On Thursday, October 12, Palestinian Mohammed Matar (46) lies undressed, blindfolded and handcuffed on the ground in the village of Wadi as-Seeq on the West Bank. He feels a shoe pressing against his neck. That shoe belongs to an Israeli man who stepped on his head.

“I felt his hatred as he pressed my head to the ground,” Matar said three weeks later near the village of Ramun, a few kilometers from Wadi as-Seeq. “He wanted to humiliate me and take away my dignity. He wanted to show who’s boss.”

Matar, an employee of the Palestinian Authority, the internationally recognized governing body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, says he was tortured for eight hours by a group of about ten to fifteen Israeli men. He shows pictures of stitches on his head and welts all over his body. In another photo, he and two other Palestinians lie on the ground in their underwear. The photo appeared on an ultra-nationalist Israeli Facebook page and was later deleted, but a screenshot of it was published by the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretzwho conducted extensive research into the abuse.

“The Israelis hit me with their belts and the butts of their guns,” says Matar. “One of them even tried to rape me with a stick, but gave up when I continued to resist. Then he peed on me.”

Abuse

That Thursday, Matar was in Wadi as-Seeq together with some Palestinian and left-wing Israeli activists to protect the Palestinian Bedouins in the village from Israeli settlers. That is a term for Jewish Israelis who live in illegal settlements in the West Bank under international law. Settlers near Wadi as-Seeq had threatened to expel Bedouins. They succeeded: on the plateau where Matar tells about his abuse, the Bedouins now live in a few tents between the boulders.

Mohammed Mataremployee of the Palestinian Authority.
Mohammed Matar
The injuries that Mohammed Matar says he sustained after torture by Israeli men. This cannot be verified by NRC.
Mohammed Matar
Matar says he was tortured for eight hours by a group of about ten to fifteen Israeli men.
Photo’s Yasmine Omari in Mohammed Matar

“They stole our land,” says Ali Araara (35), a Bedouin who sits next to Matar on a rug in front of one of the tents. He tells how the settlers came to the village with a final warning shortly before attacking Matar and the activists. “They said they would kill us if we didn’t leave within an hour.”

The approximately two hundred Bedouins fled. Some fled in their tractors or cars, others on foot. About thirty of them, including about twenty children, ended up on this plain. They have been sleeping in the worn-out tents given to them by Palestinian residents for three weeks now. Furthermore, they have to survive with one water tank and the few chickens, turkeys and goats they managed to bring with them. The sanitary facilities consist of a rusted toilet cubicle, which has a sticker from the European Union with the text: ‘humanitarian aid and civil protection’.

Araara does not feel protected in the least. He points to the highway on the hills in the distance. “The other day there were settlers driving there who got out of their cars to look at us,” he says. “They can return at any moment to shoot at us. The children startle every time a car drives past and I don’t know how to reassure them.”

While international attention focuses on the war in the Gaza Strip, the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian residential areas in the West Bank continues apace. This development is certainly not new, but it is directly related to the current war. On the one hand, because the ever-escalating land seizure by Israeli settlers was an important reason for Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7. On the other hand, because since the atrocities of Hamas, the violent expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank has escalated even further.

While almost 200 Palestinians were killed by Israeli settlers and government forces in the West Bank this year prior to October 7, according to UN figures, at least 120 Palestinians have been killed in the few weeks since. In the short period between October 7 and 19 alone, more than 550 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Meanwhile, Arabic place names are being erased from road signs and settlers are distributing pamphlets threatening Palestinians with “a new Nakba” – a reference to the violent expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians after Israel was founded in 1948.

No empty threats

These are not empty threats, says Zaid Shuaibi, a Palestinian activist and field researcher for al-Haq, one of the oldest Palestinian human rights organizations. The 34-year-old man with glasses is sitting in an empty cafe in Ramallah. The business is actually closed due to a strike in response to Israel’s bombing of the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza the day before.

“We see signals everywhere that this government is looking for a new Nakba,” says Shuaibi. He refers, among other things, to a recently leaked Israeli government document, which advises to ‘evacuate’ the population of the Gaza Strip (2.2 million people) to the Sinai desert in Egypt. Despite “challenges in terms of international legitimacy,” the document states, this plan brings the most “positive long-term outcomes for Israel.” Although Netanyahu has dismissed the document as just a ‘draft proposal’ and the officials who drafted it have little influence, according to Israeli media, the leaked document has further fueled Palestinian fears.

