Monday, November 30, 2020

NGO fights to protect victims of settler violence

By PM collaborators - November 29, 2016
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [settler violence] [Nablus]

Qus­­­­say Jarara has two phones. “One is for personal use,” he says, while “the other is for catastrophes. This one rings more than you would imagine: once or twice a day.”

Jarara is a member of Premier Urgence Internationale (PUI), a worldwide organisation dedicated to helping victims of humanitarian disaster.
There is a lot of work to be done. PUI works with eighty communities across Palestine, and there is no comparable group in the West Bank. Since 2002, Jarara and his colleagues have been working to protect Palestinians from both army and settler violence.
This kind of violence takes many forms. Infamously, settlers disrupt Palestinians during the olive harvesting season. But Palestinians are routinely assaulted in other ways. Their cars are torched and their houses are daubed with racist graffiti. Last year, a Palestinian baby was burnt alive after settlers set fire to his family’s home.“These people often lose everything,” says Jarara.
These actions have become known as 'price tag attacks', a term coined by settlers to describe acts of violence against Palestinians (as well as leftist Israelis and the army) – which they say is in retaliation for Palestinian violence as well as any government decision that they perceive as harming their presence in the West Bank – such as the demolition of illegal Jewish buildings by Israeli troops.
However, Jarara explains these are usually more than just the “random” acts of lone fanatics.
“The Israeli state colludes with the settlers. They make it a systematic policy to intimidate the Palestinians and get them off their land.”
To highlight the collusion between the Israeli state and settlers in practice, Jarara mentions an incident he attended to in Qusra, near Nablus, during Eid.
“First some settlers had come and harassed the kids playing in the local park. The villagers did not want to escalate the situation, but soon soldiers came because the settlers claimed they had been attacked,” he says.
“The troops fired live rounds. They also fired dum-dums – explosive rounds. One man was shot in the hip and spent twenty days in hospital. Another was hit just above the eye.”
“All of this,” concludes Jarara, “is to push Palestinians from their land. It is part of a wider Israeli plan. [The army and the settlers] work together.”
On the legal front, Israel employs archaic Ottoman-era laws to keep Palestinians from their crops.
A related problem is that because settlers who carry out these attacks are Israeli citizens – and so are protected by Israeli civil law – the army is not allowed to detain them, even if they are caught red-handed. “Nothing ever happens to these people,” concludes Jarara, even though victims sometimes know the exact house that their assailant lives in.
The disinterest of the Israeli police, who can technically arrest settlers, hardly helps. “Often the police will use mug-shots of criminals inside Israel, so Palestinians can’t identify the perpetrators,” explains Jarara. Indeed, according to the rights group Yesh Din, a full 91% of cases against settlers are closed by police without an indictment.
This issue is underscored by Walid Mahmoud Eid, an expressive man from the village of Burin, near Nablus. He was born in 1947, “just a year before the Nakba,” he explains.
In his living room, wearing a brown jalabiya, Mahmoud Eid says that he has gone to the local Israeli authorities “forty eight times!” But “they have done absolutely nothing for us!”
“They burnt my neighbour’s car. They try to burn my olive trees once or twice a week. But still Israel does nothing,” he adds, sipping black coffee and shaking his walking stick.
Burin is especially vulnerable to settler violence. Peeping over the crest of the hills just above the village are the Jewish settlements of Yitzhar and Har Brakha, home to some of the most extreme settlers in the whole of the West Bank. Settlers from the villages have been blamed for numerous price-tag attacks in recent years.
Many of the settlers are influenced by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, the head of a yeshiva in Yitzhar. Ginsburgh has advocated for the reestablishment of the theocratic ancient kingdom of Israel, as well as claimed that the murder of Palestinians is Biblically mandated.
Given their neighbours, it is unsurprising that even Burin’s children are subjected to constant abuse. “They shout at us as we try to go to school,” says Walid, a shy boy and Mahmoud Eid’s grandson. “They just come down the hill [about 500 metres away] and insult us. It frightens me.”
In the face of all this terror, Jarara says he can only do “peanuts. It is incredibly frustrating.”
But PUI does take concrete steps. Rather than trying to stop the settler attacks, Jarara and his colleagues do their best simply to help villagers “maintain their presence”, as they put it, on their ancestral lands.
This assistance can be practical. For example, PUI builds walls and spotlights around isolated farms so that people can feel safe in their own homes. Jarara also fundraises so that “farmers whose crops are stolen can get compensation and plant new seed.” Mahmoud Eid is one such beneficiary of this scheme. PUI also helps farmers pick their olives by hiring professional workers to do the job quickly and efficiently.
Beyond physical support, PUI also advises villagers what to do when faced with aggressive settlers. “We tell them not to film the settlers, or push them,” says Jarara. “If they do, they and their family risk being harassed even more.”
Moreover, PUI is part of a “protection cluster” that helps vulnerable Palestinian families in different ways. If PUI helps day-to-day, for instance, the Norwegian Refugee Council helps Palestinians fight settler violence in court. The Gruppo di Volontariato Civile, meanwhile, is an Italian group dedicated to helping Palestinian infrastructure develop over the long term.
But although Jarara and his fellow protection officers at PUI have helped over two-hundred thousand Palestinians since their mission’s inception, the situation remains bleak and attacks by settlers continue apace.
“It feels like nothing will ever change here,” admits Jarara.

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