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Tensions over Palestinian UN bid spur new patrols in West Bank

Palestinian, Israeli, and foreign activists have launched a neighborhood patrol project to protect Palestinians from Israeli settler violence, rising amid tensions related to the Palestinian UN bid for statehood.

By Rebecca CollardContributor / September 21, 2011

A Palestinian activist from a pro-Palestinian volunteer-based campaign films Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, Monday. The volunteers will intervene and respond to cases of violence towards Palestinians by Jewish settlers.

Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

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Aseera, West Bank

As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas defends his bid for statehood at the United Nations, his people are defending their land.

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Amid rising tensions between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank, who both lay claim to the land, a coalition of local and foreign activists have begun setting up neighborhood watch patrols to monitor key flashpoints. The project highlights a newfound Palestinian boldness on the ground that mirrors Mr. Abbas's determination at the UN – despite American pressure.

"Palestinians have been left with no choice. The Israeli army isn’t doing enough to protect them from the increase in [settler] attacks,” says Jonathan Pollack, an Israeli activist and spokesperson for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. “It forces Palestinians to organize.”

The neighborhood patrol project is part of a new initiative launched by the committee, which is comprised of Palestinian, Israeli, and foreign activists working for the rights of Palestinians. The new patrols not only aim to protect Palestinians but also document attacks and property damage by settlers.

Documenting violence

The first patrol took place Monday at a spring near the village of Nabi Saleh, where Israelis from the adjacent Halamish settlement have tried to take over the water source and push Nabi Saleh's residents from the land. Here, residents clash weekly with the Israeli army.

“Yesterday there was one settler who attacked the car and tried to hit the driver,” says Mahmoud Abu Yusef, a father of five from the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Steering his car through winding hills outside his city, Mr. Yusef explains why he had joined the caravan of activists.

“This is my land,” says Mr. Abu Yusef. “I’m doing this because of the settlers … the soldiers don’t protect the Palestinians.”

The convoy, painted with the project’s name in Arabic, Hebrew and English and bearing Palestinian flags, continues to a rest stop to wait for news from villagers. One of the volunteers explains they will stay here because it allows them to reach most of the surrounding villages in the event the army closes the highway.

After 45 minutes, they receive a call that settlers are attacking the village of Aseera about 15 minutes away.

When they arrive in Aseera, the Israeli army has formed a line just above the village, a common procedure to prevent confrontation between Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents.

Committee volunteers jump from the cars in yellow vests, armed with cameras and video recorders.

Settlers from a nearby outpost who entered Aseera flee to a nearby hilltop, but Palestinian youth from the village begin to throw stones at the Israeli soldiers who respond with a barrage of tear gas. The volunteers document the incident.

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