Illegal kings on Palestinian land

U.S. Army personnel meeting with Hebron Jewish settler leaders, outside the Ibrahimi Mosque, accompanied by Israeli soldiers (MW)

Mella Jongbloed

Mondoweiss  /  August 27, 2022

Jewish settler violence in Hebron/Al-Khalil exposes the true colonial face of the Zionist project, and the world cannot sit idly by while it continues.

A group of eleven young settlers pass by, aged somewhere between fifteen and eighteen. Two soldiers walk with them on foot and a military vehicle drives beside them. Along the side of the road are outposts where soldiers have their guns ready at any time. The settlers say something to us in Hebrew that we don’t understand, their faces show an arrogance that does not match their age. A few meters down the road, we see one of them spitting on a Palestinian man who sits on the staircase in front of his house. When we pass the man, we reckon he is mute. He mumbles unintelligible words, points with his arms at the settlers, seemingly upset but not able to tell what happened. 

It is June 2022. Taking a break from my studies, I am spending three months in Hebron, from the beginning of May until the beginning of August. I have been sympathetic with the Palestinian cause ever since I learned about the occupation as part of my studies on the Middle East. But to gain the credibility to advocate for the Palestinian cause, I wanted to experience the situation first-hand. 

And experience it I did. 

From the small acts of violence, like spitting on a Palestinian man, damaging windows of Palestinian houses, and making businesses close their doors, to nearly killing an unarmed man on his land — life in Hebron is filled with settler violence. While the presence of settlers is illegal, so far the settler projects in the West Bank have increased and intensified. In Hebron, around 800 Jewish settlers live in the heart of the Old City. Outside of the old city, in the settlements named Kiryat Arba and Giv’at Ha-Avot, an additional 8,000 settlers reside there. 

Palestinians stand powerless against the settlers who, in contrast to themselves, are allowed to carry machine guns around their necks, and are constantly guarded by a disproportionate number of soldiers. Settlers act as the illegal kings of Palestinian land, making Palestinian life unbearable even on the little piece of Palestine upon which they have been left to survive. As Israel tries to prevent tourists from traveling to the West Bank by scaring them off, it is my duty to bear witness to what I have seen.

New neighbors

On the July 28, settlers took over a Palestinian house at the beginning of Shuhada street. This street used to be the main vein of life in Hebron, until it was largely closed to Palestinians after the 1994 massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque, when Baruch Goldstein, a Zionist extremist and a physician, killed 29 Palestinians at prayer. His grave is still visited and venerated by settlers. 

The house that has been taken over by settlers is one of the most beautiful in the street. The yellow stones seem to have taken their color from the sun, and from the house, you can see the Ibrahimi Mosque and the rest of the Old City. 

On the first day, hundreds of settlers climbed the newly installed metal stairs that led to the Palestinian-owned house. They are constantly guarded by some twenty or thirty soldiers. The soldiers stand on the roof, on the balconies and around the house. When a group of settler boys pull out the first Israeli flag on the rooftop, the Palestinian neighbors watch in awe.

Already hemmed in by 21 military checkpoints from all sides, with cameras mounted on every wall and bordered by a house owned by settlers, the presence of violent settlers and soldiers will increase, and with them the human rights violations that are an integral part of daily life. A Palestinian living opposite the house says he already has a hard time sleeping. “Settlers often drink a lot and bully the Palestinians living around them. They throw stones and curse at us,” he says.

Broken souvenirs 

Um Mahmoud, who lives with her husband and children next to settlers, faces such harassment at least every week. Only two days ago, the settlers threw stones and beer bottles at their house at 10 p.m. 

During Jewish festivals, the harassment is the worst. “Last year they threw eggs, rotten vegetables, fruit, and they broke a lot of stuff,” she explains. “The lemon tree, the plants, the windows, all of them were damaged, and they threw stones at our family car.” 

“When the soldiers come, they often do nothing, or they arrest one of us,” Um Mahmoud explains. Her son Said, 18, was in jail for a month and a half, and her son Wadia, 17, for one week. “Can you imagine what these things do to a child?” She sighs.

