THE thuds came one after the other and then glass splintered inside the room. The latest violence in the anti-Arab assault waged by Hebron’s Jewish settler community was under way.
The stones were thrown by youngsters with large skull caps and long sidecurls. They could not have been more than 12. They moved around a rooftop, targeting windows of Izzedin Sharabati’s house, holding up their shirts to hide their faces during breaks in the barrage.
Adult settlers had broken into the house on Friday night and set it on fire, hours after four Jewish settlers, one of them a child, had been shot dead in an ambush by gunmen at Yatta, south of the city.
Yesterday it became clear through inspection and interviews just how far the settlers’ rampage has ranged: setting fire to homes, breaking down doors to attack those inside, shooting up property, stabbing a child in his living room, carrying stones inside and throwing them. A 14-year-old girl, Nizzin Jamjoum, was shot dead on her porch.
This pogrom - a series of attacks on Palestinians, their homes and property over three days - was not the action of a lunatic fringe. Hebron’s settlers are the most hard-core Jewish nationalists in the West Bank, but after two years of fighting, Palestinian suicide attacks and patriotic coverage by a mobilised media, aspects of their anti-Arab views are now shared by many Israelis, particularly the idea of forcibly evicting Palestinians from their homes. Indeed, the Hebron settlers are strongly backed by the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, which is funding a new housing project for Jews in the city.
Part of the Sharabati house had once served as a local heritage museum. It had housed Mr Sharabati’s collection of vases up to 600 years old, swords dating from the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, old lamps, glassware, and books, including an Arabic manuscript, The Splendid Path, many centuries old.
Yesterday, there was nothing left of the book collection but ashes. The room that held them had been set alight. The floor was littered with shards of glass; the cases that had displayed the artifacts were overturned. Mr Sharabati says the settlers stole some of his collection.
"Did I kill the children of settlers?" he asked "I am not responsible for what happened in Yatta. I am not Arafat and Sharon. They are the people responsible ... not me."
On Friday night, the settlers also attacked the house of Afifa Sharabati, a neighbour and relative of Izzedine Sharabati. Her brother, Tarik, hid behind furniture after locking a room while they "destroyed everything inside", she said. Soldiers who later took over the house had not let the family return.
Yesterday, about 15 settlers surged into the house of Hussein Natshe, climbed the stairs and stabbed eight-year-old Ahmed Natshe in the back, his mother Mariam said.
"I saw them beating my child. I tried to keep the children inside another room. I thought they were going to kill the whole family." She said two stones had been thrown at her. Bloodstains in the house were still visible from the stabbing.
Israeli media reports said that at the murdered settlers’ funeral, mourners had repeatedly chanted "revenge". The Israeli defence minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, termed what followed a "Jewish riot." He added: "If the police and army had not brought it under control, something terrible could have happened."
Moshe Ben-Zimra, a spokesman for the settlers, said of Sunday’s violence: "The Arabs almost perpetrated a massacre against us. They were throwing stones and metal bars in order to kill Jews."
Of the Palestinian fatality, he said: "They should know not to throw stones.
"Revenge is something that needs to be carried out by the government and army," he added. "If they do not do it, then individuals will do things, things I am not happy about."
Marwan Jamjoum, brother of Nizzin, the Palestinian girl who was killed, echoed those words. "If not today, then maybe tomorow or a month from now," he said, " I will revenge the killing of my sister."