Settler violence against peace observers
Introduction by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun
The author of this report is known to me, but wished to keep his identity unknown for reasons he states in the piece below. You can also read it online. It should be noted that while settler violence against Palestinians, Israelis who identify with the need for Palestinian human rights to be observed, including Rabbis for Human Rights, and “internationals”–people who come to Israel to support Palestinian human rights– is a daily occurrence, and is documented by B’tselem and other human rights groups, the vast majority of settlers on the West Bank do NOT participate in this violence, though many of them vote for political parties that incite hatred and violence and seek to appropriate all of the West Bank to a Jewish state, either with or without expelling Palestinians. Our point is that we don’t condemn every settler or believe everyone of them to be a violent person, though the system of settlement of which they are a part is a system of stealing Palestinian land and employing force and violence to protect that theft. Those of us in the spiritual progressive world should be mounting a team like Christian Peacemakers Team, but composed of people from all faiths, who can similarly provide witness and some minimal protection to Palestinians, though as this piece reveals, such groups also become the targets of settler violence. Meanwhile, we continue our support for all those committed to non-violence and to non-demeaning of “the Other” whoever that “other” might be. And we salute with deep respect the Christianity evoked in this message as a beautiful example of the kind of forgiveness that is essential to all of us and which we must each strive to develop in our own lives and in the way we seek to bring healing and transformation (tikkun) to the world.
From a Christian in the West Bank
Friday, August 13th, so I wanted to send out an update.
On Friday morning, “Koba”, a fellow ISMer and myself were at the village of Al Buyehreh. The village is very close to a Harsina settlement and outpost and the people living there have been almost under daily attack. On Thursday evening, settlers tried to set fire to the farmer’s fields, and they requested intervention. CPT [Christian Peacemakers Team] and ISM [International Solidarity Movement] have been taking turns watching the village, taking day and night shifts.
My partner and I arrived on Friday morning, around 7:00 a.m.. We sat down under a fig tree. The tree is between the village and a road connecting the settlement and outpost. For the first few hours nothing happened. We took turns napping while the other kept watch, I was reading What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey. I can’t emphasize how relevant the Biblical message of forgiveness was about to become to me.
Around 10 in the morning, a small group of 5 settler boys passed us. Three of them were small, two were teenagers. The teens made some comments like “if you don’t leave we will kick you”. We ignored them and kept sitting under the tree. Most threats that are made by settlers are not actually carried out. And we knew that if we left, the Palestinians would be completely at their mercy. It was not an option either way.
Around noontime, a car stopped beside us. Inside were two Palestinian women who had been attacked yesterday evening and were on their way to the hospital. They were too afraid to travel last night. The older woman told us that settlers began throwing rocks at the car they were driving. They were blocked and she got out and threw a rock back at them. A few rocks hit her in the head. The younger woman in the car witnessed the incident. Sitting in the car the next day, she looked completely traumatized. I have never seen someone so afraid. We photographed the car and it had dents in the front and back. We wrote down their story, took some pictures, and they drove on.
About 20 minutes later, a car full of angry Palestinian men drove by the outpost. They were neighbours of the women. They spotted a settler on his way to the outpost and began throwing rocks. Fortunately they all missed, he ran to the outpost. I wanted to say something but they drove by very quickly and the incident was over in a matter of seconds.
The attack happened maybe 15 minutes later. Three men suddenly appeared in front of us. They came from the direction of the outpost and managed to sneak up on us. They were all wearing black clothing and had their faces covered with black ski masks. They were holding what looked to me like black rods. I later learned that 2 of them were wooden sticks and one was a metal pipe. From the moment I saw them it was very clear to me what they were going to do. One of them walked up to me. He was very muscular and looking straight at me. None of them said a word.
I said “shalom”. He swung his weapon back and slammed it into my face. It shattered my nose and I went into shock. I fell down face first and didn’t feel the other 2 blows that landed on my back. My friend tried to deflect the third blow and they hit his foot. Afterwards they took his camera, backpack and notebook and left. Blood was pouring from my face and on my shirt and pants and shoes. They are still stained.
