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West Bank village turned into a 'prison' in the wake of arson accusations

Dec. 7, 2016 1:06 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 8, 2016 10:34 A.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Dozens of Palestinians have been detained -- including a number of children -- and clashes have erupted daily in the occupied West Bank village of Deir Nidham since it was blockaded by the Israeli army three weeks ago, “turning the lives of 1,600 into a prison,” locals told Ma’an on Wednesday.

Deir Nidham, northwest of Ramallah city, was placed under a military closure after a fire erupted just a few kilometers away in the illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish, which is built on the lands of the village and on the lands of neighboring Nabi Saleh.

Israeli authorities have said that investigations revealed the fire to be a case of arson, and launched a crippling blockade on Deir Nidham ever since.

The main roads leading into the village have been blocked off with dirt mounds and cement blocks, and educational and health facilities have been closed due to the Israeli siege.

Daily military raids have sparked clashes that Israeli soldiers have responded to by firing tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and live fire at locals.

Clashes Tuesday night left two Israeli soldiers lightly injured after local youths threw rocks and paint cans. Israeli forces eventually retreated to one of the village’s entrances, firing tear gas canisters and bullets.

Meanwhile, several Palestinian minors have been held by the Israeli army under suspicion of arson or inciting arson. Activist and village resident Mahdi Eid al-Tamim told Ma’an that Israeli forces routinely detain villagers and surround them.

Al-Tamimi identified some of the children that have been held in Israeli detention rooms for several days on end -- who have been “humiliatingly” interrogated by Israeli authorities -- as 10-year-old Luay al-Araj, Muhammad Nassar, 12, Rami al-Sufi, 11, Muhammad Yahiya, and Jaafar Eid, 12.

Israeli soldiers have also occupied the house of Yasser al-Tamimi and turned it into a military barrack, the activist added.

An Israeli army spokesperson said they were looking into reports of the clashes and the closure.

In the wake of the fires that began late November, scores of Palestinians have been arrested in the region as Israeli leadership alleged that they were started deliberately as "political arson" against the Israeli state.

Israeli police have rejected broad claims that the fires were set for “nationalist” or “terrorist” motives, and investigations are still ongoing.

Israeli officials said that out of the total 1,773 reported fires, centered largely in and around Jerusalem and Haifa, just 29 were suspected arson -- including the fire in Halamish. In Halamish, some 350 settler families were evacuated and dozens of homes were damaged, according to Israeli media.

On Monday, the Joint List, the Israeli parliament coalition representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, said they planned to file a lawsuit against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “incitement against Arabs,” after Netanyahu accused “terrorists” of seeking to “engulf our region with hate,” warning that Palestinians who celebrated the fires would be “brought to justice.”

Head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh responded in a statement by saying that "Everyone knows that there wasn't a wave of terrorism -- there wasn't a 'fire Intifada.'”

Odeh added that although the "terror" claims were disproved, still "thousands of Jews incited against Arabs and called for them to be murdered...not even one of them has been investigated."

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have repeatedly been accused of imposing a policy of “collective punishment” against Palestinians in the form of road closures, arbitrary detention campaigns, and sealing off entire villages, in response to alleged “terrorist attacks” -- a policy rights groups have said represents a clear violation of international law.

After a wave of unrest spread across the Palestinian territory last October, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman unveiled a "carrot and stick" policy toward Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, whereby harsher punishment would be imposed upon families and villages from which "terrorists" originate, while economic benefits would be granted to areas that "have not produced terrorists."

Lieberman said the purpose of the policy was “to continue to give benefits to those who desire coexistence with us and make life difficult for those who seek to harm Jews.”

While Israeli authorities say military policies in the occupied West Bank are a necessary security measure, rights groups have said the occupation’s main function is to dispossess Palestinians from their land and completely annex the occupied territory to Israel.

Israeli authorities confiscated 604 dunums of Deir Nidham’s lands (21.9 percent of the village’s total area) for the construction of the Halamish in 1997.

A recent report by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said the “key role” of the some 500,000 Israeli settlers residing in the West Bank is further isolating Palestinians from their lands, either through the establishment of outposts officially unrecognized by the Israeli government, or through the regular use of violence or threats of violence against Palestinians.

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