This article was originally published on Liberal Conspiracy.
Scorched earth stretched out before me. To my right the fire was still burning across the hillside spreading through olive trees. To my left all that remained was charred black earth.
All around me, men were moving, unable to rest but also unable to access their land to tackle the fire. All they could do was to stand watching as their livelihoods and land burnt.
An hour earlier, 22 year old Najeh al-Safadi had tried to put out the fire on his land and had been shot in the stomach by the private security staff from the overlooking settlement. At the time of writing it is unknown if he will walk again after the bullet damaged his spine.
I was stood with some residents from Urif, a small village in the West Bank close to Nablus. Urif stands on the opposite side of the valley to the illegal settlement of Yitzhar which is described in the New York Times as, “an extremist bastion on the hilltops”.
Violent action from the settlers directed at both the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and local Palestinians is not uncommon in the area. The International Solidarity Movement reported back in April 2012 that, “that hundreds of villagers [from Urif] have been injured since 2000 [by settlers from Yitzhar], with as many as 40 serious injuries (many of which were gunshot wounds) and one murder”.
Stood on the hillside opposite me, above the one hundred and fifty dunums of burning land but below the settlement of Yitzhar, were a collection of about forty to fifty settlers. A small group of them were still lighting fresh fires, hours after the original fires had been started.
Parked up and stood alongside these settlers were the IDF. The Israeli Army stood by and watched as these crimes unfolded.
A few hours later however, the IDF did intervene. Just as a small number of settlers were on the outskirts of Urif the IDF stepped in. Their contribution? To fire fifty to sixty tear gas canisters at the villagers and international observers who were monitoring the events.
The IDF has said that they, “regard this incident [the shooting] as severe and will thoroughly investigate it”. Between September 2000 to November 2011, B’Tselem sent fifty-five complaints to the Military Advocate General’s Corps regarding cases that raised the suspicion that security forces did not intervene to stop settler violence.
In only five cases was an investigation opened; two of the five were closed without any measures being taken against the soldiers involved. In eighteen cases, no investigation was opened at all. In eleven cases, B’Tselem did not receive any response.
In a flash the ambulances were gone and the only traces that were left of the violence that had just occurred were the smouldering fields and the talk of whether Najeh would make a full recovery.
I left the mayor promising him that I would do what I could to tell the world what I had seen in his village that day.