'I Saw Blood All Over Me': Gangs of Israeli Vigilantes Roam Streets Attacking Palestinians

Violence targeting Palestinians has skyrocketed since the bodies of three Israeli teens were found.

"Gas the Arabs" graffiti painted in Hebron.
Photo Credit: Magne Hagesæter/Wikimedia Commons

Kafr Qassem, ISRAEL – Mousa Abu Ayadeh says that he expects anti-Arab discrimination in Israel. But he never imagined he would be the victim of a violent vigilante attack, as he was on June 30.

Abu Ayadeh told AlterNet he “was beaten and stabbed by ten Israeli men.” He suspects the crime was in retaliation for the killing of three Israeli youth who had been kidnapped on June 12 and were found dead just a few hours before he was attacked.

Around 1.7 million Palestinian citizens make up a minority in Israel and reside in cities, towns and villages across the country. Abu Ayadeh lives in Kafr Qassem, a town in Israel that hugs the West Bank border and is situated close to a number of Israeli settlements.

On June 30, the bodies of Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrah, both 16 years old, and Gilad Shaer, 19, were discovered in a Palestinian village in the southern occupied West Bank after being reportedly shot by Palestinian militants. Since then, there have been numerous attacks by Israeli settlers and civilians against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Israel.

Abu Ayadeh ate a traditional dinner with his family around 8pm on Monday night to break the daily daytime fast for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. After eating and sitting with his parents, he decided to go for a bike ride.

“Like I always do, I passed through a roundabout past the main entrance of Kafr Qassem and near the settlement of Oranit,” Abu Ayadeh recalled. “Two cars full of men stopped and told me they were police and needed to speak to me.”

Ten men dressed in civilian clothing exited the cars and began to curse at and threaten him. “They said racist slurs about Arabs and cursed my mother and sisters,” Abu Ayadeh said. “Then they attacked me, kicking me and stabbing me. Once they left I saw blood all over me.”

Abu Ayadeh was taken by an ambulance for medical treatment at a local hospital, where he was hospitalized overnight, treated for bruising on his face and ribs and received 16 stitches for four stab wounds on the lower part of his body. Due to the injuries, doctors told Abu Ayadeh to stay home from work for a month.

After getting out of the hospital the following day, Abu Ayadeh went to the nearby town of Petah Tikvah to file a police report. Yet rather than being assisted, he accuses Israeli police and intelligence officers of interrogating him.

“The [police interrogators] accused me of having done something wrong first,” he said. “They said that I maybe owed someone money or that I had attacked someone in the past. I’ve never had problems with anyone in my whole life.”

Abu Ayadeh also says that Israeli intelligence officers repeatedly “asked if I carry weapons. I told the police and the intelligence [officers] to go check the traffic cameras in the roundabout where I was attacked… but they told me it didn’t seem to be anything other than personal problems and sent me home.”

When asked for a comment, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said, “there is no indication any incidents in the area involved Jewish settlers.”

Jerusalem On Fire

That same night, shortly after the three Israeli youths' bodies were discovered, settlers reportedly attempted to kidnap nine-year-old Mousa Zaloom from the Shuafat neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem. When his mother tried to intervene to prevent one of the settlers from choking him, they began to beat her until onlookers arrived and caused them to flee.

Just two days later in Shuafat, Mohammad Abu Khdair, 17, was abducted and killed in what is suspected to be a revenge attack by Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. Abu Khdair was found dead on Wednesday after being abducted from outside a mosque in Shuafat, the Palestinian neighborhood where he lives in occupied East Jerusalem. Witnesses said he was taken by three Israeli men, and police later found his body burned beyond recognition in a forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

The British newspaper, the Telegraph, subsequently released security camera footage of Abu Khdair’s kidnapping. According to a Thursday night report on Israel’s Channel 10 News, the car that took Abu Khdair was the same used in another previous attempted kidnapping.

Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told AlterNet there has been “no major breakthrough in the investigation at this moment, and we are still exploring all possible explanations.” Yet Aminah Abdelhaq, coordinator of the Jerusalemites Campaign, a group that advocates for the rights of Palestinians in that city, explained that there is little hope the police will deliver justice.

