A few days before their father was shot to death in an olive grove, two of Bilal Saleh’s children took out a black marker and wrote their names on their legs.
They had seen on television how mothers in Gaza have done the same, marking their children to make it simpler for hospital staff to identify their young bodies if they are killed. Mr. Saleh’s children live in the West Bank, more than 100 kilometres from Gaza.
But “they said, ‘maybe the same thing will happen to us,’ ” said their mother, Ikhalas Saleh.
Ms. Saleh was with her husband and their children on Saturday as they set out for the family olive grove, a short distance down the road.
Getting there is no longer simple. People in Sawiya say Israeli soldiers recently brought loads of dirt to block off the road into the village. Villagers now enter and exit across a dusty track through a farmer’s field. A slip of paper left on car windscreens warned: “We will destroy every enemy and forcefully expel you from our holy land.”
Twice since war began on Oct. 7, someone has sliced the pipe delivering water to Sawiya. Earlier in the week, someone cut down 140 olive trees near the Israeli settlement that overlooks the Saleh family olive grove.
Still, the family left on Saturday with smiles, arriving at the olive grove before 8 a.m., multiple generations together. They placed carpets around the tree and began to pluck the olives.
They were, however, nervous. In years past, villagers co-ordinated harvest times with soldiers to ensure their safety in the grove. This year, they said, the soldiers refused.
The grove lies below the Israeli settlement of Rehelim, which has grown to nearly 1,000 people over the past three decades. So when the Saleh family saw four people dressed in Shabbat white coming down the hill from Rehelim, one with an assault rifle slung across his shoulders, they fled.
Mr. Sahel, 40, decided to retrieve the phone he had left behind, and walked back, approaching the settlers.
One settler, a soldier home for Shabbat, opened fire, killing Mr. Saleh with a single bullet.
Israel’s war since Oct. 7 has been primarily directed toward the Gaza Strip, after the attack that killed more than 1,400.
But fear and fury have fallen upon the West Bank, too, with long-standing tensions breaking out into deadly violence against Palestinians. On Sunday, 30 Israeli human-rights organizations called on the international community to “act urgently to stop the state-backed wave of settler violence that has led, and is leading to, the forcible transfer of Palestinian communities in the West Bank.”
Israel’s media and public have barely noticed that more than 100 Palestinians had been killed in the West Bank over the past three weeks, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday.
“What they are doing now in the territories is absolutely shameful and outrageous and obnoxious,” he told The Globe and Mail in an interview at his office in Tel Aviv.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has a responsibility to rein in the settlers,” U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday. ”We expect accountability for extremist settlers who engage in this kind of violence.”
Most of those killed in the West Bank in the past three weeks have died at the hands of Israeli security services, which have made more than 1,000 arrests in the West Bank since Oct. 7.
Settlers have killed seven. Four died on Oct. 11 in the West Bank village of Qusra, and another two the following day when settlers attacked a funeral for the first four.
“We leave our homes thinking maybe we will not come back,” said Nihad Mahamdeh, a member of the Sawiya village council.
In the past, attacks by settlers have often not led to arrests. A spokesman for the Israel Police said he could not comment when The Globe asked about an investigation into the killing of Mr. Saleh. An e-mailed request for police information went unanswered.
Villagers who watched the shooting say Mr. Saleh did nothing to provoke a confrontation. His family described him as a man who collected sage in the mountains to sell at market and cleaned hotels in Israel to earn money for his family. He had no connection to militant groups, they said.
The settlers say Mr. Saleh threatened them and was killed in self-defence.
The settlers were attacked with rocks, Yossi Dagan, who leads the council in the local Shomron region of the West Bank, said in a video statement. Without evidence, he accused Mr. Saleh of being involved with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that orchestrated the Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis.
The settler who pulled the trigger “behaved the way he should behave,” Mr. Dagan said. He called for the end of all nearby olive harvesting, saying it provides a “base for terrorism.”
No settler deaths have been reported since Oct. 7, but Astel Alloun, a spokesperson for the Shomron Regional Council, said attacks have been frequent. Her husband sleeps at night with a gun beneath his pillow. She keeps pepper spray close at hand, and has given the same to her children. They worry that the horrors of Oct. 7 could come to their settlement at any time.
“Because of what happened in the south, people are very, very tense,” Ms. Alloun said.
She defended the killing of Mr. Saleh.
“We prefer they would be dead, and not us,” she said.
Mr. Saleh’s family is angry that soldiers stationed nearby did not intervene. “Had the army stepped in, my son-in-law would never have been shot,” said Muna Saleh, his mother-in-law. “It’s a crime against these children. Against the whole family.”
Olives are an economic pillar for Sawiya. A single ancient tree can be worth tens of thousands of dollars. The Saleh family believes some of its trees are centuries old.
Twenty-four hours after Mr. Saleh’s death, however, no one had returned to the olive grove. Abandoned belongings remain there. So does Mr. Saleh’s donkey. When The Globe stopped on a road overlooking the grove, a voice, perhaps of a soldier, cried out, “Go back!”
Mr. Saleh was shot from a distance of no more than 20 metres, said Sami Kafineh, a teacher and Sawiya village council member who watched from the road. Family members used a ladder as a stretcher to carry Mr. Saleh out of the olive grove.
But the clash didn’t end there, Mr. Kafineh said. As they carried Mr. Saleh, the settlers followed, one pointing a gun at the chest of a villager and ordering the group to leave. Mr. Kafineh is now part of a 40-person night-watch team that looks for signs of trouble in the village.
Israel’s war has given settlers new impetus to push out Palestinians, said Hamdan Shahin Saleh, a cousin of Mr. Saleh who was also at the olive grove Saturday.
“Animosity between the two nations has reached such a level where the stronger side has decided that they do not want us at all,” he said. “They don’t want any Palestinians.”
With reports from Mark MacKinnon