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A Gun in one hand and the Torah in the other


HEBRON – From January 11 to 15, I was about an hour south of Jerusalem, in the city of Hebron, where four hundred settlers of the most extremist militant ideological faction of the settler movement live amongst more than 120,000 Palestinians.

The once bustling historic old city remains eerily quiet, covered in racist anti-Arab graffiti. A fence ceiling lines the narrow streets, placed between the shops and the settler-occupied apartments above because of the constant showers of garbage aimed at the Palestinians and streets below.

Many of the Palestinians who once lived and worked here have fled. Since the IDF protects the interests of these heavily-armed fundamentalist settlers, Palestinian families who live in the old city and the near-by neighborhood, Tel Rumeida are often virtual prisoners in their home, subject to violent settler attacks and destruction of property.

The Israeli High Court has recently ruled that eight settler families must be evicted from the Palestinian-owned whole-sale market in Hebron starting on the 15 of January. This resulted in the appearance of a few hundred more of Israel’s most militant, ideological settlers in Hebron.

International, Israeli, and Palestinian Human rights workers and activists also gathered to observe and document the situation, as well as intervene when the safety of Palestinians was in danger.

Although most settlers despise the presence of international observers and media (numerous members of the media and human rights workers were attacked and harassed), I was approached by a few curious settler girls the day before the protests were scheduled to begin. One, who had immigrated to Israel two years ago from the United States, told me that Hebron and other Palestinian land belonged to her. “Just read the bible,” she said. She told me that she wanted all Palestinians to “leave”. When I asked her where all of the Palestinians should go she responded, “There are thirteen other Arab counties”. Another young girl said that “Arabs only came to these lands when the state of Israel was declared”, indicating her belief in the right-wing cultural myth that no one lived in Israel when European Jews began to immigrate.

Over the course of the weekend, mobs of teenaged settlers (some wearing black ski masks) roamed the streets of Tel Rumeida and forcefully entered a closed Palestinian part of the old city. These mobs attacked many of the Palestinians and human rights workers they encountered with spit, paint bombs, insults, and physical force. I spent much of the days accompanying Palestinians returning from the Mosque or the old city to their homes on a route that these settlers were also using to move back and forth between the site of the eviction and the temple.

It was truly disturbing to see scores of teenaged boys walking freely with a gun in one hand and the torah in the other with faces and eyes that carried expressions of utter hatred, which I am struggling to properly describe. Perhaps the most difficult thing to cope with was the fact that we are all human and capable of this sort of hatred. These children have been taught to hate just like the Palestinian children I escorted have been taught to flinch at the sight of a settler. I don’t know how far we have come since slavery and Nazi Germany and I wonder if any of this will ever stop. I don’t think it is enough to educate. We must fight harder. We must not turn away from these horrors. We must not forget the oppressed and acknowledge our roles as oppressors.

Caroline works at Haley House soup kitchen in Boston and with the Boston Direct Action Project. She is now working with the International Women’s Peace Service in Haares, Palestine.