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“The Settlers Can Do Whatever They Want With Us”
“The Settlers Can Do Whatever They Want With Us”
An employee of the Palestinian Authority testifies to a brutal attack at the hands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
Mohammad Matar

Since Hamas’s attacks and Israel’s declaration of war on October 7th, the already-brutal settler violence against Palestinians living in the West Bank has escalated significantly. The Israeli army and police already often allowed settler violence to proceed unchecked; now, as the groups increasingly collude outright—with, for example, Israel’s far-right government explicitly arming settlers—any pretense of Israel trying to defend Palestinians from such attacks has all but vanished. “Since the war started, if you call the police or army to report a settler attack, they mostly don’t respond,” a resident of the South Hebron Hills explained to Jewish Currents last week. “We used to film [settler violence]; now, if they see you doing that, they will shoot you. The settlers and soldiers shoot at people on the highway and injure people in the villages. No one is safe.”

In the past two-and-a-half weeks, eight entire Palestinian communities have been forced to abandon their homes, as settlers and the army attack residents and scramble to grab the land. One such community is the Bedouin village of Wadi al-Siq. In February, the settler activist Neriya Ben Pazi founded a nearby outpost—part of a network of outposts he has been building since 2019, which has provided the infrastructure for expelling Palestinian shepherds from hundreds of acres of land. In an attempt to stave off this fate in Wadi al-Siq—and to protect its residents—Mohammad Matar, known as Abu Hassan, an employee of the Palestinian Authority’s Ramallah-based Commission to Resist the Wall and Settlements, has been coordinating Israeli and Palestinian volunteers to support the community. On October 12th, following an attack on the village the previous evening, settlers rounded up Abu Hassan along with two other Palestinians, beating them for hours and subjecting them to abuse that Abu Hassan compared to American soldiers’ torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, as described in an article published in Haaretz. Below is an affidavit Abu Hassan gave to the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq. Encountering Abu Hassan at length in his own words testifies to the collaborations between the army, civil administrators, and settlers in exacting violence on Palestinian residents and solidarity volunteers, and makes vivid the bewildering terror of facing settlers wearing army uniforms to conduct their attacks. This affidavit has been edited for length and clarity.

I am a married father of five children between two and twelve years of age, and I work at the Commission to Resist the Wall and Settlements. Along with Israeli and international solidarity activists, I was present in the Bedouin community of Wadi al-Siq to protect against settlers from a nearby outpost called Neriya Ben Pazi’s Farm, who have repeatedly attacked residents of the community, their property, and their sheep. We were there because the settlers had posted on their Facebook page that on Wednesday, October 11th, they would “liberate the Wadi al-Siq area from the Palestinians.”

At dawn on Thursday, the 12th, armed settlers stormed the gathering under cover of darkness and entered the houses of the community, terrorizing the residents for more than three hours. After the settlers left, we discovered that they had stolen a solar energy system and eight solar batteries, in addition to a bag containing personal documents, photos, and a gold bracelet. In the morning, all 28 families of Wadi al-Siq—about 200 people—abandoned their tents and barracks, for fear of more settler attacks. They took with them their furniture, documents, and sheep, which they distributed among relatives in several Bedouin communities. We stayed with Israeli solidarity volunteers to make sure people were able to leave.

The settlers were present at the entrance to the community, which branches off from Allon Road, and they beat the residents as they fled. The Israeli solidarity activists left to document these attacks. Two hours later, once most of the residents had left, we hadn’t heard from the Israeli solidarity activists, and we decided to return to Ramallah. But when we arrived at the entrance to the village, we saw three cars. The Israeli solidarity activists were in the car closest to us; they were shouting at us to escape and trying to hinder the progress of the two cars behind them, which turned out to be settlers advancing toward us to attack.

I reversed the car and headed back to the village where there were still some women and children collecting their belongings. The settlers followed: Ten to twelve of them got out of two cars, some of whom were riding in the open trunks. They were armed with M16 rifles, some of them were masked and some had machetes. They were in army uniforms, but I am sure that they are settlers because they came in the settlers’ cars and some of them are known to us as people from settlement outposts in the area.

The settlers pointed their guns at us and ordered me and my colleague to lie down on our faces. They began kicking us. They kicked me hard at least ten times on my waist and head, and shouted in Arabic, “Take everything out of your pockets.” I had about 2,000 shekels and my colleague had 600 shekels. They took the money and said, “We will kill you. We will not leave any Arabs here and we will deport the rest of the Arabs to Jordan.”

A masked settler told me to unlock my mobile phone. I refused, and he hit my arms and my shoulders with the barrel of his gun. I told him to give me back the phone, which unlocks when it recognizes my iris; but because of the dust and sweat on my face, the phone would not open. So the settler struck me with the butt of his rifle on my head, and blood flowed into my eyes and over my face. I unlocked the phone using a password, and the settler took the phone and walked away while I lay on my face on the ground, as the rest of the settlers took turns occasionally beating me and my colleague. Whenever I raised my head to try to wipe the blood from my face, the settlers stepped on my head and covered my face with dirt.

I heard a settler scream in Hebrew, “He has a knife.” I was afraid that the settlers would kill me and claim I was trying to carry out a stabbing attack. I responded in Hebrew: “All I have is a vegetable knife and kitchen items,” as we had collected the belongings in our tent—chairs, sleeping bags, kitchen equipment, and cooking gas—so that we could leave with the community. These items were in a closed box in a bag in the trunk of the car I was driving. Still, he told me, “No, this is a knife you want to stab us with,” and started beating me and my colleague all over our bodies with a large stick.