Palestine Monitor, June 17, 2010
On Saturday morning, 30 to 35 masked Israeli settlers stormed the village of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills. Armed with metal clubs, slingshots, knives, and stones, the attackers targeted the house closest to the edge of the woods. International observers stationed in the village arrived in time to witness and document the final phases of the assault. Michael Carpenter investigated for Palestine Monitor.
The rolling hills south of Hebron are home to some of the poorest Palestinian communities in the West Bank, and in recent years, some of the most radical Israeli settlers have come here. At-Tuwani is a small traditional village of about 250 residents and a focal point of the region’s tensions. At the south tip of the village, near the edge of a densely wooded hill, is Beit Juma, the large home of the Rabai extended family. At 10:45 AM, not long after Juma and one of his brothers had gone to a neighbouring village, the attack came from the trees without warning.
"There were problems before," explains one of the younger brothers, present at the time of the attack. "But nothing like this. This is something new. First came stones, hitting the wall and flying over the house into the yard where the children were playing. Then came the settlers, 30 or 35, with faces covered, with iron sticks, smashing windows and fence. Some came this way around the house, and the others came that way. They tried to come inside, to force their way, but we pushed them back." The brothers admit they wounded two of the settlers, knocking them to the ground and kicking them. "At that time, it’s impossible to think. Of course we fight. They are coming into our home."
The Rabais say that up to ten people from their family and village suffered minor injuries from stones or beating. One woman, four months pregnant, was hurt in a fall as she fled the violence. She was taken to the hospital and returned in good condition.
The initial onslaught lasted only a couple minutes before the international observers and many others from the village were on the scene. "We saw the last part of the fighting around the house," says Sirio, a member of the Italian non-violent peace corps Operation Dove. "Then the settlers—I counted at least 26—ran back to the woods. But that was not the end. They continued to throw stones from the trees for the next 20 minutes or so before disappearing deeper in the woods."
Shortly after, by about 11:30, police, army, and border patrol arrived, taking statements, photos, and collecting evidence, including multiple large knives. Later in the afternoon, some of the Rabai family, accompanied by members of Operation Dove, filed an official complaint at the police station in Kiryat Arba (the Israeli settlement in Hebron). "The first thing they asked my brother," says Musab Rabai incredulously, "was 'Who beat the settlers?’" He laughs. "Not, 'Why were settlers in the home?’" The residents of At-Tuwani are not confident the attackers will be prosecuted.
Although the weekend marked a dramatic escalation of Israeli settler hostility, the events were just the latest in the troubled history of the besieged village. Every year, the growing settlement of Ma’on (established 1981 on a neighbouring hill) de facto annexes more and more of the village’s pastureland. In the last several years, shepherds, school children, and international observers have been beaten, the drinking well and grazing land have been poisoned, animals have been killed, and property has been vandalised. Scores of incidents have been documented in photos and videos by international monitors such as Operation Dove.
The Italian peace corps, along with Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT), have maintained a constant presence in the village since they were invited by the Palestinians in 2004. The local community had already committed to peaceful resistance in co-operation Hafez Huraini and the South Hebron Hills Committee for popular non-violent resistance.
Concealed in the trees, about a hundred meters from the south edge of the village, is the settler outpost known as Hill 833, or Havat Ma’on. Under international law, all Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal, but this outpost is also illegal under Israeli law. First established in 1999, just south-west of the woods, the outpost was quickly dismantled by Israeli authorities, but by the end of the year, the renegade settlers had relocated inside the woods. Since then, they have entrenched themselves, continued building within the trees, and continued to harass the local population, all with apparent impunity from the Israeli authorities. Equally disturbing, settlers from this outpost, including Yosef Ben Barach and its founder Yehoshefat Tor, have ties to the radical group Kach, which is a designated terrorist organisation by both the United States and Israel for inciting violence and attempting to bomb Palestinian schools in Jerusalem.
Paranoid or prescient, the Rabai brothers believe the settlers intended far worse. "They came here to kill. They tried to kill with knives, some guys, and they tried to move into the home. I’m sure they saw us when we left here, and they thought no men were here, just the women and the kids. They thought if they threw stones first, all of them will run, but when they threw stones, three brothers came out. They tried to do like they do in other villages, to take the homes."
Whatever the settlers’ intentions, the Rabai family is deeply concerned and expects more attacks soon. They spend many nights on their rooftops, peering vigilantly into the dark woods. This is the effect of daily terror. "We try to continue the non-violent resistance with these guys," says Juma Rabai. "But I don’t know about the future. The future is dark for a long time, so black. But now, maybe more dark."
Written by Michael Carpenter for Palestine Monitor
More info: http://www.operationdove.org/