AT-TUWANI: Traumatizing the children of the South Hebron Hills

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CPTnet
15 March 2011
AT-TUWANI: Traumatizing the children of the South Hebron
Hills 

by Sam Nichols

Since 2004, Christian Peacemaker Teams and Operation Dove
have documented more than 110 acts of settler aggression against Palestinian
schoolchildren from Tuba and Maghayir al-Abeed villages in the South Hebron
Hills [1]. The details of the attacks may vary, but the crux of every incident
is the same: the Israeli military fails to arrive in order to escort the
schoolchildren past Ma’on settlement and Havat Ma’on outpost; the children are
forced to walk an indirect route without escort; settlers emerge from the
outpost and chase or assault the children.

As I sat with the kids on 7 February 2011, they were becoming
increasingly impatient. They had finished their two-week winter recess that
provided a reprieve from the daily uncertainty of whether their journey home would
be uneventful or dangerous. As the kids became increasingly eager to take the
long way home, instead of waiting for the military escort, I became frustrated
with their impatience—even though I knew my frustration was misplaced. 

I had called the military dispatch office four times,
encouraging them to send the escort. Twice they answered and told me they would
send the soldiers. On my third call, they hung up. On the fourth call, the
dispatcher informed me that the office had not even called the soldiers because
the soldiers had more important duties to perform.

During the call, the kids were climbing on my arms and legs,
trying to get their ears closer to phone to hear what the military personnel
were saying. What did they say? Are the soldiers coming? I could not
bear to tell them the truth, that the officers did not care what happened to
them, so I lied. Yeah, they are on their way here; just wait a few more
minutes.

Finally, the kids’ patience ran out, and they set off on the
longer path that skirts along the perimeter of Havat Ma’on outpost. Mere minutes
after setting out on the sixty-minute journey over rough, rocky hills, the kids
spotted a settler in the trees that obscure the outpost. The kids scrambled in
retreat while I struggled to turn on my video camera as I ran backwards.  After getting a safe distance from the
place where they saw the settler, the older kids in the group discussed our
options and decided we should descend into the adjacent valley, to distance
ourselves from the outpost, and continue heading towards Tuba and Maghayir
Al-Abeed.

The older children were confident in their choice—they have
made important decisions like this countless times before. The instant we
started to head deeper into the valley, my colleague, who was watching from a
nearby hilltop, called to say three settlers were moving down the valley in our
direction. Before she finished speaking, I yelled to the kids, “Come back
here, quickly, there are three settlers coming down the hill towards us; they
are masked!”
My
warning passed quickly to the front of the group, and the kids again quickly
distanced themselves further from the outpost. Once we stopped, I saw that
several of the younger children were distraught.  One young girl,
Inshirah, was pacing back and forth with her hands on her head, her whole body
shaking. She was pleading with everyone, or with no one in particular, to go
back and wait for the army. Biddish amshi
fil tariq had, ana khayfe min il mustawtaneen (Please, I don’t want to walk on
this path, please, I’m scared of the settlers).

Villagers from at-Tuwani came out
towards us once they saw the settlers approaching. One of the village leaders,
Khaled, shouted instructions to the children. As more at-Tuwani villagers began
to stream out of their houses in support, the Israeli Border Police arrived.

The
settlers, still masked, approached the jeep and spoke with the Border Police
officers, gesturing and pointing, apparently narrating their version of events
before heading back to the outpost.  Khaled and I approached the Border
Police; I began by complaining of the late arrival of the military escort and
demanding that action be taken against the settlers’ threatening behavior.
Khaled spoke at length with another policeman who suggested the source of the
problem was the schoolchildren walking too close to the outpost, which forced
the settlers to come out. He also suggested that the at-Tuwani villagers
routinely provoke the settlers, and the international activists are on hand to
document the settlers’ response to the Palestinians’ provocations.  Khaled
remained calm and refuted the Border policeman’s claims by recounting the
details of several recent attacks against his own family as well as explaining
the consistent trend of violence and land annexation since the establishment of
Ma’on settlement in 1981.

After
hearing from the military that they were not providing an escort for the
schoolchildren that day, the Border Police agreed to escort the children on the
direct path to Tuba and Maghayir al-Abeed. They opened up the back door of the
jeep to keep an eye on the children following behind the jeep. I saw them
laughing as the jeep sped up and the kids, some of whom were still shaking in
fear, had to run to catch up. 

Given
that more than 110 acts of settler aggression have been documented against one
small group of children in the span of six years, one wonders how many
thousands more attacks on children have happened across the West Bank in the
same period.  These incidents do not make international news, Israeli
news, or even Palestinian news—settlers killing Palestinians, home demolitions,
and the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem are bigger news items than masked thugs
chasing kids after school. But the children targeted by these acts of settler
aggression, are forever scarred—both by the attacks and by the system that
deems them unworthy of protection.  Nevertheless, the children from Tuba
and Maghayir al-Abeed are living examples of samoud— resolute steadfastness.  They refuse to let acts of
aggression and violence deny them access to education, and continue to struggle
against the occupation of their land by making the journey to school each
day.  

[1]
Christian Peacemaker Teams and Operation Dove, “The Dangerous
Road to Education: Palestinian Students Suffer Under Settler Violence and
Military Negligence
,” December 2010.

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