I’m emailing you now from Burin. Today has been a really long, violent day. I’m sure many of you heard about the settler from Yitzhar who was killed- the response from the soldiers and settlers has been horrible, as I’m sure you can imagine.
Right now, ISM and IWPS are staying overnight in both Burin and ‘Asira al-Qibliyah, in three houses, teams of two. We set out this morning early from Deir Istiya to Izbet at-Tabib to meet about a few possible English lessons. When we left at 8, we heard that Zatara junction was closed, though no one seemed to know why.I called ICRC but they did not know. At our meeting, I got several calls from journalist friends about what happened.
Around 9h45 I called our friend in Yasouf to see how he was because originally they reported that the settler was from Tappuah. The entrance to Yasuf was closed at that time, no cars were allowed to enter or leave, but no settlers were coming in. Secondly, I called our friend in Burin. He said that around 50 settlers attacked the town and set a lot of fires on the land. He asked us to come, so we set off for Burin.
It took almost 2 hours to reach the town. Zatara was closed, Huwarra and the road to Awarta as well. At one point we were so desperate to get through that we tried to walk through Huwarra and we told the soldiers we were going to a wedding. They turned us away, but believed our lie, strangely enough. We finally caught a ride with a truck driver through a back road. By this time, the settlers left Burin and were attacking ‘Urif so we went there. It should be noted that even when the settlers left, there was still a large army presence in Burin for most of the day.
Our ISM friends were in ‘Urif already following a morning meeting at the school. When we met them, they reported that around 50 settlers came into the town and threw stones through the window of the boy’s high school (this is a common occurrence). At least 3 students were injured by broken glass and then the army came (approximately 5 trucks and 30 soldiers) and tear gassed the school at about 11h15. One student was hit in the head by a tear gas canister and they were all taken to the hospital. After that the school closed and there was a standoff between the settlers/army and the residents of ‘Urif. The settlers lit at least 5 fires around the school and the army prevented anyone from reaching the fires to put them out.
The army shot tear gas and threw sound bombs for about 3 hours and pepper sprayed several residents. There was a standoff between the army and the residents and the soldiers continued to assault the Palestinians and attempted to push them back into the village. The teargas used throughout the day was exceptionally strong and nearly 20 people from ‘Urif were hospitalized from the gas. The sound bombs used were also seemingly a new variety, as they were both louder and a different sound.
After nearly an hour, we received word that the settlers were attacking ‘Asira al-Qibliyah, which is about a 5 minute drive from Burin. Our friend in the village told of that the settlers “burned the mountain.” Some of our colleagues in ISM stayed in ‘Urif and reported that later in the afternoon, settlers threw Molotov cocktails at heavy machinery in ‘Urif in an attempt to destroy it and they set many more fires to the land.
As we arrived in ‘Asira, the air was thick with smoke and we could see one fire still burning in the fields closest to the settlement, though the settlers had already left and the soldiers had retreated to the nearby fields. A team of two people stayed on a roof to observe, while another team of two accompanied journalists around the area to show them the damage. During the ‘tour’, the team observed many fires on the hillside close to Huwwara. The team also drove to the road near Awarta that was being used as an alternative route in order to bypass the closed Huwarra checkpoint. When we arrived, we saw hundreds of cars lined up at the intersection and nearly 30 soldiers. Locals reported that the road had been closed for an hour and a half for cars and that people were only permitted to pass on foot (not taking into account the far distance to the nearest town!). At this point, there were very few options for Palestinians to travel to their homes or to work and the most direct route from Nablus to Ramallah was completely impossible.
On the way back to ‘Urif, we received a call from our teammates that around 40 settlers had entered ‘Asira al-Qibliyah and were attacking the houses with stones. As we returned, we observed approximately 15 new fires set by the Yitzhar settlers. We ran into the fields, where many young men had gathered. Palestinian fire fighters were present, trying desperately to put out the dry, burning fields. Nearly 25 settlers were at the top of the mountain and approximately 75 soldiers and Border Police were positioned throughout the fields. As the settlers moved toward Madama, the soldiers and Border police began pushing and assaulting the Palestinians and ordering them back to their houses. This situation was very tense and it seemed at any time the soldiers would attack fully and start arresting people. Several times during skirmishes, soldiers cocked their guns and pointed them directly in the faces of Palestinians surrounding them, including near boys as young as 10 years old. These altercations lasted approximately 45 minutes before the community noticed the settlers coming down the hill on the other side of the town.
Many people ran through the fields to attempt to protect the houses and people there. When we reached the opposite hill, there were nearly 20 settlers throwing large stones, some with slingshots. At the same time, soldiers shot many tear gas canisters, the majority of which were fired at head height and from an extremely close distance, in violation of Army regulations which require tear gas to be fired at an arc. The IWPS and ISM stood with the Palestinians there for nearly one hour. At one point I told a frustrated soldier that if he made the settlers leave, maybe everyone could go home or put out the fires in the fields and he replied that the army was “trying, but can’t do anything.” I told him to call the police, as Israeli settlers are subject to Israeli civil law and he shouted that they were “trying! But the police aren’t here yet.” Soon the settlers retreated to the settlement and the soldiers and Border Police violently pushed many Palestinians back toward ‘Asira. Everyone clapped and cheered because the Palestinians has refused to leave until they had succeeded to drive the settlers out. One person was taken to the hospital after being shot in the hand with a tear gas canister.
There were no reported arrests today in any of the villages that were attacked, though we observed that the soldiers took many more photos of Palestinians, particularly in ‘Urif. We worry about arrests tonight and in the next days. At 18h30, there was a demonstration of nearly 600 settlers at Zatara junction. In the last hour, the army shot flares around the school in Burin and we saw nearly 20 police cars driving into Yitzhar. The settler who was killed was buried tonight and many believe that now that the funeral has taken place, the settlers will focus on retaliation.
We will keep everyone updated the best that we can. Many apologies for such a long, rambling email. Hope you all are well.