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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 September 2005, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
A frightening family feud
By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, West Bank

The Christian village of Taybeh and the neighbouring Muslim village of Deir Jarir have always got along well. But last weekend hundreds of armed men from Deir Jarir attacked Taybeh. The reason? An alleged relationship between a Christian man from Taybeh and a Muslim woman from Deir Jarir.

Nadim Khoury
Nadim and his brewery escaped the attacks in Taybeh

The road into Taybeh looks much like the road into 100 Palestinian villages. A winding hilly road, hugged by stone houses.

The view from here is of olive trees and distant Israeli settlements.

But pass the outskirts of this village, and your eye catches on the blackened walls of a house to your left.

Drive on a little more, and there is another - its gaping windows leaking soot.

Look up, and you will see the armed guards dotting Taybeh's rooftops.

This is a town holding its breath, a town still in shock.

Interview almost any Palestinian, and the chances are you will be offered a glass of tea beforehand.

Nadim Khoury is an exception. "No, no," he tells me as I switch on the tape recorder, "first you must drink some beer."

Nadim runs the Taybeh Brewery. Until a week ago, it was why Taybeh was famous.

Nadim proudly shows me the wall of newspaper cuttings from Israel, America, and Europe.

But I have not come to do another story on the success of Taybeh beer.

I have come to talk about the blackened houses, the armed guards outside the brewery gates, the night last weekend when Taybeh's Muslim neighbours came to the door.

'Screaming'

Nadim's voice shakes as he tells me what happened.

West Bank

"There were two or three hundred people," he says, "on the roof of the brewery over there; climbing over my neighbour's wall, carrying guns and big sticks.

"My sisters picked up stones to throw at them. We were screaming at them not to burn the brewery."

Nadim was lucky - the brewery escaped. But the mob burned 13 houses that night - all of them belonging to Nadim's extended family.

His cousins hid in the olive groves overlooking the village and watched as their homes were torched.

The burnings were a punishment from the neighbouring village of Deir Jarir.

The target, Nadim's cousin, Mahdi - a Christian - was accused of having a relationship with a Muslim woman from Deir Jarir, which his family denies.

But the woman, Hayem Ejerj, was not around to give her version. She was buried more than a week ago.

Many here suspect this may have been an honour killing - that Hayem was murdered by her family to wipe out the perceived shame of her behaviour.

Her two brothers are now under arrest.

Truce

The corridor outside the mayor's office in Taybeh is bustling.

A constant flow of supplicants, journalists, religious leaders and security chiefs all come to ask the mayor how the case is going.

His door opens and a knot of guards spills out. Poised in their midst is the West Bank regional governor.

The mayor wipes his face. "I've got the patriarch coming in a minute," he says, "what do you want to know?"

The attack, he tells me, was totally unexpected.

"We've always had good relations with Deir Jarir. We share the olive harvest, we go to each other's weddings. When I buried my father, half of Deir Jarir was there."

The mayor is relying on a truce brokered between the two families to calm the situation, and a police investigation to settle the row.

But many in Deir Jarir itself say it is this kind of investigation that caused the problems in the first place.

The family, they say, never wanted this kind of fuss.

According to them, Hayem committed suicide. They buried her quickly to end the matter.

It was the police - suspicious at the swift, unregistered burial - who exhumed the woman.

It was their tests that confirmed she was pregnant, and made the family's dishonour public.

Twenty-four hours later, Taybeh was attacked.

'Palestinian tradition'

The noise of cicadas is loud outside Saoud Jeidani's house.

One of the dead woman's relatives, Saoud sits with friends in this quiet corner of Deir Jarir, nursing a Coca-Cola.

No investigation will convince the family of Mahdi's innocence he says. And no prison term will constitute justice. There are some things you cannot compensate for. Mahdi must die.

The death threat is supported by some in Deir Jarir's traditional council. Men like Abu Rashid - proud and straight-spined despite his years.

"In Palestinian tradition," he says, "when you make a mistake like this, you pay with your blood.

"It doesn't mean we're not brothers. The people of Taybeh and the people of Deir Jarir are one family."

Revenge fears

The distance between the two villages is less than half a mile.

From the road, the minaret of Deir Jarir rises slender above the rooftops; a little further on, it snakes past Taybeh's Roman Catholic school.

They may talk of being one family, but chinks have appeared between the two communities.

The men from Deir Jarir last weekend burned Taybeh's houses to shouts of Allahu-akbar; the young men in Taybeh, so the rumours go, are talking of revenge attacks.

This is not so much a battle between Christian and Muslim as one between Palestinian officialdom and tribal justice.

But the fear is that it is a battle that could spin out of control.

The tension in Taybeh blinks at you in snapshots: the red eyes of men in the council offices; the closed and empty school; the lone gunman standing guard on a rooftop.

One woman is dead. Three men are in jail. Two families are waiting for justice.

Few on either side want communal conflict to bubble out of a family feud, but it is what many of their leaders are frightened of.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 3 September, 2005 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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