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'We will stay here until Palestine is free,' says farmer beaten by Jewish settlers

51-year-old Palestinian farmer Hafez Hureini
51-year-old Palestinian farmer Hafez Hureini

Last month, a 51-year-old Palestinian farmer was tending to his family land on the outskirts of the village of At-Tuwani, where they grow olives, figs, tomatoes and zucchini. A group of five masked Israeli settlers, armed with MI6 rifles, bats and metal pipes, emerged suddenly from the nearby illegal settlement outpost of Havat Ma'on and assaulted him.

In an attempt to defend himself, Hafez Hureini lifted his shovel to block their strikes. Despite this, his arms were dislocated and broken.

"When the settlers started shooting," he told me, "I used all my energy to get away from them and sat nearby waiting for the ambulance." However, when the Palestinian ambulance crew arrived and started to give him first aid, a large force of Israeli soldiers arrived and detained him.

The Jewish settlers, he explained, shouted to the soldiers to arrest him, even though the ambulance crew from the Palestinian Red Crescent (PRC) showed them his broken arms. The settlers alleged that Hureini had attacked them, and the soldiers then destroyed the stretcher on which he was lying, slashed the tyres of the ambulance and attacked the PRC crew.

"They arrested me for trying to kill a settler and even used handcuffs on my ankles before taking me to the investigation centre in the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba in occupied Hebron. They interrogated me and I gave them my testimony in all honesty with every detail. I explained to them that I was the one who was attacked on my land and had my arms broken by the settlers."

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51-year-old Palestinian farmer Hafez Hureini

51-year-old Palestinian farmer Hafez Hureini

The family's lawyer was only allowed to speak to him briefly, and was banned from being present during the interrogation.

According to Israeli security officials last month, "A group of Palestinians approached the outpost, prompting two Israelis to confront them. One of the Palestinians then attacked one of the Israelis, and the other Israeli fired in the air. Soldiers then arrived at the scene to separate the two sides."

Haaretz reported that the Palestinian "suspect" was "lightly injured in the confrontation." The newspaper failed to mention the fact that both of the alleged suspect Hureini's arms were broken by the settlers during their attack; that is what "lightly injured" means, apparently. "How can a man with broken arms beat someone?" he asked.

During his ten days in detention, Hureini had to appear at the Israeli military court in Ofer Prison. He was transferred to the court in a vehicle in which Palestinian prisoners are handcuffed on metal chairs. This was an extremely painful experience for him to be transported in such a way to and from the court. He was released on bail of 10,000 shekels ($2,890) after 10 days of such physical torture. None of the five settlers who were involved has been arrested or even questioned.

"This is what Israel means by 'justice'," said Hureini. "Palestinian victims are turned into 'criminals' and made to suffer. I spent more than 24 hours without sleep, and was then interrogated for hours over and over. Apparently, I am the 'criminal'."

Born and raised in At-Tuwani in the Masafer Yatta region of the occupied West Bank, Hafez Hureini is a prominent human rights activist. Over the years he has observed ever more attacks by illegal Israeli settlers and occupation troops. It's all part of Israel's ongoing ethnic cleansing of occupied Palestine.

He remembers when the first settlers came to the area in the 1980s, and they established the outpost that would become the illegal Ma'on settlement. "At the beginning of the eighties, the Israeli occupation authorities started to implement an apartheid policy as the ethnic cleansing continued. They separated the entire area from the city of Yatta by the well-known bypass road 317 and divided it into two parts: a settlement area and the other military firing zone 918."

51-year-old Palestinian farmer Hafez Hureini

51-year-old Palestinian farmer Hafez Hureini

Masafer Yatta is to the south of Hebron and falls within Area C, which is 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank. It is under Israel's military and administrative control and, as a result, the occupation state reserves the area largely for the benefit of illegal Jewish settlers. The area is not connected to the water and electricity grids which supply the surrounding illegal settlements and outposts. Israel forbids the Palestinians in the area from building or connecting their properties to public services. It also restricts their access to their pastures and enables settler violence in order to make Palestinian lives so unbearable that they will leave of their own volition.

"The Israeli occupation began by stealing and confiscating lands and building settlements on them for extremist settlers," Hureini pointed out. "From the eighties until today, Israel continues its apartheid and ethnic cleansing policies through the military administration that governs and controls us. Land is confiscated and stolen; areas are closed to Palestinians; and military checkpoints are placed at the entrances to villages. We also face a constant barrage of insults and harassment."

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He noted that his family has had more than 60 per cent of its land stolen and handed over to Israeli settlers. "This is a war crime."

As well as being released on bail last month, Hureini was also banned from tending to his own farmland for 30 days.

The local Palestinian community has noticed a surge in Israeli raids and settler attacks since the Israeli High Court approved in May the demolition of the homes of more than 1,000 Palestinians living in some eight communities in Masafer Yatta to make room for Israeli military training. The decision prompted strong local and international condemnation.

"That court ruling is evidence that the Israeli occupation state continues to carry out the crime of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians," said Hafez Hureini, "However, we won't stop our peaceful protests even as they try to expel us from our land. For us, that's how life is, until Palestine is free."

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