Amid a sharp rise in attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property across the occupied territories, two little Palestinian children and their mother have been wounded after a group of masked Jewish extremists assaulted their family’s car in the West Bank.
Six-year-old Palestinian boy Majd sustained injuries to his face after being hit with a rock on Thursday night, while his three-year-old brother Jad was cut by broken glass. Their mother’s arm was hurt by another rock thrown at the vehicle. Their father, Alaa Sawfta, remained relatively unharmed.
The family had just left their home in the central West Bank city of Ramallah and were on their way to visit relatives in the northern West Bank city of Tubas when they came under the extremists’ attack.
Sawafta said he slowed down and pulled over when two figures on the side of the highway started motioning their flashlights at his car.
“Just two seconds after I came to a stop, dozens of people came out of nowhere from the sides of the road and started attacking the car,” he said.
When the Palestinian man saw their clothes and that some of them were masked, carrying knives, bats, large sticks, and huge rocks, he realized his family was under attack from a group of Israeli settlers.
“They started throwing large rocks at the car and beating it with sticks and bats and other objects,” Sawafta said.
“It was a total pandemonium, the windows were completely shattered, my wife and kids were screaming and crying, we didn’t know what was going on.”
Sawafta said the settlers at one point started violently pulling at the door handles from outside the car, in an attempt to open them.
He finally pressed on the gas pedal and somehow managed to swerve around the settlers and escape.
Sawafta then drove his family's car up to an Israeli checkpoint outside the Beit El settlement, but Israeli soldiers pointed guns at him and cautioned him not to get any closer when he approached the checkpoint.
“I started shouting and telling them that we needed help, and showed them my kids in the car who were covered in blood. I told them we were attacked by settlers and pleaded with them to call us an ambulance,” he said.
An Israeli medic on a motorcycle arrived after more than half an hour at the checkpoint, and gave them first aid until a Palestinian ambulance came and transported them to a hospital in Ramallah.
While Sawafta’s family were in the hospital, a number of other Palestinians came in for injuries they said were sustained in attacks by the same group of settlers.
“I’m still in shock over what happened. We didn’t sleep all night, we can’t believe that we were attacked like that, and that we made it out alive,” Sawafta said.
He noted that he believes the attack on his family was not a coincidence, but rather part of a “coordinated effort from settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians.”
“We have been seeing attacks like these happening almost every day in the past few weeks,” Sawafta added.
He argued that while he plans to file a complaint against the settlers who attacked his family, he has very little hope for justice.
“The Israeli authorities who we expect to help us in these situations, are the same ones who are enabling the settlers to commit this violence,” Sawafta said.
“Who am I supposed to ask for help, the Israeli police? Maybe they will open an investigation, but they will eventually close it with no findings, as they always do.
“At the end of the day, the settlers have the green light from the Israeli regime to attack and kill us. And because they are never charged, they will keep doing it without consequence,” he noted.
According to Palestine’s official Wafa news agency, three of the attacks on Palestinian vehicles that took place on Thursday night “occurred in full sight of Israeli occupation soldiers, who did nothing to stop the settlers and rather provided them with protection.”
Hani Nassar, a field researcher for Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCIP), said the attacks from Israeli settlers from the end of 2020 to the beginning of 2021 have increased dramatically.
“It is also very clear that the attacks are being organized and coordinated, not just among the settlers, but with the soldiers as well,” he noted.
Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din said they have documented 44 settler attacks against Palestinians in recent weeks.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Thursday denounced the uptick in Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank, and described them as organized terrorism.
He called on the administration of new US President Joe Biden to intervene and put an end to the crimes, saying the policies of former President Donald Trump have led to an upsurge in the Tel Aviv regime’s illegal settlements construction and expansion activities as well as settler attacks against Palestinians and their property.
More than 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds. All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.
According to human rights groups, acts of violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property are a daily occurrence throughout the occupied West Bank.