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Palestinian Bedouin community forced to leave as settler attacks escalate in West Bank

The herding community were told they had one hour to leave their homes at Wadi a-Seeq

A pile of one family’s shoes, an emptied fridge lying on its side, several smashed solar panels. In Wadi a-Seeq in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the belongings of the Bedouin Palestinian community that called the isolated hamlet home for five decades lie scattered across the ground and beneath collapsing roofs.

The mountainous land lies within the West Bank’s Area C, where Israeli authorities have complete military and civilian control, and 450,000 Israelis have now settled. For years, the 240-strong herding community at Wadi a-Seeq faced encroachment, harassment and assaults from Israeli settlers on the private land that they rent from a Palestinian landowner.

When The Irish Times visited Wadi a-Seeq in March, the Bedouins there described how their homes were frequently attacked at night by Israeli settlers, who often used dogs to harass and attack herders and children.

Abu Bashar (48), a leader for the Wadi a-Seeq community, says the nearby settlement of Kokhav Hashahar has often been a meeting point for settlers to launch attacks on local Palestinian communities and cars with Palestinian licence plates. He says they reported these attacks but the Israeli authorities were usually slow to respond, unless there was a request by settlers to arrest Palestinians who they often accused of stealing livestock.


After October 7th, when the militant group Hamas launched their unexpected attack on Israel, Bashar says it became increasingly difficult to bring water and food into Wadi a-Seeq due to settler harassment and intimidation. “Suddenly settlers who used to wear civilian outfits were wearing IDF [Israel Defence Forces] uniforms and driving around in military vehicles,” says Bashar. “Before the war, they would occasionally be armed but after the war started they all were.”

By October 12th, most of the community’s women and children had left for a safer location, while some male members remained to take care of grazing livestock and to pack up homes. Two officials from the Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission of the Palestinian Authority, the semi-autonomous regime that administers parts of the West Bank, were also present. The officials, Muhammad Mattar (46) and Muhammad Khaled (27), had stayed with the community in the preceding weeks to provide extra security.

At midday, Bashar says, about two dozen armed Israelis – some masked – arrived at Wadi a-Seeq in two trucks. According to witnesses, the group included soldiers and local settlers dressed in IDF uniforms. Bashar identified a local Israeli settler among the group. This person, whom Bashar named, did not respond to several requests for comment.

According to the Israeli news outlet Haaretz, the soldiers were from the “Desert Frontier unit”, which recruits “‘hilltop youth’, radical, often violent settler youth from illegal outposts in military service, particularly choosing youth from the farming outposts that have become prevalent in the West Bank”.

After the Israeli group arrived on October 12th, Bashar says: “They spread out across the camp and started firing their guns and detaining people.” The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem provided The Irish Times with photographs of injuries that the Bedouins, among them children, sustained during the attack, and video footage of the settlers in the camp. The community were told they had one hour to leave Wadi a-Seeq. “We weren’t even allowed to take our vehicles,” says Bashar. “We had to walk 10km with our herd.”

While most of the community was allowed to leave Wadi a-Seeq, one member was detained by the armed Israeli group, along with Mattar and Khaled, the PA officials. The three Palestinians were then taken by the Israeli group to an abandoned house nearby. According to testimony the men provided to Haaretz, they were accused of carrying knives to carry out an armed attack and then beaten, tortured and, in one case, sexually assaulted.

Photographs of the three men bound and in their underwear were shared online. All three Palestinians were released later that day when soldiers from the Israeli civil administration arrived. The men were hospitalised due to the severity of their injuries. Mattar told The Irish Times he had no confidence that the Israeli police would do anything: “We asked them to rescue us from the hands of the settlers, but they failed us and left us to die.”

The West Bank Protection Consortium, a coalition of several EU countries including Ireland and international NGOs that delivers aid to vulnerable communities in Area C of the West Bank, told The Irish Times it was aware of the attack as it was ongoing and that assistance had been requested from the Israeli authorities including the police by the Palestinian Authority, which had been contacted by Mattar when the armed Israeli group arrived at Wadi a-Seeq.

