A delegation of Belgian experts, humanitarian workers, and journalists en route to a project of Enable, the Belgian agency for development cooperation, was detained for hours on 5 July and held at gunpoint by an armed Israeli settler in the West Bank. Afterward, they were cut off by a soldier in a military truck on the settler’s warning.
The delegation was invited to visit the operation of the Youth Camp west of Ramallah. The camp is in fact a project funded by Enable in collaboration with the EU. Despite the fact that the Youth Camp is located in Palestinian territory, it is surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements. However, the Israeli settlers who serve neither a police status nor a military function, and thus have no right to control people, believe that they should do so for security reasons. Something strongly condemned by the international community.
The Belgian delegation, consisting of journalists, humanitarian workers, experts, and consultants, who had a 2 week trip through Palestine for development cooperation, was shocked when an armed settler suddenly appeared in front of the car with a machine gun. “For hours we were held hostage and treated as if we were potential terrorists when we did nothing wrong. A project that is subsidized by our own country Belgium. In Belgium, such a person would be convicted of criminal threats and illegal possession of weapons, in Israel, this is apparently completely normal. It is absurd that the Israeli army just let this happen and protected the settlers itself by saying that we should not have been there,” said Stijn Ledegen, a member of the Belgian delegation.
“Afterwards, several testimonies from some delegation members showed that Israeli soldiers themselves confiscated the driver’s passport and banned him from going to the Youth Camp with foreign delegations,” said delegation spokesman Bilal Bruggen.
Both documentary makers on duty, Sidi El Omari and Idries Bensbaho, had the reflex to capture this immediately. “I couldn’t believe what was happening, this looked like something out of a movie. The settler aimed his barrel at us and appeared to fire for a moment, while there was no danger or suspicion. We literally looked death in the eye when we saw the inside of his barrel.” say both documentary makers.
“I thought I had to get out of there with these images, after all, it is our journalistic and human duty to expose these atrocities to the world. This is what many Palestinians experience on a daily basis,” says Idries Bensbaho.
“It’s something we just can’t forget. For a moment I thought our last hour had come,” says Sidi El Omari.
It’s no secret, however, that settlers are taking matters into their own hands to threaten many passers-by. Even children are used to guard Jewish settlements. Tensions in the West Bank have risen again in recent months. The Palestinian authorities are pointing the finger at the Israeli government for continuing to build and protect Jewish settlements.
Israel has already been condemned several times by the United Nations but ignores the resolutions. It remains to be seen how the situation will develop in the coming months. President Biden’s visit last Friday shows that the situation in the Middle East, partly due to the conflict in Ukraine, has significantly reshuffled the geopolitical cards.