The desire to expel the Palestinians also existed in previous Israeli governments, Shuaibi emphasizes, but is being expressed more and more openly under Netanyahu, especially since he formed a coalition with far-right parties last year. His Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir, himself a settler, has repeatedly called for the annexation of the West Bank. After the unprecedented destruction that settlers caused in the Palestinian village of Huwara last February, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the place “should be wiped off the map” and that “the state should do that.”

I felt his hatred as he pressed my head into the ground with his shoe

“The settlers’ crimes are not individual actions, but part of government policy,” says Shuaibi. “Certainly after October 7, the Israeli government gave settlers a license to take revenge on all Palestinians. This is evident from the fact that Ben Gvir openly hands out heavy weapons to them. And look at the images now making the rounds on Israeli social media. For example, settlers have even started a TikTok challenge, which consists of uploading videos of Palestinians they have ‘arrested’ and adding cheerful Israeli songs to them..”

According to Matar, the settlers who attacked Wadi as-Seeq also made it clear that they had nothing to fear from the authorities. “The day before they mockingly said that we can call the police if we are afraid. They know it won’t do anything anyway.”

In fact, both the Israeli police and the army took part in the attack, said Matar and other eyewitnesses quoted by the AFP news agency. According to him, some men whom Matar thought he recognized as colonists were also wearing army uniforms. “The already blurred line between settlers and soldiers has become even blurrier,” the left-wing Israeli newspaper concluded Haaretz. The police did not respond to questions from that newspaper, the army indicated it was launching an investigation and said it had fired the commander who carried out the arrest. The army also stated that ‘the suspects’ had a knife and an ax with them. Matar denies this.

The law offers no protection to Palestinians, says Shuaibi. According to him, Israeli investigations such as those announced by the army almost never yield anything in practice, and the investigation into war crimes in the Palestinian territories that the International Criminal Court established in 2021 has also been delayed for years, according to him. “This while the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Putin within a month of his invasion of Ukraine,” says the human rights activist. “It shows for the umpteenth time the double standard of the international community.”

The Palestinians also do not have to count on their own government, the Palestinian Authority (PA). “I immediately called the authority when we saw the settlers coming,” says Matar, who works for the PA. “But they didn’t do anything for us. That is the tragedy: people like us who try to protect our people are not protected themselves.”

While Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territories in the West Bank are theoretically governed by the PA. “But in practice, the PA has become Israel’s subcontractor,” says Shuaibi. “In exchange for money and positions, they usually do what Israel asks of them.”

Some members of the Bedouin community of Wadi Al Seeq, driven from their land by illegal Israeli settlers, find temporary shelter a few kilometers away on the outskirts of the Palestinian town of Taybeh in the occupied West Bank.
Photos Yasmine Omari
Children play a game.
A child in Wadi Al Seeq does her homework.
Yasmine Omari’s photo
Some members of the Bedouin community of Wadi Al Seeq, driven from their land by illegal Israeli settlers, find temporary shelter a few kilometers away on the outskirts of the Palestinian town of Taybeh in the occupied West Bank.
Photo’s Yasmine Omani

The great dissatisfaction among Palestinians about this has not only historically fueled the rise of Hamas, but in the past few years has also contributed to the emergence of smaller armed Palestinian movements in the West Bank, such as the Jenin Brigades in the Jenin refugee camp and the ‘Lions’ Den’ in the city of Nablus. Hamas also operates underground there.

Intifada

Since October 7, there have been reports of some skirmishes between the Israeli army on the one hand and these new groups and Hamas on the other. However, Shuaibi doubts whether these will culminate in an ‘intifada’ (all-out uprising) like in 1987 or 2000. “The West Bank lacks centralized leadership for that,” he says. “And if this emerges, Israel will immediately clamp down on it.”

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But an intifada can take different forms, says Shuaibi, who argues that in other respects you can already speak of a ‘third intifada’ since 2021. He points to the massive protests that year, the stronger unity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the politicization of Palestinian youth and the massive pro-Palestine demonstrations in the diaspora. “I belong to a generation that is less easy to push away,” he says. “Even if the Israelis kill us, we will not allow ourselves to be driven from our land.”

But among the tents and boulders on the plain near Wadi as-Seeq, such fighting spirit is hard to find. “The future does not exist,” says Araara curtly. He is especially concerned about the fact that his children cannot go to school and he will soon have to return the borrowed tent. According to him, all his belongings were stolen by the colonists. “They even took my daughter’s medicine.”

The abused Matar also has no hope left. Even if the Palestinians in the West Bank manage to resist, he believes it will only end badly for them. “Then the Israelis will slaughter us and deport us to Jordan,” he says. “A new Nakba is just a matter of time.”




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