Ayat Jabari, a confident and impassioned 30-year-old Palestinian woman, told my fellow EAs and I, "all my dreams are broken. I can't do anything".
Ayat lives with 24 family members in their house on the outskirts of Hebron between the Israeli settlements of Kiryat Arba and Givat Ha'avot, with a combined population of 7,000.
The Jabari family has lived there since 1998 when the settlements were small and relations were harmonious with no need for protecting walls. Now, attacks by settlers on their home are common. On October 9, Ayat filmed Palestinians and settlers throwing stones at each other near her house for the Israeli human rights organisation, B'Tselem. Israeli soldiers, who are standing near the settlers, fire teargas canisters at the Palestinians thereby protecting the settlers. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the role of the Israeli military as the occupying power under international law is to protect the occupied population. The Fourth Geneva Convention also prohibits the occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. The settlers' presence in Palestine - and the settlements they live in - are therefore in clear violation of international law.
However, Ayat told us of many occasions when members of her family have been injured by settlers: one brother was stabbed in the stomach; in early October another brother had his arm broken when pushed; and in 2009 Ayat herself was knocked unconscious by a stone thrown by a settler. Although called immediately, the Palestinian ambulance took two-and-a-half hours to reach Ayat's house as it was prevented access through the Israeli military checkpoint near Givat Ha'avot (one of the four checkpoints within 200 metres of her house). This is against Article 16 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states that "the wounded...shall be the object of particular protection and respect". As such, international law obliges Israel to protect patients and should therefore have enabled the ambulance to quickly reach Ayat. Instead, as a result of the incident, Ayat suffered severe migraines for months. No settler has ever been prosecuted for any of the attacks on Ayat or her family.
A UN map showing the Jabari family house (circled in red) between the two illegal settlements, the synagogue tent on the Jabari family's land (circled in green), and the checkpoint through which the Palestinian ambulance was denied entry when Ayat was injured (circled in blue) [Source: UNOCHA]
Ayat's family appears to be targeted because they own the land between Givat Ha'avot and Kiryat Arba, the seizure of which could facilitate the linking of these settlements. For 13 years, settlers have been illegally building and re-building a synagogue tent on the Jabari family land. Most recently, the structure was rebuilt on October 9 when as EAs we also witnessed approximately 250 settlers celebrating the weekly Friday religious ceremony of Shabbat in the tent.
Ayat told us, "we cannot sleep when we see or hear settlers near the home", particularly on Friday evenings. Although the Jabari family was successful in its appeal when earlier this year an Israeli court ruled that the tent was built illegally (a case that had been in court since the tent's first construction in 2002), the re-built structure is now bigger than ever. And although Ayat's father contacted their lawyers immediately following the events in early October, they are still waiting for legal assistance.
Settlers worshipping on October 9 in the newly and illegally constructed synagogue tent on Ayat's family land [Photo: EAPPI/H.Griffiths]
The experiences of Ayat and her family are not unusual. A recent report by the Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din found that the Israeli authorities fail to properly investigate 85% of settler violence cases in the West Bank.
As an Amnesty International report released earlier this month highlighted, "Settlers have long attacked and harassed Palestinians...in the occupied West Bank with impunity, and sometimes with the apparent assistance or acquiescence of Israeli forces". The report also discussed the significant rise in these attacks during the current violence enveloping Israel and Palestine, particularly in hotspots such as Hebron: "In the space of less than a month, attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in Hebron have escalated from what was already an unacceptably high level".
When we left Ayat, she told that she doesn't dare to walk anywhere in the city alone now, and cannot go to the shop without fear of being attacked by settlers. "I can't ever feel relaxed," she said. The apparent impunity that the settlers live under (see my last article) is helping to perpetuate the constant threat of violence which will only abate when such impunity is addressed.