In a statement in response to queries from The Irish Times and others, the Israel Defence Forces said troops were deployed to Wadi a-Seeq following reports that there were a number of “Palestinian suspects” there. It said the forces “apprehended the suspects and found a knife and axe in the suspects’ possession”.

“The way in which the apprehension was carried out, and the behaviour of the forces during the apprehension, went against the IDF’s code of conduct for soldiers,” the statement added. “This event is currently being reviewed at the command level, and it has already been evaluated that the conduct was unacceptable. After a preliminary review, a decision was made to dismiss the commander of the unit that carried out the apprehension.

“Based on the events of this situation, and considering the seriousness of the matter, it was decided to open a military police investigation into this incident. In any incident involving conflict between two sides, IDF soldiers are expected to do anything in their power to separate them, with the goal of keeping the area safe and in order.” The Israeli police did not respond to a request for comment.

Since October 7th, more than 120 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and settlers while an estimated 800 have been displaced, according to the UN. “Under the war situation, the settlers are even more aggressive; the army is even more violent and these Palestinian communities have all reached the conclusion that there’s no one to protect them,” says Sarit Michaeli, the international advocacy officer for NGO B’Tselem.

Bashar and his family are now living on a small plot of land in the town of Taybeh in Area B of the West Bank; other families from Wadi a-Seeq are scattered across Ramoun and Auja. “It’s a temporary solution,” says Bashar, who is living in a tent borrowed from the local landlord.

The Bedouin community at Wadi a-Seeq had long been identified as at risk of displacement, with officials and NGOs regularly visiting the community. In September, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Micheál Martin met Bashar in Ramallah, after the Israeli authorities denied permission for the Tánaiste to visit the community at Wadi a-Seeq.

Michaeli of B’Tselem and Guy Hirschfeld, an Israeli activist with the human rights organisation Looking the Occupation in the Eye, had both regularly stayed with the community to provide additional security. “The settlers would like to remove all Palestinians from this area and they say it very clearly – they all have social media accounts,” says Michaeli. “They describe themselves as those who are ‘Judaising’ the land, without any kind of shame.”

Michaeli says the illegal Israeli settler communities in Area C often raise money through crowdfunding or from the settlement division of the World Zionist Organization, which provides settlers with cheap mortgages and loans for livestock that allow settlers to quickly take control of Palestinian grazing land. The federation is partly funded by the Israeli government. “It’s a very convenient way to fund things in the West Bank that the government shouldn’t be funding because they’re illegal,” says Michaeli.

The department known as Cogat, which is responsible for the co-ordination of Israeli government policies in the occupied Palestinian territories, declined to comment.

“For years settlers have been trying to claim this land from non-Jewish people and since the war started, everything has increased,” says Hirschfeld. “They’re taking advantage of the situation to fulfil their target to cleanse Area C of non-Jewish people.”

After several requests, the Israeli military agreed to provide an escort so that Bashar could return to Wadi a-Seeq. When he returned on October 20th, he found “everything was destroyed”. He estimates that his family alone lost the equivalent of €50,000 worth of farming and household items including a tractor, solar panels and batteries, water tanks and large quantities of animal fodder. “The Israeli government must pay compensation,” says Bashar.

Settlers from a nearby outpost videoed The Irish Times as it visited the school at Wadi a-Seeq, which was funded by the West Bank Protection Consortium and bears the Irish Aid logo. The classrooms have been ransacked and expensive equipment including solar panels have been taken since the community fled.

Bashar was born in Wadi a-Seeq but his family had been displaced twice before. First, from the Negev Desert when it became part of the state of Israel in 1948. “We’re refugees, we have the cards from UNRWA [the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees],” he says. His family then moved to the Jordan Valley but were forced to move again to Wadi a-Seeq after the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel ousted Jordan from the West Bank and began a military occupation that has continued until the present.

Standing beside the tent where he now sleeps, Bashar is not sure what he’ll do next to make a living for his family. The Bedouin herder says he must sell his livestock as the climate in Taybeh is too cold and the land too small for grazing. “If I don’t sell my herd now, they’ll slowly die one by one and at least if I sell them, I can buy food for my children.”