More than two weeks after he was attacked, Tareq Zubeidi still spends most of his time in bed, too scared to leave the house, even though the wounds on his feet made him walk normally.
The 15-year-old is haunted by the recollection of what he describes as a brutal attack by Israeli settlers, who he said beat with sticks, tied him to a tree and burned the soles of his feet.
“When I sit alone, I start thinking about everyone, and then I start sweating and my heart rate starts to increase,” Zubeidi told The Associated Press.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group monitoring settler violence, said it could not verify all the details of Tareq’s account, but that “it is clear that the boy was physically and mentally abused”.
The group has documented at least seven settler attacks on Palestinians and their property in the area around the village of Zubeidi over the past two years. It says that when the Israeli army intervenes, it is often the side of the settlers.
The Israeli army says troops were sent to Homesh, a nearby settlement that was severely evacuated in 2005 after reports of Palestinians throwing stones. When the soldiers arrived, they found colonists chasing a Palestinian teenager who was later returned to his family, the army said in a statement.
Settler groups with links to Homesh declined to comment or say they were not aware of the incident, according to AP.
Zubeidi said he and some friends took some snacks to the hill where the settlement used to stand and found a place to relax. At about 9:30 a.m., they heard people shouting in Hebrew and looked up to see a small group of settlers coming towards them.
He denied that he or his friends threw stones and said, “I know nothing about it.”
Instead, he said, they ran terribly down the hill to their village of Silat al-Dhahr. Zubeidi said an early knee injury delayed him so another group of settlers in a car could overtake him and knock him over as he descended into the gravel road that connects Homesh to the highway.
“Four settlers got out of the car and there were two more who were traveling on foot,” he said. “One of them had a gun.”
The settlers beat him with wooden knobs before blindfolding him and tying him to the hood of the car, he said. They drive for about five minutes, back up the hill, before the car suddenly comes to a stop and makes him tumble to the ground. “Then they started beating me, spitting on me and cursing me,” he said.
He said the settlers tied him to a tree and beat him with a belt. Then they took him down, cut his legs with a knife and burned the soles of his feet with a motor cigarette lighter. Eventually, they hit him over the head with a club and beat him unconscious, he said.
When he arrived there, he was in an army quarrel with an Israeli soldier, who he said immediately began threatening. “He told me that if you happen to be in the settlement, we will arrest you, and if stones are thrown, you will take full responsibility,” Zubeidi said.
His father, Abdul Razek Zubeidi, said his son was taken to a hospital that afternoon and spent the night there. According to a medical report, he had bruises on his shoulder and cuts on his feet. Photos taken shortly after the incident show two dark wounds to his soles of his feet.
Abdul Razek said he immediately reported the incident to the Palestinian police, who said they had contacted the Israeli army. Abdul Razek said he had not heard from the Israeli authorities. The family says they did not lodge a complaint with the Israeli police, for fear it would be a waste of time.
Palestinians on the occupied West Bank live under Israeli military law, which offers them little opportunity to seize legal fees, while the nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers in the area have full Israeli citizenship.
Homesh was one of four illegal settlements in the West Bank that were evacuated as part of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. But settlers from another nearby settlement are still going to the hill to study and pray, according to Israeli media .
In addition to the more than 130 settlements approved by Israel, there are dozens of unauthorized settlements. Israel is reluctant to evacuate them because it runs the risk of setting fire to clashes between settlers and soldiers.
The Palestinians and most of the international community regard all settlements as a violation of international law, as well as an obstacle to peace, as they threaten the territorial continuity and viability of any future Palestinian state.
The United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Tor Wennesland, raised Zubeidi’s case at a Security Council meeting last month, describing the incident as a “heinous act” and calling on Israeli authorities to to hold offenders accountable.
Zubeidi’s mother, Hanan Zubeidi, fears it could have been much worse.
“Imagine, my son tells me he was beaten by them,” she said. “I did not expect to see him alive.”