One of the destroyed car windows, in the background the village of Mufkara.
Attack on West Bank village Mufkara

Militant settlers sow the seeds of violence

The Palestinian villages to the south of Hebron in the West Bank have often come under attack from militant settlers. But the raid last week on the village of Mufkara by eighty masked men left more than just windows broken. It also nearly cost a three-year-old child his life. Many Israelis were horrified. The foreign minister Yair Lapid spoke for the first time of "terror". By Inge Gunther

These days when going to bed, Bara’a Hamandi's three-year-old son asks her if she is sure everything is closed. So that no one can come and get him, he says. The doctors are confident that his violently inflicted head injury won’t have any delayed medical consequences. He was spared an operation to halt the bleed on his brain and, after four days of treatment at the Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, Muhammad Bakr Hussein is back at home. But what is going on in the toddler’s mind when he looks at the jagged shards of glass in the window frames is something we can only imagine.

It is what remains after one of the largest settler attacks that a Palestinian village has ever suffered. There is scarcely a single window pane left intact in Mufkara, a spot on the southern edge of the West Bank. Not in the community tractor, or in the cars without which residents are stranded in the remote village, and not in the humble houses. But the rock that one of the eighty or so masked men hurled through one particular window almost cost Muhammad his life.  

The attack took place in broad daylight, in the middle of the last Tuesday in September. It all began in what has become an all-too-familiar pattern. "I heard a lot of noise outside," Fasel Hassan Hamandi recalls. The news spread like wildfire: a few Israelis from the illegal settler outpost of Avigayil were attacking a Palestinian shepherd and his flock on the hillside opposite Mufkara. "I ran out to help him," says 45-year-old Hamandi. He pushes his black and white checked keffiyeh away from his tanned face. At first, he didn’t expect things to escalate in such a serious way. But this time, the attackers did more than just stab a few goats.

Three-year-old Muhammad Bakr Hussein with his mother Bara'a Hamandi in front of the family's home in the West Bank village of Mufkara (photo: Inge Gunther)
Three-year-old Muhammad Bakr Hussein with his mother Bara'a Hamandi outside the family home in the West Bank village of Mufkara. When militant settlers, mostly young men, armed with batons, hammers and other tools stormed into the village of Mufkara to purposefully smash Palestinian property, the boy was severely injured in the head by a chunk of stone. He was treated for four days at Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva. Fortunately, he was spared an operation to stop his brain haemorrhage

The incident on the pasture was just the overture to a concentrated attack by settlers, from two sides at once. The men, most of them young, arrived from both Avigayil and Havat Ma’on, another notorious settler outpost, armed with clubs, hammers and other tools, and entered the village of Mufkara determined to lay waste to Palestinian property.

As the attack escalated, more and more army troops also arrived, firing tear gas and stun grenades. But the soldiers were protecting the settlers, not the villagers, according to the Palestinian civil rights and B’Tselem activist Nasser Newada.

"These attackers here knew no mercy"

Israeli journalist Yuval Abraham reports how Mariam Hamamdah, 30, quickly decided to shepherd around twenty frightened children into a room that seemed safe because it had a lock on the door. Little Muhammad lay down to sleep in their midst.

When she heard the sound of breaking glass, Mariam ran back in, to find her nephew Muhammad on the floor, unconscious and bleeding from an open wound to the head. The jacket that they used to try and stop the bleeding while they were in the ambulance is also soaked with blood.

His grandfather, Mahmoud Hussein Hamandi, has kept it, as proof of what was done to his grandson. "These attackers here," he says, "knew no mercy."

Many Israelis were also horrified by these events. Unexpectedly, the foreign minister Yair Lapid condemned the settlers’ attack on Mufkara in no uncertain terms as "a shocking incident of violence and terror".

"This is not Israel’s way and it is not the way of the Jewish people," he said. The Israeli NGO Comet-me, which has provided Palestinian villages that have been neglected for years with solar panels, was on the ground the following day to repair the demolished water tank.

Mufkara has been cut off from electricity and running water for years, like numerous other Palestinian villages located in the C Area, the 60 per cent of the West Bank controlled by Israel.

Are the long-established Palestinians to be displaced?

The situation in Mufkara is especially precarious because it lies in the 2700-hectare area of land that Israel’s army has designated as a training ground, an area also known as "Firing Zone 918". The former soldiers’ organisation Breaking the Silence, which is critical of the occupation, is just one of the voices casting doubt on whether this land is genuinely vital for military training. The conflict over "Firing Zone 918“ has been going through the courts since the turn of the millennium. There is much to suggest that in truth, its aim is to force the long-established Palestinian communities to move away.

The armed forces in fact make little use of the rocky land for training purposes. And recently, further settler outposts have sprung up without permission in Firing Zone 918, without any real objection. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has placed an injunction on the 14 Palestinian villages in the area, prohibiting them from building any further structures. No more rooms, no more animal sheds, not even a walled enclosure for an electricity generator. Anyone found to have infringed this ruling is issued with an immediate demolition order.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
Many Israelis were also horrified by these events: unexpectedly, the foreign minister Yair Lapid condemned the settlers’ attack on Mufkara in no uncertain terms as "a shocking incident of violence and terror". "This is not Israel’s way and it is not the way of the Jewish people," he said, announcing that the perpetrators would be held accountable. Whether that will happen, however, is more doubtful. While six suspects were taken into custody in the days following the attack, some have already been released again. Yochai Damari, the head of the regional settlers’ council, is once again putting the blame for the attack on visitors from elsewhere. His people, he claims, had nothing to do with it

One day after the attack, another two white army Jeeps pulled up in Mufkara to take photos of the solidarity tent that was erected on the edge of the village following the settler attack. "From experience, we know they’ll come back in a week’s time to hand us a demolition order," says Muhammad’s grandfather. Nor is he under any illusion that this time, as Lapid the foreign minister announced, Israel will bring the militant attackers to justice.

While it is true that six suspects were taken into custody in the days after the attack, some of them have already been released again. Yochai Damari, the head of the regional settlers’ council, is once again putting the blame for the attack on visitors from elsewhere. His people, he claims, had nothing to do with it.

Meanwhile, "Breaking the Silence" is conducting an awareness-raising campaign to put pressure on the responsible people in the government. A few buses are already circulating in the Tel Aviv area with giant posters beneath their back windows. They show an image of Muhammad with his head wound, beside the Israeli ministers for defence and domestic security, with the message: "It is time to stop the settler violence. Benny Gantz, Omer Bar-Lev – this is your job."

Inge Gunther

© Qantara.de 2021

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

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