By Joe Carr
The Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron is a major flashpoint of tension between Palestinians and Israeli colonial settlers. Around forty Israeli soldiers protect over sixty of the most racist and violent of Israeli settlers, forcing over one thousand Palestinians (whose families have lived in Tel Rumeida for hundreds of years) to live in a virtual prison. Fences, walls, and checkpoints block every entrance to Tel Rumeida, and there are Israeli soldier posts throughout the neighborhood. The closures make commerce virtually impossible, and it is difficult for any non-residents to visit their Tel Rumeida friends and family. Many families have moved out for this reason alone.
Even more troublesome than the constant prison-camp conditions are the fanatical settlers who regularly harass and attack their Palestinian neighbors. Palestinians live in a constant state of terror from being beaten, stoned, robbed, and threatened with guns but they refuse to be forced out of their homes or let it interfere with their daily life.
Several international activists from the Tel Rumeida Project live fulltime in Tel Rumeida. They work with volunteers from the International Solidarity Movement, Ecumenical Accompaniment Program for Palestine & Israel, the Christian Peacemaker Teams, and a variety of Israeli groups to accompany, document, and physically intervene to deter Israeli attacks and pressure authorities to better protect Palestinians and prosecute criminal settlers. Israeli soldiers and settlers regularly harass, threaten, intimidate, and stone the international and Israeli activists, but Palestinian children say they now feel safer playing outside their homes.
Even more encouraging, is the potential for a progressive change in the climate. Unlike other accompaniment groups, the goal of the Tel Rumeida Project is to support and empower Palestinians as they stand up against this colonial oppression.
For instance, last Saturday we got a call that settler children were throwing rocks at Palestinian passers-by. When we arrived, we found five 9-13 year-old settler boys hanging out in the Israeli military post. Palestinians immediately came out of their houses to tell us how the settler boys had just stoned them while the soldiers watched. The settler boys started throwing more rocks, some from inside the military post, and we began arguing with the soldiers that they should protect the Palestinians (supposedly a part of their job). The soldiers argued with eachother about what to do while we supported the Palestinians, including a mother and daughter, as they confronted the settler boys. Palestinians yelled at the settlers and soldiers for putting them through all this, and the Israelis were visibly intimidated. More settler children came out and began throwing stones, so we stood in front of the Palestinians. I got hit pretty hard in the leg, but the soldiers started trying to stop the settler boys, which made the soldiers a target for their stones. The situation escalated, but our presence supported the Palestinians’ expression of their outrage and prevented Israeli soldiers from repressing this Palestinian resistance.
Cordova School is a Palestinian girls’ school located directly across from Israeli settlement apartments and a settler school. Settler children often harass Palestinian students and teachers as they pass by. Yesterday was the first day of school for Palestinians, so we brought a team of internationals and media to accompany the children. Two Israeli military jeeps and a police jeep arrived shortly after us. All in all, there were 25 internationals, 12 soldiers, and four police officers to get around 100 Palestinian girls to school.
There were fewer internationals and soldiers for the girls’ afternoon walk home, and the settlers escalated their attacks. They threw stones and eggs from their apartment windows, while others hollered insults and threatened us. The Israeli police (who’s job it is to arrest settler law-breakers) also became a target of the settler violence, but they did nothing to stop it. We continued patrolling the area for the rest of the day, trying to have a presence in all the areas where settlers and Palestinians interact. “We’re like human security cameras,” one activist commented, “we never let the settlers out of our sight until we know another international can see them”.
A little before 2pm, several internationals had to leave and we went out to meet their replacements. On our way back in, we got stopped at the recently upgraded Tel Rumeida checkpoint. What used to be a green tower with concrete blockades is now a fortified trailer with metal detectors and electronic sliding doors. They’ve even tried to make it prettier by painting it to look like the white stone of the surrounding ancient buildings. An Israeli soldier at the checkpoint said that they would no longer allow in any internationals that are part of organizations, “Only tourists and residents” he said. We tried to explain that we are residents and have a house in Tel Rumeida, but because he had seen us doing accompaniment and documentation work he refused us entry. To go around the checkpoint, we had to wind through back allies, scale a wall, and crawl under grapevines.
During this time, a group of settlers took advantage of our absence and attacked several Palestinians. We found a 13-year-old Palestinian boy with cuts and bruises on his arms and stomach. He said a group of around 20 settlers in their late teens had surrounded him and beat him with sticks for around ten minutes. Other settler youths threw large stones a group of Palestinians, injuring an older Palestinian woman’s leg. We accompanied the Palestinians to file reports with the police, and then became more diligent with our patrols.
Things came to a head around 5pm, when a large group of settler children, some in masks, (observed from the hill by their parents and other settler adults), began throwing large stones and other debris at Palestinians, internationals, and Israeli soldiers in the area. One international was injured on her hand when she blocked a sharp rock from hitting her head. When the police arrived, the settlers briefly dispersed but then quickly regrouped. They began intensely stoning the police, who did nothing but videotape and stay in the protection of their armored jeeps. More police arrived and drove into the settlement area, and eventually an officer grabbed a settler boy. A small riot ensued, and settlers attacked the police officers.
Later in the evening, Palestinians reported that settler boys intensely stoned two Palestinian homes. Saturday, the Jewish holy day Shabbat, is a busy day for settler religious fanatics.
All in all, we hope that the settlers now know that their days of terrorizing Palestinians with impunity are over. Though the Israeli violence continues, Palestinians are now armed with international and Israeli activists, cameras, video-cameras, potential lawsuits, and contacts with the international community. I feel privileged to be able to stand with Palestinians in their struggle, it’s an honor to be stoned along side them.
Read Joe’s blog, Lovinrevolution.