Israeli, Palestinian violence in W. Bank is worst it has ever been
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Israeli, Palestinian violence in W. Bank is worst it has ever been

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All the windows in the Hamamdeh family’s small stone home are broken.

The shattered jagged glass is one of the many visible scars of the violent events that took place in Khirbet al-Mufaqarah on September 28, when the small, dusty South Hebron Hills Palestinian herding village of some 122 people was transformed into a battleground that left 12 Palestinians and five settlers injured.

“All the homes are like this,” said Mahmoud Hamamdeh, adding that “this was a battle for our homes…. We were attacked with stones and sticks.”

His three-year-old grandson Muhammad Baker Mahmoud Hamamdeh suffered a head wound in the attack serious enough to require a three-day hospital stay at Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba.

A week later, dressed in gray pajamas and sandals, the brown-haired boy sat on the concrete floor in his home playing with large, multicolored Lego that two Israeli visitors had brought him.

ONE OF the shattered windows in Hamamdeh family’s stone home in Khirbet al-Mufaqarah. (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

The room was mostly bare. A number of small, thin, colored foam mattresses were laid on the floor for seating.

Muhammad had fitted the red, green, yellow and blue pieces together, as his mother, Bara’a, and his grandfather Mahmoud described how their home was pelted by stones thrown by Jewish extremists who they presumed were settlers.

“This is the room where the children hid,” Mahmoud explained, because its steel shutter could provide safety.

His grandson Muhammad, however, never made it into the safe room, because he had already been hit by rocks that went through two different windows of the bedroom he had been napping in. The room was filled with glass and blood, recalled Mahmoud, explaining that they thought he had died.

Mahmoud walked over to the bedroom, where he held up the bloodstained sweatshirt Muhammad had slept in, to underscore how frightening the moment had been.

The attack, which occurred about 2 p.m. on the Simhat Torah holiday, is the worst such incident of violence in that West Bank village that anyone can remember.

The community is not linked up to an electricity or water grid and is located off a dirt road between the two settler outposts of Avigail and Maon Farm.

The three communities are all unauthorized, and as a result the status of all three communities is tenuous.

Both Palestinians and Israelis hold that their rights to the land supersede the IDF regulations that govern Area C of the West Bank where they are situated. Area C is under IDF military and civilian rule.

Palestinians hold that this land should be part of the permanent borders of a Palestinian state, while the Israeli Right believes that this land, which is part of the biblical heartland, should be included within Israel’s sovereign borders.

PALESTINIAN FLAGS flutter in al-Mufaqarah, and Israeli flags can be seen in Avigail and Maon Farm. The historical narratives of these communities differ, as do their languages.

Similarly, there is a wide gap between their narratives of how and why the attack on the village unfolded.

A South Hebron Hills Regional Council spokesman claimed a group of some 20 settlers had walked in the morning from Avigail to Maon Farm and were on their way back when they were attacked by Palestinians. There was only a small army presence in the area, and they took action to defend themselves, he said.

The security officer from Maon Farm came to their assistance, and he was attacked, with rocks thrown at his vehicle, the spokesman said. He provided The Jerusalem Post with photos that depict Palestinians holding rocks, including one that showed a masked Palestinian with a slingshot. Another photo showed Palestinians beside a building with stones and a stick.

Channel 12 posted a video from the event, which showed army soldiers during the event accusing a Palestinian – Basel Adra, from the area, who volunteers with the left-wing group B’Tselem – of setting brush aflame. Channel 12 then added that this was done so that Palestinians could accuse Jews of setting their village on fire. Adra took to Twitter to debunk the Channel 12 charge, posting a video that showed that the fire in question was started by a tear-gas canister.

“It’s a lie. The fire was caused by an army gas bomb. I literally filmed it, so I have proof. Also, there aren’t any homes there – just a pile of wood,” Adra tweeted.

He added that “I saw the fire, filmed it, and called residents to fetch water.”

Initially, he wrote that two soldiers helped him, but then another soldier filmed him “to fabricate a false accusation against me.”

According to B’Tselem the incident started around 2 p.m. when settlers attacked a shepherd in nearby Khirbet a-Rakeez while he was grazing his flock. B’Tselem alleged that the settlers killed four of the shepherd’s goats.

Adra said the shepherd called for help, and then a stoning incident broke out between the settlers and the Palestinians, with the army arriving shorty after and shooting tear gas and stun grenades at the Palestinians.

He charged that, at its height, the event included as many as 80 settlers, and that the violence spread beyond al-Mufaqarah and also included attacks on some homes in his village of al-Tuwani.

Violence at this level, he speculated, could occur only if it had been preplanned in an attempt to scare Palestinians into leaving the area.

“They don’t want us to live here,” he added.

The attackers, he said, vandalized homes, vehicles and cut water lines.

B’Tselem published a video that showed a stoning attack by Jewish extremists against a home in al-Mufaqarah. In the video one can hear the sound of breaking glass and the explosion of stun grenades and tear gas.

