NOTE: This article was written before the onslaught on Gaza and the escalating attacks on the West Bank, carried out by armed settlers and Israeli Occupation Forces, with the full support of the Israeli state. In a recent attack, Ahmad and his extended family were given the stark choice by settlers: leave your home within 24 hours or be killed. This article describes the background to this crisis for one family – a crisis replicated across the West Bank.
“Any child wants to live happily, but I did not live any joyful or safe moments. The settlers’ terrorism ruined my life and my family life too, we are badly suffering because of these unbearable conditions, it turns us to hopeless humans’‘, narrates Ahmad, a 32 years old Palestinian from a West Bank village.
Ahmad lives with his wife and their two children in part of a house that he has inherited from his parents. In the other part of the same house, his brother, Salah, also lives with his wife and their 4 children. Ahmad and Salah were born and grew up in the house that their parents established in the 1970s on top of a hill at the edges of their village, which is located in the south of Nablus. It is – or was – the perfect location for the family, with land, sweeping views and everything that makes life worth living.
After founding an illegal settlement in 1983 on occupied lands of six villages, the family home became isolated from the rest of the village. It then became target for the settlers’ violence, determined to expand across all the lands of the village.
The second Intifada was the turning point in the increasing of the number and intensity of the settlers’ aggressive attacks against the family. As Ahmad recounts: “In 2000 we woke up in the middle of night to shouts, threatening us with war and death – with fire and flames devouring our bedrooms, and destroying our furniture. It was an assault by dozens of settlers who sneaked under the shield of night into our house, terrified us and vandalized our properties”.
This raid was just the beginning of a series of settlers’ attacks to terrorize, displace the family, and confiscate their house and land. Ahmad adds, “My father couldn’t withstand this incident; a few months later he suffered a heart attack and passed away as result of his agony. My mother then took the roles of father and mother. She carried the burden of raising her orphaned children and protecting her house from the settlers”.
Zayneb, Salah’s wife, who has lived in the same house for 20 years, talks about the settlers’ violence: “I can’t forget that night when the settlers set fire to our bedroom where I and my husband were sleeping. I was terrified and wanted to run away to the other room on the second floor. I was pregnant and slipped because of fear. The settlers tried to throw us out of the house by threatening us and destroying our belongings. The memories of this incident and the settlers’ faces are still vibrantly alive in my mind”
Recently, the family noticed that the settlers’ attacks have dramatically increased and become even more violent after the fascist right wing party took power in the Israeli government last year. Ahmad tells us: “After the settlers’ pogrom at the adjacent town of Hawara, a few months ago, I felt very vulnerable, and powerless. The settlers attacked our house in hundreds from all directions backed with the Israeli army soldiers”.
The settlers’ violence restricts family life and makes it unbearable. They are literally isolated from their village and community as their house is located behind the main road and the settlers have fixed a gate to prevent anybody from reaching their house, making them even more vulnerable. In addition, the only road that connects them with the village is rough and hard to cross for the locals. Ahmad adds: “Our social life is totally absent, we are unable to travel for our social commitments. Also, people feel unsafe coming to our house. We ourselves don’t feel safe at all, I can’t sleep overnight because I want to protect my children from any potential attack by the settlers”.
Ahmad and his family don’t have a normal life, it has turned into a prison and a misery. The children are unable to go to school without an escort, to move freely, or even to play in the house yard. He says, “My nephew had many violent experiences at the hands of the settlers, who attempted to kidnap him while he was on his way to the school. Luckily, thanks to our neighbour he was rescued. He became traumatized after this incident and refused to go to the school.”
Looking back to his childhood Ahmad feels desperate and hopeless; he bitterly adds: “I’m 32 years old, and I can’t remember when I experienced a happy day. I haven’t even attended my sisters’ wedding ceremonies. I had dreams for my children’s future to live peacefully in this house, but this vicious reality blew all my dreams into the wind.”
Under the dangerous and regular attacks of the settlers, Ahmad was forced to quit his work to guard his family, he says: “To put it simply, it is an unattainable wish to go to my work and not receive a call notifying me that the settlers have attacked my house. Consequently, I quit my job and I’m unemployed for the last two years, suffering much financial hardship.”
On top of that, the settlers try to destroy any source of economic sustainability for the family, Zayneb states: “We had around 20 cattle that provided us with food and income. One day the settlers intentionally poisoned the water that the cattle used to drink from and they died at once – they killed them.”
Despite all the obstacles and torture, the family decided to resist, and defend their house at any price. Ahmad says: “Once, the mayor of the illegal colony said to us, ‘Do you want to wake up to screams, attacks, and fire? You can end this torture by accepting our offer to buy this house for any amount that you want.’”
“We utterly reject this; we are here resisting and staying steadfast in our land – it is our dignity, honour and moral core until death and even after death”
In this way, the family has been disrupting the settler colonial expansion on the Palestinian lands in their village for over 20 years. Ahmad reflects: “The settlers are extremely violent, and we can’t predict their actions; they dedicate all their time and capacity to hurt and expel us.”
Ahmad also says: “We usually resist and push the settlers back by using stones, which are the only weapon that we have, while the settlers attack us with many tools and all other means”. Therefore, Ahmad believes that they need more support to mitigate the effects of the settlers’ violence and reinforce their house.
Currently, Ahmad is slowly building a cement wall around his house by hand, and he needs to fix the fence above the wall but he doesn’t have the financial capacity to complete this. Ahmad says: “It is very urgent to pave the road that connects us with the village to make our life easier and strengthen the solidarity of the village with us”.
Ahmad emphasized that he is staying in his house and land. He says: “We want to have a normal life, to be free and safe in our house and land, the only place that we have and the only place we want to live in.”