Skip to main content

West Bank village between settlers and shooting attacks

The northern West Bank has seen a spate of attacks on Israelis as well as attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinian communities
— Orif (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

A group of Palestinian children helped sweep up rubble Thursday as their village in the occupied West Bank reeled from a near two-hour rampage carried out by Jewish settlers in revenge for a deadly shooting by two villagers.

Orif was thrown into the spotlight of rising violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after Muhanad Shehadeh, 26, and his friend Khaled Sabah, 24, attacked a petrol station outside a nearby Jewish settlement on Tuesday, killing four Israelis and seriously wounding four more.

One of the gunmen was killed by a passerby moments after the shooting, while the other was shot dead by Israeli forces not long afterwards.

Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said the two men were members and carried out the attack in revenge for an Israeli raid on Jenin refugee camp on Monday that killed six Palestinians.

On Wednesday night, hundreds of Israelis from a nearby settlement entered Orif, throwing stones and setting fire to buildings and trees.

A similar attack earlier that day on the village of Turmus Ayya resulted in the death of a Palestinian, shot in ensuing clashes with Israeli forces.

"They came from the top of the village", said local businessman Essam Safadi, 46.

"The army stood and did nothing," he told AFP as he reviewed footage of the near two-hour rampage from dozens of security cameras placed around his house.

In a statement to AFP, the army said that troops had "acted to diffuse the incident" in Orif with "riot dispersal means,".

- 'Pressure generates explosion' -

The deadly shooting sparked reprisal attacks in multiple Palestinian towns

On the hill above the village sits the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, where Palestinians say Wednesday night's rioters came from.

In the footage, reviewed by AFP, dozens of masked settlers can be seen setting fire to a school and trees, and throwing stones at homes in the village.

A German official confirmed to AFP that a school funded by Berlin in the village was damaged.

The crowd was soon confronted by a smaller group of villagers, who threw rocks and fireworks.

A timestamp on the video shows the attack started shortly after 8:00 pm (1700 GMT).

At 8:30 pm, the footage captures two men taking a dog into a mosque at the top of the village and exiting with several copies of the Koran which they proceeded to tear up and throw to the ground.

The army told AFP that a report of "Israeli citizens and a dog vandalising property from a mosque" had been "transferred to the responsibility of Israel police".

Orif lies in the vast swathe of the West Bank where Israel retained responsibility for security under the Oslo accords of the 1990s and the Palestinian Authority holds little sway.

A Palestinian security official told AFP that they had informed the Israeli army such an attack was likely to happen.

In Orif, villagers have rallied around the families of the two shooters. They say the deadly attack was the natural outcome of young lives spent entirely under occupaiton.

"We knew the news through the news bulletin," Khaled Sabah's uncle Qaid Sabah told AFP, as he recalled finding out what his nephew had done.

He said his nephew had had frequent run-ins with the settlers over the year.

Four years ago, Khaled was left with permanent damage to his foot following "confrontations" with settlers, the uncle said.

A man prepares to leave his home taking a few suitcases with him after it was set on fire by Israelis in Turmus Ayya, in the occupied West Bank

"In the end, this pressure generates the explosion. And you (Israel) are primarily responsible for this situation," he said.

The shooter's father Faleh Sabah, 65, will likely soon lose his home. The army entered the village to take measurements of the building on Wednesday -- a precursor to its demolition.

Israel routinely demolishes the homes of Palestinians it accuses of deadly attacks on Israelis, arguing that such measures act as a deterrent.

Human rights activists say the policy amounts to collective punishment, as it can render non-combatants, including children, homeless.