It was during the late afternoon hours of 29 September 2021 when Basel Al-Adra was being chased by a group of masked Israeli settlers with bats and rocks. They were screaming racist slurs.
A few minutes earlier, the journalist and activist had been recording a mob of almost 80 to 100 settlers attacking the homes of Palestinian residents in Khirbat Al-Mufkara in Masafer Yatta, smashing their windows with stones and slashing their vehicle tyres.
“It was the scariest day of my life,” says Basel. “No less than 15 settlers ran after me and tried to attack me after I managed to film them running from home to home and destroying everything in their way including water tanks and cars.”
The 25-year-old describes how Israeli occupation forces were at the scene watching at first, then they aggravated the attacks by hurling tear gas canisters and stun grenades towards the Palestinian residents in an effort to protect the settlers.
Mothers and their children were terrorized by the attack. Many were left injured. Three-year-old Mohammad Hamamdah was one of the many victims. His head had been struck by a rock and he was in hospital for four days.
“I saw women and children running away from their homes towards the water valleys because they didn’t have any safe place to hide. It got worse when the Israeli soldiers came and backed the settlers. They shot live bullets and rubber coated bullets towards the Palestinians who tried to defend themselves,” Basel explains.
A three-year-old was injured in the head by a stone. The injury to this child is what brought a lot of attention to this attack, it’s described as one of the worst ever attacks in this village.
Mohammad, now four years old, suffered a fractured skull and bleeding in the brain, and was placed in ICU at Israel’s Soroka Medical Centre in Beersheba for four days. His mother was prevented from accompanying him because her permit to enter Israel was denied by occupation authorities.
Human rights organizations – Israeli and international – have documented numerous cases where Israeli forces stand by while settlers rampage Palestinian properties and land. In many instances, including in Khirbat Al-Mufkara, occupation soldiers encourage the settlers to attack and then defend them by shooting at Palestinians who try to protect their properties.
Basel notes that the settlers have not only been emboldened by the military protection, but also by the economic and moral support of Israel’s successive pro-settlement governments, and the lack of legal consequences for their actions.
“I grew up getting used to watching settlers getting away with their crimes. More than 81 per cent of the complaints that we file at the Israel Police station against settler violence get closed with no arrests or investigations. That gives more power to settlers to keep up the attacks, they have no fear of getting punished.”
Born and raised in At-Tuwani, one of the hamlets in Masafer Yatta, Basel has experienced first-hand how settler attacks have intensified as part of Israel’s policy of expelling Palestinians and taking over their land.
“Since they began building settlements in my area here in the 80s and confiscating our land, particularly the agricultural land … the connection between Palestinian communities have been cut,” he explains.
Masafer Yatta, located south of the city of Hebron, falls within Area C, which makes up 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank. It is under Israel’s military and administrative control and, as a result, the occupation state reserves the area largely for the benefit of illegal settlers.
The area is not connected to water and electricity grids, which supply the surrounding illegal Israeli settlements and outposts. Israel forbids the Palestinians in the area from building or connecting their properties to the amenities required. It also restricts their access to their grazing pastures and enables settler violence in order to make Palestinian lives so unbearable that they will leave of their own volition.
“We can no longer walk from one community to another because of broken roads and the threat of facing physical violence at the hands of Israeli settlers. By the Second Intifada, they started practising a new policy which is creating illegal outposts, even though it’s considered illegal under Israeli and international law. But they always get whatever they want from the state anyway, they can have electricity, water and build big homes whenever they want.”
“All this abuse and violation afflicted on us is in hopes that we leave this community and move to Area A and B, where most of the Palestinians are living. They want to keep and annex this land to the Israeli settlements in it. But me, my activist parents and the whole community, we refuse to accept the occupation and will resist it till the very end.”
Noting the world’s concern for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of the country last month, Basel says:
The world is not really concerned about international law. It’s all about who’s being attacked and who’s doing the attacking. They don’t care when the victims are Palestinians, the international states will keep doing business and selling weapons to Israel.
“It’s all racism,” he adds.
“But I hope with more awareness about the illegal occupation we’ve been facing for over 70 years, the international community will impose just a third of the sanctions against Israel as they are doing against Russia.”
Remember, he adds, like Ukrainians, Palestinians are human.
By: Anjuman Rahman