By Pablo Duer
Turmus Ayya, West Bank, Jun 30 (EFE). The residents of Turmus Ayya, a town in the central West Bank that last week was attacked by Israeli settlers, are preparing to defend themselves against further violence as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians continue to escalate.
When Sharif al Araj, a Palestinian businessman based in Panama, returned to his town for the first time in 10 years this month, he could not imagine he would be rescuing people from burning homes or witnessing his neighbor die from four shots to the chest.
Although Turmus Ayya has suffered attacks in the past, neither Sharif nor any of its inhabitants had seen anything like the rampage last Wednesday, when some 400 Israeli residents of the Jewish settlement of Shiloh stormed through the town armed with guns, stones, petrol cans and explosives, setting fire to hundreds of vehicles and buildings.
This was just one of many incidents of settler attacks last week, drawing sharp international criticism, including from the United States, caused in part by the Israeli security forces failing to contain the unrest.
DIVISION WITHIN THE CABINET
The spike in regional tensions has laid bare the divisions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government, with some cabinet members publicly condemning the attacks while others, from the ultra-orthodox and anti-Arab parties, have criticized the arrests of 12 settlers.
The assault on Turmus Ayya — which came in retaliation to a Palestinian attack on a gas station near the Eli settlement that killed four settlers — claimed the first death linked to Israeli aggression in three decades.
Omar Qattin, a 27-year-old father of two, was killed during the attack that also wounded 12 Palestinians and saw over 30 houses and 60 vehicles damaged or burned.
A week after the incident, the scent of burning continues to waft through the air of the affluent town of mansion houses whose residents are mostly Palestinian-Americans who spend only a few months a year in Turmus Ayya.
The face of Qattin, whose death has not yet been clarified, is plastered on posters on every corner, and overnight the town was filled with flags of Palestine and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant wing of the West Bank’s Fatah political faction.
Al Araj, who had come to visit his family and planned to stay for a couple of weeks, has joined a group of neighbors who patrol the access points to the town every night.
“Instead of scaring us away, what they do is cause more people to settle here. I’m going to stay,” he tells EFE, noting that many other residents of Turmus Ayya have decided to stay to protect the town instead of going back to their primary homes.
Many people EFE spoke to agreed on two things: last week’s attack will not be the last and they will be prepared for the next one.
Amid the lax reaction of Israel’s security forces, which some Palestinians accuse of participating in the attack, and the limited influence of a Palestinian National Authority, Turmus Ayya locals say they have no one but themselves to rely on.
To prepare for future attacks, some have sourced fire trucks to contain blazes, while others have prepared buckets with stones and others have even considered buying weapons.
The chiefs of Israel’s security forces – the police, army and interior security services – issued a rare joint statement this week condemning the settler violence, calling the attacks “nationalist terrorism.”
This year has been the deadliest in the Palestine-Israel conflict since the Second Intifada, a five-year uprising that ended in 2005.
So far 142 Palestinians have been killed in violent incidents in the West Bank, including 23 children.