Terrorizing Huwara: A Town Under Attack
Terrorizing Huwara: A Town Under Attack
Since the formation of the current extremist Israeli government, the occupation authorities have persistently increased their aggression against the land and people of Palestine, perpetrating severe violations that constitute blatant breaches of international law, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, including apartheid. These include enacting discriminatory laws and indiscriminate announcements to expand and construct more illegal colonial settlements in occupied Palestine. In almost two months in 2023, amidst continuous military raids of our cities, towns, and villages, the occupying Power has killed 67 Palestinians1, detained at least a thousand, demolished 58 homes2, and its settlers committed over 330 terror attack incidents.3
The following brief outlines the series of terror attacks and violations that occurred following the killing of two Israeli settlers on the main Huwara road on 26 February 2023, perpetrated by Israeli occupation forces (IOF) and settlers. These actions cannot be considered "retaliatory," as some may suggest. Rather, they are part of a systematic policy employed by the occupying Power and its settlers to instill fear and harm the Palestinian population, who have endured its colonial occupation for 56 years.
I. Palestinians Speak Up
In the town of Huwara, Palestinians experienced a harrowing nightmare on 26 February 2023 as hundreds of Israeli settlers attacked them while being protected by the Israeli army. The following are first-hand accounts from residents of Huwara, who shared their experiences of the violence and destruction inflicted upon them by these settlers. Testimonies like these are powerful reminders of the Palestinian people's ongoing struggles under Israel's prolonged occupation and the urgent need for international protection and action.
1. Ziad Dmeiri (48 years old), Barber, Huwara
Ziad shared a heart-wrenching testimony about the recent attack on his home, which was the fourth such incident. "Around 6:00 pm, approximately 100 settlers descended upon our home, throwing stones and smashing windows," he recounted. "They tried to break down our door and remove the metal protectors from the windows. And then, to our shock, an unknown device was thrown into our living room, and our entire room and furniture were engulfed in flames." As if this wasn't enough, the attackers also set fire to tires in front of the house, which caused the destruction and burning of the electricity wires. Ziad and his family were forced to take refuge in the bedroom, where they huddled together in fear. "I did my best to calm my wife and four children down, but the situation was highly stressful," he recalled. After two and a half hours, the settlers finally left, leaving behind a scene of utter devastation. The house was uninhabitable, and the family was forced to seek refuge elsewhere. "My wife and children are with relatives while I'm staying with a friend," he added. The attack was nothing short of horrific, and the resident likened it to a nightmare. "This is the devastating impact of settler violence on us Palestinians," Ziad concluded, emphasizing the urgent need for measures to be taken to protect their homes and livelihoods.
2. Yousef Marhaj (43 years old), Owner of a Freight Truck, Huwara
"In a devastating attack on our home and livelihoods, 200 settlers descended upon us at around 6:30 pm. They pelted our windows with stones and set fire to tires at our front door with the intention of burning our homes to the ground. My family, including my father and brothers, retreated to the roof while our wives and children huddled together in fear. From the roof, we hurled bricks at the settlers attempting to break down our door, only to be met with tear gas canisters fired by the Israeli soldiers protecting the settlers. The settlers eventually moved on to the street where we had parked our freight truck and two private cars, setting them all ablaze along with our neighbor's home and car. The psychological impact of this terror attack has been enormous. My children were traumatized, crying and screaming throughout the ordeal. My four-and-a-half-year-old son now needs psychiatric help as he is afraid to leave the house, convinced that the settlers will kill us if we do. Not only have we lost our sense of security and peace, but I have also lost my sole source of income due to the destruction of my freight truck. I am now unable to work and unable to feed my family. To make matters worse, I still owe 80,000 NIS for the cost of the truck. The devastation caused by the settlers' violence cannot be overstated."
3. Ammar Dmeidi (37 years old), Jewelry Store Owner, Huwara
"When the settlers attacked Huwara, my world crumbled. I was in Nablus city when my 9-year-old son called me, screaming and crying. I couldn't understand what was happening until my wife answered, crying and telling me that our house was on fire and settlers would kill us. I rushed back as fast as possible, but the roads were closed, and I had to take detours to reach Huwara. When I finally arrived, the soldiers stopped me and pointed their guns at me, preventing me from accessing my house. Despite explaining that settlers had attacked my family, the soldier accused me of planning a terror attack. I called my wife, and my kids appeared screaming in the video, but the soldier refused to let me pass. In desperation, I left my disabled father in the car and walked towards my home. The soldiers fired sonic grenades at me, but I didn't care. My family's lives were at stake, and nothing else mattered. When I finally reached my house, I found the settlers in the yard, looting and burning everything in sight. After I hurled stones at them, they fled. But the damage was already done. They burned down the house where our family gathered every day, a place that was the center of our lives4. Before setting it all ablaze, they stole everything they could get their hands on, including TVs and phones. I checked on my children and wife, and then I went to check on my mother and grandmother that live next door. When I returned, I was stunned to see around 250 settlers, protected by two Israeli military vehicles, stoning our windows again. I had nothing to defend myself with but I had to fight back. I was throwing back the stones they threw at us, praying we would make it out alive."
II. Summary of Israeli Settlers' Terror Attacks, supported by the occupation forces (IOF), against Huwara and nearby Palestinian villages on 26 February 2023
- One Palestinian Killed: settlers attacked the homes of the Al-Aqtash family in the Za'atara area at 19:40, resulting in the killing of Sameh Aqtash (37 years old), who was shot in the chest. Medical professionals declared him dead at a later time.
- Closure of Roads: instilling fear in Palestinians, settlers took over the main Huwara road and nearby other Palestinian villages. Also, the occupation authorities completely closed the road at the roundabout of the village of Deir Sharaf, towards the city of Jenin, and the entrance to Beita town with earth mounds. Palestinian vehicles were stopped and checked at the Za'atara military checkpoint, causing a suffocating traffic jam.
- Destruction of Homes, Cars, and other Properties5: In Huwara alone, the settlers' brutality and ruthlessness resulted in the partial burning of 14 homes (including two houses under construction), the burning of at least 45 cars (including 28 licensed cars), and the smashing of 16 homes and 40 licensed cars. Additionally, four commercial shops and eight junkyards containing at least 1,200 cars were partially burned.
- Injuries6: The Ministry of Health reported that over 400 Palestinians were wounded, of which 102 were injured by live ammunition and were transferred to private and governmental hospitals. By midnight, the Red Crescent had provided first aid to 392 cases in the field, with the majority located in Za'atara and Huwara:
- Za'atara: Israeli settlers fired live ammunition at two Palestinians. There were another 20 cases of tear gas suffocation.
- Huwara: Three Palestinians were taken to hospitals after they were stabbed with hard metal tools and rocks. There were also five cases of falling injuries, three cases of physical attacks, and 342 cases of tear gas suffocation, of which 35 were transferred to the Ibn Sina Emergency Center. During the violence, medical teams transported a woman in labor. One case in Huwara involved the Israeli army preventing an ambulance from reaching the patient's home. The medical crew had to walk 300 meters to the house, risking their lives.
- Beit Furik: there were 10 cases of tear gas suffocation.
- Burin: a person with physical assault injuries was transferred to Rafidia Hospital, and 15 cases of tear gas suffocation were treated. During the response, Israeli settlers and the army attacked five ambulances7, blocking access to injured Palestinians, breaking their windows, and threatening the lives of the medical teams inside. Additionally, the Israeli military blocked ambulance access to Huwara for two hours, only allowing access after coordination with the Red Cross but without providing protection from settlers.
- Israeli Settlers' Terror Attacks8: settlers conducted nearly 300 attacks against Palestinians and their properties in various towns, including Huwara, Burin, Asira al-Qabaliyya, the entrance of Odla village, the entry of Beita town, and Za'atara:
-Huwara: A total of 130 attacks were committed by settlers, including beating five Palestinians with metal sticks on the head.
- Asira Al-Qabaliyya: settlers burned down a home and a water tank and destroyed 11 other homes by stoning and smashing them.
- Burin: settlers burned down three homes, a barn, an agricultural project for a school, and also set fire to three vehicles.
- Odla Entrance: settlers stoned and smashed three homes and two cars.
- Za'atara: settlers stoned and smashed three homes
To make matters worse, the settlers also looted many of the homes they attacked. These violent attacks demonstrate the dangerous and ongoing threat that extremist Israeli settlers pose to the safety and security of Palestinians and their properties.
Further examples include:
- At 14:35, settlers in Huwara attacked citizens' homes, including Moataz Al-Deek, and fired bullets at Ahmed Odeh's vehicle, which hit the rear window.
- At 18:20, settlers burned down the house of Bilal Asira, a resident of the town of Asira al-Qibliya. Civil defense crews moved to the place, and the fire was controlled.
- At 18:35: settlers at the roundabout of the "Yitzhar" settlement attacked citizens' homes and burned the house of Ziyad Al-Hallaq. Civil defense crews extinguished the fire.
- At 20:50, a group of herds of settlers in the Al-Jisr area near the eastern Khan Al-Laban threw stones at the citizens' vehicles, including Hani Al-Azza and Hassan Owais.
- At 20:55: besides assaulting and disabling a civil defense vehicle, settlers in the village of Burin attacked citizens' homes and tried to set them on fire, burning four cars, three homes (partially), three livestock barracks, plastic houses belonging to a school, and a livestock farm belonging to Bassam Al-Najjar.
III. Official Israeli Incitement
The below are only examples of various inciting and hate speech statements made by several Israeli officials, including government officials and Knesset members, on the day of the attack against Huwara:
- Deputy head of the Samaria Regional Council, Davidi Ben Zion wrote on Twitter (the post was later deleted): "The village of Huwara should be wiped out today. Enough with talks about building and strengthening settlement, the deterrence needs to happen immediately, and there is no room for mercy."
- MK Zvika Fogel (Otzma Yehudit) in an interview with Galei Yisrael Radio:
"What residents of Judea and Samaria did last night in Huwara was to create the strongest deterrent the State of Israel has had since Defensive Shield." "After murders like those yesterday, when the army doesn't take action, villages need to burn (…)Huwara should be shuttered and burned. That is what I want to see. That is the only way we will attain deterrence. If we stop settling, we won't gain sovereignty."
"I want to restore security to the people of the State of Israel. How do we do that? We have to get rid of the word 'proportional;' we have to rid ourselves of the lack of will to use collective punishment just because it doesn't fit according to all sorts of courts. It's time for the gloves to come off."
- Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister (Twitter, 26 February 2023): "We are working against terrorism by all means – by military operations, by thwarting terrorists' attacks, by enacting a law to deport families of terrorists, and today we approved a bill regarding the death penalty to terrorists. Our answer to terrorism is to strike terror hard and strengthen our grip on our country."
- Amihai Ben-Eliyahu, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage (Twitter, 27 February 2023): "This morning there is no distribution of baklava in Huwara(…) We demand that Minister Gallant acts with a strong hand. Just an iron fist against those who try to harm the citizens of Israel."
- Bezalel Smotrich, Minister of Finance, MK for the Religious Zionism party (Twitter, 26 February 2023): "My fellow settlers, the pain is great, but believe me, we are working hard to provide a real answer to terrorism by military means and by expanding settlements (…)."
- 1. Including six elderly, 12 children, and one Palestinian prisoner who died due to medical negligence inside Israeli prisons.
- 2. According to UNOCHA: Since the beginning of 2023, the occupation authorities demolished 216 structures, including 58 homes, throughout the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem. Among the destroyed buildings were 31 donor-funded structures. As a result, 57 families with 307 individuals, of whom 144 were children, were displaced (1,771 other families with 10,780 individuals, of whom 4,688 were children, were otherwise affected).
- 3. Multiple attacks may occur in the same incident.
- 4. The family lives in a compound of three houses. The settlers burned down the center house where all the family gathers daily.
- 5. Huwara Municipality
- 6. Palestinian Red Crescent Society
- 7. Two belonging to the Red Crescent Society and another three private ambulances: Balsam, Qabalan, and Al Karama.
- 8. Nablus Governorate