“All right, I think it’s finished.” My friend and teammate Jessica reads a press release into the phone. I grip my cell and pace back and forth as I listen.
On the morning of 29 March, twenty Israeli settlers from the illegal Israeli settlement outpost Havat Ma’on entered the village of At-Tuwani. Throughout the day, groups of four to five settlers entered the village three additional times. While in the village, settlers harassed Palestinians, twice displaying their buttocks to Palestinians and internationals in the area. Israeli authorities did nothing to move settlers away from the village. Israeli military spoke and joked with settlers when they entered the village, allowing them to stay on land owned by Palestinian residents of At-Tuwani. Palestinians report a military commander threatened to tell the settlers to attack the village after the military left the area.
“That doesn’t really convey what happened, does it?” Jessica remarks.
“No,” I say. “It doesn’t.”
- - -
It began in the evening with rocks. Several of them. Settlers hurdled them at a group of children and a woman cradling a baby in her arm. Along with the rocks, insults. “They drove into Tuwani in their car. They said bad things to me, behind the mosque,” my friend Musab Abu Jamal* tells me. I know that he wont tell me whatever terrible things they said to him so I don’t even ask.
I see the rocks flying through the air from our front yard, down the hill from the mosque and Musab’s pink house that sits beside it. Then I watch Palestine men walking up the hill. I hear shouting and knew what was happening. I run into the house to grab a video camera just as the children at the well by our door started yelling, “Mustutiniin! Mustutiniin!” Settlers.
Soon the whole village is assembled beside the pink house, home to the Abu Jamal family who have the misfortune of living closest to Havot Ma’on outpost. They bare the brunt of the settler attacks that are part of every day life in Tuwani. At the edge of the trees, which mark the beginning of the settlement outpost, we can see two men in white, their heads wrapped so that only their eyes are visible. Soon the Israeli army arrives in the village and the settlers retreat into the trees. But the Abu Jamal family sit on the porch of the pink house watching and waiting.
At the request of the Abu Jamal family, we sleep in the pink house. Musab and his family fear settlers may attack during the night. I’m too tired to worry about what may happen. I fall asleep immediately and rest undisturbed. In the morning, we wake early. My teammate tells me that during their last attack, settlers smashed in the window under which we slept. My stomach twists. We out the front door. In the morning light, the men of the Abu Jamal family sit on their porch, still waiting.
Then abruptly, at 10 o'clock, the wait is over. Fifteen Israeli settlers walk out of the trees and into the village. Five more stay closer to treeline. The Abu Jamal men have left the porch and Musab is standing beside me. My video camera is rolling, but my hand trembles.
Almost instantly, the entire village of Tuwani joins us at the top of the hill. Other members of CPT follow behind them. Under pressure from a friendly Israeli lawyer called by the Abu Jamal family, the Israeli army and the police are there to meet the settlers and, presumably, tell them to go back to the settlement. The engines of their jeeps are growling. The settlers keep advancing, confident grins on their faces.
I watch a tiny Israeli boy with brown hair follow behind an adult settler. As he approaches the jeeps, the boy bursts into tears. I watch as he cries while he runs back to the settlement. I tears well in my eyes and I can’t contain myself. “What are you doing to your children?” I shout. Two other boys, maybe 6 years old, stand with a man who must be their father. They laugh and jeer and hold their fingers up in victory signs. Next to them teenage boys strut and spit hateful words towards the elderly Palestinian woman I am standing beside.
Israeli soldiers stand between the assembled Palestinians and the settlers. They are positioned with their backs to the trespassing settlers. They are standing with them, facing us. When I receive a phone call asking if we are all right, a soldier yells at me to be quiet. Behind them, settlers laugh. Slowly, my fear abates, but nausea swells in my stomach and throat. I’m left, once again waiting. Will the soldiers send the settlers? How long will these men and boys be content to merely laugh and taunt? I look up into Juma, the eldest brother of the Abu Jamal family. He looks ashen. Beside him stands Musab. His face is tense. It looks cold without the sparkle that usually dances in his dark eyes. Suddenly, he shouts, “You! I know you!” Musab waves a figure towards a settler with a green kippa. “ That is the man who attacked me. Take his picture! Him!”
“Yes, yes, I am,” I respond. I’m not sure which attack - there have been so many recently - Musab is referring to, but I’ll ask later. I point my camera at man Musab indicates and zoom in, trying to hold my hand as steady as possible. Through the viewfinder, I watch him turn his head away from me. “Faces.” Musab says sternly. I nod and once again I pan over the group of settlers, zooming in on each one. Then I look down at my video camera and wonder who else will see this film. Who will pay attention to our careful efforts to document the indignities and violence that Juma, Musab, and the rest of the Abu Jamal family endure? And will they understand the helpless dread I feel right now?
- - -
I pace back and forth more quickly. Jessica continues reading,
Israeli settlers also harassed, intimidated, and attacked Palestinian children on their way to and from school in the village of At-Tuwani. In the morning, settlers yelled and threw stones at the children coming to school from the villages of Tuba and Maghayir Al Abeed. The military escort in the area, which is to take the children to and from school to ensure their safety, did nothing during the attack. Fearing for their safety, the children were forced to take a different path to school, doubling the walk from 20 to 45 minutes. On their way home from school, one adult Israeli settler and four children followed the Palestinian children and military escort. They were soon joined by two adult settlers, and a large group of adults and teenagers. The settlers yelled insults and threats at the school children, but the Israeli army kept them at bay.
“Yes. That’s it. Send it out.” My stomach sinks as I hang up the phone.
*Last name changed