By Shatha Hammad in Al-Mufaqara, Occupied Palestine
Mohammed clutches his mother, Bara’a Hamamdah, the whole time. He’s only four years old. It is easy to tell that he is afraid of any stranger that comes near him and into his home.
He is different from how he once was, no longer able to sleep or play with his friends. All he wants to do now is hide in his mother’s arms.
Everything changed for Mohammad Bakr al-Hamamdah after 29 September, when his village of al-Mufaqara, located in Masafer Yatta just south of Hebron, was violently raided by dozens of settlers.
The settlers assaulted people with stones outside of their homes. Mothers and their children were terrorised by the attack, many of them injured.
Mohammad was one of them, his head bashed by a rock that put him in the hospital for four days.
“When the settlers attacked I was working outdoors by our house,” Bara’a Hamamdah, 22, tells Middle East Eye. “I ran inside to get my children so that we could find a safe place to hide. I carried my 12-month old baby girl and went into Mohammad’s room, where I found him screaming and crying while bleeding from his head.”
Bara’a tried to stop the bleeding for over half an hour, and every time she tried to leave the house she found herself surrounded by scores of settlers.
“I couldn’t take Mohammad to the hospital. When one of my relatives arrived, he carried him and demanded that the Israeli army transport them to the hospital, all while the settlers kept trying to assault them. The army refused, and forced him to walk a long distance until they were able to reach the ambulance,” Bara’a said.
Home no longer safe
Bara’a was beside herself, riven with anxiety and fear despite being inside of her own home. She was no longer able to protect her three children. “I felt so powerless. My embrace wasn’t enough to keep my kids safe. Even our home isn’t safe anymore.
“We lost the most important place that gave us security. That feeling hasn’t left us ever since the attack. Now I’m just in constant fear for my family and my children.”
Mohammad suffered from a skull fracture and bleeding in the brain, and was placed in the hospital ICU at Soroka Medical Center for four days. During this time, Bara’a was prevented from accompanying her child, her permit for entry denied by the Israeli authorities. Mohammad’s only companion was his uncle, Suhaib.
Bara’a is also in constant worry over her son’s mental health. “Mohammad used to have a strong personality and was very social,” she tells MEE. “He loved to play…but now he’s afraid all the time. He can’t sleep most nights, and if he sleeps for a few hours he wakes up crying from nightmares of settlers.”
Bara’a isn’t able to sleep either. Nightmares also occupy her dreams: “I keep dreaming that the settlers are kidnapping my children as I try to chase after them.”
The residents of al-Mufaqara don’t go outside of their houses now. At night they take shifts standing guard, determined to protect their village as it is overtaken by silent trepidation. Windows are still broken from the stoning of a few days ago, while the cars that were vandalised by the settlers remain in disrepair.
Rasmiyya Hamamdah, 52, doesn’t stop patrolling her house’s perimeter, reminded of what her family went through every time she passes by one of the broken windows.
“On that day, we had just finished having lunch and were about to sit down for some tea when we saw the first wave of settlers running towards our house and throwing stones at us,” she tells MEE. “They broke the windows, the solar panels, and our cars. They ruined us.”
Rasmiyya tells MEE that al-Mufaqara’s residents emerged from their homes to try and repel the settlers, but the Israeli army stepped in, hurling teargas canisters and stun grenades towards them, protecting the settlers.
“We and our children suffered from suffocation…and many of the young men were injured by rubber-coated bullets and grenade shrapnel,” she said.
She showed MEE one of the walls of her home, pointing at the hole made by the live bullet still lodged in the wall. Her husband Nu’man Hamamdah, 57, was also injured by rubber-coated bullets in the foot and by stun grenade shrapnel in his hand.
Rasmiyya stops and stares at the clothes of her granddaughter Nagham, three months old, dangling from the clothesline outside their house. “We almost lost Nagham, she was asleep in her bed when the broken glass and rocks fell on top of her. It is a miracle that she survived.”
