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Palestinian West Bank villages face attacks by settlers

Burqa has turned into a confrontation point in the West Bank, in light of fierce attacks by hundreds of settlers, amid fears of rebuilding the Homesh settlement, at a time when the Israeli government launched a huge settlement scheme in the Syrian Golan Heights.
Israeli soldiers scuffle with Palestinians in the village of Burqa, northwest of the city of Nablus, following a weekly demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel, West Bank, Dec. 13, 2019.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Burqa, a Palestinian village in the northern West Bank, has been in a state of extreme alert, due to the repeated attacks by hundreds of settlers on its residents, since the Israeli army announced Dec. 16 that a settler was killed and two others were wounded at the entrance to the evacuated Homesh settlement, located close to the village.

Since then, Burqa, as well as other villages including Sebastia and Silat ad-Dhahr, have witnessed a series of attacks and incursions by settlers, protected by the army, which the Palestinians met with marches and almost daily confrontations, resulting in dozens wounded after live and rubber bullets were fired. The residents of Burqa, which stretches over 1,000 dunams (247 acres) and is home to about 4,500 people, fear that the settlers will return to rebuild the Homesh settlement. The latter was set up over 900 dunams (222 acres) that were confiscated from the village’s lands, and another 50 dunams (12 acres) belonging to the nearby Silat ad-Dhahr village town. The settlement was evacuated by the Israeli authorities in 2005. Shavei Shomron still stands on its land to the south. 

Burqa has turned into the center for the confrontation with settlers in the West Bank, with young men from the various surrounding villages and towns heading to the village often to counter the incursions of settlers and the army. Ghassan Daghlas, an official who monitors settlement activity in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor, “Since a settler was killed, thousands of settlers tried to launch three large-scale attacks on the village, but the residents countered them. The village was a scene for confrontations with the settlers and the army until the early morning hours [of Dec. 19].”

He said that the 11 young men were wounded after live bullets were fired in the confrontations with the settlers. One of them has serious injuries, and more than 70 people were wounded by live bullets. He noted that the residents are in a state of alert, and the Israeli army deliberately intensified the use of tear gas in every attack.

Daghlas added that the settlers intend to commit a massacre in the village through their repeated and large-scale attacks and by targeting the residents’ houses. He explained that the settlers targeted 27 houses in the past few days, throwing stones and seeking to sabotage and destroy houses. He said that the residents countered the settlers’ attempts to prevent them from returning to the Homesh settlement, which is built on the village’s lands.

In 2005, Israel evacuated Homesh as part of its plan of unilateral disengagement, according to which all the Gaza Strip settlements and four small settlements in the West Bank were evacuated. Yet the settlers frequently enter the settlement in an effort to establish some mobile homes. Although evacuated, the Israeli army turned the settlement into a military zone, preventing the Palestinian owners from restoring their lands.

Daghlas said that the residents will not allow the rebuilding of the settlement because that would pose a threat to their lives, and that on Dec. 27 the army closed 17 entrances to the village with earth mounds, but the residents were able to reopen it on two occasions.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered Dec. 29 the National Security Forces to install window grilles in Burqa on Jan. 1, 2022, in a bid to protect children and women from the settlers’ repeated attacks, the latest of which was when a settler ran over and killed a 60-year-old Palestinian woman near Ramallah Dec. 24.

In parallel with the mounting attacks by the settlers in the West Bank, the Israeli government launched Dec. 26 a plan to promote settlements in the Syrian Golan Heights, worth 1 billion Israeli shekels ($323 million). 

Under the plan, which was published on the prime minister’s website, 576 million shekels ($186.3 million) are allocated to build 7,300 new housing units in five years, in addition to 160 million shekels ($51.75 million) to improve the infrastructure and develop the health and education systems in the Golan Heights. This is added to 162 million shekels ($52.4 million) for the tourism sector and industrial and commercial centers.

The plan seeks to have an additional 23,000 settlers move to the Golan Heights, to build two new settlements there — named Asif and Matar — and to develop the transportation infrastructure. This is in addition to the development of education, tourism, technology and other security-related projects. Israel also plans to create nearly 2,000 job opportunities, in a bid to turn the area into a capital of renewable energy for Israel.

The director of the Economic and Social Rights Program at the Arab Observatory for Human Rights in the Golan Heights, Wael Tarabay, told Al-Monitor that this project was announced on the 40th anniversary of the Israeli Knesset’s decision to annex the Golan Heights. He said what encouraged Israel the most to launch this project is the tragedy that befell Syria. The Israeli leaders say that the Golan Heights will remain with them forever, despite United Nations Security Council Resolution 497, which considers Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights null and illegal, according to him.

He added that all parties in the Israeli government without exception are in favor of the annexation of the Golan Heights and of speeding up settlements building to impose a fait accompli.  

Commenting on the impact of the settlement plan on the residents, Tarabay noted, “There is no resistance because there are no indigenous people on the ground, which facilitates [building new] settlements.” He said that the reactions to the plan are very weak, due to a deep sense of helplessness.

He explained that the project involves bringing thousands of settlers to the Golan Heights, which means turning the remaining indigenous population in the Golan Heights, which amounts to 25,000 people, into a small minority. It also includes turning the Golan Heights into a capital for the development of renewable energy in Israel, while the residents of the Golan Heights oppose the wind turbines plan that would jeopardize the area’s nature and identity.