Ramallah, March 23, 2021 — “I thought she was dead,” We’am told Defense for Children International - Palestine following a January incident when Israeli settlers attacked her and her children outside their West Bank home. An Israeli settler struck We’am’s 10-year-old daughter, Hala, in the face with a stone, injuring her. “I tried to carry her but I could not carry her alone.”
Palestinian children living in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, find themselves in a hyper-militarized environment where they are vulnerable to violence at the hands of Israeli settlers and soldiers.
Violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property is widespread and occurs daily throughout the West Bank. Israeli settlers perpetrate violence, damage, and destroy Palestinian property, take over land, and commit other offenses against Palestinian civilians living in the occupied West Bank.
Defense for Children International - Palestine documented four Israeli settler attacks in the occupied West Bank between January 17 and February 15, 2021, that injured six Palestinian children between the ages of three and 13. The attacks occurred in close proximity to a number of illegal Israeli settlements spanning the occupied West Bank. Two of the children required hospitalization following the attacks, according to evidence collected by DCIP.
Israeli settlers attack 10-year-old Palestinian girl outside her home
On January 17, settlers from the illegal Jewish-only settlement of Yitzhar attacked the Palestinian village of Madama, in the northern West Bank governorate of Nablus, injuring 10-year-old Hala Q. The girl’s mother, We’am, told DCIP that approximately 20 masked Israeli settlers used rocks to smash windows in homes along their street and that the settlers had attempted to attack the village three weeks prior, but were held off by local residents. Hala was on her way to her uncle’s home nearby to study when she was attacked by an Israeli settler.
“He was a tall man, wearing jeans, and his face was masked with a cloth, holding a huge rock,” Hala told DCIP. “He threw the rock at my face, and I fell down in front of the house and partially passed out. I felt that someone was pulling me, but I had no power to move at all, then I completely lost consciousness.”
Both Hala’s five-year-old sister, Masa, and We’am sustained injuries to their legs during the attack.
“When I went out, the masked settler who was standing next to Hala fled the scene.” We’am, the girls’ mother, told DCIP. “I thought she was dead. I tried to carry her but I could not carry her alone.”
Aided by her nine-year-old son, Karam, We’am took Hala into the home, where the family hid while they waited for someone to help them transport Hala to the hospital. The Israeli settlers, who were approximately 15 meters (49 feet) away, threw stones at the house for almost ten minutes, according to We’am.
“Hala’s face was covered with blood,” We’am said. “My other children were panicking as we were hiding in the house and still hearing the stones smashing our windows.”
Once the attack subsided, neighbors took Hala in a private car to Rafidia Surgical Hospital in Nablus City. Hala was evaluated and had bleeding in her nose and mouth, bruises under her left eye, and a broken tooth. Once she regained consciousness, she was discharged and returned home.
“None of us could sleep that night,” Hala told DCIP. “We were still scared that the settlers would attack us again. Until this moment we are still living in fear.”
Despite living in the same territory, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are subject to Israeli military law, while Israeli settlers living illegally in permanent, Jewish-only communities built on Palestinian land are subject to the Israeli civilian legal system. Since Israeli forces occupied the West Bank in 1967, Israeli authorities have established more than 200 Jewish-only settlements that house around 700,000 Israeli citizens, according to the Times of Israel.
Yitzhar is widely known as a hotbed of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians. The illegal settlement was founded in 1983 as a military outpost that soon turned into a civilian settlement. Nearby villages previously used the land for agricultural purposes, and Palestinian villagers are frequently targeted with violence by Yitzhar settlers. The Od Yosef Chai yeshiva is based in Yitzhar and is known for encouraging its students to perpetrate violence against Palestinians. The yeshiva was previously located in Nablus until it moved to Yitzhar in 2000 during the Second Intifada.
30 Israeli settlers attack Palestinian family planting olive trees
On February 15, settlers from Brakha, an illegal Jewish-only settlement south of the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, attacked and injured two girls, aged eight and 10, who were on their land in Burin, some 50 meters (164 feet) west of Brakha. Rafeef I., 10, told DCIP that she, her parents, 11-year-old brother, eight-year-old sister, and an adult cousin were planting olive trees on their land around 4 p.m. when a group of 30 Israeli settlers, some armed, descended towards them from the illegal Brakha settlement.
“We felt so scared when we saw them approaching us,” said Rafeef, who told DCIP that the settlers threw stones at the family from a distance of around 30 meters (98 feet). “We tried to escape and a stone hit my back so hard that I started screaming and crying, but I kept running back to the village. My eight-year-old sister Alanoud started crying and screaming and saying that she had been hit by a stone. She fell to the ground.”
The Israeli settlers fired live ammunition and tear gas canisters in their direction, and the family fled to their village by car. The settlers also injured Rafeef’s mother in the attack and destroyed the family’s olive trees. “We can't sleep normally because of what happened,” Rafeef told DCIP.
Despite being civilians, Israeli settlers are issued firearms by the Israeli government and many subscribe to ultra-nationalistic beliefs that manifest in extreme violence towards Palestinians, including children. Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians are motivated by the drive to dispossess Palestinians of their land, according to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din.
