Masked Israeli settlers near the West Bank city of Nablus, June 2008. (Rami Swidan/MaanImages)
On 27 July, the children and I were walking home when a group of Israeli settlers assaulted us from a hilltop with fist-sized stones. Some narrowly missed my head. Focusing my video camera, I recorded an Israeli settler flinging stones at the children from his long-range slingshot. When he saw that I was filming him, he struck me in the leg with a rock. He chased me, kicked me and screamed that he was going to kill me. Wrestling the video camera from my hand, he then repeatedly struck me in the face and upper body with a stone.
After the assault, I was helped by Palestinians to reach a hospital where I was treated for my injuries.
The occupied West Bank today is like walking through a page from a different era — part Wild West, part Jim Crow — with one set of laws for Palestinians and another set for Israeli settlers.
There are now over 450,000 Israeli settlers living on land taken from Palestinians in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem in defiance of international law. The settlers in and around Hebron are, according to Israeli journalist Ran HaCohen, “fanatic extremists even by Israeli standards. They regularly ransack Palestinian shops, cut electricity lines and water pipes, wreck cars, and attack schoolchildren.”
The schoolchildren I worked with have no one to protect them. In fact, the Israeli military had refused to provide an escort for them. Consequently, volunteers from America and Europe have been accompanying the children. We take them on a longer route through the hills to bypass the Israeli settler outpost.
I spent my formative years in Mississippi. I know the stories of African-American students being denied an education and intimidated by adults who had no shame. As we trudge up the hillsides with Palestinian children, I am reminded of African-Americans having to avert their eyes and get off the sidewalk to avoid passing white people during the Jim Crow years in the American South.
Settler violence toward the children here has been a persistent problem. In 2004, the local Palestinian leadership requested assistance from international organizations. CPT responded and has been accompanying Palestinian children and documenting their interactions with Israeli settlers and soldiers ever since. As my beating demonstrates, we have become targets as well.
That same year, five masked settlers attacked American volunteers Kim Lamberty and Chris Brown with a chain and bat. According to The Washington Post, “Lamberty suffered a broken arm and bruised knee, and Brown was hospitalized for several days with cracked ribs and a punctured lung.”
The day I was attacked, the Palestinian children with me were fortunate to escape unscathed. One result of my spilled American blood is that the Israeli military is now providing these children with an escort. However, just three days after my attack, my colleagues in CPT and other international volunteers witnessed the soldiers failing to escort the children the entire designated route; settlers hiding along the way began to throw rocks at the children. And, according to a report issued in July by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, only one in 10 Israeli investigations of settler attacks on Palestinians ends with anyone being charged with a crime.
Something has gone profoundly wrong when Palestinian children must risk their lives just to get to school. It is past time for our government to pressure Israel to rein in the settler movement.
How much more powerful would it have been for Sen. Barack Obama to have said in Jerusalem — or Hebron — what he said in Berlin: “The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”
Our leaders must insist that Israel not apply one system of law in the West Bank for Israeli settlers and another for Palestinians. Colonizing another people ought to be regarded as ancient history.
Joel Gulledge volunteered this summer in the West Bank with the Christian Peacemaker Team. He grew up in Bruce, Mississippi. This essay originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger and is republished with the author’s permission.