In the old streets of Hebron, settler violence drifts above your head. Stones, broken chairs, empty bottles and whatnot lie on the nets that were spread over the streets, in order to protect the residents. A shopkeeper tells me settlers continuously throw dirty water down their windows, damaging the shopkeepers’ goods. One of the shopkeepers, Bader Tamimi, has a shop directly in front of a Jewish settlement. Soldiers oversee his shop from a watchtower, which is regularly attacked by settlers. On August 9, settlers started to throw stones against the shop, the shopkeepers, and the customers. 

“The amount of stones they threw was higher than before. We looked where the soldiers were to stop them, but when the soldiers came from the gate, they started firing teargas and sound grenades at us.” 

Settler tours 

This was not the first time. During the weekly “settler tours,” big groups of settlers guarded by soldiers toured through the old town of Hebron, and more often than not harassed Palestinians along the way. Bader’s shop has been attacked with stones many times. He shows the gas canisters that were shot at his shop. 

 “Both the settlers and the soldiers want to make it impossible for us to do business here, or even just to live our lives,” he says.

Stuck between settlers 

The al-Ja’bari family lives precisely between the settlement of Kiryat Arba on one side and Giv’at Ha-Avot to the other. A path connecting the settlements runs right through the family’s land. In 2006, settlers placed a large tent on al-Ja’bari’s land that functions as a synagogue. Despite an Israeli court ruling in 2015 that the tent had to be removed, the army has allowed settlers to continue to use it. Dozens come every Saturday, while on Jewish holidays the numbers rise to hundreds. The United Nations has documented multiple settler attacks on the family, ranging from shooting, throwing stones, breaking into their home, and damaging it. Settlers also stole livestock and crops. According to the family, every member has been hospitalized at some point because of settler attacks. The latest was 64-year-old Abdul Karem al-Ja’bari. 

Iron pipe

During a political tour by activist and human rights defender Badia Dwaik, he informed us of an attack that happened to al-Ja’bari a day before, on June 17. Dwaik decided not to take us to this area of Hebron for safety reasons. Around a week later, I went with Badia to visit Abdul Karem al-Ja’bari, or Abu Anan. His head and arm were covered in bandages. Calmer than was to be expected of him, he told us what had happened.  

Every year Abu Anan harvests his olives, as he did this year. A group of soldiers passed his land, followed by a group of settlers. One settler walked on his own. According to Abu Anan, his assailant was the son of the director of the Kiryat Arba Settlement council, and he was part of a group of settlers who threatened him a week before. They had left when Abu Anan called the police. This time, the settler stopped at the land where he was harvesting his olives. Standing there for a while, the settler seemed to be reading the situation. Then he left and kept walking until he reached his home in the settlement. 

Sitting on his knees, eyes on the ground, Abu Anan continued harvesting and did not notice the group of settlers approaching him from behind. One of the settlers hit the harvesting man on the back of his head. Abu Anan’s phone had fallen on the ground, so he took the phone, stood up and turned around, now looking his attacker in the eye. He was now wearing a mask, but his clothes were recognizable; it was the same man. The settler carried an iron pipe, the end of which was as sharp as a knife. He hit Abu Hanan on the head. Through the adrenaline, al-Ja’bari did not yet feel the deep wound in his head. Behind the settler, he saw that around twelve settlers were standing with sticks in their hands. 

Blood and pepper spray

The settler who attacked Abu Anan carried pepper spray in his other hand, and started to spray it on his face, but Abu Anan managed to beat it out of his hand with his phone. Then the settler hit him on the head again, harder than the previous time. The settler picked up a stone of about five kilos and threw it at Abu Anan, who lifted his hand to defend himself and ended up with a broken arm.

Meanwhile, Abu Anan’s eyes started to burn. The pepper spray had affected his eyes and blood came from the wound in his head, running down to his eyes. When he tried to escape the scene, the settler hit him on his head one last time, then running away with a group of other settlers who had been watching the scene near the entrance of the settlement. With a broken hand and blood gushing out of the three deep wounds in his head, al-Ja’bari began running to the street, all the way to the gate of Kiryat Arba. In Hebrew he shouted for help to the soldiers. 