“As an illegal presence in East Jerusalem in violation of international law, it is impossible to feel as though Israeli police are working to protect Palestinian Jerusalemites in the slightest,” she told AlterNet.

“Israeli police regularly fail to conduct thorough investigations into the cases when they are documented,” Abdelhaq added. “Even in instances when a perpetrator is identified, serious leeway is typically given to Israelis that renders the entire process ineffective and pointless.”

On the news of Abu Khdair’s death, Israeli police and Palestinian youth immediately clashed in East Jerusalem, and the military fought with Palestinian protesters in the Ramallah area and elsewhere in the West Bank through the rest of the day. Although it is the first week of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, clashes have continued and intensified since Wednesday.

Palestine TV video footage that emerged on Thursday shows what appear to be two masked Israeli Border Police officers in riot gear beating a bound Palestinian man in Shuafat until he loses consciousness, though the incident has yet to be verified.

After Israeli police turned over the boy’s body on Friday morning, thousands of mourners turned his funeral into a protest against the ongoing revenge violence by Israelis.

“Two hundred to 300 Arab rioters threw rocks at police officers in two main flashpoints – Wadi Joz and Ras al-Amud,” said police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld, referring to Palestinian parts of East Jerusalem. “Police used only stun grenades against the Arab rioters, and the violence was contained to those areas.”

There are no indications that the violence will subside soon.

In response to the ongoing clashes, Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist political organization banned by Israel, called on Palestinians to join “the revolution of Shuafat” against “the Israeli occupation and settlers.”

Not Isolated Events

The most recent attacks in Kafr Qassem and Jerusalem are not isolated events.

A new Israeli Facebook page, The People of Israel Demand Revenge, gained more than 35,000 followers in its first two days. Members of the page, including children and Israeli soldiers, post photographs of signs in support for killing Palestinians in retaliation. Some also posted images of weapons.

Yet even before the latest rise in bloodshed, Palestinians in Israel and the occupied West Bank were regularly exposed to vigilante violence by right-wing Israeli extremists.

Back in May, four Israeli youth were indicted by a Jerusalem court after they posed as women on Facebook accounts in order to lure Palestinians into meeting up with them. The Israeli daily Jerusalem Post reported at the time that “the Arab victims believed that they were meeting an interested young woman, but were instead met with beatings from the boys.”

"We are a very right-wing group made up of a few friends who hate the fact that Arabs hunt Jewish girls," one of the young men wrote in a WhatsApp forum used by the group. They were later caught on camera beating a Palestinian luggage salesman.

In both Israel and the West Bank, Palestinians and their places of religious worship have also been targeted time and again for vandalism in "price-tag attacks" by right-wing Israeli extremists who claim the Israeli government is not doing enough to expand Jewish settlement throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. In other instances, price-tag attacks seek to avenge Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers

Between January 2011 and May 2014, the organization Americans for Peace Now documented dozens of price-tag attacks in what it calls “a clear escalation” and the “increasing spread of attacks inside the Green Line,” referring to the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank.

Before the Pope visited Israel and the Palestinian territories earlier this year, dozens of churches and mosques in Israel were vandalized in such price-tag attacks.

Though Israeli police authorities investigate vigilante violence and price-tag attacks, Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups say there are rarely results. A July 2013 reportpublished by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din found that more than 90 percent of the investigations into violence by Israeli civilians against Palestinians in the West Bank “were closed without an indictment being served against the suspects.”

Though no such statistics are available regarding accountability for attacks against Palestinian citizens of Israel and their holy sites, human rights groups and civil rights organizations regularly document the widespread discrimination against them.

Meanwhile back in Kafr Qassem, Mousa Abu Ayadeh also doubts the police will bring his attackers to justice. “They talk about democracy and equality, but I don’t imagine they care about justice for Arabs,” he concluded. “If I was a Jewish Israeli, they would have caught the suspects by now.”  

Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance journalist working in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. His writing has appeared at Al Jazeera English, Electronic Intifada, GlobalPost, In These Times, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter: p_strickland_.