West Bank (Palestine Online)_Palestinians in the village of Burin were just sitting down for iftar, the evening meal to end their daily Ramadan fast, when they noticed smoke rising on the outskirts of the eastern part of the village.
Walid Saeed, 70, a local farmer in Burin, was sitting on his balcony with his family when he saw a large group of Israeli settlers descending from the hilltops surrounding Burin.
“There were around 50 settlers that came down from Har Bracha,” Saeed told Mondoweiss, referring to one of three settlements and settler outposts located in the area around Burin.
“They came down the mountain and started setting a bunch of fires to the land and trees in the area,” he said.
According to Saeed, when a group of local youth from Burin attempted to go put out the fires, that came under attack from settlers who threw stones and attempted to physically assault the Palestinian residents.
He added that a group of Israeli soldiers were also in the area, and fired tear gas and sound bombs at the Palestinians, forcing them to retreat.
As the evening went on, the residents of Burin were forced to watch as the night sky lit up their village with orange flames and clouds of smoke. By the time the settlers and soldiers retreated, and the residents were able to put out the fires, the damage had already been done.
Israeli settlers set fire to Palestinian lands in Burin. The area, south of Nablus, has been under settler attack since a drive-by shooting left two settlers wounded on SUN. The UN has documented around 130 attacks by settlers since the start of 2021. pic.twitter.com/t9GX3tWg96
— Rania Zabaneh (@RZabaneh) May 4, 2021
“We lost between 70 to 100 dunums of land to the fire,” Saeed said, adding that while his plot of land had been saved before the fires reached it, his neighbors and friends suffered immense losses.
“We woke up and the mountain was black. It was completely charred,” Saeed said. “That land was planted with hundreds of olive trees, many of them were more than 70 years old.”
“There is no way to describe how we feel in Burin after what happened,” he said. “This land, these trees, they are our whole lives, our heart and soul. They mean everything to us.”
In a statement to Middle East Eye, an Israeli army spokesperson alleged that Palestinian residents had set the fire themselves, and that army field observers had “spotted the arsonists” and searched the area “for those suspected of igniting the fire.”
“This is a complete and utter lie,” Saeed told Mondoweiss emphatically, in response to the claims of the army spokesperson. “They are liars.”
“Myself, and dozens of others in Burin saw the settlers with our own eyes!” he said. “One of the young men was even injured with a rock by one of the settlers. How can they explain that?”
“We, the people of Burin, and our fathers and grandfathers before us, have spent decades and centuries planting this land, farming it, cultivating it, and taking care of it. Why would we ever burn it to the ground?” he asked.
Burin is located in a cluster of Palestinian villages south of Nablus city that are surrounded by a ring of illegal Israeli settlements and outposts, among them the notoriously violent and extremist Yitzhar settlement.
Over the years, rights groups and activists have documented countless incidents of settler violence in the area, targeting Palestinians and their property — particularly Palestinian land and agriculture.
While settler attacks on Palestinian land and olive groves in places like Burin typically increase during the Olive harvest in October and November, residents say that they face attacks from settlers year round.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have personally been attacked by the settlers,” Saeed told Mondoweiss, adding that he is frequently harassed and assaulted when grazing his livestock on the outskirts of the village.
“These settlers physically assault us, attack our homes with rocks and other weapons, they attack our livestock, they burn our land, cut down and poison our trees, and set our cars on fire,” he said.
“This is all part of the settlers mission to instill fear in the Palestinian people, and to stop us from going to our land,” Saeed said. “If we stop going to our land, then they can take it for themselves. And that is what they want.”
The attack on Burin was one of several reported incidents of settler violence in the occupied West Bank this week.
Palestinian media reported at least five incidents of settler violence in the days leading up to the attack on Burin, including settlers throwing stones at Palestinian vehicles and homes, and physically assaulting a farmer while grazing his livestock.
Last month UN experts warned of rising levels of Israeli settler violence in the occupied West Bank, with assaults and property destruction “occurring in an atmosphere of impunity.”
Documentation by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) indicated that in 2020, there were 771 incidents of settler violence causing injury to 133 Palestinians. The violence, which primarily occured in the area of Hebron, Nablus, Jerusalem, and Ramallah, resulted in the damage of 9,646 trees and 184 vehicles.
Comparatively, within the first three months of 2021 alone, there were more than 210 incidents of settler violence, that resulted in the death of one Palestinian.
“The pattern of attacks, particularly by violent and ideologically motivated settlers consistently confirms that the boundaries of attacks on all categories of Palestinians is being erased,” the UN Special Rapporteurs said, adding “we are deeply worried by the atmosphere of impunity in which these attacks are taking place.”