At approximately 4am yesterday, Israeli forces entered the Palestinian village of Khirbet Qawasis and demolished the home of Yousef Abu 'Aram following protests by settlers from the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Yaier.
The soldiers then stormed the village of Zuwaidin and destroyed several community bathrooms legally built on the side of a main road to the village. Soldiers prevented local activists from leaving their vehicles to film the demolition.
"We are sad and upset about what happened today," says Yousef. "The Israeli authorities want to move us from our land and take it, but we will not move."
Yousef had completed construction of the house on his land in the southern West Bank governorate of Hebron only a fortnight ago; a house he had hoped would protect his seven children from the coming winter.
"The situation is really bad," says Yousef, who had intended to plough the land and nurture his trees in the South Hebron Hills, just a few metres from the settlers' road to Mitzpe Yaier.
They have left a family of seven children and their parents with no shelter, and now we sit under the trees and will be sleeping on the ground and covering ourselves with the sky.
Israeli settlers routinely harassed Yousef during the construction of his concrete house and the Israeli Civil Administration, under pressure from the settlers, confiscated some of his building materials. The fate of the house was due to be determined at a court hearing scheduled for yesterday, however the Israeli Civil Administration unlawfully demolished the home ahead of the hearing.
"It's a new thing for settlers to go out to Palestinian houses to protest against the buildings," says human rights activist, Tariq Hathaleen, who lives in the nearby village of Umm Al-Khair. "The military want to satisfy the settlers, so if there are building materials they confiscate them. If there's a tent, they will dismantle it and take it away. If it's a building, the Civil Administration will work very hard to demolish it."
Hathaleen says that the rate of demolitions is increasing in the South Hebron Hills, where some 30 Palestinian villages can expect as many demolitions to occur in a month as they once did in a year.
"The number is increasing because of the settlers' pressure. Not just them, but also because of settler NGOs, like Regavim, that works in the South Hebron Hills and across Palestine. They have people who drive cars around Palestinian villages and they also fly drones. Once they catch a Palestinian building a house, they inform the Civil Administration and the military."
Regavim, a pro-settler not-for-profit that has received millions of shekels of public funds, is leading the legal battle to demolish the Palestinian village of Susiya.
According to B'Tselem, Israel demolished at least 1,342 Palestinian residential units in the West Bank between 2006 and 30 June 2018, displacing 6,024 people including at least 3,040 children. Israel has aggressively pursued a policy of demolishing Palestinian homes, schools, health facilities and other essential infrastructure since it began occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. These demolitions are a violation of The Hague and Fourth Geneva Conventions.
Israeli authorities deny most Palestinian applications for the necessary building permits in Israeli-controlled "Area C", which accounts for around 60 per cent of the West Bank, forcing Palestinians to build without permission and live under constant threat of demolition.
Meanwhile, Jewish-only settlements like Mitzpe Yaier continue to expand on Palestinian land with the backing of the Israeli government. Around 600,000 Israelis live in over 250 settlements and outposts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids occupying powers from transferring their civilians to occupied territory. Settlements are usually built on stolen Palestinian land in "Area C", where Khirbet Qawasis is located.
Israel has demarcated approximately 70 per cent of Area C for unlawful settlement expansion, as well as outposts, firing zones, state lands and national parks. This policy has fractured Palestinian land and created a hostile environment for Palestinians living nearby.
"Every day we hear of a new incident of settler violence happening," says Hathaleen. "Two people from the South Hebron Hills were attacked this year. These people were attacked in less than one week."
According to Hathaleen, both incidents involved settlers from the illegal Israeli outpost Havat Maon. His friend Sami was injured in one incident after settlers drove their motorcycle down a Palestinian road directly at him, running him over and breaking his leg in three places. The other incident involved a shepherd, who was walking with his flock when settlers attacked him with wooden sticks, leaving him with a broken leg and injuries to his head and hand. One of the settlers tried to shoot the shepherd several times but the gun did not fire. "This man was lucky to survive," says Hathaleen, who adds that Palestinian shepherds are routinely attacked by Israeli settlers and soldiers if they aren't accompanied by international volunteers. "Settlers don't attack Palestinians in front of cameras."
Many settlers carry government-issued weapons with them outside their homes. Settlers usually attack Palestinians in groups, and attacks often involve throwing stones at people and their property; firing live ammunition at or near Palestinians, homes and schools; the burning of trees and agricultural land; and vandalising vehicles and other property.
According to UN OCHA, an average of seven incidents of settler violence a month led to Palestinian casualties in the first four months of 2018. An average of 14 incidents a month caused property damage. Israeli human rights group Yesh Din reports that only 8.1 per cent of investigations into ideologically motivated offenses against Palestinians have led to an indictment since 2005, and 82 per cent of investigations were closed due to police failures.
Report by Sawsan Bastawy, @SawsanHefny