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Violent Israeli settlers taking advantage of coronavirus crisis to assault Palestinians.

A worrying rise in violence might correlate with Israel closing down educational institutions — and if there are no legal consequences, observers fear it will only get worse

On March 24, in the West Bank, Naji Tantara was hospitalized with a skull fracture after being attacked with an ax. Arua Nasan was hit in the face with a hammer and beaten by youths with iron rods. Eight settlers surrounded Ali Zoabi while he was lying on the ground, and kicked him repeatedly.

Israeli security forces and human rights organizations have recorded a rise in attacks on Palestinians by Jews in the West Bank in the past few weeks. Sources in both attribute it to the Israeli government closing down educational institutions because of the coronavirus epidemic.

Violent incidents.

According to data provided to Haaretz by a defense official, 16 physical confrontations were recorded in March between settlers and Palestinians, compared to only nine in February and five in January. Human rights organizations operating in the area corroborate the trend: Out of the 51 cases of violence, vandalism, theft and threats recorded by monitor B’Tselem since the beginning of 2020, 21 took place in March alone.

Ax, hammer and iron rods

Arua Nasan, showing injuries he suffered on March 24, 2020, after a confrontation with Jewish settlers near the Ein Samia spring in the West Bank.
Courtesy of Arua Nasan

On March 24, in the early afternoon, a settler and his herd of cows arrived at the olive orchard of the village of Umm Safa north of Ramallah. Residents of the village who spoke with Haaretz said the settler is known to them, has lived in the nearby agricultural outpost for the past two years and occasionally tries to prevent village residents from walking around the area.

Said Tantara, a resident of the village, says that when the cattle arrived at the orchard, a few youths threw rocks at the herd in an attempt to drive them off. Naji Tantara, Said’s cousin and the deputy head of the village council, said he came down to the site to speak with the settler and ask him to distance his cows from the orchard.

Several minutes later, say Naji and Said, four more settlers showed up – two of them with rifles, one with an ax and another with a wooden club. Naji said he felt blows on his head and back and lost his consciousness. A short while later soldiers arrived and the assailants fled, they say. Naji was brought to hospital in Ramallah where he underwent surgery for a skull fracture.

“I spent five days in hospital and left the moment I could, fearing I’d contract corona,” Naji, 45, says. “I still lose my balance every time I try to get up, and feel dizzy. Ordinarily I’d have stayed in the hospital longer – but this is not an ordinary situation.”

Two days later, says Said, policemen came to the village, after having received a report of the incident. But nothing had been heard of the police since then.

Arua Nasan, of the village of Al-Mo’eir north of Ramallah, says that he and his cousin were on their way to pick akub (known as dwarf chicory in English, or Gundelia tournefortii in Latin, it is a wild plant popular in Palestinian dishes) at the Ein Samia spring, which is frequented by both settlers and Palestinians in the region.

The Ein Samia spring in the West Bank

“We were on the main road when we saw three settlers on donkeys heading our way,” he said. “At first we didn’t even see they were settlers. They were 16-17 years old, practically children, and when they came close to us they asked what we were doing here and said we’re not allowed to come here.”

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