HEBRON, West Bank — The first thing Bassam Abu Aisha saw when he left his home on Oct. 7 was a gun in his face. It was an Israeli settler wearing an army uniform and pointing an M16 in his face. The settler was part of a mixed group that included IDF soldiers who patrolled in a group, although the IDF reportedly acted as a neutral arbitrator in disputes between the two communities.
In a video of the incident recorded by a neighbor and shared with The Daily Beast, the man’s finger can be seen resting on the trigger. Later that day, Abu Aisha said a group of armed settlers tried to break down his door by smashing it with their rifle butts. They couldn’t get in because of the thick bars and locks on his door, he said.
The 60-year-old Palestinian taxi driver, who lives in the Tel Rumeida district of Hebron, told The Daily Beast that after we learned about the Hamas massacres, “fear was the first thing we felt.” We knew that “We would be the ones who would be punished for Hamas’ actions.”
After the terrorist attacks that killed at least 1,400 Israelis, Israeli authorities imposed a four-day curfew and cordoned off Tel Rumeida, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood, ostensibly to prevent violence between Palestinians and local Israeli settlers.
In a response to a request for comment from The Daily Beast for this story, an IDF official said that “security forces” in the area are “acting in accordance with the situation assessment to ensure the safety of all residents in the area.” With this in mind, there are dynamic checkpoints and movement surveillance in various areas of the region,” without elaborating.
Abu Aisha says they were told that anyone seen on the street could be shot. “No one was allowed to leave the house for four days. Not children who need food, elders and sick people who need treatment – it was four days of complete closure.”
During that time, he says, several local Israeli settlers attempted to break into his home in what he believes was “revenge” for the October 7 Hamas attacks.
There were no similar restrictions for the Israeli settlers, who were allowed to move freely on the streets and many of whom carried weapons, he says. “The settlers who live in our area all wear military uniforms and many of them carried M16s,” he said, showing videos he shot from his windows showing the settlers moving freely.
While the world’s attention is focused on the Israeli bombing of Gaza, which has killed thousands of civilians, violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank has increased dramatically. It has even alarmed the White House, with President Joe Biden saying he “remains alarmed that extremist settlers are attacking Palestinians in the West Bank, pouring gasoline on the fire… and attacking Palestinians in places where they are allowed to be.”
When Abu Aisha was finally told he was “allowed” to leave, he said soldiers and settlers continued their abuses. They pointed guns at them, threw bottles and stones at them, and shouted insults and insults at them. The Daily Beast also reviewed videos of settlers in Hebron throwing stones at Palestinian homes and brandishing weapons.
On October 11, Israeli settlers killed three Palestinians in the town of Qusra, north of Hebron. One was also killed by Israeli forces who claimed they were there to keep the peace. Since the start of the Gaza war, at least 75 Palestinians have been killed by settlers or the IDF. Two weeks ago, the IDF even called for an airstrike on a refugee camp near the city of Jenin. And just this weekend, a 40-year-old Palestinian farmer, Bilal Saleh, was shot dead by an Israeli settler while harvesting olives near the West Bank village of Nablus.
The violence has also gripped Hebron. Earlier this month, an Israeli settler was filmed shooting a Palestinian in the southern Hebron hills, but the man survived.
Almost half a million settlers live in the West Bank, which Israel occupied in violation of international law in 1967, which many international observers consider to be one of the biggest obstacles to peace in the region.
Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank with around 215,000 inhabitants, is divided into two parts. In 1994, Israeli right-wing extremist Baruch Goldstein shot and killed 29 Palestinian Muslims who had gathered to pray at the Ibrahimi Mosque. In response, the Israeli government divided Hebron into two zones: H1, where most of the Palestinian population lives, and H2, where 800 Israeli settlers and 36,000 Palestinians live.
“Nobody dares open the front door.”
One of the settlers is Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister, who has promised to distribute 10,000 assault rifles to Israelis living in settlements and near Gaza. H1 is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, where residents say they lead a “more or less normal” life. However, the residents of H2 live under the direct control of the Israeli army.
Most Palestinian businesses in the area have been closed in recent weeks, but Abu Aisha says the Palestinian Authority has managed to find a solution. Every two days, the checkpoint between H1 and H2 would be open for half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. Palestinians can remain on these streets during this window.
Yahya Idais, a 53-year-old cobbler, also from Tel Rumeida, says that despite the agreement, life is still extremely difficult and marked by regular humiliations that are destroying the quality of life of Palestinians in the region.
A few days ago, he had to leave his home in the H1 zone in the morning to visit his shop in the other zone during the day and had no choice but to leave his younger son, who is in a wheelchair, at home.
“My teenager had to use the toilet and get out of his wheelchair onto the toilet. But he lost his footing and fell from the chair to the ground,” said Idais, who tried to return through the checkpoint but was stopped by the soldiers guarding him.
He says his disabled son lay on his bathroom floor for nearly four hours before the checkpoint opened that evening. “He was healthy, thank God, but what if he hit his head!” He could have died on this floor!”
As they pass through checkpoints, he says, soldiers often harass them, and when they reach the other side, settlers throw stones. The closure remains in place outside of the times when they are allowed to move.
“Nobody dares open the front door even though there is nothing going on in the area but the army is threatening you,” he says. “They point their guns at you as soon as you open the window, and the same goes if you open a window or go on your roof… it’s a living nightmare.”
They all believe that these actions are part of what they believe has been the settler project in Hebron from the start: to make living conditions unbearable for Palestinians so that they migrate of their own accord.
Criticism of the actions of the settlers and the Israeli army comes not only from Palestinians, but also from Israeli groups who criticize the government’s actions.
“We are experiencing a situation where we are sent as soldiers to protect settlers who are attacking Palestinians. This is the culmination of a process that began a long time ago… it gives them state support for the violent acts that are taking place,” says Ori Givati, advocacy director of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli NGO made up of former veterans and politicians in criticizes the occupied territories, said France24. “In most functioning places the police will stop them, but here the police, i.e. the military, protect the violence.”
Source : www.thedailybeast.com