QUSRA, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinians have launched protests in the occupied West Bank after Israeli bulldozers began clearing land in what villagers fear is an attempt to confiscate it for future Jewish settlements.
Scuffles intensified this week as Israeli voters voted in an election, with Palestininans saying settlers had been emboldened by U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan and Israeli election rhetoric about annexing settlements.
Villagers from nearby Qusra challenged troops guarding Israeli bulldozers as they worked in a field close to Migdalim settlement in the northern West Bank.
In another nearby village, Beita, residents protested over several days, planting a Palestinian flag and erecting a tent on the hilltop of al-Arma to defend it against settlers from Itamar settlement, near the city of Nablus. Some demonstrators hurled rocks at Israeli troops.
“I came here because this is my land, and I want to die on my land but they are not letting me come near it,” said Joudat Odeh, from Qusra.
“They are happy at the victory of Netanyahu,” said Odeh, 70. “They are coming to control this land and we are helpless.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party leads the vote count after Monday’s election, but with 99% of votes counted on Wednesday he was still short of securing enough seats for a governing coalition.
Victory would pave the way for Netanyahu to make good on his pledge to annex settlements in the West Bank under Trump’s peace plan.
Palestinians have rejected the proposal, saying it would kill their dream of establishing a viable state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
More than 400,000 Israeli settlers now live among about 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, with a further 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem. Palestinians and much of the world view the settlements as illegal under international law, a position Israel and the United States dispute.
An Israeli military statement said that on March 1 Israelis were carrying out “agricultural work” near Migdalim when around 30 Palestinians “came to the area, hurled rocks and came into physical confrontation with the Israelis. Military forces came to the area and dispersed the crowd.”
Soon afterwards, the statement said, 120 Palestinians gathered nearby in what it termed a “riot.” It said its troops were confronted with burning tyres and “large amounts of rocks” and “responded with riot dispersal means.”
Qusra protesters said Israel had stopped Palestinians using or farming the lands in question since the 1990s, and now they feared settlers would seize them for their own use.
“I am afraid that in a few days Netanyahu may come to lay the cornerstone of a new settlement,” said Mohammad Shokri, 80, from Qusra.
“He gave them a promise he would increase settlement. They want to take over all the mountains and to leave nothing for the Arabs”.
Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Timothy Heritage
Image: Israeli machineries, guarded by Israeli forces, bulldoze lands near the Palestinian village of Qusra, in the Israeli occupied West Bank, March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman