Friday, August 08, 2008

Settlers Push Palestinian Boy off Roof; Attack Wedding Party

Settler Gang Pushes Palestinian Boy Off Roof

By James Hider, in Hebron

The Times [August 6, 2008]

When a group of Jewish settlers came down the street towards them in the old city centre of Hebron, Hamza Abu Khetar’s friends fled from the house that they were renovating. Hamza, a slim, 14-year-old Palestinian boy, was working on the roof of the empty, four-storey building and did not see the threat. It was a Saturday afternoon, the end of Sabbath, a time when, according to Palestinians and Israeli human rights workers, the hardline settlers of Hebron often go on the rampage.

“By the time I saw them they were already on me,” he told The Times. “They started kicking and beating me. I couldn’t protect myself, there were about 25 of them.”

Beatings of Palestinians by radical religious settlers, protected by the Israeli army and police, are a common occurrence in this dangerous city, where Jewish settlements nudge into the heart of a community of about 120,000 Arabs. What happened next was shocking even by the violent standards of Hebron however.

“They pushed me over the edge of the roof,” Hamza said. “They meant to kill me.” A lower roof broke his fall, but Hamza broke the bones in one foot and twisted the other ankle. He was in great pain in his stomach, back and legs when his family found him. Despite his agony, Israeli soldiers kept the Palestinian ambulance waiting at a checkpoint for 90 minutes because the attack happened in an area where only Israeli vehicles are allowed to drive, his father, Sufian, said.

“They consider us nothing more than mosquitoes, not human beings, as though we didn’t exist,” his father said.

Jews were driven out of the centre of Hebron after an Arab uprising in 1929. Recently however, hundreds of Jewish settlers have moved in. They are surrounded by more than 1,200 soldiers, who protect them but do little to curb violence against Palestinians, according to human rights groups. Near the city centre another large settlement, Kiryat Arba, cuts close to the heart of the city. Most Palestinian residents have fled the desolate centre.

According to the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, the settlers who attacked Hamza turned their attention to a Palestinian wedding party being held at a house opposite the Jewish settlement of Jabara, on a hilltop opposite Kiryat Arba. There they met dozens more settlers and started throwing stones at the guests, chanting: “Muhammad is a pig” and taunting two children disabled by birth defects, said Abdel-karim al-Jabari, the groom’s father.

When his daughter tried to video the mob with a camera provided by B’Tselem as part of a campaign to record settler violence in the West Bank, a group of women attacked her. Her brother intervened but he was held by two Israeli soldiers who allowed a settler to hit him in the face with a stone, the family said.

David Wilder, a spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron, denied the account. “I did hear there was an Arab who fell off a roof. If an Arab falls off the roof they blame the Jews. It’s a totally false accusation,” he said.

In the case of the wedding, he said that Palestinians hurled abuse at nearby Jews. “A Jewish man was hit and scuffles ensued and the security forces were called. To the best of my knowledge, the first blow was landed by an Arab,” he said.

A spokeswoman said that the army was unaware of the incident and no complaint had been filed. The military recently disciplined two soldiers, including a senior officer, after Palestinian activists filmed an incident where a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian man was shot at close range in the leg with a rubber-coated bullet after being detained in a protest.

Issa Amro, the field co-ordinator of B’Tselem in Hebron, said that violence was on the rise, with the settlers taking advantage of political turmoil that has forced Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, to step down over corruption charges.

“These days the settlers are very violent,” he said, adding that the army protects them. “They are using the gap in the Government to get more land, to evacuate people from their houses.”

A border policeman has been arrested by Israeli police in connection with the death of a Palestinian boy. The 10-year old boy was killed by gunfire during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians in the West Bank village of Naalin last week.

Expanding numbers

100 number of official settlements in the West Bank

5.1% rise in number of West Bank settlers last year - three times greater than increase in whole Israeli population


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