26-year-old Fatma Awad from Khirbet Tuba, Masafer Yatta was inside the cave that is her home preparing breakfast when a group of Israeli illegal settlers invaded her family’s land on August 2, 2023. The settlers sat up a tent near the family’s water well. “This is not the first time they do so,” Fatma asserted.
The settlers, escorted by the Israeli military prevented the Awad family from accessing their water well, the only source of water for the family and their livestock as apartheid Israel denies Palestinians access to the water network providing water for the settlements in the area. The Israeli military claimed that the so-called Israeli Civil Administration granted the settlers a permit to access the water well.
In recent months, Israeli settlers’ brutal assaults on the residents of Khirbet Tuba have intensified.
On July 25, 2023 a group of Israeli settlers, some of them were armed brutally broke into the homes of Palestinians in the village. 77-year-old Om Ali narrates that “the settlers agrresively invaded our home and started damaging our furniture. They were yelling at me, which made my 3-year-old grandson get terrified and started crying.”
Om Mohammed Abu Jundiyya, another woman from Khirbet Tuba whose home the settlers tried to invade, commented that “the settlers invaded our village at around 9.00 am after making sure that only women and children are there while men went out to graze the sheep.”
“The settlers were escorted by the Israeli army while they were destroying the furniture in the homes and harassing women,” added Om Mohammed.
In 1981, Israel declared 12 villages in Masafer Yatta, including the village of Khirbet Tuba as Firing Zone 918-An area spanning 3, 000 hectares of the Masafer Yatta size. In 1999, Israeli military forces invaded Khirbet Tuba and other villages in the firing zone and expelled the residents by force by loading them onto trucks. The residents could return back to their homes thanks to their resistance and campaigning.
On May 4, 2022, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of ethnically cleansing eight of these villages. Khirbet Tuba is among of the villages included in the court decision.
The court ruling to force Palestinians from their land in these villages is currently being enforced by Israeli settlers. The most openly fascist and racist current Israeli government has given settlers the green light to invade Palestinian villages in broad daytime. The job of the Israeli army has become to stand behind the settlers, back them and prevent Palestinians from defending themselves while settlers harass and terrorize them.
Through this tactic of systematic and constant violent attacks carried out by illegal settlers, the Israeli apartheid authorities seek to accelerate the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Although this policy is anything but new, its ferocity and frequency have increased since the start of the year. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), in the first half of 2023, settlers have been responsible for 166 Palestinian causalities and 427 property damage in different violent assaults across the West Bank. These numbers reflect a rise in settler violence if it is compared with previous years. For instance, in 2021, Palestinian causalities and damage of properties resulting from settler attacks were 150 and 390, respectively.
Since 2005, only seven percent of Israeli settler attacks have led to criminal charges with only three percent of the charges leading to a conviction. This is hardly surprising as Israeli judicial system is set up in a way that serves Israeli apartheid and settler colonial goals and endeavors. Settler impunity is a prerequisite to achieve them.
“We will not leave”
Om Mohammed recalled when the Israeli army invaded their home in the winter of 1999 and expelled her family and other families from Khirbet Tuba. “They took all of our furniture out of the home and loaded it onto trucks and prevented us from staying in our house. For four months, we were not allowed to return to our homes,” she narrated.
Fatma narrated a similar story about the 1999 invasion of Khirbet Tuba. “They raided our home while I was sleeping in a mattress. I was little back then and my leg was aching me. One of the soldiers carried me and put me outside the home. For four months we were hosted by the Bedouin community of Om Al-Khayr.”
After an Israeli court ruling in 2000, the expelled families from Khirbet Tuba and other villages in Firing Zone 918 could return to their homes. However, the court did not revoke the decision, but froze the expulsion of the communities for 22 years. During almost two decades after the court ruling in 2000, the families living in Khirbet Tuba and other villages have endured various Israeli attempts to expel them from their homes. This has ranged from denying them access to water, electricity, home demolition and constant settler harassment. However, these Israeli practices and policies failed to force Palestinians in the area from their land.
After the failure of decades-old Israeli attempts to expel Palestinians from their land in Khirbet Tuba and beyond, the intensification of settler violence is the tool apartheid Israel is employing to break the sumud [steadfastness] of Palestinians in Khirbet Tuba and the rest of Masafer Yatta.
“We will not leave no matter how much they [Israeli settlers and army] try to intimidate us,” Om Mohammed stated. “This is our land and we will continue to steadfastly live here.”