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Through the eyes of Palestinian Americans: Settlers' rampage in West Bank village

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Many Palestinian Americans spend their summers visiting the West Bank and connecting to their homeland. Well, a couple of days ago, some of them were the targets of a violent rampage. Hundreds of Israeli settlers marched through a village setting fire to homes. NPR's Daniel Estrin has this report of escalating violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank through the eyes of Palestinian Americans.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Bilal Hajaz brought his family from Macon, Ga., to visit his parents in the West Bank. He says his 7-year-old was playing on an iPad when a masked man stormed the family house, hit his mom and set the house on fire.

BILAL HAJAZ: All last night I did not sleep. I mean, I was thinking about it. Was this real or was this a dream?

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBRIS CRUNCHING)

ESTRIN: The porch roof collapsed. The house was gutted. Around 15 homes were torched, most belonging to Palestinian Americans in this village of Turmus Aya, which has elements of an affluent U.S. suburb - large villas, some mansions, a neat row of palm trees. Many are like Hajaz - they live in the U.S. and like bringing their kids here to reconnect.

HAJAZ: You know, to learn the language and to get to know Palestine and all that stuff. But my little boy, since yesterday, like, when we're going back to Macon, Ga.? When we're going back to Macon, Ga.?

ESTRIN: It's been a violent week. On Monday, there was a gun battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants, leaving seven Palestinians dead including two teenagers. The next day, Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis, including two teens, at a settlement gas station. On Wednesday, hundreds of settlers calling for revenge descended on this village.

I meet 16-year-old Palestinian American Mahmood Awad with his dad who saw the burning homes the day they arrived from California on summer break.

MAHMOOD AWAD: The reason a lot of people don't live here is 'cause of the fact that - how we're treated over here, you know? We're treated as, like, pigs, you know? And it's just sad to see that my people are constantly getting killed on a daily, and we can't do anything about it, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Crying) (non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Mourners sit with Hadeel Igbara from Chicago whose husband, Omar, was killed that day.

HADEEL IGBARA: Amazing, amazing husband and father anybody could ask for.

ESTRIN: He went out with other villagers to try to fend off the Israeli attackers. Israel says there was a riot, and a policeman suspected he was being shot at and opened fire.

IGBARA: It's not a fair fight. He was killed. He was just trying to protect - trying to fight back with a rock while they had guns.

ESTRIN: She had helped him get permanent residency in the U.S. where she thought it would be safer and easier to make a living. But he wanted to stay in the land he loved. Now he's buried in that land, and she's considering moving back to the U.S.

IGBARA: I don't know how I'm going to be able to leave him here and go back, but I know that it would be easier there. It would be much easier and much safer for me and my kids. It's like leaving part of your heart behind. That's the only thing that's holding me back.

ESTRIN: Palestinian Americans in the village say they feel no one is protecting them. The Israeli army admits it failed to stop the hundreds of Israelis from attacking this village and others this week. Israel has only arrested three suspects. Some villagers turned to one Palestinian American who they thought could help, Illinois Democratic state legislator Abdelnasser Rashid, who happens to be visiting his home village.

ABDELNASSER RASHID: People in the village said, hey, Abdelnasser, what can we do to make sure that this doesn't happen again? There is a sense of resignation that Israel will not find the arsonists and bring them to justice. And there is an expectation that those of us in the United States are doing everything we can to make sure that our government is not enabling Israel to do what it's doing.

ESTRIN: The State Department says it's talking to Israel about U.S. citizens in the village being threatened. Representative Rashid met a U.S. official and asked that U.S. aid to Israel be conditioned on respecting human rights. He says settlers have tried to come back to the village, and last night, he took turns with his sister on the roof keeping watch until dawn. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, in the West Bank village of Turmus Aya.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.