Palestinian villages form 'popular protection committees' after escalation in Israeli settler violence

Palestinian villages form 'popular protection committees' after escalation in Israeli settler violence
"Settlers are armed, unlike [Palestinian] inhabitants, and at each attack, we fear that someone will die. But we can’t wait for settlers to come and kill us, and only we can protect our own homes," said a Palestinian mayor.
5 min read
West Bank
31 January, 2023
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank villages have been increasingly targeted by Israeli settlers' attacks in recent years. [Qassam Muaddi/TNA]

Palestinian activists and local leaders affirmed on Monday that they have begun to form popular protection committees in the occupied West Bank villages to counter attacks by Israeli settlers.

On Sunday, hundreds of Israeli settlers launched over 144 attacks on Palestinian property across various occupied West Bank villages, especially in the south Nablus and north Ramallah regions.

Following the attacks, Palestinian factions called upon Palestinians to form local protection committees in the West Bank.

"Settler attacks have increased in frequency and violence since last year," Ghassan Daghlas, Palestinian civil activist against settlement expansion in the northern west Bank, told The New Arab.

"The rise of extremist religious right-wing to power in [Israel] has empowered settlers to increase their aggression," Daghlas said.

"Lately, extremist, settler Israeli politicians have incited settlers to use violence and these attacks are the result," he noted. "This is why we feel the need to organise a civil, popular protection effort, to protect people and property."

On Saturday, Israeli security minister Itamr Ben Gvir, a notoriously fanatical right-wing leader, called on Israelis to increase carrying weapons.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh responded on Monday by calling upon world governments to condemn Ben Gvir's call, calling them "racist declarations and an aggression on all human and civilised values".

"Saturday's attack on our village was one of the most violent in months," Salah Bani Jaber, mayor of Aqraba, located southeast of Nablus, said to TNA.

"Some 50 settlers attacked the village's farmlands, then around 50 more followed, and they reached the village's houses," said the mayor. "They destroyed more than 100 olive trees and burned seven cars."

"At the same time, the settlers tried to establish a settler outpost on Aqraba's lands, but inhabitants confronted them and pushed them off," the mayor added. "The occupation army intervened during the confrontations and fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at the inhabitants."

"I had just come back from work when settlers started to attack olive trees, destroying them by the dozens," a 32-year-old villager, who asked not to be named, said to TNA.

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"I rushed with others to push the settlers off, and then the occupation army began to shoot tear gas and rubber bullets at us, but there were no serious injuries," the villager said. "We managed to prevent the settlers from installing an outpost, but they burned seven cars, including mine." 

"The entire community agrees on the necessity to form a protection committee, and all men will volunteer in turns to guard the village at night," he added. "We hope that all men will volunteer, because the more volunteers we are, the easier and shorter the shifts will be, and we will be able to keep the guard up without interrupting our daily work and duties." 

Self-protection committees had been formed in several West Bank villages in recent years, especially after Israeli settlers attacked the southern-Nablus village of Duma in 2015, setting fire to a Palestinian home and killing all members of the Dawabsheh, including both parents and their 1-year-old baby, except the surviving 4-year-old child.

"This time it's different. Settler attacks have spread all over the West Bank and because there is explicit political support from the Israeli government," said Ghassan Daghlas.

"The organising of these committees will be left to local communities, based on volunteers, but efforts and support being coordinated with the participation of civil society organisations," he added.

"In our village, we began efforts to organise a self-protection committee with the participation of all community associations and inhabitants, "Raed Haj Mohammad, mayor of Jaloud, south of Nablus, told TNA. Jaloud was targeted by a settler attack on Sunday that left two cars burned and several houses damaged.

"The threat of settler attacks in Jaloud is present at all times, and it's not limited to property, but it's also a threat to people's lives," Jaloud's mayor. "Volunteers will guard the village's entrances at night and inform of any attack by the settlers so that inhabitants can gather and prevent extensive damage."

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"Settlers are armed, unlike [Palestinian] inhabitants, and at each attack, we fear that will someone die," remarked the mayor. "But we can't wait for settlers to come and kill us, and only we can protect our own homes."

The recent escalation of Israeli settler violence occurred days after the Israeli army killed nine Palestinians in a military raid in Jenin.

Protests across the West Bank had broken out throughout the weekend against the massacre in Jenin on Thursday. One 26-year-old Palestinian protester was killed in Al-Ram, north of Jerusalem by Israeli forces.

On Monday, the US secretary of state Anthony Bliken arrived in Jerusalem on a visit to the country, where he said that "it is the responsibility of everyone to take steps to calm tensions, rather than to inflame them".

Blinken is scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday.