Jewish Settlers' Zeal Forces Palestinians to Flee Their Town
By JOEL GREENBERG
New York Times - 22 Oct - KHIRBAT YANUN, West Bank — The alleys of this Palestinian hamlet were silent today, the empty stone houses locked, the small local school deserted.
The last families living here left on Friday, broken by what they said was a year of steadily mounting violence by Jewish settlers living in neighboring outposts on the hills. The gunfire, stone-throwing, physical assaults and vandalism had become unbearable, they said.
"This was not a life," said Kamal Sbeih, 40, a father of six, who packed up and moved with his family to the neighboring village of Aqraba. "I left against my will. It is more difficult than death, but I would go to the desert so my son can sleep safely."
The evacuation of Khirbat Yanun, a village southeast of Nablus which once numbered 150 people, is the first case in memory in which harassment by Jewish settlers has emptied an entire Palestinian community. It was also an example of how militant young settlers are shaping the conflict in the West Bank after more than two years of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
The zeal of the younger generation of settlers, born and reared in conflict, was on display several miles west of here today, where about 1,000 Jewish youths fought soldiers and police officers who came to evict them from an illegal settlement outpost known as Gilad Farm — one of scores of encampments built in recent years on West Bank hills.
Hurling epithets at the soldiers and urging them to refuse orders, the young protesters clung to shipping containers and barricaded themselves in sheds before they were dragged off, and the structures were demolished. Dozens of people were hurt. After the troops left the area, a few hundred youths returned to rebuild the dismantled structures.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon criticized the settlers today, saying, "There is no issue which justifies violence against soldiers and the security forces."
Outposts similar to the one taken down today, extensions of the Jewish settlement of Itamar, flank Khirbat Yanun.
The slopes below the outposts have become effectively off limits to the villagers in recent years. Settlers have opened fire to scare goat shepherds away and to distance olive pickers from hillside groves, villagers said. Two weeks ago a man from the neighboring village of Aqraba was killed when shots were fired at olive pickers on a hill nearby.
Yaacov Hayman, the chairman of the local council of Itamar, said that after two years of lethal Palestinian attacks, which he said had killed 11 people from the settlement, the villagers had to keep their distance.
"After everything we've been through, we're not willing to let them get near us," Mr. Hayman said. "We're not willing to take any chances."
But settlers have also made violent forays into Khirbat Yanun itself, coming with increasing frequency over the past year, especially on the Jewish sabbath and holidays, villagers said. The settlers would threaten residents at gunpoint, hurl stones from rooftops, smash windows and vandalize property, according to the villagers. They described huddling in their homes with frightened children as settlers pounded on doors.
Mr. Hayman said he was not aware of any such attacks.
Yet the empty hamlet bore scars of violence. Windows were broken in some homes. A blackened building held the rusting remains of a generator, which residents said had been burned by settlers in April, leaving the village with no electricity. Three water tanks that had supplied the village lay empty. Residents said they had been toppled by settlers.
Abdellatif Sbeih, the mayor, showed a scar on his head he said was left from the blow of a settler's rifle. He produced a sheaf of written complaints to the police going back four years, which he said had produced no results. The troubles began five years ago when the settlement outposts first went up, he said, and they have continued unabated.
A police spokesman confirmed that complaints had been received, saying that settlers had been questioned but none had been prosecuted.
As the violence intensified over the years, people began moving out of Khirbat Yanun. Last Friday, the last few families left.
"We always hoped to God that that our complaints would help, but it was all in vain," said Yussef Sbeih, 85, the village elder.
His son, Atef Sbeih, 57, who also left Friday, looked back at his shuttered home, where he said settlers had broken in four months ago.
It was not easy to leave after seven generations of village life, but the welfare of the children was at stake, Kamal Sbeih said.
"One of my sons would cry and hold me in fear, and I had to get up with him at night and take his hand just to go to the bathroom," he said. "No one can accept living like this."
The mayor and a few other men from this abandoned village came back today, saying they had to maintain a presence here to prevent settlers from taking it over.
"This our land and we can't surrender it to them under any conditions," Mayor Sbeih said. "We hope that if the situation calms down, we'll be able to return with the children."
"Inshallah," he added, "God willing."