American Palestinians reeling after Israeli settlers attack their homes

In Turmus Ayya, the Palestinians say the Israeli government is not doing nearly enough to stop the settler violence.

 Mohammed Hejjaz stands in his burnt home in Turmus Ayya. (photo credit: LINDA GRADSTEIN)
Mohammed Hejjaz stands in his burnt home in Turmus Ayya.
(photo credit: LINDA GRADSTEIN)

TURMUS AYYA – Um Bilal was home with her eight-year-old grandson when hundreds of Jewish settlers entered this Palestinian village where almost three-quarters of the residents have American citizenship.

“He lay down to rest and I was in the living room praying,” she told The Jerusalem Report in her burned-out house. 

“Suddenly I heard noise outside and I went to the balcony to see what was happening. Then a few settlers, their faces masked, burst into my house. They hit me, and then they went into the bedroom and hit my grandson. I ran into the bathroom and locked the door. Then they set the house on fire.”

She and her grandson escaped but the house was completely destroyed. Her husband Mohammed Hejjaz came home to see the house burning. He called for her repeatedly.

“I kept yelling, ‘Um Bilal, Um Bilal,’ but she didn’t answer,” he said, tearing up with emotion as he recalled his fear. “I was 95 percent sure she had been killed in the fire.”

 The home was completely destroyed. (credit: LINDA GRADSTEIN)
The home was completely destroyed. (credit: LINDA GRADSTEIN)

The couple split their time between Turmus Ayya and Macon, GA, where until recently Mohammed had a clothing store. The entrance to the village, with its American-style entrance sign: “I Love Turmus Ayya,” is just a few kilometers from the Jewish settlement of Eli, where Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis on June 20. It was after that terrorist attack that the hundreds of masked settlers, some with guns entered Turmus Ayya, burned dozens of cars, and caused widespread property damage.

One young Palestinian was killed in the fighting, apparently by Israeli troops who entered after the settlers.

Mohammed Hejjaz says his family has lived in Turmus Ayya for generations, longer than the families of the nearby Jewish settlers.

“My grandfather was here, and my great-grandfather, not like those settlers who came here 10 or 15 years ago,” he said. They [the settlers] want us to move. They want us to leave our houses, our land, our farm so they can come and take it. But we won’t move. This is our land, this is our house.”

Why are Israeli settlers attacking the Palestinian town of Turmus Ayya?

Jewish settler leaders say they do not justify the rampages that took place in a handful of Palestinian towns. But they say there is vandalism everywhere and that their lives in this area have come under increasing threat.

“Anything that is against the law or not right in any way I totally condemn,” Elianna Passentin, a spokesperson for the Binyamin Regional Council, told the Report, “There is vandalism all over the world. In this case, it was a reaction to the frustration of the terror attacks against us. It’s totally wrong but you can’t compare it to the murderous terror attack [when four civilians from Eli were killed by a Palestinian] at the gas station [in the West Bank].”

Settlers who live in the area say that driving on the roads has become increasingly dangerous. Just in the past few weeks, according to Israel Ganz, the head of the Binyamin Regional Council, there have been five shooting attacks and more than 200 stone-throwing incidents on nearby roads. He said the increased tension is making many people nervous.

“We [settler leaders] are very close to losing control because when you are on your way to take your children to daycare, and you have been attacked, you think to yourself maybe this is the last time I see my children,” Ganz said. “When you are afraid for your life you become very reckless and when you are stuck in a traffic jam and you are afraid someone will attack you, you become nervous, and no one can predict what you would do.”

But in Turmus Ayya, the Palestinians say the Israeli government is not doing nearly enough to stop the settler violence. They say that after the hundreds of settlers came to Turmus Ayya and rampaged in the streets, Israeli soldiers came to the village and did nothing to stop the settlers.

Many of the residents here spend part of the year in the US and part in their village, such as Abdelnasser Rashid, an Illinois state representative. He arrived in Turmus Ayya with his wife and three young children to visit his parents.

He said the events he witnessed angered him. He said Congress is currently debating a bill that conditions aid to Israel on the State respecting human rights. He says it is time for the US to reconsider its annual $3.8 billion in military and economic assistance.

“It should be clear now that continuing to give Israel billions of dollars in military funding every year does not advance the cause of peace,” Rashid said. ■