Long a hotspot for violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Hebron district has seen an uptick in settler violence since the start of the year. Approximately 600 Israeli settlers reside in the city of Hebron alongside a Palestinian population of more than 35,000. The settlers are protected by more than 2,000 Israeli soldiers, according to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.
In the first six months of 2021 MSF had already treated a total of 75 patients with mental health issues following settler attacks - including physical beatings and harassment - compared to 65 patients for the whole of 2020.
Such violence has a significant and long-term psychological impact on the Palestinian population. Symptoms MSF treats include persistent fear, problems sleeping and eating, anxiety, stress, anger, bed-wetting among children, difficulty concentrating, or an inability to perform daily tasks.
Zanuta, a Palestinian village in Adh Dhahriya about 20km southwest of Hebron district, typifies the Palestinian experience across the West Bank. Its inhabitants depend on livestock and agriculture to survive, but this has grown harder as a result of systematic Israeli policies of land confiscation, insufficient infrastructure including roads, health care, and education, and most recently the arrival of Israeli settlers on the land.
According to the Tell family in Zanuta, Israeli authorities confiscated nearly 4,000 acres of Palestinian land being used as grazing pasture for livestock and gave approval for four new settlements in the area. “Now we are surrounded by four settlements. We are in the middle. This has happened in the last two months,” says Adel Tell. “We are not allowed to enter our own land, even on foot. We ask the [Israeli] police and the civil administration but they support the settlers. We have legal documents proving our ownership of the lands, but despite this they do not allow us to reach our pastures and they attack the shepherds with dogs and weapons. They are terrifying all the residents here,” he adds.
“We have been living under a lot of pressure for the last two months,” says Adel. “We live in a state of constant fear. Everyone feels stressed for himself, for his brothers, for his children and friends. You are stressed all the time, even when you’re at home, because you keep thinking of these new settlers who have come and who are attacking the shepherds and the livestock. All of us are thinking about this because it is new to us and we have never been under this kind of pressure,” he adds. “We are all afraid.”
Salah Daraghmeh is MSF’s Hebron Project Coordinator in Palestine. “We are providing mental health support to the residents, but we cannot solve the problem of settler violence against the Palestinian population. Only the Israeli authorities can do that.”
Notes to Editors: MSF has been present for over twenty years in Hebron, providing mental health treatment and support to those suffering from the impacts of living under occupation.