The fathers of the three Kawazba cousins -- Muhannad, Ahmad and Alaa -- who were shot dead last week at the Gush Etzion junction. (MaanImages/Killian Redden)
SAIR (Ma’an) -- A small plot of land set aside for the bodies of “martyrs” in the center of Sair is rapidly running out of space.
Wet cement was plastered over four fresh graves in the cemetery last weekend, following the joint funeral of four local youths who were shot dead two days earlier when they allegedly attempted to stab Israeli soldiers.
Another grave already lay empty beside theirs, in anticipation of the next death.
Sair has now seen 11 of its residents killed since a wave of unrest swept the occupied Palestinian territory at the beginning of October.
Lying in a quiet valley in the hills northeast of Hebron -- far from Israel’s separation wall and settlements -- there is no immediately obvious reason the village has seen so much bloodshed.
For Sair’s residents, however, the explanation is simple. Israeli soldiers have been given permission to kill with impunity, and since October they have had a constant presence on the outer reaches of the village.
Kayyed Jaradat, the village mayor, referred to it as Sair’s “military siege,” and said that the Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks that now exist on every road leading into the village had allowed for a spiraling descent into violence.
On Saturday, as Sair gathered to bury their dead, the Israeli army was out in force, sealing the village entirely, allowing Palestinians to enter only by foot. Under a gray sky, they trudged past the soldiers’ cocked guns.
The "martyrs'" cemetery in the center of Sair is running out of space following the death of 11 village residents since October. (MaanImages/Killian Redden)
Sair is just one among dozens of Hebron-district villages to have found its entrances placed under the control of the Israeli army in recent months.
Following a series of deadly stabbing attacks in October, Israel flooded the southern West Bank with soldiers and established a greatly expanded network of checkpoints to tightly control the movement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
Nearly half of Sair’s deaths have taken place at a single spot to the village’s southwest, the Beit Einun junction, where a settler bypass road runs off toward the illegal Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arbaa, and where Jaradat said the army now held an “intensive presence.”
Khalil Shalalda, a 15-year-old boy among those buried Saturday, was shot dead at the junction when he allegedly attempted to knife an Israeli soldier. It was at the same site that Khalil’s 18-year-old brother, Mahmoud, was shot and fatally wounded during clashes in November.
Raed Jaradat, 22, was killed at the junction in late October after he stabbed and wounded a soldier, while 24-year-old Fadi Faroukh was shot dead there soon afterward on the way back from Alia Hospital in Hebron, where his wife had just given birth to their child.
The army said Faroukh attempted to carry out a stabbing attack, but locals said they believed he was killed out of revenge for Jaradat’s attack.
The mass deployment of Israeli forces across Hebron has brought villages such as Sair into daily contact with soldiers, and many village residents have faced routine humiliation during daily stop-and-search inspections at the checkpoints.
Israeli army officials themselves warned in early December that the large number of forces deployed across the West Bank was only leading to an increase in instances of violence by Israeli soldiers.
“There is a proverb, that soldiers without work will cause trouble,” said one resident of Sair, Issa Shalalda, who said that at this point, many young people in the village harbored desires to attack Israeli forces.
‘No hope in the future’
The village of Sair was completely sealed by Israeli forces during the joint funeral of four local youths. (MaanImages/Killian Redden)
The deployment of Israeli forces around Sair has awoken deep feelings of frustration in the village, where a young and growing population has for years felt the increasing constraints of an economy crippled by Israel’s nearly 50-year military occupation.
Mayor Jaradat believes that as many as 3,000 residents of the village -- a tenth of its population -- now work in Israel. Locals said most of them worked illegally, slipping past Israel’s separation wall without permits to take up poorly paid jobs.
The headmaster of a local school said that Sair’s youth had “no work opportunities, no jobs, no permits.” They found “pressure from all sides, social, economic, at all levels. Psychologically, they suffer. They don’t see any hope in the future.”
Among the four buried on Saturday were three cousins from the Kawazba family -- Muhannad, Ahmad, and Alaa -- who were gunned down following an alleged stabbing attack at the Gush Etzion junction in southern Bethlehem.
Relatives told Ma’an that Muhannad and Ahmad, both 21 years old, dropped out of school aged 15 in order to find work in Israel. It is a decision that has been made by countless others in Sair.
Jaradat pointed out that while the Israeli army’s recent security measures were inflaming a deep resentment in the village, they were also serving to worsen its economic situation.
“Businessmen, workers, students need to move back and forth between the rural areas and the city (of Hebron) almost every day," he said. "The military siege has caused stagnation in Sair.”
‘Price of liberty’
In the last three months, Muhammad Shalalda (bottom right) has buried two of his sons, 16-year-old Khalil and 18-year-old Mahmud. (MaanImages/Killian Redden)
Following Saturday’s funeral, a group of Palestinians marched to the Beit Einun junction to clash with the Israeli soldiers stationed there.
The protest was quickly dispersed, and soon there were only a few dozen children left behind, throwing stones from behind buildings, crouching low on mounds of crumbling stone.
“The soldiers are just waiting for the kids to come,” said the local headmaster. “Children of 15 or 16 -- they go there because of their anger.”
While many residents do not believe Israel’s claims that most of those killed by Israeli forces were attempting to carry out stabbing attacks, there remains a certain reverence for those who did.
Their posters adorn the walls of the village. “Thank God for having these martyrs sacrificing their lives for liberty, for Al-Aqsa, and for Palestine at large,” one local speaker said at Saturday’s funeral.
“Living in liberty has a price, and the price that the Palestinian people pay is blood.”
One local school teacher admitted: “This sort of talk encourages young children to take up resistance,” but he added: “We are not against resistance.”
He said that many young people in the village celebrated those who had given up their lives to attacks Israelis, and noted that many “would like to have weapons” to attack the soldiers themselves.
Three days later, on Tuesday afternoon, another two Palestinians were gunned down at the Beit Einun junction, one of them a 23-year-old from Sair, who the Israeli army said attempted to stab a soldier.
His body would fill the cemetery's empty grave. The village would soon dig another.