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Why the killing of a Palestinian farmer is getting attention: NPR

Nature

The family of Bilal Muhammed Saleh outside their home in As-Sawiya, in the occupied West Bank, on October 31, 2023.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR


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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

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The family of Bilal Muhammed Saleh outside their home in As-Sawiya, in the occupied West Bank, on October 31, 2023.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

The Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 left some 1,400 dead, according to Israeli authorities. Palestinian authorities say the Israeli response has left more than 10,000 dead.

It is therefore reasonable to ask why the death of a single olive grower has attracted such attention. Many media outlets, including NPR, covered the killing of Bilal Saleh outside his village last month. Human rights groups and think tanks have highlighted this case.

The episode represents a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although this conflict reflects many divisions – over identity, security, faith, nationalism and history, to name a few – it is commonly expressed as a struggle for land.

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Bilal Muhammed Saleh, 40, was shot dead by a settler while harvesting olives near the village of As-Sawiya in the occupied West Bank.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR


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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

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Bilal Muhammed Saleh, 40, was shot dead by a settler while harvesting olives near the village of As-Sawiya in the occupied West Bank.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

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Bilal’s daughter shows a photo of him on a phone.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR


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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

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Bilal’s daughter shows a photo of him on a phone.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

Saleh lived with his family in the West Bank, a region occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. It is home to millions of Palestinians and has been projected as the territory of a future Palestinian state. But Israeli settlers have claimed much of it for decades, building fenced or fortified communities that are connected to Israel proper by their own limited-access highways. The United States and United Nations have called the settlements illegal. Israelis call the region Judea and Samaria, biblical names that represent their claims to this region.

Saleh’s home was in As-Sawiya, a village located on a ridge overlooking a valley filled with olive trees. An Israeli settlement called Rehelim lay on the other side of the valley, encroaching on what the residents of As-Sawiya consider their land.

Saleh participated when he, his family and several of his neighbors descended on the valley for the annual olive harvest.

Saleh’s brother-in-law, Hazem Saleh, described the harvest as much more than farming. It was like a “festival”. Entire families bring ladders to the fields. “We take food. We take children,” he said Morning edition.

The villagers knew they were also taking a risk when they harvested on October 28. They had strained relations with Rehelim across the way and knew a war was underway. But they moved forward.

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Samy Freitah was part of a group harvesting olives outside the village near Nablus when they were attacked by settlers.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR


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Samy Freitah was part of a group harvesting olives outside the village near Nablus when they were attacked by settlers.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

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Residents are afraid, leaving trees unharvested, focusing on those they say make them safer near the village of As-Sawiya, in the occupied West Bank, October 31, 2023.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR


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Residents are afraid, leaving trees unharvested, focusing on those they say make them safer near the village of As-Sawiya, in the occupied West Bank, October 31, 2023.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

They were on wooden ladders picking olives when the Israeli settlers arrived. The Palestinians say they decided to retreat, then Bilal Saleh realized he had left his cell phone behind. His family last saw him running through the trees to retrieve it.

He was out of sight in the trees when his wife heard him screaming and at least two shots rang out. His friends and relatives later found him with injuries to his chest and arm. Lacking first aid supplies, they used a ladder as an improvised stretcher to carry him to the nearest road. He died in the presence of his wife and children.

His wife, Ikhlas, used an Arabic saying to explain her thoughts when she realized he was dead: “My back was broken.”

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Ikhlas Muhammed Saleh, Bilal’s wife, outside their home in the village of As-Sawiya, in the occupied West Bank.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR


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Ikhlas Muhammed Saleh, Bilal’s wife, outside their home in the village of As-Sawiya, in the occupied West Bank.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

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Bilal’s mother-in-law and her children in front of their house on October 31, 2023.

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Bilal’s mother-in-law and her children in front of their house on October 31, 2023.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

When we spoke to him on October 31, a man was in custody for this crime. The Israel Defense Forces arrested an off-duty soldier. Israeli military law is supreme in the occupied territories. The arrest made the case different from other violent incidents in the West Bank, but Ikhlas was not impressed.

“I don’t believe he will be charged or punished. He will be there for a few days. Then he will be released,” Ikhlas said. “The law they have for themselves is stronger than our existence.”

A few days later, his prediction came true. The soldier’s lawyer said he was free.

The Israeli military did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the case. The suspect’s lawyer has accused Saleh of supporting Hamas, but Saleh’s family denies any ties to the group.

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Isareli’s army places “terrestrials” at the main entrance to the village, forcing residents to walk to the main road or find dirt paths, October 31, 2023 in the village of As-Sawiya , in the occupied West Bank.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR


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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

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Isareli’s army places “terrestrials” at the main entrance to the village, forcing residents to walk to the main road or find dirt paths, October 31, 2023 in the village of As-Sawiya , in the occupied West Bank.

Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR

Palestinian authorities say that since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas on October 7, 176 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank. Most were killed by Israeli forces in what Israel called counterterrorism operations. Some were killed by settlers.

On October 25, President Biden expressed alarm over attacks by extremist settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank, likening it to “pouring gasoline on the fire.” At a joint press conference with the Australian prime minister, Biden said: “They are attacking Palestinians in places where they have a right to be, and it must stop. They must be held accountable. »

The US administration has warned Israel against actions that could widen the war, including actions that could inflame the West Bank. But on the issue of settlements in the West Bank, Israeli authorities have often ignored the advice of their allies.

Nature

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