Settler Attacks Countered by New Refusing to Die in Silence Group
On Tuesday afternoon (20 September), Israeli settlers from the settlement of Yitzhar arrived at the Palestinian village of Affira Al-Khaeliya outside of Nablus and, after a brief demonstration, stormed the village, assaulting its inhabitants and damaging property.
Israeli soldiers eventually arrived, only to protect the heavily armed settlers from the local unarmed Palestinians, who attempted to defend their village with the stones at hand. In the ensuing conflict between soldiers and Palestinians, one 13 year old boy was hit in the back by a close-range high-velocity tear gas canister, and at least three people were injured by rubber bullets.
Thom, an international activist from Britain, arrived on the scene at 3 pm with ‘Refusing to Die in Silence‘, a solidarity group formed on Sunday by popular resistance committees in the West Bank. When he arrived at Affira Al-Khaeliya, “the soldiers were standing in between the settlers and the villagers, protecting the settlers as they went back to their settlement. As we tried to confront the soldiers and ask them what they were doing, they threw many sound grenades at us and started firing tear gas and later, rubber-coated steel bullets. They fired a tear gas canister straight at a boy who was 13 years old, hitting him in his back before he fell to the ground. At the time it looked like he had been paralyzed, I don’t think he was, but he couldn’t move and had to be carried to an ambulance. When the owner of a nearby house tried to walk to her house, they threw a tear gas canister at her feet. She is 80 years old. She was taken to an ambulance as well, but she is ok…once the settlers had returned to the settlement, the soldiers started to move back and fire less tear gas, and the conflict slowly dissipated.”
‘Refusing to Die in Silence’ was launched on Monday (19 September) in the Ramallah-area village of Nabi Saleh. The group uses a coordinated system of cars and video cameras to monitor, respond to and intervene in settler attacks occurring this September across the West Bank. Speaking of the need for the group this September, Bil’in resident Mohammed Khatib of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee noted on the committee’s website that “If anyone needed further proof that Palestinians cannot count on Israeli authorities to prevent settler violence, recent events show beyond doubt why we need to organize to defend ourselves. This is exactly what these volunteers will do in a civic and peaceful manner”.
“The idea” behind the group, explains Thom, “is that we get a call from the villages experiencing settler attacks, and we immediately get in the car. There are two Palestinians in the car and two internationals and two cameras, one video recording camera and one photo still camera. We go straight to the village where it’s happening and document the settler violence and, if feasible, if there are no soldiers and it appears the settlers are attempting to escalate violence, then as internationals we get out and try to deter the violence.”
Refusing to Die in Silence represents a concerted attempt to unify the efforts of popular committees from villages all across the West Bank, in face of an almost certain increase in settler violence as the UN bid for statehood commences this week. The best way to respond to settler violence, which strikes unexpectedly and disappears as soon as the damage has been done, is to respond quickly and to protect Palestinians. Thom notes that “the idea came from the lack of media as settler violence is actually taking place. There are numerous reports of settler violence, you can find alot of media covering violence after it happens,but there seems to be little or no media trying to cover the violence as it is occurring. So [‘Refusing to Die in Silence’] came to try and fill this gap.”
Internationals play a crucial role in the organization, not merely as observers watching the conflict from afar, but as actors standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people. “We use the international solidarity here in Palestine,” says Thom, “to try and deter the violence and stop settlers from entering the villages.”
The settlers entered Affira on Tuesday in response to the anticipated UN vote, as part of a new initiative to ‘show Palestinians whose land it is’. They also attempted to show this to Palestinians later on in the day, outside the nearby village of Awarta when, at about 5:30, settlers could be seen, in Thom’s words, “on the fields of Awarta playing music and waving Israeli flags and singing and celebrating.” This region has seen much violence and harassment recently- last week, in the village of Burin, next to Affira Al-Khaeliya, settlers burnt two hundred and twenty olive trees belonging to Palestinian farmers.