2 May 2009
For three days in a row settlers from the right-wing extremist settlement Bet Ayn have entered the land of Khirbet Saffa, an area of Beit Ommar Municipality, shooting at Palestinian homes and damaging agricultural land. On Friday, May 1, approximately 20 settlers set fire to fruit trees belonging to residents of Saffa. Israeli soldiers arrived and chased the settlers away, but then prevented residents from accessing the land to put out the fire, which continued for hours. Soldiers used tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets on Palestinians who gathered in the area to defend the land.
On Saturday, May 2, at approximately 10:30am, settlers again entered privately-owned Palestinian land. They left shortly after, but later at approximately 4:30pm returned in a group of 30 individuals who came within 75 meters of Palestinian homes. Once again, they fired indiscriminately at homes and threw rocks through several windows. Israeli forces again arrived and the settlers quickly moved back, but Israeli forces, rather than escorting the settlers back to the settlement, as they do with farmers who attempt to access their land in the same area, the Israeli soldiers began shooting live ammunition in the streets. Two Palestinian men were shot, one in the upper thigh and one in the lower back. Both required surgery to extract the bullets. Another two Palestinians were treated by medics on the scene with injuries due to rubber-coated steel bullets. Israeli media later reported that 4 Israelis, two settlers and two off-duty Israeli soldiers had been arrested for instigating the riot.
On Sunday, May 3, a man and two women with agricultural land near the illegal settlement attempted to pick grape leaves, accompanied by international solidarity activists who were present to try to deter settler violence such as that which occurred last week. Israeli soldiers arrived soon after the Palestinians arrived, demanding that the entire group leave immediately. They eventually presented a map and order that the entire agricultural area near the Bet Ayn settlement is a closed military zone, and therefore not accessible to the Palestinian owners, for the next week. When farmers pointed out that settlers were being allowed daily to walk through those same land to approach Khirbet Saffa, the Israeli commander only repeated that if the group did not leave within 5 minutes everyone would be arrested.