One settler source blamed the attack on outside Jewish extremists, primarily teens, adding that it was clear the violence there was unacceptable and went above and beyond any claim with respect to self-defense.

He said that the army and the police have to be the ones who take steps to prevent the violence.

The army declined to be interviewed for the article and the police did not respond as of press time to a request for details about their investigation into the incident. Police initially arrested six Israelis and one Palestinian in connection with the September 28 event.

In an unusual move OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yehuda Fox visited al-Mufaqarah last week and spoke with Mahmoud Hamamdeh to learn firsthand about the incident.

Palestinians, including Mahmoud, said that from their perspective the incident could not have occurred without the army, which they said was on the scene almost from the start.

The village of al-Mufaqarah is close to the scene of a September 17 incident in which an IDF major and his unit prevented a group of left-wing activists from reaching a small Palestinian hamlet near the Avigail outpost so as to deliver a truckload of water.

The soldiers were captured on film using what appeared to be undue force to dispel the activists, who had been marching on both sides of a narrow paved road that leads to the outpost and that also passes by Khirbet al-Mufaqarah.

Less than two weeks later, it was this same IDF unit that was unable to prevent a group of extreme right-wing teenagers from reaching al-Mufaqarah and pelting its homes and residents with stones.

THE AL-MUFAQARAH incident comes amid a heightened focus on violence by Jewish extremists and settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank, in a period when tensions have increased overall in that region, including in the South Hebron Hills.

According to the UN, as of September 20, there have been 290 attacks this year by settlers and Jewish extremists against Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem that resulted in property damage and 93 in which there were injuries. This is compared to data from all of 2020 in which there were 270 settler and Jewish extremist attacks that resulted in property damage and 82 in which there were injuries.

Separately, UN data showed, 63 Israeli civilians have been injured by Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, compared with 16 last year.

According to South Hebron Hills Regional Council head Yochai Damri, “There are 1,500 incidents of rock-throwing on Jews on the roads in the Judea-Samaria area every year.”

STILL, A wide-ranging group attack such as the one that occurred last week is rare.

Mahmoud Hamamdeh said it is impossible to describe the chaos of the attack; the violence was overwhelming, and on all sides one didn’t know what to do and where to be, he said.

Rubber bullets, stun grenade and tear-gas casings are littered in the village. He rolled up his sleeve to show how he had two wounds on his arm, which he said were from the stun grenades and tear gas canisters that were thrown.

When the attack began, he and his siblings had gathered for a family lunch, when they heard shouting about approaching settlers.

“I had 22 grandchildren who were present,” he said, and the whole time the attack lasted, their safety was uppermost in his mind, to say nothing of the wounded Muhammad.

Damri said he “immediately denounced, and always vigorously denounces, any harming of innocent persons, regardless of religion or origin.”

This goes, he said, for needless acts of violence on either side.

Representatives from Avigail and Havat Maon went to visit the boy, Damri said, adding that “I, too, as the local elected leader of our Jewish community, asked the child’s family if I could visit. The family politely refused – concerned that the Palestinian Authority would retaliate against them.”

Avigail resident Reut Malichi said she had gone to see the three-year-old Muhammad this week, having already visited him at Soroka last week as well.

A school counselor and a mother of seven who grew up in the Gush Etzion region, she is among those from Avigail who have a relationship with Palestinians from al-Mufaqarah, particularly with Mahmoud Hamamdeh because of his Hebrew.

The community of Avigail is a small, mixed religious and secular community, situated in a complex political reality, she said. Israelis and Palestinians in this area live together, side by side, and have to be good neighbors, even though they hold diametrically opposed beliefs, including on their relationship to the land, Malichi said.

The Palestinians do not recognize the State of Israel and do not want the Jews living on land that they hold belongs to them, she added.

In turn, she said, “we are Zionists and we are returning to… the land of the Bible.”

Initially, Malichi said, she was unaware of the attack, as she celebrated the holiday with her family, with a barbecue lunch after services, which included her mother and some of her siblings.

Malichi learned about the violence, she said, mostly after the fact. She blamed the incident on a group of teenagers that visited the community for the holiday, explaining that it did not represent the people of Avigail itself.

The teenagers were not properly supervised, she explained. Already when she met them over the holiday, she feared for a situation that could get out of control.

Malichi was also able to speak with the teenagers after the incident, so she said she understands that “they did terrible things.”

Malichi added, “I am embarrassed to tell you what they told me, and it cannot be justified.”

She has already warned her own teenage son that if he ever engages in such activity, she will personally turn him in to the police.

“I can understand why Palestinians threw stones” in response,” she said.

This is not how Jews or the residents of Judea and Samaria should behave, she said. Israelis living here should be a force for peace.

“Nothing like that has happened here before,” she said.

“This land can no longer tolerate the blood, the hate, and we have to help it love us. It is not the path of this nation to live in hate.”•

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