In the summer of 2001, a small group of five to ten Israeli settlers confiscated a hill belonging to Palestinian farmers at the north end of the Beqa’a Valley, near the Harsina Settlement, east of Hebron. The settlers erected a few primitive structures and began a new “illegal” (according to current Israeli law) outpost.
From the beginning settlers harassed and threatened the Palestinians living next to the new outpost and destroyed their property. The settlers prevented the farmers from going onto their land near the new outpost. They shot at children and stole a tractor, as well as other machines,tools and animals. They destroyed many trees and 400 grape vines and assaulted more than twenty of their neighbors.
Friday evening, January 17, 2003, two Palestinian gunmen went to this illegal outpost, shot and killed Natanel Ozeri, and wounded some family members and visitors. Settlers in the house and Israeli soldiers then killed the two gunmen. The killing of Ozeri greatly escalated an already tense situation. On Saturday and Sunday Palestinians estimated that possibly 2,000 settlers came to the area on Sunday for memorial services.
The assembled settlers poured their anger out on the Palestinian neighbors who hid in their homes. Two Palestinians were injured and taken to a hospital on Saturday and four more on Sunday. The settlers vandalized ten cars, two of which they burned. They broke the windows of about twenty homes and destroyed property around the homes. They burned Palestinian clothes and other possessions. Israeli soldiers stood by and watched.
I arrived in the area about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and saw many settlers moving around the area. I talked with several Palestinian families and watched news reports on Palestinian television while sitting in a home near the scene. The TV showed settlers climbing in the windows of Palestinian homes near the outpost.
The events in Hebron are a microcosm of what is happening all over the Occupied Territories—massive land confiscation and settlement expansion, retaliation and counter retaliation. Fear and anger increase on both sides. Can anyone in the world intervene to halt this growing tragedy for both sides?
Art Gish is based in Hebron with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, an initiative among Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations and Friends Meetings that supports violence reduction efforts around the world. For more information about CPT and to receive news by e-mail, see www.prairienet.org/cpt.