Nablus village at the center of settler violence

12:00 Feb 16 2012 Asira al-Qibliya (Asira Qeblia)

By Charlie Hoyle for Maan News Agency

ASIRA AL-QIBLIYA (Ma'an) -- A drive along the northern section of route 60 paints a telling picture of the physical geography of settlements and settler violence in the West Bank.

Winding through picturesque Nablus countryside, the main north-south highway acts as a boundary between Israeli settlements on one side and Palestinian villages on the other.

Overlooked by these illegal hilltop residences, local Palestinians are all too familiar with the disadvantages of the neighborly proximity, especially given that the Nablus district experienced the majority of settler violence in 2011.

"Generally speaking, no week passes without an attack," the mayor of Nablus village Asira al-Qibliya says.

Located just off route 60, this village of around 3,000 residents is left to fend for itself in a political power vacuum so common in the West Bank.

"The Palestinian Authority can’t do anything for us as they need security clearance," Mayor Ahmed Abdel Hadi says. Such clearance, if approved, could take over 5 hours, he adds.

Asira al-Qibliya lies in Area B, designated in the Oslo Accords as being under Israeli security control and PA administrative rule. The nearest settlement to Asira al-Qibliya is Yitzhar, which, like most others, is located in Area C, under full Israeli administrative and security control.

Over 90 percent of villages attacked by settlers are under Israeli security control, a Washington based think tank said recently. One such victim of settler violence is father of six Ibrahim Makhlouf.

"Since 2001 the attacks are more frequent and they are more organized," Makhlouf , 50, says.

"They all wear the same uniform and there is usually a leader giving orders."

A teacher in the village, Ibrahim’s house is some 60 meters from buildings belonging to the settlement of Yitzhar.

On Dec. 12, over 200 settlers entered the village and threw rocks at homes, smashing windows and damaging cars.

"I woke to the sound of rocks being thrown, and went up onto my roof. The children started to scream so we locked ourselves in our house," Makhlouf says.

Such attacks on the village are commonplace and have tripled over the past five years, the Palestine Center says. In 2011, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that settler attacks had increased by 50 percent on the previous year.

Outside of the PA’s limited control, villagers have to fend for themselves against ever more frequent attacks.

"They attack us to make us leave. But if I leave they will take my house, so where should I go?"

Makhlouf says the army sometimes arrives during attacks but fires tear gas at the villagers.

Living no more than a hundred meters from the village, settlers can enter at will, knowing that if a situation escalates the Israeli army will intervene.

The mayor is convinced that settlers would not attack if they didn’t have the protection of the army.

Yet more and more villagers are coming back from Nablus and Ramallah to protect their land, Abdel Hadi says, and even villagers working in Israel are coming back more regularly because of the attacks.

Local level organization against settler attacks can serve as a deterrent if villagers numerically outnumber settlers.

Yet the disparity in the means of violence, and protection, between villagers and settlers is so great that the pattern of low intensity violence will continue indefinitely without any political settlement.

"Most mainstream people in society want to live peacefully," the village mayor says.

“But when I see a settler, I see Netanyahu standing there, saying: I don’t want peace.”
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