Israeli settlers attack children in Palestine. When will the world stop them?
We woke early on 5 March to a brisk and bright morning. We walked together, the four of us, up the hill and through the olive grove. We sat and waited eagerly for the schoolchildren to cross the crest of the distant hill.
We waited. And waited. And waited. One person made several frantic phone calls to find out where the children were. Their escort, we learned, had not shown up. They could not, would not, walk to school without an escort.
Finally, the children appeared, skipping and laughing along the path, the vehicle following them casting a long shadow. We sighed in delight and relief.
I was in occupied Palestine, in an area where children require a military escort to walk to school. Without the might of the military and the watchful eye of peace activists, illegal Israeli settlers harass and even attack the five-to-nine-year-old Palestinians.
Just two days before, illegal settlers had beaten with a baseball bat an American woman in her 60s who was accompanying a seven-year-old girl to pick herbs on public land. Knocked unconscious, her partner carried the little girl to safety - away from a settler brandishing an iron bar. The injured woman learned in the hospital that the girl was OK. She also learned that it would be futile to file a police report because the Israeli police never punish settlers.
Palestinian citizens of Masafer Yatta, and at least four international peace organisations, have set up a rigorous monitoring schedule, in coordination with the Israeli military, to ensure that children can walk to and from school in peace. Without the threat of the occupying forces, settlers attack children with impunity.
No school to go to, no home to return to. One might think that the settlers, Israel even, wanted to drive the Palestinians out
Here's an idea: punish settlers who attack children. I'm thinking that might be an easier solution to the problem. And the right one.
To be sure, settlers are equal opportunity aggressors, not limiting themselves to children. They also attack - with stones and bats and even guns - fully grown adults as they work in their fields.
In October, settlers broke both arms of a Palestinian father who was harvesting his olives. The settlers told the police that the Palestinian father had attacked them, so the father was charged with attempted murder and taken to jail. He was released - ten days later - when a video showed that the settlers had been the attackers. No charges were laid against any settlers.
Every day, in every way, Israeli settlers attack Palestinians in the Occupied Territories with impunity.
That day, I read in the news that while a Palestinian mother was walking her daughter home from school (so that settlers would not attack her little girl), settlers welded shut the doors of their home. I also heard that settlers had broken every window in another Palestinian home. And I learned of schools that settlers had demolished.
No school to go to, no home to return to. One might think that the settlers, Israel even, wanted to drive the Palestinians out.
As we walked the children the last half-mile to their new school (the old one having been demolished), we walked back through the olive grove. I say "olive grove", which sounds idyllic, but they were really just stumps. The olive grove had been cut down by settlers one night, strangling the village's livelihood.
I was in town for a wedding. As we drove to the evening celebration, we were stopped by Israeli police at a random checkpoint for no apparent reason. Probably because I was in the car, we were only detained for 30 minutes. Regular, random, unprovoked, lengthy, and demeaning police interrogations are the norm for Palestinians. The crime: driving while Palestinian.
At the celebration, someone set off some fireworks in the back of the building. Fearing rifle fire, several men ran to the back to make sure everyone was safe. As the fireworks continued to explode, about half of the children, mostly little girls, cowered in terror. All of them - 100 percent - had at one point or another endured noise bombs and tear gas showered on their homes.
Among the wedding guests was the family of the farmer who was falsely accused of attacking settlers. A family of 11, they described to me how a few months earlier, they experienced ten straight nights of noise bombs and tear gas, marking each day their father was in jail. It was, after all, the home of an "attempted murderer". I know this personally because last autumn it happened while I was on a Zoom call with one of the family members.
I am not the only one privy to such injustices in the Occupied Territories. Anyone with internet access can see videos of these regular atrocities. Settler attacks on children are not secret. Google "Israeli settler", "attacks" and "children" and (unfortunately) you'll find abundant results.
The United Nations denounces both the illegal settlements and settler violence: "Armed and masked Israeli settlers are attacking Palestinians in their homes, attacking children on their way to school, destroying property and burning olive groves, and terrorising entire communities with complete impunity," said one press release.
While my Jewish friends universally agree that the Torah clearly teaches the equality of all human beings, the settlers who commit such violent acts do not. Sadly, many Israeli citizens, not just settlers, also think that Israel should kick all of the Palestinians out.
The UN and the US have condemned Israel’s decision to increase settlements in the West Bank. For the sake of the children, we must, before it's too late, act for peace and justice. Or the racist settlers will - eventually - win.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.