West Bank (Palestine Online)- The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem detailed the harrowing tale of a Palestinian teenager who was kidnapped and tortured by a group of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank this summer, in a report released last week.
On August 17th, 15-year-old Tareq Zbeidi and five of his friends decided to go for a picnic near their village of Silat a-Daher, in the Jenin district of the northern West Bank.
Half an hour after the teens arrived at the area, located around 350 meters from the site of the Homesh settlement, supposedly evacuated in 2005, the boys saw a group of Israeli settlers approaching them, some on foot, and some in cars.
According to B’Tselem, the boys quickly fled the scene as one of the settlers threw stones at them. Zbeidi, however, whose leg was injured just two weeks prior to the incident, couldn’t keep up with his friends, who managed to escape back to their village.
That’s when his nightmare began.
“The settlers drove towards me and hit me with their car, and I fell to the ground. The car stopped, and four settlers got out. Some were holding sticks. They attacked me and hit me in the shoulder, legs, and back,” Zbeidi recounted to B’Tselem.
According to Zbeidi, the settlers then bound his hands and feet and chained him to the hood of their car, before driving him to Homesh. When the settlers arrived, they slammed on the brakes, causing Zbeidi to fall to the ground.
“Some of the settlers who were there ran over to me and started kicking me. One settler approached me and pepper-sprayed me in the face. It hurt and stung, and I screamed in pain. Then one of the settlers brought a piece of cloth and tied it over my eyes,” Zbeidi recounted.
Zbeidi said he heard the settlers cursing at him in Arabic and Hebrew, and though his eyes were blindfolded, he felt some of the settlers spit on him.
The settlers then continued to kick a terrified Zbeidi, before hanging him from a tree, wounding and burning his feet.
“I was left hanging like that for about five minutes, with my eyes covered. I felt them cutting and rubbing the skin of my left foot with a sharp object. I was in so much pain. I couldn’t take it. Suddenly, I felt a strong burn on my right foot, from a lighter or something similar. It lasted a few seconds. I screamed and cried in pain and fear. It wasn’t until then that they took me down from the tree,” Zbeidi told B’Tselem.
That’s when one of the settlers struck Zbeidi in the head with a stick, causing him to lose consciousness.
According to B’Tselem, shortly after this, the settlers were approached by a group of Israeli soldiers in a military jeep. The settlers handed Zbeidi over to the soldiers, alleging that Zbeidi threw stones at them.
When Zbeidi regained consciousness, he was lying on the floor of the military jeep. At that point, he said one of the soldiers threatened him, saying that if he was throwing stones, the settlers would come to his house and arrest him.
The soldier then handed Zbeidi his phone, at which point an unidentified man who spoke Arabic — purportedly an Israeli intelligence officer, according to Zbeidi’s uncle — also threatened Zbeidi, saying that “they knew everything about me and that if anyone threw stones at the settlers, he’d come to my house and arrest me.”
A short while later, Zbeidi’s uncle and older brother came and got him from the soldiers, put him in a Palestinian ambulance, and took him to a hospital in Jenin.
“I was taken to the ER, where I was examined and X-rayed. They found bruises and wounds on my shoulder, back, and legs, as well as wounds and burns on my feet. I stayed there until the next afternoon, and then I was discharged,” Zbeidi said, adding that after he was discharged, his body was sore and he couldn’t walk because of the cuts and burns on his feet.
According to B’Tselem, while the Homesh settlement was evacuated in 2005, it has maintained a near constant presence of settlers in the area since, “with security forces allowing them to stay there and attack Palestinians.”
B’Tselem noted that the attack on Zbeidi was the tenth settler attack on Palestinians near the settlement documented by the group since the beginning of 2020.
“This case may be exceptionally cruel, but settler violence against Palestinians, often with the participation of soldiers, has long since become part of Israeli policy in the West Bank and integral to the occupation routine,” B’Tselem said in the report.
“The long-term result of these violent acts is the dispossession of Palestinians from growing swaths of the West Bank, facilitating Israel’s takeover of land and resources there.”
There were no indications or reports in Israeli media that the settlers who brutalized Zbeidi were prosecuted or reprimanded in any way for their actions.
A rise in settler violence
Palestinians have noticed a steep rise in settler attacks over the past year, with many violent incidents occurring just in the past few weeks alone.
In late September, settlers launched a brutal attack in the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank, injuring a dozen Palestinians, stabbing their livestock, and causing serious head injuries to a three-year old boy who had to be hospitalized as a result of the attack.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between September 21st and October 4th, Israeli settlers physically assaulted and injured eight Palestinians, in addition to those injured during the South Hebron Hills attack.
Since the beginning of 2021, there have been at least 365 settler attacks on Palestinians and their property in the occupied West Bank, according to OCHA.
Haaretz reported a higher number, saying that in just the first half of this year, 416 “anti-Palestinian incidents” were reported, double the amount that was reported in the first half of 2020, and in all of 2019.
Haaretz attributed the rise in violence to a “hands-off” approach the Israeli security apparatus has been taking when it comes to settler violence. In an effort to avoid confrontations with the settlers, “the style includes permitting the settlers to ‘let off steam’.”