While most of the West Bank is experiencing a period of relative calm, one particularly beautiful, mountainous area in Samaria remains as volatile as ever: The Jewish settlement of Yitzhar is surrounded by six Palestinian villages– Burin, Orif, Asira al-Qibliya, Inabus, Madma and Hawara. Houses perched on hillsides and vast olive groves provide a deceptively peaceful setting in a place that is riddled with violence.
A discussion at the office of Orif Council head Fauzi Shehade centers on a recent incident in which a local was shot by a settler from Yitzhar. According to an IDF investigation, Najah al-Safadi, 22, was shot after Jewish teenagers yelled "armed Palestinian." They then tied him up and beat him. Al-Safadi was rescued by IDF soldiers who dispersed the teens.
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"This could have ended in a lynching had the soldiers not stepped in," said a senior officer with the Judea and Samaria Division. "An investigation into these teenagers has been launched, we have several testimonies and I believe we'll get to them."
Watch settlers and Palestinians clashing
In an effort to curb the growing violence in the area, Division commander Brigadier-General Hagai Mordechai decided to confiscate the weapons of Yitzhar's emergency squad, as well as the weapon of the Yitzhar resident who injured al-Safadi.
Asira al-Qibliya (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
Yitzhar spokesman Avraham Binyamin says, "Unfortunately the IDF is an army that preserves calm but does not defend Israel. In cases of (Palestinian) attempts to attack Yitzhar, there are those among us who are in charge of security.
"One must always keep in mind that in this equation there is only one murderous side," he argues.
Shehade, for his part, claims that Yitzhar's settlers "are the most extreme. It's clear to us that not all settlers cause problems."
'My faith is mightier than their weapons.' Shehade (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
"My faith is mightier than their weapons. I was born here 50 years ago. Yitzhar wasn't even founded yet," he says. "Where they live there is a site that is holy to me (tomb of Sheikh Salman el-Farsi). They (settlers) can visit Joseph's Tomb in Nablus whenever they want, but I can't visit the sheikh's tomb."
Binyamin says the settlers accept the current situation as an ongoing war which exacts a heavy price. "More important than this or that incident is the question of how things will look here - from a national perspective - 20 years down the road. The State of Israel is consistently dodging this existential question – is its main to act for the benefit of the Jewish nation or isn't it?
Yitzhar on fire
"We realize that the Arabs are not confused when it comes to their identity and goal," Yitzhar's spokesman says. "The Hamas supporter from Nablus and many Arab Israelis – those with the jeans and iPhone – share a common goal: To delegitimize the Jewish nation. People who come to settle the Land of Israel understand this war."
Asira al-Qibliya resident Ibrahim Mahluf's home is located just a few hundred meters from Yitzhar. "The Palestinians bear no responsibility for anything that happens here. All we do is walk 50 meters to cultivate our lands," he says
But according to Binyamin, the Palestinians want to "burn Yitzhar." He claims they have tried to set fire to fields owned by settlers on four consecutive weekends. "The West Bank is burning, but some refuse to see the flames."
Raising flag near Burin (Photo: AFP)
Shehade said he has seen a change in the settler's behavior since human rights groups such as B'Tselem have increased their efforts to document the confrontations. "The foreign activists and the cameras are Palestinian weapons, because when a Palestinian is accompanied by an activist with a camera, the settlers can't do what they would regularly do," he says.
Mahluf says the settlers' are "aware of the video camera's power," adding that "lately the settlers have been attacking us only while they are masked, because they are afraid of being identified."
Burnt land near Yitzhar (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
According to Binyamin, most of the recent violence has been instigated by Israeli leftists" "What's better than coming in from Tel Aviv on a boring weekend?"
Shehade says the majority of Palestinians are not interested in a truce with the settlers "as long as they occupy our lands." However, the Orif Council head stressed that he is against violence. "No terror attack has ever emanated from our village," he says.
However, Mahluf's approach is more militant: "I am not a proponent of the non-violent struggle. They (settlers) come down (to attack us) and we should greet them with flowers? During the intifada, the settlers were afraid to walk around here freely. As soon as it ended, they resumed their attacks."
Binyamin says "no one goes to the Palestinian villages for no reason. When the IDF's hands are tied because of the political echelon's policy in the face of Arab terror, a vacuum is created in which there is no sovereign and no security."
Itamar Fleishman contributed to the report
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