For the Palestinians of the northern occupied West Bank, putting your life on the line to defend your land is just a part of life.
Countless Palestinians have paid the highest price for attempting to fend off Israeli settlers and soldiers from their cities, towns and villages. On Wednesday, another Palestinian was added to that list.
15-year-old Mohammed Abdel Karim Hamayel succumbed to his wounds on Wednesday, hours after he was shot by Israeli forces, along with dozens of other young men from his hometown of Beita, south of Nablus.
Hamayel was shot when dozens of armed Israeli troops stormed Jabal al-Arma, or al-Arma Mountain, on the outskirts of Beita, and began violently confronting crowds of Palestinians who were staging a sit-in on the mountain.
Soldiers reportedly used live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets, and tear gas to suppress the protesters, who have been staging sit-ins on al-Arma for weeks in a collective effort to ward off settlers who have attempted to seize control of the mountain.
Official Ministry of Health reports indicated that over 100 Palestinians were injured during the onslaught, including two who were seriously injured with live ammunition.
Dozens more were injured and treated for severe tear gas inhalation, including PA Minister Walid Assaf, who is in charge of the popular resistance against the wall and settlements in the West Bank.
Weeks of confrontations
The killing of Hamayel and the violent suppression of the protesters on Wednesday morning was the culmination of weeks of protests on the mountain and confrontations between locals and Israeli soldiers and settlers.
Around two weeks ago, settlers from the notoriously violent Itamar settlement published a call on social media to take to the mountain, which they believe is an ancient Jewish religious site, and seize control of it.
After becoming aware of the settlers’ plans, dozens of men and youth from Beita took to the mountain and erected a sit-in tent to establish their presence as a deterrence against the settlers.
Despite the settler group not receiving permission from the Israeli army to go to the mountain, a smaller group of settler youth decided to go ahead anyway.
“There were around 10 settlers, and a group of soldiers who came to protect them and escort them up the mountain,” local activist Minwer Abu al-Abed, 56, told Mondoweiss.
According to al-Abed, the soldiers unsuccessfully attempted to escort the settlers up the mountain, shooting live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas along the way.
“The settlers were attempting a violent takeover of our land, but of course they [soldiers] were only there to shoot at the Palestinians,” al-Abed said.
Videos of the confrontations, which went viral on Palestinian social media, showed crowds of Palestinian youth hurling stones at the settlers and soldiers until the latter were forced to flee the area.
Despite over 90 injuries being recorded that day, the village celebrated it as a victory.
“We made our presence known, and defended our land against the settlers,” al-Abed said, proudly adding that “not a single settlement” has been built on Beita’s land, which he attributed to the steadfastness of the townspeople.
The settlers, however would make two more attempts to seize the mountain, each time with more firepower and support from the Israeli army.
On March 2, another failed attempt led to the injury of a dozen Palestinians, including two with live ammunition.
The third and fatal attempt took place on Wednesday morning — just hours after Israel conducted a massive arrest campaign in the village — and though the settlers were unable to seize the mountain, it ended with the death of a young teenager.
‘We will never leave this land’
Clashes between Palestinians and settlers, as the latter attempt to takeover the former’s land, are not uncommon in the West Bank, particularly in Nablus.
Settlements like Yitzhar, Itamar, Brakha, have become household names in the surrounding Palestinian villages, who face constant settler attacks on their land, agriculture, livestock, homes, and people.
So when the settlers set their sights on al-Arma, the residents of Beita were not surprised.
“The fight to defend al-Arma is not a new one,” al-Abed told Mondoweiss, adding that settlers have been attempting to take over the hilltop for decades, ever since the 1980s.
“They believe there is a Jewish site on the mountain, and that that gives them a right to it,” he said. “But there are Canaanite ruins here, proving our connection to this land.”
According to al-Abed, hundreds of Beita’s residents have been arrested over the years, many in connection with protests at Jabal al-Arma. Two others, he said, were martyred when trying to defend the mountaintop.
“Not only does this mountain have historical significance for us, but its important to the daily life of the people of Beita,” al-Abed said, adding that the townspeople not only farm on the hilltop, but also use it for recreational activities, family picnics, and barbecues.
“As Palestinians, we will never leave this mountain. The people of Beita will never give up,” he said.
Trump, Netanyahu to blame
While the hilltops surrounding Nablus are dotted with dozens of Israeli settlements and outposts, much of the stolen Palestinian land used to build them is located in Area C — the more than 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control — making it easier for settlers to take over.
Jabal al-Arma, however, was designated as Area B under the Oslo Accords, putting matters like construction and agricultural access to the land under the authority of the PA.
For years, the villagers believed that the fact that the mountain was located in Area B would legally protect it from being taken over by the settlers.
But when Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett amped up efforts to extend Israeli control over Area B, any sense of security felt by the villagers went out the window.
“These recent attempts by the settlers to take over Jabal al-Arma are clearly related to the policies of the right-wing government in Israel,” al-Abed said.
And to make matters worse, al-Abed noted, the release of the US peace plan in January only further emboldened the settler movement across the West Bank.
“Who do you think gave the settlers and Netanyahu the greenlight to go ahead with annexation, and all of their other plans?” he asked.
“Trump did this. When he released the peace plan, he told Israel ‘take whatever you like.’ And now Palestinians are paying the price.”