Late on Saturday afternoon, not long before sunset, Mohammed Hassan, 21, and a group of local construction workers were wrapping up their work for the day.
The group were working on Mohammed’s new family home, which had been under construction for months, on the outskirts of the village of Qusra, in the northern occupied West Bank, when suddenly they came under attack.
“Dozens of armed Israeli settlers descended onto the area around the house, jumping through the fields and concealing themselves behind the olive groves,” Murad Adbelhamid Hassan, 44, Mohammed’s uncle, told Middle East Eye.
“They started throwing rocks at the house and the guys, and were attempting to break into the house,” Murad said, adding that just a few minutes after the settlers began their attack, a group of Israeli soldiers arrived in the area.
“The soldiers surrounded the house and completely blocked it off, not letting anyone in or out of the area as they watched the settlers continue the attack,” said Murad, who along with dozens of family members and neighbours, had by this point arrived in the area to try and intervene.
“Some of the workers managed to escape, but one of them was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet,” Murad said.
As the settlers continued to bombard the house with rocks, Mohammed locked the doors and went up to the rooftop, where he began throwing rocks at the settlers in an attempt to push them back and defend his home.
“The settlers were throwing stones at him from every direction, and when he tried to defend himself, the soldiers shot at him with live ammunition. Three bullets, right to the chest,” Murad said, recounting the moment he saw his nephew gunned down on the rooftop.
All we could see was him fall over, and we heard him yelling to us ‘I got shot, I got shot!’”
Denied medical attention
Qusra is located southwest of Nablus city, and is surrounded by a ring of Israeli settlements, including four settlements and outposts that are built on Qusra’s land.
One of the most violent settlements in the area is Esh Kodesh, which was built in 2000 as an illegal outpost, and later legalized by the Israeli government. The settlement is located around one kilometre away from the Hassan family home.
“We always hoped this would never happen to our family, but it was always a possibility. Living close to the settlement is very dangerous, especially in the past 10 years, as we’ve seen them grow more and more aggressive,” Murad said.
According to the United Nations (UN), settler attacks against Palestinians rose significantly in 2020, with experts documenting 771 incidents of settler violence, causing injuries to 133 Palestinians and damaging 9,646 trees and 184 vehicles.
The Hassan family told Middle East Eye (MEE) that when they tried to get inside the house after the shooting, Israeli soldiers kept them back, shooting tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and live ammunition at them.
“Even the doctors and nurses from the town came and showed the soldiers their credentials, but they wouldn’t let them in to give first aid to Mohammed,” Murad said.
The Israeli army did not immediately reply to an MEE request for comment.
‘Mohammed was only defending himself and his home, and they killed him for it’ – Murad Adbelhamid Hassan, Mohammed’s uncle
At the same time, the family witnessed the Israeli settlers, along with the soldiers, break into the house and go up to the rooftop.
“From what we could see, it looked like the settlers were hitting and kicking Mohammed while he was on the floor bleeding,” Murad said. Shortly after, Israeli soldiers also went up to the rooftop and took Mohammed’s body.
“They kept his body for 30 minutes, and wouldn’t let anyone approach, not even the Palestinian medics or ambulances which arrived at the scene,” added Murad.
It was only after an Israeli ambulance arrived that the soldiers moved Mohammed’s body from the rooftop and into the ambulance, before evacuating him to an Israeli hospital.
Hours later, the family was notified that Mohammed had succumbed to his injuries. As of Sunday afternoon, Israeli authorities had still not returned Mohammed’s body to his family in Qusra.
“We have been trying to coordinate with the Palestinian authorities and the Israelis, but they are still refusing to return his body,” Murad said. “They are claiming that Mohammed attacked the settlers, and that’s why they’re holding his body.”
“Mohammed was only defending himself and his home, and they killed him for it, and are now accusing him of a crime,” Murad said. “It is cruel.”
‘We are used to these attacks’
When the family were finally able to enter the home on Saturday evening, they found that the settlers had destroyed much of what was inside the house, including construction equipment and materials.
The events on Saturday, however, were not the first time the Hassan family has been violently attacked by settlers.
“About a month ago they also attacked the house, and broke the windows and tiles. A few weeks before that they attacked the house and set Mohammed’s brother’s car on fire,” said Murad.
According to Mohammed Jaber Khrewish, the mayor of Qusra, the people in the village are routinely subjected to attacks, primarily from the settlers in Esh Kodesh.
“Over the years, they have witnessed hundreds of settler attacks on our village, mostly targeting the families that live close to the settlement or have land in that area,” he said. “We are used to these kinds of attacks.”
Khrewish said that the settlers often burn Qusra’s farmland, cut down olive trees, attack homes, and set cars on fire. In addition to that, the settlers often violently attack Palestinians from the village as they try to defend themselves and their property.
“Since 2011, we have had three Palestinians killed in Qusra at the hands of the settlers, or the soldiers trying to defend them,” he said, noting that the third victim was Mohammed Hassan.
In 2011, settlers from Esh Kodesh and nearby outposts raided Qusra, attacking locals and destroying farmland, causing clashes to break out with Israeli soldiers, who had come to escort the settlers. In the midst of it, 35-year old Issam Badran was shot and killed by a soldier.
Six years later, Israeli settlers from the outpost shot and killed 48-year-old Mahmoud Odeh as the settlers raided Odeh’s farmland on the outskirts of the town. Mahmoud Odeh was Issam Badran’s uncle.
Over the years, many of the residents of the town have also been shot and critically injured by settlers and soldiers during confrontations that break out, usually following settler attacks.
“We don’t have any way to defend ourselves except with stones and sticks,” Khrewish told MEE, adding that the Palestinian Authority cannot enter Qusra without first receiving permission from Israeli authorities, leaving the villagers with no form of protection.
“We have no sort of protection at all. We have only to defend ourselves with our bodies and with the stones we have.”
Culture of impunity
Over the years, families and local officials in Qusra have filed multiple complaints and cases in court against the settlers and soldiers, in an attempt to seek some sort of accountability for the violence inflicted upon them.
To this day, all of their efforts have proven futile.
“We have dozens of ongoing cases against the settlers and the soldiers,” Khrewish told MEE.
‘It is only when we try to defend ourselves that they shoot live bullets at us’
– Mohammed Jaber Khrewish, mayor of Qusra
“We have asked for investigations to be opened or for someone to be held accountable, but nothing ever comes of it.”
According to Israeli Non-governmental Organization (NGO) Yesh Din, Israeli police have failed in the investigation of 82 % of cases opened between 2005 and 2019, while 91 % of all investigations into ideological violence against Palestinians in the West Bank were closed without an indictment.
Khrewish said that he plans to file a complaint with Israeli authorities in order to launch an investigation into the killing of Mohammed Hassan, but that he doesn’t have much hope it will lead to anything.
“The soldiers and the judge are the same as the settlers. They care only about the Israeli state and upholding the apartheid system,” he said. “So they will never give us justice as Palestinians.”
“The soldiers are always present during these attacks, observing what the settlers are doing, but never doing anything to protect the Palestinians,” Khrewish said. “It is only when we try to defend ourselves that they shoot live bullets at us.”
While the Hassan family’s main focus now is getting Mohammed’s body returned, they said that they hoped the world would take action against Israel for not only killing Mohammed, but for all the other violations happening across Palestine.
“The Israeli army is responsible for killing Mohammed, and they need to be held accountable,” Hassan said, who is still trying to secure the return of Mohammed’s body. “Not just because they fired the bullets that killed him, but because they are the ones who protected the settlers.”