From Anatevka to Wadi Siq

A cow grazes among the ruins of Wadi Siq. (Photo taken by author).
A cow grazes among the ruins of Wadi Siq (photo taken by author)

Anatevka played on repeat in my mind as we gazed across at the ruins of Wadi Siq, as we drove through what remained of the village and as we met some of its displaced families.

At the end of Fiddler on the Roof, Jews are finally expelled from Anatevka after worsening pogroms. Families lose their homes, the community is broken up, Jewish life in the village ends. This same sense of individual, communal and national loss echoes among the wreckage of Wadi Siq.

Wadi Siq is one of 17 West Bank shepherding communities forced to uproot since 7 October, with more under threat. With the world’s attention on Gaza, the settler movement has intensified a process under way for years.

Wadi Siq was a village of around 200 people, about 25km north-east of Jerusalem. In February 2023 a new Jewish outpost was set up close by. Abu Bashar, the village leader, describes what followed: armed settlers destroyed their crops, stopped them accessing their wells, prevented them from taking their herds to graze. On 28 August 2023 armed settlers invaded the village, destroying property and beating residents; a child was hospitalized. The attack was cited by the US when sanctioning one of the settlers involved, Neriya Ben Pazi.

Whilst these shepherding families plainly have nothing to do with Hamas, the settler attacks on Wadi Siq intensified immediately following 7 October. It was decided that women and children should leave the village for their safety, but the men would remain to protect their land. On 11 October, settlers posted on Facebook that they would “liberate the Wadi al-Siq area from the Palestinians”. The remaining villagers were told they would be killed unless they left within an hour.

The expulsion took place on 12 October. Mohammad Matar, a Palestinian activist who had come to the village along with Israeli and international activists to provide support, recounts “at dawn… armed settlers stormed… under cover of darkness and entered the houses of the community, terrorizing the residents”. Most remaining residents fled, without time to pack up their belongings. Three men – Matar, another activist, and a resident of Wadi Siq – remained, and were brutally beaten by armed settlers.

After they called for help, the army arrived – and things got worse. Matar describes how the men were stripped, beaten and urinated on. He told The Times of Israel “I told them that I was against Hamas and against Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but it didn’t interest them. They said that all Arabs are s**t and that we should be sent to Jordan”.

Whilst the army later dismissed five soldiers involved, no action was taken to enable the residents of Wadi Siq to return home and the community has been dispersed.

The bulldozed remains of Wadi Siq (photo by author)

The settlers bulldozed Wadi Siq, including its school, which had been attended by children from across the area. The settlers stole animal feed, trailers, solar panels and more. They created a roadblock so the families could not return. As we drove through some five months later (off-road around the roadblock) the settlers’ cows grazed among the ruins.

We visited Abu Bashar, who explained that when they approached the Israeli authorities about returning home they were told to just go back – but they genuinely fear they will be killed (460 West Bank Palestinians have been killed by Israelis since 7 October). His children rarely attend school – transport is difficult and there isn’t sufficient signal for Zoom classes. He’s been told he soon needs to leave where they are staying and doesn’t know what they will do next. Despair hung in the air.

Later we met with Suliman Mustafa, also staying temporarily on others’ land. He explained his home had been closest to the outpost and even before 7 October settlers had set fire to his car and destroyed his water tank. Suliman is now in debt just to feed his family and is having to sell the sheep his livelihood depends on to pay the debts. “We’ve lost everything”.

Shortly after the Wadi Siq expulsion, families in the nearby community of Rashash fled. Fearing violence like that in Wadi Siq, they packed up their homes rather than risk their destruction. I had visited that community in the past amid rising settler harassment, and seeing an empty space where it had once stood laid bare how quickly human and geopolitical landscapes can change.

A sign posted in Maghayer al-Dir (photo by author)

Our day had begun in the village of Maghayer al-Dir, on the hillside across from the ruins of Wadi Siq. Its residents know they may be next. Signs around the village announce “Humanitarian support for Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer in the West Bank”.

Their story is similar to that of Wadi Siq: we were told how in summer 2023 an outpost was erected close to the village. A road was built blocking the villages access to their grazing land. Armed settlers strolled through the village to intimidate them. The village’s shepherds are too afraid to graze their flocks between the village and the outpost and have had to buy expensive food for the sheep.

In the distance, the new outpost, as seen from the edge of Maghayer al-Dir (photo by author)

Israeli volunteers maintain a “solidarity presence” in the village (as had been done in Wadi Siq), hoping to deter settler attacks. When we visited, two older Israeli women were there, making crafts with the village children and teaching them some Hebrew. One admitted she doesn’t tell her family she still comes here – they think it’s too dangerous.

Since 7 October, 17 Palestinian villages – 156 families, 1,046 people including 390 children – have been forced to flee their homes. At the same time, at least ten new outposts have been established, and the Israeli government continues to, legalize existing outposts, promote new settlements and declare land “state land” in readiness for future settlement construction.

As Jewish settlements proliferate and Palestinian communities are wiped off the map, Palestinian space shrinks whilst Jewish space expands. This is the goal of settler violence.

Rav Arik Asherman of Torat Tzedek, with whom I was spending the day, has spent decades working with West Bank shepherding communities. To him and his colleagues it’s clear that settler violence is deployed strategically: the villages targeted lie mostly in the Jordan valley and the South Hebron Hills, areas earmarked for annexation since the occupation’s earliest days.

In July 1967, Minister Yigal Allon presented the “Allon plan” under which Israel would annex a wide strip of land along the Jordanian border – the Jordan Valley in the northern West Bank and the South Hebron Hills in the south. The 1979 WZO “Drobles Plan” took a similar approach, and was explicit in its goal of preventing a future Palestinian state by disrupting Palestinian contiguity.

Whilst neither the Allon plan nor the Drobles plan were formally adopted, their approach guided settlement development for decades – and their maps are strikingly similar to that of the Trump Plan.

It is the communities lying within the areas earmarked for annexation in these plans that suffer the most extreme violence and face the greatest risk of displacement. As the world again focuses on the need for a two-state solution, the settler movement, enabled by the government and the army, is doing everything in its power to make it impossible. The tragedy and loss caused by settler violence have personal, communal, national and international implications.

Anatevka was fictional, but it tells the true story of our history – and in reverse, of our present. But it isn’t the whole story of our present, because of the brave and principled Israeli Jews – like Rav Arik and many others – who put their bodies on the line, who are themselves subjected to settler violence, to stand with those at risk of expulsion. If we want their way to prevail, we must give them our full support.

You can make a charitable donation to Torat Tzedek through New Israel Fund UK – note when donating that your gift is to Torat Tzedek.

About the Author
Anna Roiser is a lawyer with an MA in Israeli Studies who has spent time living in Jerusalem. She is a trustee of the New Israel Fund UK and a member of the national Steering Group of UK Friends of Standing Together.
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