A group of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian farmers appeared at the scene. The soldiers were very polite and many of them looked shocked. Others though were smirking. They offered to take us to Jerusalem for treatment. We politely refused because it would mean getting arrested and deported. The Palestinians called an ambulance as well, and we were taken to Al Ahli hospital in the Palestinian section of Hebron.
I remember crowds of concerned and angered villagers gathering around us and helping me walk to the ambulance. I asked people several times to not take revenge against the settlers for what happened. Firstly I do not believe in revenge as a Christian. I believe in love for enemies and turning the other cheek, I would not want anyone to hurt somebody else on my behalf. Also, revenge is usually carried out against people who had no part in the violence that is being avenged. Most of the violence in the West Bank is carried out against innocent Palestinians but the in the fairly rare occasions when Palestinians avenge attacks against them, innocent Israelis are usually the ones who suffer. Lastly, this region has seen more than enough of its share of violence and counterviolence and violence to avenge the counterviolence. It does not help achieve anything but grieving family members and additional anger and pain.
The hospital was an amazing experience. Koba and I were put under an X-ray. Fortunately his leg was not broken and he was released. My nose was broken and I had to go for surgery the next day, and that meant staying in the hospital for 2 nights.
The doctors and nurses were amazing and looked after my every need. I did not pay a cent- the Palestinian Authority pays medical bills of anyone who was hurt by the Israeli army or settlers. I am not endorsing the PA but I have to say it was a great relief and I am very grateful for this.
My fellow ISMers came to visit me constantly. I have to single out “Laura”, one of our members from Mexico, who converted to Islam a few weeks ago. She brought me food and kept me company for most of the days. She also brought me my Bible and helped put my cross necklace around my neck after surgery. I will be forever grateful to her and my fellow ISMers.
Most amazing were the people I do not know. Over 200 Palestinians came by to see me. They heard about the attack on the TV and radio and from friends and wanted to express their sympathies and outrage about the attack. Many of them were very upset and during some meetings I felt I had to repeat my request for no revenge to be taken. Most were very grateful for my being there with them and some said that now I am a Palestinian, one of them. I felt very proud.
Groups of young men came to my bedside to say hello. Whole families came as well, parents with children and grandparents. I had a delegation of 7 Muslim clerics come in to shake my hand. It was very moving yet I did not deserve it. I am not a hero or brave person, many people do the work I do and take the same risks. It could have happened to anyone.
I was blessed with many oppurtunities to share Jesus with my visitors. I never initiated the discussions, many of them were curious about my cross and Bible and wanted to know about what I believe. I focused a lot on love for enemies and that Jesus died on the cross for all of us- Christians, Muslims, all people, including the settlers.
The ironic part is that I meant everything I said. I believe that God worked a miracle in me that day. I did not feel any anger or resentment at the settlers who beat me and I still don’t . I hate their violence and hatred and I hate what they do to Palestinians. I don’t hate them though or wish any harm to come to them. I have forgiven them, and it has been remarkably easy. For this I thank God.
Some of my visitors tried to convert me to Islam and it led to very interesting discussions. I cannot emphasize my admiration for the Palestinian people. They brought not only more food and drinks than I could physically consume, but they brought their love to me. I didn’t cry when I was attacked or after the incident but I come close to tears when I remember the outpouring of concern and friendship and love they have shown me. I have not experienced anything like that anywhere else in my life.
The story made headlines across Palestine, Israel and the wider world. It has been reported on Al Jazeera and Washington Post. In ISM we operate under pseudonyms and I go by “Peter”, so the press stories talk about “Peter” who was beaten up. I am OK with this for several reasons. My activism in the West Bank is not even close to being over, and I want to come back one day. I do not want to be blacklisted. I also do not want to be remembered as a victim. Also, the story should not be about me. What is the important issue are the continuing attacks against Palestinian farmers and the terrorism they suffer on an ongoing basis from settlers and the army that usually turns a blind eye to the abuses or takes part in them. A broken nose and a few bruises on my back are nothing compared to what they suffer. The story should be about them, not about a young white guy from Winnipeg who happened to get caught in the conflict.
Tomorrow I am going back to the hospital and hope to have the cast around my nose removed.
Anyways, that was my weekend. As Palestinian Muslims and Christians say, Allahu Akhbar. That means “God is greatest”. I fully agree.