Will Israeli Settlers' Violence Finally Be Prosecuted?
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Susia, a little known village in the West Bank, has made international headlines after an old Palestinian couple and their nephew were filmed being lynched by four youths.
The video was captured thanks to an advocacy project sponsored by the Israeli human rights organization B'tselem.
Israeli Police say they have arrested two youths from a neighboring settlement in relation to the attack. They claim that such attacks are uncommon. But Palestinian villagers throughout the West Bank complain of regular attacks that are rarely investigated.
In April, a shepherd from the village of Salem near Nablus in the West Bank, was killed in a drive-by incident involving an Israeli bus on a settler road. Although three of his fellow shepherds witnessed the drive by, no one has ever been charged for the murder.
Last year Sameha Mustafa Khalil Shtieh, a 70-year-old man also from Salem was assaulted by settlers from the neighboring Elon Moreh settlement. "I cannot see well. I thought they were villagers. But when I got closer they hit me with stones and I fell face first onto the ground." Sameha broke several bones in his right leg and arms. "Even now I have a lot of pain. I cannot walk good and it hurts to sit down." No one has been charged with the assault.
It is not uncommon for village property to be attacked or stolen. "For six years they would come maybe once a month," explains Abdullah from the village of Assira Qibliya. "But [over] the past two months they have been coming each Friday and Saturday afternoon ... They burn our crops and shoot at the water tanks. Sometimes the [Israeli] army comes. But they do not stop them."
"They poisoned [our] cistern in 2004 [and] 2005," says Jamal, a farmer from At-Tuwani in the south Hebron hills. "About 100 sheep died because they poisoned the wheat and barley. It took 20 days to clean up [the dead livestock]. The police did nothing and never do."
The people of Susia, where the lynching was videotaped, used to live in a number of ancient cave dwellings, one of the oldest and most unique habitats in the region. In 1986 they were evicted by the Israeli Army to make way for what is now the Jewish settlement of Susia. The villagers managed to hold onto some of the cave dwellings in the outskirts of the town but that was only a temporary reprieve.
"In 1997 I went to register our land [with the Israeli authorities]," recalls the farmer Muhammed Nawaja, "but they refused saying we were not allowed. They did not give any reason." Israeli authorities ordered the demolition of these remaining cave dwellings in 2001. Israeli authorities have also warned villagers at At-Tuwani that their homes risk demolition ostensibly because they lack the appropriate Israeli permits.
According to a United Nations report last year, Israel denied permission to 94% of Palestinian structures in areas of the West Bank it fully controls like Susia and At-Tuwani. Israel has full control of around 64% of the West Bank.
Mustafa Qadri is a journalist reporting from Israel and Palestine.