Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Thursday, 25 September 2008 11:59 UK

West Bank violence breeds hatred

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, the West Bank


Footage of Israeli settler attacks

For a year and a half, Ibrahim Makhlouf, a Palestinian school teacher, has been recording on video attacks on homes in his West Bank village by Jewish settlers.

He says they are getting more frequent and more violent.

"It's frightening. My children don't sleep well at night. They wake up from nightmares of Israelis attacking us," he says.

"They are doing this so we will leave our homes," he adds.

On his computer, Mr Makhlouf shows us footage taken earlier this month.

In it, settlers dressed in white, run down the hillside towards Palestinian houses, shouting.

West Bank map

They enter part of the village and surround homes, pelting windows with stones and rocks.

But some of settlers are also armed. At several points, gunshots can clearly be heard.

Doctors say 10 Palestinians were injured in this incident, four with gunshot wounds.

None of the settlers has been held to account.

Law and order

Mr Makhlouf points out figures wearing green fatigues on the screen.

These, Israeli soldiers, are seen for long periods standing amongst the attacking settlers, seeming to do little to intervene.

Hatred and aggression from the Arabs towards us is nothing new
Elan Ben-Shlomo
Jewish settler

The Israeli army gave us a statement saying it "sees the wounding of Palestinian civilians as severe, and will continue to enforce law and order".

Mr Makhlouf says the soldiers do not do enough.

"This has been going on for years, but nobody stops the settlers, the soldiers just stand and watch, and force us to stay in our homes," he says.

"I decided to start recording the attacks because I wanted people to see what they are doing to us."

Warped and gutted

Mr Makhlouf lives in the village of Asira al-Qabiliya, in the heart of the northern West Bank.

Looking just a few hundred metres up the hill, from his living room window, we can see the tip of a Jewish settlement, Yitzhar. The rest of it is out of view, high, over the ridge.

Elan Ben-Shlomo (L) and an unidentified woman outside a gutted house in Yitzhar
Jewish settlers say this house was burnt down by a Palestinian

In places like Yitzhar, hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers are now living on occupied Palestinian land, under the protection of the Israeli army.

Their presence is seen as one of the biggest obstacles to peace here.

We drove up to Yitzhar, and there, people told us it was they who were the victims, not the Palestinians.

From Elan Ben-Shlomo's home in the settlement, we can look down over Asira al-Qabaliya in the valley below. But his house is warped and gutted.

Mr Ben-Shlomo tells us that, while he and his family were out, it was burnt down by a Palestinian.

He says the same man then attacked a nine-year-old boy with a knife.

"Hatred and aggression from the Arabs towards us is nothing new," he says. "But we have received a lot of support from people all over Israel and we will rebuild our house."

Molotov cocktail

Mr Ben-Shlomo told me it simply was not true that settlers had been attacking Palestinians.

He insisted that any footage we had must have been fabricated.

When I put it to him that, aside from Israel, all countries in the world considered settlements like his, built on occupied Palestinian land, illegal, he said he would never leave.

"This is the land God gave us, if you read The Bible you can know it," he says. "The Arabs and all the people around, have no right to be here."

A couple of buildings away, along the ridge, is an Israeli army post, built to protect the settlers.

Despite heavy security, there are still attempts by Palestinians to attack settlements like this.

Only this week, Israeli soldiers shot dead a 14-year-old Palestinian boy, who they say was trying to throw a molotov cocktail towards Yitzhar.

The complaint from Palestinians is that, for years, settlers have been attacking their villages, burning their farmlands, and injuring their people.

And they say, for them, there is no protection and their attackers go unpunished.

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