Rasmiyya also tells MEE that Nagham hasn’t been able to sleep for more than a few hours at a time ever since the attack, and she often suffers from bouts of crying and doesn’t let anyone come close to her. It is the same story with the rest of the children in the village.
Threats of demolition and expulsion
Mahmoud Hamamdah, 57, has deep roots in al-Mufaqara.
“I was born here in al-Mufaqara before the occupation. I was raised here and I studied here…my entire life is here in this place, on this land that I inherited from my father and my grandfather.”
Mahmoud represents al-Mufaqara and its 12 families from the Hamamdah clan. He tells MEE that Israeli designs on al-Mufaqara and the plans to expel its residents and confiscate their lands extends to all of Masafer Yatta – all 80,000 dunams (8,000 hectares) of it.
“This last settler attack has also been the most vicious, but it’s part and parcel of a longstanding Israeli policy aiming to expel us from our lands.”
Al-Mufaqara is surrounded by the Avigal outpost to the west and the Khafat Ma’on settlement to the northeast, and is subject to daily attacks from settlers.
Hamamdah asserts that “al-Mufaqara falls in the middle of a strategic location connecting the two settlements, which is why there are constant attempts to expropriate the village in order to connect the settlements and ensure their expansion, even if it comes at the expense of our homes and our lands.”
The residents of al-Mufaqara rely on livestock as their primary source of income, but settlements prevent them from accessing their own grazing grounds. The animals are also often attacked by settlers, who steal or kill their livestock. In the most recent attack, settlers killed a number of goats by butchering them with knives.
In 1999, al-Mufaqara and three other villages in Masafer Yatta were ethnically cleansed. The residents were carried out in Israeli army military vehicles and exiled for some time, until they were able to return via a temporary injunction of the Israeli High Court of Justice, preventing the state from expelling the residents until a final decision was made.
The injunction was repealed in 2012, putting the inhabitants of Masafer Yatta at risk of expulsion once again.
“What we’re going through today reminds us of our expulsion back in 1999,” says Mahmoud Hamamdah. “But what’s different this time is that the settlers and the army are coordinating with one another in their plans to expel us.”
The number of settlers that have attacked the village is about 80, he says, while the number of young men in the village was only 13. “All of them were injured by rubber bullets and sound grenades.”
Hamamdah, a father to 11 children and grandfather to 30 grandchildren, was with 22 of his grandkids when they were surrounded in their home by the settlers, and were terrorised and injured by the stone-throwing.
‘We will never leave’
Despite the constant settler attacks on the village, its inhabitants refuse to flee. They arm themselves with stoicism and an undaunting morale in their defence of al-Mufaqara.
The Israeli authorities prevent them from building any sort of infrastructure, including water and electric systems, while all of their homes have been threatened with demolition orders.
“Despite all the difficulties we endure from the occupation and the settlers, we still have lawyers and doctors, religious scholars and experts in human development… This village revolts against its circumstances every day, and births sons and daughters that seek an education to build their homeland,” Hamamdah said.
On other fronts, al-Mufaqara is neglected and marginalised by the Palestinian Authority. “The PA knows nothing of al-Mufaqara and its suffering,” says Hamamdah.
“It cannot even place al-Mufaqara on a map. The PA abandoned us with the signing of the Oslo Accords, when it relinquished responsibility over the eighty thousand dunams that make up Masafer Yatta.”
He adds: “Despite our daily difficulties in Masafar Yatta, we never see a single Palestinian official who expresses any concern for our circumstances… We don’t want their financial support, we only expect a symbolic gesture of solidarity with us as Palestinians and as a part of the Palestinian people.”
“If we leave this village alone,” he said, “we will have given in to defeat. But we will never give in.
“The most recent settler attack has only strengthened our resolve and our steadfastness. Our land is precious and we would give our lives for it. We will never leave.”