Yair, on behalf of The Villages Group writes:
We began our morning shopping at Hura (Israeli Bedouin town). The supermarket owner, a learned, nice man who already knows us, refused to let us pay for the food we bought for D and her family. We also bought diapers, a gas stove, and Sim cards and chargers for the three phones we received as a donation and passed on to friends whose devices were stolen or vandalized.
We continued to Umm al-Khair, a village we have been visiting for over 15 years, and most of whose inhabitants we know. In the past, this village has suffered friction with Carmel settlement that was built right next door, but in recent years there was relative quiet. Until the day before yesterday. The village is divided in two – a lower and an upper part. We got separate reports from the two. First is the testimony of Kh., from the lower part of Umm al-Khair:
"At 6 p.m. (Sunday, October 29), a white pickup truck came to the village with three masked settlers in army uniforms and bearing M16 rifles [note: no one knows whether they are colonists pretending to be soldiers or settlers called up for reserves or regular army service]. They threatened with their weapons – "If you move, we'll shoot you!" – closed all the women and children in one of the houses, and concentrated all the men in a central tent.
"If you move, we'll shoot you!"
"They took away everyone's phones, forcing people to turn them on, and went over all the photos and WhatsApp messages and social media. They deleted every photo that showed soldiers or destruction scenes from Gaza, or Gazan children, and questioned the phone owner: "Why did you take this photo? Are you a Hamas supporter? You'll all pay for what you did in the Israeli area around Gaza."
"We tried to say we are not Hamas and do not support their actions, and why do they treat us this way, but they responded violently.
"They continued to the Youth Center [the village has a small center that is used for youth and youngster encounters and contains a playground, library etc.], tore off the walls all the drawings that showed the Palestine flag, that the children of the village drew in their summer camp which volunteers held there for learning English. They broke a new laptop computer, threw around, tore up and scattered all the books in the library. From there they continued their rampage to the upper part of the village."
After hearing Kh., we too continued to the upper part and sat with T., who told us the following:
"The settlers came in a white ISUZU pickup truck, each with his M16, a handgun and a knife. Their leader was tall, one was very short and one dark-skinned. They were masked and used pseudonyms such as 'Johnnie' but sometimes got mixed up and called their leader by his real name rather than Johnnie.
"Luckily, we managed to distance the children and women before they arrived. They concentrated us in the tent under armed threats, placed their vehicle opposite the opening so it would shine its light on us: 'Sit facing the wall! Don't move! You are all Hamas! Where's the Mukhtar (head of the village)?' I told him we have none and that he can speak with me. "Go bring him! You have one minute. You see this weapon? These bullets can blow your head in two. Tell everyone that whoever moves we'll blow his brains out!'
"While I went to get A., they approached the men one by one and opened their phones under armed threat. They yelled and cursed and beat up people every time they found a video or photos connected with the war. In M.'s phone they found pictures of him with a gun and immediately stood him up and pointed their rifles at him. 'I am a policeman for the PA, I work for Abu Mazen.' They called and 4 soldiers immediately came with an officer in an army vehicle. The army personnel said not a word to the settlers and just took M. for questioning. When people spoke to each other the settlers silenced them – 'Silence! We'll kill anyone who opens their mouth!'
"They continued rummaging the phones and hitting people, reset some of the phones and deleted everything. A. came and asked what the problem was and why they were here. 'Don't ask questions. We are doing the asking here.' I got up to help my cousin whom they hit hard in the back with their rifles. They pointed their guns at me again: 'I'll blow your brains out!'
"The leader yelled at us: 'You're glad that Hamas kills Jews, cuts open pregnant women's bellies, kills elderly people, That is... You're glad?'
"No, I answered. We are not glad, unconnected to Hamas, we are simple people, shepherds. We are against murder, on either side."
"No, I answered. We are not glad, unconnected to Hamas, we are simple people, shepherds. We are against murder, on either side.
"'Don't talk on either side! Hamas are murderers! You are Hamas!'
"They asked whom we know in the Carmel settlement, and I named a few people. The short guy said he was from Carmel and knows us, and that in the past he sat with my father and drank our tea.
"Their leader said: "You have to decide if you're with us or against us. If you are against Hamas, I want to photograph you saying this.' They stood A. in front of everyone and forced him to speak against Hamas and translate it so that everyone would repeat this text. We are very afraid that they will distribute this video and make us look like collaborators. Hamas supporters and even extreme people from the PLO could take revenge. It puts us in great danger.
"'Now you have to prove to us that you are with us. Tomorrow evening at 7 we'll be back and I want to see an Israeli flag on every house. Otherwise, we'll kill you.'
"We are Palestinians, I answered. Where do we get Israeli flags? How will we put them up? We'll be killed. 'If you don't put up a flag, I'll be back and kill you and all the others.' And then they left."
From there we continued to Tuba, about which Erella has written to you already.