"To live or die" in Al-Mugayyir

It has the beauty of a placid rural town, with olive trees rooted in the Jordà valley, but "it's dangerous", the driver interrupts the idyll.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
12 May 2024 Sunday 17:36
2 Reads
"To live or die" in Al-Mugayyir

It has the beauty of a placid rural town, with olive trees rooted in the Jordà valley, but "it's dangerous", the driver interrupts the idyll. From the hills of Al-Mugayyir comes its terrible threat: Israeli settlers, who often come down and subdue this town with their aggressions.

This Palestinian community of 2,000 inhabitants had never suffered attacks as destructive as those on April 12 and 13, in which armed Israeli civilians took revenge for the death of a 14-year-old Jewish shepherd. This assault was one of 17 that took place that weekend, and one of more than 800 in the occupied West Bank since October 7, according to the UN. The scars remain in homes like that of Muhammad and Rània Abu Aliya.

Soot and ashes cover the two-story building, with one part used as housing and another that used to be a mechanical workshop. Being close to an outpost (illegal even for Israel, but the embryo of future settlements), the settlers raped them for two days in a row.

Without losing the half-smile that seems to characterize him, Muhammad explains that on the 12th one of the assailants pointed at him with a gun that had no bullets or was not working. A "miracle" that allowed him to "resist" and "force the settlers to leave". "They came back on the 13th in retaliation because they hadn't managed to set fire to the garage or the house, so when they arrived they set everything on fire."

Drunk on power, they left the couple living with the corpses of the vehicles consumed by the flames and inhaling a burning smell that worsens with the slightest breeze. Worse still, Muhammad and his wife – who is six months pregnant and suffered a stress abortion last year after an Israeli army raid – have no choice but to continue living in this house, that they haven't finished paying and has been assessed as unsafe by an engineer, due to fire damage.

"I'm ready to die in the street before I leave this place," swears Muhammad, who now works in a workshop outside Al-Mugayyir because of the impossibility of tending to his own. A customer is waiting for him while he talks to La Vanguardia and hears how the young man promises to face future attacks, even if that means he is the only one arrested.

"The settler comes from a very distant place, burns, breaks and destroys everything, and is considered a victim. For me, who lives in my house, I only care about earning a living and my only concern is my work and my family, I am considered a terrorist", he reproaches.

Statements by residents and videos they recorded during the pogroms report a repeated pattern: settlers backed by soldiers who do not intervene to stop them and otherwise assist them or go against the Palestinians who try to to protect.

This almost total impunity is made evident by the fact that only 3% of police cases opened since 2005 for settler violence have resulted in convictions. "It is illogical, we need justice. What can we do as civilians against them, when they have the protection of the army, which does nothing for us?” laments Marzuq Abu Naim, vice president of the local council.

He claims that "1,500 settlers" took part in the attacks and caused "75 injuries", including one person who was left paraplegic by the violence and another whose leg had to be amputated. Next to him, Afef carries the same impotence . His son Jihad was killed in the assaults by a shot in the neck that has not been determined whether it was from the weapon of a settler or a soldier. He bled to death, partly because Israeli forces blocked the arrival of the ambulance, his family condemns.

"What happened to my son could have happened to any other family", affirms Afef, who is "accustomed" to the increase in attacks. Without letting go of the grenade he uses to pray, he adds that the settlers not only "burned houses and cars", but also "cut down and stole trees and killed sheep".

The table at the entrance of the family home is completed by Afef's brother, who invites us to some salty doughs filled with cheese and zaatar, a mixture of spices composed mainly of a plant similar to oregano. Since the Israeli army - which has surveillance posts in the hills surrounding Al-Mugayyir - has forbidden him access to the crops, the man had to sneak in to pick the leaves. "I had to steal from my own land", he jokes.

Humor serves as protection here against the loss of Jihad, a "gentle" boy who was two months away from getting married and who "everyone loved". The young man's face is everywhere in the town, and in the mosque, whose loudspeakers are also used to warn of settlers.

His death, however, was in the house of Abdel·latif, a relative whose building was on the front line and which the settlers tried to invade. On the roof where Jihad was shot are intact the bullet holes and the stones that were thrown at them and they themselves used to get back there.

Knowing the area where he has lived for fifty years, Abdellatif has seen Israeli settlements and sites grow in the "last 15 years" and indicates that the pogroms are more organized than before, using even M16 rifles delivered without control by the Minister of Security, colonel Itamar Ben-Gvir. "They come in more quantities, with more weapons and the protection of the army", he says.

A reality that makes them live "always with fear, anxiety and instability because they can return at any time". Despite this, Abdel·latif does not budge from a repeated promise to Al-Mugayyir: "We will continue standing in this land. We will not leave, we will die here".