Retaliatory attacks on Palestinian villages have been compared to the “Kristallnacht of Huwara“, which left 1 dead and 350 injured.
The giant roller gates at the entrance to the small Palestinian village of Za’atara, north of the occupied West Bank, are rarely closed. However, on Sunday, residents of Zaatar braced for retaliatory violence, fearing that Israeli settlers living in the area would take revenge for the killing of two brothers who were shot dead by a Palestinian gunman in nearby Huwara.
The arrival of the settlers was swift. Villagers said that by dusk, about 100 armed Israelis and a dozen soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had gathered on the road outside the entrance. When the soldiers tried to get in the way, some of the settlers started shooting at them. Shot in the stomach was 37-year-old blacksmith Sameh Aqtash, who had just returned from volunteering during the Turkish earthquake. According to Aqtash’s nephew Fadi, he bled to death because the army would not clear the road for an ambulance to reach him.
In some way, Aqtash was the only person killed in the unprecedented overnight settler rampage near Huwara: Rights groups and Palestinian officials claim that over 350 Palestinians were injured and that dozens of homes, businesses, and hundreds of cars were set ablaze. A prominent right-wing Israeli commentator, appalled by the IDF’s reported inaction, dubbed the events “Kristallnacht in Huwara” in an article published on Monday morning.
The murders of Yagel Yaniv, 20, and Hillel Yaniv, 22, of the nearby settlement of Har Bracha, sparked the riot on Sunday. Huwara is a well-known flashpoint because the Israeli road Route 60, which runs north to south through the middle of the territory, cuts right through the middle of the village.
According to reports, a gunman shot the brothers multiple times at point-blank range before fleeing the scene after smashing into their car as they were driving through. The unidentified attacker, who is believed to have escaped arrest due to the chaos brought on by the settler rampage, is still being sought by Israeli authorities.
As Fadi Aqtash wrapped his arm around one of Sameh’s five children outside the village mourning tent, he said, “Of course there are lots of settlers and army around here, and sometimes that is difficult. But they have never come to Za’atara before like this.” In the distance, sporadic gunfire could be heard. The 29-year-old stated, “We are very worried about what will happen now.”
Every day, there are incidents of settler violence in the West Bank, and they have steadily increased over the past few years: A religious call to restore Israel’s historic land to the Jewish people motivates many of the 700,000 or so Israelis who live in the territory and East Jerusalem.
The Palestinian people’s lives are supposed to become so unbearable that they have no choice but to leave because of shootings, knife attacks, crop burning, vandalism, and the theft of livestock and land. It has been documented that the Israeli army either participated in or failed to stop the violence on numerous occasions.
However, no one in the Huwara area on Monday could recall such a violent and widespread incident, which Israelis and Palestinians fear could result in additional attacks on both sides and a resumption of full-blown conflict.