On 14 June 2021, fires broke out on pastureland that lies on a ridge south of the village of Beit Furik and the community of Khirbet Tana. The settlement of Itamar was established along the ridge in 1984, on land belonging to Palestinian villages. Since then, several outposts have also been erected there. In addition to the land grab, the settlers have taken over pastureland that used to serve the Palestinians and prevent area farmers and shepherds from accessing it.
The evening after the fire, about eight masked settlers came to the road that links the village with the community. They violently assaulted several farmers, demanded to know who (they claimed) had started the fire the night before and threatened them. During the attack, they smashed one of the farmers’ car windows and put burning cardboard inside the trunk.
In another spot, settlers set fire to a field. About 10 trees and 20 beehives were burned down. The settlers then left the area. State-backed settler violence against Palestinians, often with the participation of soldiers, has long been an inseparable part of the occupation routine. The long-term result of these violent acts is the dispossession of Palestinians from more and more parts of the West Bank, facilitating Israel’s takeover of land and resources there. Farmer Ahmad Hanani (76), a resident of Beit Furik, recounted how settlers smashed the windows of his car, tried to torch it and threatened him:
“On Tuesday, 15 June 2021, before sunset, my brother Mahmoud (66) and I were watering olive trees on our plot, which lies on the eastern side of the village along the road to Khirbet Tana. Suddenly, two cars stopped next to us and several settlers got out. At first, I thought they had car trouble or something like that, but then I saw them smashing the windows of my car.
I was afraid they’d set fire to it, too, so I got on the tractor Mahmoud was driving and we headed towards my car. When we got there, we saw the settlers had smashed all the windows. When we were close, one of them shouted at us to get off the tractor. We did, and then one settler climbed on the tractor and drove it for about 100 meters. Meanwhile, another one, who spoke good Arabic, asked us, “Why did you set fire to the hill?” I answered, “As you can see, we’re working our land and don’t know what you’re talking about.” I gathered that he was upset because someone had set fire to the mountain where he tends to his sheep. The settler said, “Say thank you to God that we’re not angry and will let you go because you’re old.” Then he told me to get out of there quickly before he torched the car.
I got into the car and Mahmoud went towards the tractor, and we started driving towards our village. On the way, I smelled something burning, so I stopped the car and got out to check where the smell was coming from. I found burning cardboard in the trunk. The fire had already spread to the work clothes that were in there. I took them out quickly, threw them on the ground and put them out.
The settlers meant to burn me. They lit the cardboard and put it in the car. It’s really unbelievable that they’re so crazy they almost killed us. Like what the settler told me before he left, that we should leave before he destroyed the carburetor. All they want is to cause harm.”
Farmer Hisham Nasasrah (38), a father of three from Beit Furik, described how settlers attacked him and threatened his life and his flock:
On the evening of 15 June 2021, while I was feeding my 30 sheep, I heard a noise outside the shack. Suddenly, someone threw a plastic chair inside. Then I saw eight or nine masked settlers standing outside. They were throwing away the plastic chairs I’d put there.
Then the settlers stormed into the shack and shouted at me, “Who set fire to the hill?” They were holding sticks and iron pipes. They pushed me and hit me several times with the sticks and pipes. I thought they would kill me, so I grabbed one of them and pinned him to the ground and shouted at them to get back. They moved off a little, and I let go of the settler. One of them spoke excellent Arabic and said to me, “Who lit the fire?” I answered, “I don’t know. I work inside here and don’t know what’s going on outside.” The settler said to me in a threatening tone, “If it happens again, I’ll burn you and your sheep.” Then he turned around and left.
I couldn’t believe I’d managed to survive. They acted like monsters. It was all because of the hill that had burned down the day before. I don’t know who set fire to it. That settler has livestock, and he grazes them on the hill and prevents Palestinian residents from going there.
I couldn’t sleep at night. I had headaches and my back hurt, too. The bruises from the blows turned blue.”
Bassem Nasasrah (48), a father of seven from Khirbet Tana, recalled how settlers torched trees and beehives after threatening his life and the lives of his children:
On Tuesday evening, 15 June 2021, I was sitting under one of the trees by my house with my neighbor, Hamdi Malitat (51). Suddenly, I saw two pickup trucks driving towards us. They were driving so fast that I thought they’d run us over. I got up quickly and the pickups screeched to a halt. About eight or nine masked settlers got out.
The settlers were holding sticks. I noticed sticks with pieces of cloth on them, like torches, inside one of the pickups. One of the settlers asked me right away, “Who set fire to the hill?” I answered, “How should I know? We’re sitting here!” He said, “If it happens again, I’ll set fire to you and your children.”
My wife saw what was going on from inside the house. Our four children, between the ages of seven and 15, were with her and they came over to us. One of the settlers pushed the children, snatched my son’s (12) cellphone out of his hand, threw it on the floor and broke it. The settler threatened again and again to burn us down and set fire to the houses if the hill burned down again.
Before the settlers left, they threw flammable materials that set fire to farmland that belongs to a resident of Beit Furik. He has trees and beehives there. We’re far away from the fire stations, so a lot of them burned down completely.
I don’t know who set fire to the hill. I was very sad when I saw the fires, because I used to graze my flock there. But for the last six years or so, the settlers have stopped us from getting to that land most of the time, because the settler who lives in Itamar raises livestock and wants the pasture to himself. Even so, I manage to get there sometimes to pick weeds for my flock.
I’m staying in Khirbet Tana because I have nowhere else to go. This is my source of income and it’s what I live off. If I move to Beit Furik, I’ll have no livelihood. Where would I put my sheep? There’s no suitable place or pasture there. The village is crowded and no one wants to live near cattle and sheep.”