Tensions in the occupied West Bank have reached boiling point as Israeli settlers continue their expropriation of Palestinian land, in some cases defying Israeli authorities by refusing to evacuate land that Palestinians depend on for their livelihoods.
In May, 34 Palestinians were killed – the highest monthly figure in 10 years – with Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, reporting almost 600 violent incidents, as the Israeli military reinforced its presence in the occupied territory with several more battalions.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in its latest humanitarian report covering the first two weeks of June alone, stated that perpetrators known, or believed to be Israeli settlers, injured 11 Palestinians including four children, damaged vehicles, and destroyed hundreds of olive trees, water systems and other Palestinian-owned property.
As settler violence and Palestinian protests spread, one of the focal points of clashes has been Beita in the northern West Bank near Nablus.
Four Palestinians were recently shot dead by Israeli troops as they protested against the theft of more than five acres (two hectares) of their land, which was previously used for the cultivation of olives, for the construction of the illegal Israeli settlement of Evyatar.
The military’s civil administration unit ruled about 50 prefabricated settler homes constructed on Mount Sabih were illegally built on private Palestinian land and ordered the settlers to evacuate, arguing that their activities were destabilising security in the area.
However, decades of successive Israeli governments’ economic and political support for the settler movement, including prevarication and turning a blind eye to illegal outposts, have emboldened the settlers.
Not only are the settlers in Evyatar refusing to evacuate, but they are planning to appeal the evacuation order with further plans to build another 70 settler homes, a synagogue, daycare centre and a school.
Villages in the occupied West Bank often hold Friday demonstrations against land confiscation, house demolitions, and Israeli settlements deemed illegal under international law. Israeli forces usually respond to the protests with disproportionate violence.
Some 475,000 Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank, home to more than 2.8 million Palestinians
Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a recent report said Israel is committing the “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” against Palestinians. It detailed how Israel has sought to maintain Jewish-Israeli hegemony over the Palestinian people from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
‘Surrender to terrorism’
The Israeli media reported that Zvi Sukkot, one of the leaders of Evyatar, attacked the military’s ruling on the planned demolition of the settlement, saying any regional instability created by the existence of Evyatar was no different from that created by any other Jewish presence in the area for the past 100 years.
“They didn’t accept our presence then and to this day they do not accept our presence anywhere,” said Sukkot.
“To drive Jews out of their homes because of Arab riots can only be called surrender to terrorism. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
Yossi Dagan, head of the northern West Bank settlement authority, the Samaria Regional Council, also disputed that the settlement was on private Palestinian land – in defiance of international law and repeated UN resolutions stating the entire West Bank is illegally occupied by Israel.
Furthermore, many religious settlers strongly believe that God is on their side.
The illegal settlement Beitar Illit, south of Jerusalem, was established in 1985 on land expropriated from the nearby Palestinian villages of Husan and Nahalin. It is home to more than 60,000 ultra-Orthodox Israeli settlers.
Housewife Miriam Superefin lives in the Zionist settlement of Beitar Illit in the Gush Etzion area of the southern West Bank.
Superefin, who is married with a young daughter, immigrated to Israel from Belarus eight years ago.
When Al Jazeera asked her about the building of the settlement she lives in on land confiscated from the Palestinians, she was adamant it belonged to Jews.
“The Jews have always been here. There hasn’t been a day in this country without Jews. From 1,000 years, BC, we have been here. The bible says it is our land,” said Superefin.
“From the beginning of the 20th century we purchased all the land we live on honestly and for a fair price.
“We treated the people who were here decently and we had good relations with them. The Arabs were given every opportunity to be part of our society. We never took any Palestinian homes or kicked them out. It was the Jordanians who told the Arabs to leave during the war after assuring them they could return later.”
According to Superefin, Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank was an internationally established and acceptable legal norm, a view contradicting numerous international rulings.
She said she lived in extreme fear of Palestinian attacks, especially when travelling through the West Bank.
“When I see Israeli signposts warning Israelis to keep out of certain areas for security reasons this makes me very afraid and I won’t travel in a private car but only on fortified public transport,” Superefin said.
Muhammad Khabeisa from Beita, who lost olive orchards to the illegal Evyatar outpost, said Palestinian villagers would fight to the last person in defence of their land.
He said the Israelis had moved in about 45 prefabricated homes since the beginning of May. Violent clashes have erupted on Fridays in recent weeks as Palestinians protest against the confiscation of their land, only to be met by attacks from settlers and Israeli forces supporting them.
“Over my dead body will I leave. They will have to kill all of us if they want our land,” Khabeisa told Al Jazeera.
‘Right to live anywhere’
Shulamit, who did not want to give her last name, lives in Ramot in northern occupied East Jerusalem near Shu’afat refugee camp.
She told Al Jazeera she would not leave her home to move within Israel’s internationally recognised Green Line if land was returned to the Palestinians, as “Israel is a democratic country and Israelis have the right to live anywhere as stated by our government”.
“I don’t care whether you call the area Palestine or Israel, is that really an issue? I have no problem sharing the country with others,” Shulamit said.
However, when questioned about Palestinians being made homeless to make way for Israeli settlers, she said she was not aware of any Palestinians being evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah or elsewhere in East Jerusalem.
“I haven’t heard anything about that,” she told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, the Israeli settlers’ controversial version of historical events and their land theft are igniting other parts of the West Bank.
Beita’s Erbak al-Layli, or night confusion units – Palestinians whose activities include setting tyres on fire, blowing horns and using flares against Evyatar – have spread to the village of Beit Dajan, north of Beita.
Young men in Beit Dajan have formed their own resistance units on a nightly basis and are facing off with settlers and soldiers from the two Israeli settlements of Hamra and Mekhora, which were built on confiscated land.
According to the OCHA report, recent settler violence also included attacks on Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.
“Other Palestinians were injured in Al Khadr near Bethlehem, Huwwara near Nablus and the H2 area of Hebron,” said the report.
“Fire was set to about 1,000 olive trees in Al Jab’a near Bethlehem, 30 olive trees and a house in Ni’lin near Ramallah, 70 olive trees in Beita and about 80 haystacks in Tuba near Hebron,” it noted.