Bethlehem, Occupied West Bank – The small Palestinian village of Kisan, nestled atop the rugged, picturesque hills of the occupied West Bank, has faced intensified Israeli land theft and settler attacks in recent months.
Kisan – some 18km (11 miles) south of Bethlehem – is surrounded by several illegal Israeli settlements and outposts, including Ma’ale Amos, Mizpe Shalem and Abei Hanahal, constructed on large tracts of private land expropriated from Palestinian owners.
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Weeks ago, Israel announced it would be seizing hundreds of hectares of village land, located southeast, to be turned into a “nature reserve”, according to the Wall and Settlements Resistance Commission.
In May, local media reported the village was informed by the Israeli army that new settlement units would be built on lands west of the village, after which settlers began razing the land. In late June, residents reported 20 mobile homes for settlers were set up in the area, estimated at more than 50 dunams (5 hectares).
The town’s 600 residents also experience violence at the hands of Israeli settlers living nearby on an almost daily basis, with a number of children injured on roads by settlers who deliberately target them. Settlers accuse Palestinian children of throwing stones at them, according to Israeli media.
“It’s scary walking to school and back as there are always problems,” one schoolboy, Muhammad Ata Abiat, told Al Jazeera.
From Layla Ghazzal’s balcony, looking down over the valley, the Abei Hanahal outpost can be seen on the next hilltop. Her family, including 10 children aged from five to 25, has experienced the violence of settlers who descend from the outpost.
“Last year my son Muhammad, 20, was going to work at his construction site nearby when he was attacked by four settlers in the evening,” Layla told Al Jazeera.
“They tried to stab him in his head and when he put up his arm to fend off the attack his arm was slashed and he had to go to hospital to receive stitches,” she continued.
“Around the same time, another boy Bilal Said, 16, was run over by a settler car who broke his leg.”
According to the latest humanitarian report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), since September 7, there were 11 Israeli settler attacks on Palestinian civilians. So far in 2021, there were 290 settler attacks on Palestinians resulting in property damage and 93 attacks resulting in casualties.
In early September, settlers from Abei Hanahal uprooted 50 olive seedlings, residents of Kisan said. Settler violence is also meted out to Palestinians who try to tend their agricultural fields.
Ibrahim Ghazzal, the brother of Kisan’s Deputy Mayor Ahmed Ghazzal told Al Jazeera, “We never know when the next settler attack will happen.”
A month ago, settlers attacked one of the villagers Hussein Abiat and his sons as they inspected a plot of land they rented from its Palestinian owner for cultivation.
“They were beaten on their heads, arms and legs, causing bleeding and fractures and had to be taken to hospital where they were kept for five days,” Ahmed told Al Jazeera.
The Land Research Centre, a Palestinian organisation that monitors, supports and protects Palestinian land, said Israel had expropriated thousands of dunums of Kisan village land over the years.
Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, the occupied West Bank was divided into Area C, which comprises 60 percent of the occupied territory and falls under full Israeli control, Area B which falls under joint Palestinian and Israeli control, and Area A administered by the Palestinian Authority.
The accords were only meant to last five years before the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Some 11 percent of Kisan was set aside as a nature reserve, 40 percent was put under Palestinian administration and Israeli security control, while the rest was to fall under Area C or full Israeli control.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem has said Israel’s planning and building policy in the West Bank is aimed at preventing Palestinian development and dispossessing Palestinians of their land.
“Israel views Area C as there to serve its own needs, such as military training, economic interests and settlement development,” the group has written.
“Ignoring Palestinian needs, Israel practically bans Palestinian construction and development. At the same time, it encourages the development of Israeli settlements through a parallel planning mechanism, and the Civil Administration turns a blind eye to settlers’ building violations.”
As Israel’s expropriation of land in the West Bank continues at a rapid pace, enlarging current settlements, authorising new outposts and turning a blind eye to settlers setting up new caravans on Palestinian land, Palestinians living in Area C find it almost impossible to get the requisite building permits from the Israeli authorities for any construction.
Any Palestinian infrastructure built without these permits is destroyed on an almost daily basis by the Civil Administration, a branch of the military, which controls most of the West Bank.
B’Tselem has said this is part of a broader political agenda to maximise the use of West Bank resources for Israeli needs while minimising the land reserves available to Palestinians.
“While the planning and building laws benefit Jewish communities by regulating development and balancing different needs, they serve the exact opposite purpose when applied to Palestinian communities in the West Bank … There, Israel exploits the law to prevent development, thwart planning and carry out demolitions.”
Back on Layla’s balcony, she said it is “especially scary at night”.
“We are all living in fear about what will happen to our land and for the safety of the children.”