They respond: ‘We do not want heaven, we want a father’. I cannot answer their questions anymore, it’s very painful,” says Said, tears running down his cheeks.
The whole town was left distraught by Shadi’s killing, Said says. As a plumber, he’d visited almost every home in Beita.
And if his death wasn’t hard enough, the Israeli army withheld his body for two weeks after killing him, piling pain and anger onto the misery already felt.
“Every hour, I think about how I’m going to spend the next hour without Shadi, how I’m going to live my life without him,” says Said.
Stealing Jabal Sbeih
Beita’s recent history of violence and resistance began on 2 May, when residents spotted some twinkling lights on the top of Jabal Sbeih.
Settlers, accompanied by the army, were building an illegal settlement outpost without prior notice of the land having been confiscated.
It is not the first time that Israel has tried to take control of the hill. In 1978, with the opening of the settler highway 60, the Israeli army built a military outpost there, forcing the Palestinian landowners to turn to Israeli courts to retrieve their lands, which they managed to do in 1994.
The military outpost was removed, before being re-built during the 2000-2005 Second Intifada, and then removed again.
Huthayfa Budair, who owns land on the hill, says residents began to notice settlers’ advances in the area four years ago, attracted by its strategic location.
“A popular uprising took place with the participation of all the residents, and we managed to move the settlers out of the area,” says Huthayfa.
This year, however, settlers returned to Beita. In a mere six days, they installed 40 caravans, and paved a street leading to the hill, naming the outpost “Givat Eviatar”.
On 9 June, the Israeli army began removing the outpost, claiming that it was built during a tense security situation and without prior legalization. Shortly after, however, the army seized the outpost for itself, declaring Jabal Sbeih a military area and preventing Palestinians from returning to their lands.
It transpired that the settlers had struck a deal with the government, which would see them leave their caravans on the hill for the military to take care of, until the land is declared property of the Israeli state, upon which they can return.
Huthayfa holds ownership documents over five dunams of land on Jabal Sbeih. Five other families from Beita were also able to provide legal documents proving their ownership of lands, as well as families from the nearby villages of Qabalan and Yatma.
Despite that, the Israeli Supreme Court on 15 August refused to consider an appeal against the outpost submitted by the landowners, a ruling condemned as premature by the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights (JLAC), which submitted the appeal on behalf of the Palestinians.
The Supreme Court has postponed any final judgement on the legality of the outpost and the settlers’ deal with the government until the area has been surveyed and a final decision has been made on declaring it “state land”.
It argued that the landowners have the right to appeal instantly if the area is declared state land, but according to JLAC, the petition would not be considered until a decision is made regarding the legal status of the territory.
In fact, JLAC argued, the Supreme Court has already responded to the appeals with “total negligence”, and ignored the “blatant abuses committed by settlers on lands to which they have no right, which indicates that the courts see no legal issue with literally bending the law”.
Over the past few months, young men in Beita have developed creative means of resisting settlers and the Israeli army’s bullets – in a campaign they call a “state of confusion”.
This is a combination of traditional resistance methods, such as throwing stones and burning tyres, and novel tactics like using lasers, loudspeakers, alarms and false sounds of explosions.
Protesters and others participating in protecting the land from settlement expansion have organized themselves into groups operating in day and night shifts, each with a particular mission. The area is constantly populated, and residents of Beita regularly make trips there.
“On Fridays, we young men go out with slingshots, while the old people go out carrying Palestinian flags. We also use burning tyres, fireworks and balloons,” one 25-year-old protestor told MEE, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We monitor Israeli newspapers on social media and see the settlers’ reactions. We found that we succeeded in pressuring them and forcing them to leave the settlement – they also felt unsafe in the midst of the ongoing popular rejection of their presence.”
“We want to preserve Beita and its lands. We managed to get them off the mountain several times. This time will be their last – they’ll never return,” he adds.
Once the families retrieve their lands, he said, the whole town will celebrate. “It would be like a national wedding.”
Another activist, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of Israeli reprisals, tells MEE: “We are here at all times to preserve our ancestors’ approach to preserving our lands and to prevent attacks or confiscations at any cost, even if it costs us our lives and our freedoms.”
Beita is known for its resistance, and has been forced to face off the Israeli army several times over the years due to its geographical location, overlooking the route between Nablus and Jericho.
“Beita always fights in support of Gaza and [Palestinian] prisoners, and stands against any action taken by Israel in the West Bank. We sacrifice martyrs, wounded and prisoners, and that does not frighten us or prevent us from continuing,” the activist says.
“Beita does not know any calm. It is always ablaze, and the Israeli army refrains from raiding it because it knows that it will pay a heavy price for each military raid.”
Despite the settlers leaving Jabal Sbeih, the confrontations continue, albeit at a slower pace.
Residents vow they will not retreat until the entire hill is retrieved.
“Even if the outpost is removed and we retrieve Jabal Sbeih, Beita will not stop its struggle until all of Palestine is retrieved,” the activist said. “We hope that the Beita experience will be transferred to all the Palestinian villages that face settlement building daily.”
Shatha Hammad is a Palestinian freelance journalist