Palestinian toddler hospitalized after Israeli settler attack
Alaa S. told DCIP that his three-year-old son was hospitalized after Israeli settlers attacked his family while they drove from Ramallah to visit family in Tubas, a city in the northeastern West Bank, on January 21, 2021. As the car approached a junction near an Israeli checkpoint located close to the illegal Israeli settlement of Beit El, the family noticed a person in the road ahead signaling with a flashlight for the car to stop.
“We thought he was an Israeli police officer asking us to stop to make sure that we were wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Alaa. “My wife slowed down the car gradually until it came to a full stop and then within a few seconds, people started throwing stones at the car from all directions while talking to each other in Hebrew. We realized we had been ambushed by a group of settlers.”
The Israeli settlers broke the left rear window of the car, where three-year-old Jad S. sat beside his six-year-old brother, Majd. The terrified family drove to the junction where two Israeli police cars and a military vehicle were stationed, and Alaa reported the attack to the Israeli police officers and soldiers. Alaa noticed that Jad had sustained injuries to his face, and a police officer called an ambulance, which arrived approximately 20 minutes later.
A Palestinian ambulance also arrived at the scene and provided the family with first aid, before taking Alaa and the two children to the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah. Jad was discharged the following day at 12:30 p.m. On January 28, Alaa filed a complaint with Israeli police at the Beit El police station. He has yet to hear from the station regarding an outcome.
“The rest of us were not injured, but we were all traumatized,” said Alaa. “My sons had nightmares during the nights after the incident. They would wake up crying and screaming and saying stones were being thrown at them. They are scared to leave the house or get into the car. They are saying they do not want to go to Tubas, and they are refusing to sleep alone in their room.”
Impunity is rampant for Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians. According to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, 91 percent of investigations into ideological crimes against Palestinians are closed with no indictments filed.
Palestinian children share what it’s like to live in Jalazoun refugee camp near Beit El settlement.
Israeli settler assaults 13-year-old Palestinian boy walking home
Haitham A., 13, told DCIP that an Israeli settler attacked him on February 6, 2021, as he walked home with his parents around 8 p.m. in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron. The family had entered the area through an Israeli checkpoint at Jabal al-Rahma, near their home, when five Israeli settlers repairing a motorbike in the street noticed the family.
One of them, a 14-year-old boy, followed the family. Haitham’s mother noticed the settler following them and alerted her son.
“I turned around and saw the settler was so close. He hit me with his hand on my head, on the right ear, and he ran away into the settlement, but he was stopped by soldiers at the gate,” Haitham told DCIP. “My father followed him and asked him why he hit me. The soldiers called the police. My ear was all red.”
Israeli police forces took the family to Ja’bara police station near the illegal Israeli settlement of Givat HaAvot, where Haitham was taken to an interrogation room, shown videos of the incident, and asked to provide a statement.
In 1984, the illegal Israeli settlement of Tel Rumeida was established inside the Palestinian Tel Rumeida neighborhood in Hebron. Functionally closed by Israeli authorities to non-residents since 2015, Tel Rumeida is heavily militarized, and Palestinians face frequent Israeli settler and soldier violence.
About 200 meters (655 feet) from Tel Rumeida, Hebron’s city center, including the historic Old City, the old market, and the Ibrahimi Mosque, is under full Israeli military and civil control as part of a 1997 agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was approved by the Palestinian Authority. The city was split into two areas, H1, which is under nominal Palestinian Authority control, and H2, controlled by the Israeli military. About 34,000 Palestinians and 700 Israeli settlers live in the H2 area, and thousands of Israeli forces patrol the area, according to B'Tselem.
Palestinian children in Hebron describe how they move around the city, which is filled with military checkpoints and illegal Israeli settlements.
Israeli authorities consistently fail to investigate complaints filed against settlers. According to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, between 2005-2019, 82 percent of investigative files on ideological crimes against Palestinians were closed due to police failures.
It is rare for charges to be filed and even rarer for Israeli settlers to be convicted for violence or offenses against Palestinians. One recent exception was when an Israeli court found Israeli settler Amiram Ben-Uleil, 25, guilty of the racially motivated murder of a Palestinian toddler and his parents. In the early hours of July 31, 2015, Ben-Uleil and another masked man threw firebombs into the home of 18-month old Ali Dawabsheh, four-year-old Ahmad, and their parents, Saad and Riham, in the northern occupied West Bank village of Duma. Only Ahmad, who sustained burns to over 60 percent of his body, survived.
DCIP has documented 73 settler attacks on Palestinian children since January 2015.
Israel is obligated to protect Palestinian civilians under Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which applies to situations of armed conflict, including occupation. Despite this, Israeli soldiers deployed throughout the occupied West Bank rarely protect Palestinians from settler attacks and have even participated in some cases.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits Israel, the occupying power, from transferring its civilians to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It also prohibits Israel from transferring Palestinians, the protected population, unless necessary for the protected population’s security or out of military necessity. Violations of Article 49 are grave violations of international humanitarian law and amount to war crimes.
The United Nations Security Council reaffirmed the prohibition on establishing settlements in Resolutions 446, 452, 465, and most recently, 2334. Despite this prohibition, Israel began establishing settlements for Israeli civilians shortly after it occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 1967. Israeli authorities frequently displace Palestinian communities and appropriate Palestinian farmland to establish these Jewish-only settlements.