“Abu Anan is dead”

The Israeli soldiers called an ambulance, but by the time the Israeli ambulance arrived, one of the most infamous settlers of Kiryat Arba, Ofer Hanna, had arrived at the scene. According to Abu Anan, he prevented anyone from providing aid, including the ambulance personnel. Ofer started creating a story, saying al-Ja’bari was attacked because he had entered the tent on his land that functions as a synagogue. In the meantime, another Israeli ambulance arrived, as well as eight soldiers and the security guard of the settlement. From 9 until 10 in the morning, no first aid was given to al-Ja’bari. The ambulance brothers were seemingly scared of Ofer, and just kept watching. Terrified about her husband, whose blood ran from the top of his hand down his body, al-Ja’bari’s wife called the Palestinian Red Crescent. At last, a Palestinian ambulance came to take al-Ja’bari to the hospital. 

In the meantime, al-Ja’bari’s children witnessed how the settlers had taken out a big speaker in front of the police station in the settlement, which is some fifty meters away from al-Ja’bari’s house. They sang “Abu Anan is dead.” 

Settler impunity

The doctors told al-Ja’bari they could not believe he was still alive. Thirty stitches were needed to tie his head together. His arm was covered in a cast. He would need to rest for fifty days, the doctors told al-Ja’bari.

But he did not die. By the time the news reached the settlers, a group of about twenty started attacking al-Ja’bari’s house, as can be seen on footage of the security cameras at the al-Ja’bari’s house. Stones landed on the roof and hit the wall. One settler tried to destroy the car of one of Abu Anan’s sons. When Abu Anan’s wife Samira al-Ja’bari called the police, the settlers ran away. 

On Sunday, the Israeli Civil Administration called and asked al-Ja’bari to file a complaint in the police station. The military governor mentioned that the perpetrators should be punished. The Israeli police had assembled the settlers who were likely involved into a room, as all of them had been seen on the cameras that the Israelis put at every street corner. Al-Ja’bari pointed out exactly who did what. Among those present were three sons of Itamar Ben-Gvir, a lawyer and member of the Knesset. The police officer told Abu Hanan: I swear you are speaking the truth. These settlers should go to prison. The next day, after spending one night in jail, all the settlers were released without charges. 

Standing idly by 

Over 90% of cases of settler violence go unpunished, as the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din reports. Whether they are throwing stones at Palestinian shops and houses, spitting and swearing at Palestinians, illegally taking over Palestinian-owned houses, or attempting to kill an elderly Palestinian man, settlers are protected by soldiers and rarely punished for their crimes. In this, the Israeli soldiers in Hebron are sending one message to the whole world: we are standing idly by, while the illegal kings in the West Bank do as they please.

Foreigners tend to comfort themselves with the idea that these settlers must be the most extreme ones, and not all Israelis are like them. But the increasing number of Israelis moving to illegal settlements in the West Bank, and the royal benefits they receive from their government, suggest that these settlers are not outcasts at the extreme end of the Israeli spectrum, but are rather at the celebrated forefront of Israel’s plan to extend its colonial project. 

A rotten colonial enterprise 

Of course, the colonization of the West Bank is an extension of the earlier occupation of lands colonized in 1948 — now known as “Israel proper,” and largely accepted as the status quo. But who still remembers the more than 400 Palestinian villages and towns that were erased there, and who still remembers the 750,000 Palestinians who were evicted from their homes in the 1948 Nakba? Seeing the situation in the West Bank makes it clear that the 78% of historic Palestine that constitutes the lands colonized in 1948 was never enough. 

All those still advocating for a two-state-solution turn a blind eye to the fact that Israel never showed any respect for the sovereignty of the Palestinians. As the violence of settlers and its unrelenting protection by soldiers show, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians continues every day, and the ultimate goal of the Zionist project is to evict them all from historic Palestine, even from what little land is left to them.

That Israel tries to prevent tourists from going to the West Bank is not surprising; here the rottenness and ugliness of the Zionist project is laid bare, for every spectator to see. I have seen it, and I will keep telling these stories until the world no longer resembles the soldiers who stand idly by. 

Mella Jongebloed is a journalist and blogger, studying Middle Eastern Studies and Philosophy