Hours before a couple was due to get married, dozens of Israeli settlers torched the salon where the family was getting ready.
Turmus Ayya, occupied West Bank – June 21 was supposed to be one of the happiest days in the lives of the Ahmads*.
Hours before their wedding ceremony, a large-scale attack
A 27-year-old Palestinian father of two, Omar Qattin, was killed in the attack while at least 30 homes and 60 cars were torched in broad daylight, according to a local official.
“The wedding was supposed to take place in the Turmus Aya Grand Hall. The celebration was cancelled because the space was turned into a funeral hall for the martyr,” an uncle of the couple, 42-year-old Osama Ahmad*, told Al Jazeera.
Instead, a brief ceremony took place at the groom’s house and was restricted to the couple and a handful of relatives.
There was “no singing, no joy”, Osama said.
by hundreds of Israeli settlers on their occupied West Bank village of Turmus Aya turned their lives upside down.
“The groom was silent and sad the whole time. He was sad and shocked because of the horror of the scene and the loss of joy. He was also sad for his country and for the martyr,” he added.Before the attack, about a dozen of the bride’s and groom’s female relatives were getting ready in a small salon opened about a year ago by the Ahmad family in the yard of their home.
Dozens of settlers smashed the salon with rocks and set it on fire by throwing Molotov cocktails at it, according to witnesses.
“Frankly, I did not feel for a moment that we would survive or get out alive,” Marwa Ahmad*, one of the women who were inside the salon during the attack, told Al Jazeera.
“We saw masked young men – there were about 100 of them. They besieged the house, started throwing rocks and burned down the salon,” she said.
Those inside used a door and managed to enter the house, she added. “We went to the third floor, and from there, we watched the settlers through cameras. They burned four of our cars, one after the other. Then a group of young Palestinian men came to help us through another entrance into the house.
“The settlers were trying to reach us from different directions, but thank God, the young Palestinian men arrived and got us out. We jumped over a high fence using chairs. We then walked for about 15 minutes on plain dirt roads and under trees and thorns until we reached a safe area.”
Luay Ahmad*, whose sister owns the salon and whose children were inside the house, arrived shortly after the settlers set fire to it.
“We saw trees on fire, kids crying and people running. We could not see in front of us due to the amount of smoke inside the house. We got the women and children out by hauling them over a 3-metre-high (10-foot-high) fence, and then we started putting out the fire,” Luay told Al Jazeera.
“We managed to get the fire under control with help from young men, but there was already so much destruction. The fire brigades did not arrive until hours later,” he said.
The family lost at least 300,000 Israeli shekels ($81,400) in the cost of the salon and the equipment inside. The gold chains and bracelets that the bride’s family had given the groom “had all melted in the fire”, Luay added.
‘Extreme levels of settler violence’
In a briefing to the United Nations Security Council, Tor Wennesland, the special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said on Tuesday that he was particularly alarmed by “the extreme levels of settler violence, including large numbers of settlers, many armed, systematically attacking Palestinian villages, terrorising communities, sometimes in the proximity of Israeli security forces”.
From 600,000 to 750,000 Israeli settlers live in at least 250 illegal settlements and outposts across the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. The vast majority of Israeli settlements were built either partially or entirely on private Palestinian land.
The settler attack on Turmus Ayya was one of the largest in recent months.
It is part of a sharp increase in coordinated and armed settler attacks across the West Bank since October, carried out under Israeli army protection, according to Palestinian officials. They have included shootings, arson attacks, rock-throwing and physical assaults with pipes and other objects.
Settler attacks have spiked against the backdrop of a re-emerging Palestinian armed resistance to decades-long Israeli military occupation and illegal settlements, which consequently have triggered deadly Israeli army raids on Palestinian towns and villages.
In February, hundreds of Israeli settlers carried out what the Israeli military commander for the West Bank described as a “pogrom” across a number of Palestinian villages in the Nablus area, during which one Palestinian man was killed by the settlers and dozens of homes and cars set ablaze. At least 390 Palestinians were injured in the attack.
In May, an entire Palestinian community in Ramallah was displaced due to settler attacks and Israeli army restrictions, which rights groups call a “war crime”.
Back at the Ahmad family home, Luay said if it were not for an internal door linking the salon to the house, the women inside would have been killed.
“The settlers came here to kill,” he said.
“It was a horrible situation that is hard to describe. It is a day that I will never forget.”
*Names changed due to safety concerns.