HEBRON (IRIN) - Violence by settlers perpetrated against Palestinians has been on the rise in recent weeks in Hebron and the surrounding areas, residents and international observers said.
“These areas are hot spots for violence and are priority areas for us,” said Matteo Benatti, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s delegation in the city.
He was referring to H2, the part of Hebron under Israeli control, and the rural southern part of the district, also mostly under Israel’s jurisdiction, according to the Oslo accords of the 1990s with the Palestinians.
“Day and night, night and day, it makes no difference, the settlers always abuse us,” said Jamal, a Palestinian refugee in his mid-40s.
Given the city’s violent history and perpetual troubles, the settlement in the middle of a Palestinian urban area, not surprisingly, attracts radical figures, some from France and the US who migrated to Israel, who seem attracted to the friction.
Many of the settlers are armed and wield their rifles openly, taking Palestinians in their sights.
“Inside, inside,” muttered a Palestinian mother from the neighborhood of Wadi Hussein, as she pushed her young daughters indoors.
A moment earlier, armed youngsters from the Kiryat Arba settlement had thrown rocks and stones at the children playing outside, just after nightfall.
Having the strategic vantage point of being on a hill, while the Palestinians are in a valley, makes the rock-throwing easier.
Sliman, a 32-year-old father, rushed passed the children to confront the settlers, his chest suddenly lit up in red as the laser-guided sights on the rifles focused on him. More stone-throwing and cursing ensued before the settlers went away.
Nearly all the Palestinian homes in Wadi Hussein visited by IRIN had incurred damage recently, including destroyed water tanks and countless broken windows.
“I don’t have hot water any more,” said Sliman, a refugee registered with UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees. “They threw stones and destroyed my solar water heater twice and I can’t afford to fix it again.”
Fuel for heating, he said, is very expensive and the Israeli-imposed restrictions on movement mean he cannot drive into Wadi Hussain, so everything is carried in, and gas bottles are heavy.
“For my sheep, I need 400 kilograms of fodder each week. Each bag is 50 kilos and I bring it in, one at a time, on my back,” he said.
Similarly, rural Palestinians say they have trouble accessing their land due to the violence.
The residents say Israel is failing to protect them. “I am under Israeli jurisdiction,” said Abu Feras, a Palestinian man who lives just alongside the Worshippers’ Road, the path that connects Kiryat Arba, the large settlement just outside Hebron, to the smaller settlement in the heart of the city.
“I expect the Israelis to protect me, my land, my children. They have a responsibility to me as an occupier,” said the man, afraid to use his real name.
“If the [Israeli] police come down on them, the settlers will stop,” he said, echoing sentiments by human rights workers like Issa Omer from B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group.
B’Tselem runs a program called “Shooting Back” where it distributed cameras to Palestinians in areas like Hebron and the outskirts of Nablus, where violence is common. It hopes to gather as much evidence as possible to substantiate Palestinian claims and enhance their safety.
Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the police, told IRIN that law enforcement officials were doing their utmost to end the violence. He said police officers investigated claims from both sides, adding that settlers also complained about their cars being stoned on roads in the Hebron area.
However, the police’s efforts have not stopped the recent escalation, which has included attacks on aid workers, diplomats, children, elderly people, mosques and wedding parties, residents and international observers said.
“At first, five settlers came,” said Fadi, who was attacked while at a wedding celebration on a Friday evening. “Then more came, with guns. They hit us.”
While the Palestinians eventually banded together and purged the group from the ceremony, they literally paid the price.
“On Sunday we went to the police to complain. The settlers also then apparently filed a complaint against us, and the police fined us 2,000 shekels,” he said. The amount is equal to more than $500 — more than Fadi earns in a month.
As the settlers continue their attempts to take over more Palestinian land — in some cases using force, in others with the legal backing of the Israeli authorities — one resident said he doubted the problems would subside.
“This place is a powder keg waiting to explode, just wait and see.”
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