RAMALLAH: Uncharted on maps and uncovered by the GPS system, and with tens of confusing byroads, the secluded West Bank village of Deir Estya simply turns down outsiders.
A tour around the village reminds one of life in pre-industrial era. No car can be spotted because of unpaved zigzag paths, and it explains the ubiquity of donkeys, transporting either goods or persons.
For any newcomers, life there seems inconvenient yet quiet. However, after small chats with villagers, it dawns on one that this remote village is by no means an escape from urban din.
Just like hundreds of other villages in the West Bank, Palestinians in Deir Estya find themselves dragged down into a sinister conflict with Jewish settlers.
In a latest incident of Palestinian-Jewish conflict on Wednesday, villagers woke up to their main mosque burning. No perpetrator was caught red-handed. Yet, villagers had no doubts who committed the crime. Arsonists also daubed the mosque wall with graffiti, one of which read: “Death to Arabs.”
Located to the southwest of West Bank city of Nablus, the village of Deir Estya is surrounded by 11 Jewish settlements. Mayor Ayyub Abu Hijlah said harassment used to occur only in the swathes of olive trees on the periphery of the village at harvest season. However, in the past two years, the number of settlers’ attack within the village surged.
“We have been patrolling the village by ourselves since the winter of 2012, when a group of settlers started to sneak into the village, slaughtering the sheep and burning houses,” Hijlah said. “They tried to burn down the mosque in 2012 but failed. This time they made it.”
When Jewish settlers are caught during their sabotage, conflicts erupt between Palestinians and settlers. It usually starts as a cursing match and soon cursing evolves into stone-throwing.
Each conflict between Palestinians and settlers incurs new bouts of settler attacks, as in the incident of Deir Estya. On the wall of the torched mosque, one piece of graffiti read “It is revenge for blood in Qusra.”
On Jan. 7, 2014, Palestinian villagers from the neighboring village of Qusra caught a group of 20 settlers attempting to attack the village’s farms. Once caught, Palestinians clashed with the settlers and laid siege to settlers until the Israeli army come to their rescue.
According to UN’s latest report, the annual rate of Jewish settler attacks against Palestinians has almost quadrupled in 8 years. Compared with 115 cases of such attacks in 2006, the figure jumped to 399 in 2013.
With an alarming tone, the same report pointed out that a total of 1,700 Palestinians were injured during the attacks and 10 lost their lives.
Internationally and domestically, settler attacks are denounced widely. After the Deir Estya incident, U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf called it “hateful and provocative actions” against a place of worship, and Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon reportedly branded settler attacks as “outright terrorism,” and the military says soldiers are under strict rules to stop attacks.
However, Palestinian villagers are skeptical about the Israeli official stance of settler attacks. Rahim Mallouh, one of the Deir Estya villagers who went to the rescue on Wednesday, said the Israeli soldiers, supposedly staying guard up the hill, were absent that morning.
“And the night before, a group of soldiers came to the village and imposed a curfew out of no reason,” Mallouh said. “We did not patrol that night. And the next morning, settlers attacked us.” PNA