The Settlers

Several months ago, residents of the Arab village of Bidya on the West Bank assassinated their mukhtar, or headman, whom they had accused of being an Israeli collaborator. The mukhtar, Mustafa Salim Abu Bakr, was a well-known land speculator who villagers claim defrauded them out of hundreds of dunams of land by, in some cases, tricking them into signing over to him the deeds to their property. Like many mukhtars on the West Bank, Abu Bakr had been appointed by the Israeli Civil Administration to run the village and to act as a middleman between the villagers and the authorities. He was supplied with Uzi machine guns and a beeper that connected him to the nearby Jewish settlement of Ariel, which sent squads of armed settlers to Bidya whenever he called for protection. Abu Bakr passed out the weapons among a small band of followers, who used them to intimidate the villagers and to collect “taxes” from them. The villagers twice appealed to the Israeli Civil Administration to remove Abu Bakr. In November 1986, the house of the villager who led the opposition against the mukhtar was riddled with machine-gun fire.

Abu Bakr himself survived six assassination attempts, including one early last year in which several villagers rammed his car with a Dodge Plymouth as he pulled out of his driveway one morning. The mukhtar was unhurt. But his nineteen-year-old pregnant daughter had been sitting in the back seat and was crushed to death by the Plymouth—a car the villagers had selected for its size and weight. A few months later, on March 5, 1988, young people in the village threw firebombs at Abu Bakr’s house. Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers quickly intervened; they arrested several young men who had allegedly taken part in the killing of his daughter, put the village under curfew, demolished three houses, and uprooted more than two hundred olive trees.

The military government finally gave in to the villagers’ request and on May 15, 1988, dismissed Abu Bakr. But before the order could take effect, Abu Bakr sold Bidya’s water pumping and electrical equipment. Then last September Abu Bakr was shot to death by two masked men as he was driving in front of Bidya’s high school. The gunmen set fire to his corpse as villagers looked on. “It was our biggest achievement of the intifada,” said Amir Abu Bakr, the director of Bidya’s high school, which, along with all other West Bank schools, has been shut down by the Israelis in reprisal for stone throwing and other activities.

According to the Associated Press, at least forty-five Arabs suspected of collaborating with the Israelis have been killed by Palestinian militants since the beginning of the intifada. Palestinian sources told me that PLO officials in Tunis approve most orders to kill suspected collaborators after underground trials have been conducted by local Palestinian activists.

Soon after the shooting, in which the mukhtar‘s eight-year-old son was seriously wounded, Bidya was surrounded by …

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Letters

West Bank Story November 23, 1989