The hill of discontent, where violence grows by the day
It is known as the Mukhtar’s Hill, rising above the Jewish settlement of Bat Ayin and the neighbouring Palestinian village of Safa. Its slopes are the focal point for a story of violence, starting with last month’s grisly killing of a 13-year-old settler boy and growing worse by the day.
This week, two residents of the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin were arrested after shots were fired at Safa.
The confrontation will surely escalate as the settlers try to take over the hill and build a new settlement there. The situation is all the more explosive since there is no fence separating the two communities.
“Why should we have a fence? We are not criminals,” says Rabbi Natan Greenberg, head of the Bat Ayin Local Council. “We don’t believe our security will be enhanced by cowering behind a fence.”
The two men arrested, serving soldiers, were part of a group of young Bat Ayin residents which climbed the hilltop, triggering anger among youths from Safa, who pelted them with stones. Bat Ayin residents say the two fired in self-defence.
Two Palestinians were wounded by subsequent army gunfire. A few days after the teenager was murdered, Bat Ayin settlers climbed the hill to pray, and seven Palestinians were subsequently wounded by army gunfire.
“We’re demanding the hill be made into a Jewish neighbourhood to prevent future attacks and to demonstrate that you cannot murder a 13-year-old and assume everything goes back to the way it was before,” said Rabbi Greenberg.
He says the hilltop, which includes a triangular plot cultivated by Palestinians, was used by settlers as a picnic area before the second intifada broke out in 2000. The rabbi claims it was used as a lookout before the attack in which Shlomo Nativ, 13, was killed and Yair Gamliel, 7, wounded by a Safa resident wielding a knife and axe.
Yair Gamliel’s father, Ofer, was allowed leave from prison to visit his son in hospital. He is serving a 15-year sentence for attempting to bomb a Palestinian school in East Jerusalem in 2002, part of the “Bat Ayin Underground” terrorist cell.
When Nativ’s alleged murderer, Safa shepherd Mussa Tit, 26, was arrested last week, police said they thought he was working alone. However, settlers launched a revenge attack on an 82-year-old Palestinian farmer, Abdallah Soleiby, throwing stones at his head and chest as he tended his land. He required ten stitches and the swelling was visible during a visit to his home. “Three people grabbed me and a fourth threw a stone at my head,” he said.
Some Safa residents justified the teenager’s murder, saying, “They took our land,” and accusing the Israeli army of killing Palestinian children.
Oday Abu Odayeh, 18, whose house was taken over by the army during one of the clashes, disagreed. “What is the benefit? We pay the price for it.”
Mohammed Awad, the local coordinator for the Palestinian-run International Solidarity Movement predicts a bleak future. “The army won’t let farmers reach their land. The soldiers tell them it’s a closed area. The army helps the settlers take more land.”
But Rabbi Greenberg says the army must do more. “They need to explain that it is not a legitimate cause for a riot if Jews go on a hill for an outing. If they are willing to accept the new reality, than we can get back to peaceful coexistence.”