Family lives in constant fear of settler attacks

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Burin, West Bank

10 December was International Human Rights Day, the day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. To mark the day, OHCHR (oPT) and UNRWA are putting the spotlight on human rights stories and rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory. In this series, we look at how the occupation and its associated regime affect the daily lives of ordinary Palestinians, raising questions about the protection of their human rights.

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person… No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home… Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks,” state Articles 3 and 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, for Palestinians living near radical illegal Israeli settlements, there is no security or protection from attacks.

Hanan Sufan lives with her sons and four young grandchildren in a farmhouse nestled on the side of a hill in Burin, a village in the northern West Bank, near Nablus. Her husband had a heart attack and passed away soon after Israelis from the surrounding settlement outposts poured petrol around her house and set fire to it with the family still inside in 2002.

Harassment and violent attacks by Israeli settlers have continued since 2002. Metal grates cover the windows to protect the family from stones and Molotov cocktails, the most recent of which attackers from the closest settlement threw in February 2011. Twenty of the family’s sheep have been poisoned and a horse stolen, their cars and solar panels destroyed. Car tires lit on fire and rolled down the hill create fires that burn their olive trees. A fresh coat of paint is splattered across one of the windows, from a light bulb filled with paint thrown to keep the family from seeing into their backyard. “I never leave the house”

Separated by a road from the rest of Burin, Hanan’s home is closest to the illegal Israeli settlements that ring the hills around the village, and therefore the most exposed to attack. “I never leave the house,” says Hanan. She stands guard much of the time on her balcony. One of her sons stays with her at all times, making steady employment impossible.

Olive harvest season is a particularly volatile time for settler violence, as Palestinian farmers come under attack while they harvest from their own trees. UNRWA has pushed for better protection of the Sufan family, and the 2011 olive harvest passed without incident according to Hanan. “The soldiers would shout 'Good morning, Um Ayman!’” explains Hanan (Um Ayman is her colloquial title). A guard comprised of Israeli soldiers must be coordinated in order for her family to harvest and maintain their olive trees.

However, violent attacks on their neighbours and in adjacent villages continue, and Hanan and her family do not trust the Israeli army to protect them. Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli authorities have failed to protect Palestinians and their property from attacks by Israeli settlers. So the Sufan family will remain vigilant in defending their home, through economic hardship and trauma for the family’s young children.

“Why are they doing this?” Baha’a, in second grade, asked his grandmother after one attack. “They want us to leave,” Hanan told him. “But we will stay.”