“At least there’s food in prison!”

Palestinians in the south Hebron hills are subject to harassment by both Israeli soldiers and settlers. (ActiveStills)

“This morning,” my neighbor Mona explained to me, “I told my husband that since the kids are out of school and he didn’t need to go into town, I would cook something special and we would have a party.” Mona has a wry sense of humor and I started to wonder what the punch line would be. “We were going to invite you, but instead we had a little party with the soldiers and the settlers.” Mona cocked her head to one side and shrugged, smiling ironically. Mona lives in the Palestinian village of al-Tuwani located in the occupied West Bank’s south Hebron hills.

The “party” we had in al-Tuwani wasn’t nearly as fun as the party that Mona had planned. At about 9am on 26 January, a settler from the Havot Maon settlement outpost entered the village, accompanied by the Israeli army and the Maon settlement security guard. The settler then entered the homes of my neighbors and searched in their animal pens. “What is he looking for?” my neighbors asked the soldiers. “If he thinks we’ve stolen something, bring the police and conduct a normal search. Where’s the rule of law?”

Between 15 and 20 settlers accompanied by more soldiers arrived. Mona’s husband tried to convince the soldiers to make the settlers leave the village. “We’ll go back into our houses if they leave,” he said. But then the settlers started throwing stones at a group of Palestinian women and children. The next thing I knew, the soldiers were pointing their guns at my neighbors. One of them drew back his fist and punched someone in the face. It was Mfadi, the quietest, least imposing man in the village. His nose was bleeding. Another soldier raised his gun and fired. For a moment I was stunned and dumbly wondered why no one seemed to be shot. Then I realized that he had fired a sound bomb and the soldiers were likely to start using tear gas next. I saw the same soldier pull out another canister. “Don’t do it,” I started screaming. “There are women and children here. Don’t shoot that!”

Later, when the soldiers and settlers had left the village, Mona told me that Mfadi’s nose was broken and he would need an operation. She also said that the soldiers told her and the women that if they did not leave the area, they would arrest all of the men of the village and kill at least one. “We didn’t leave,” said Mona. “One of the girls told them they could take her whole family to jail if they wanted to. She said that there was no food in her house. At least there’s food in prison!” Mona laughed.

Then Mona told me about the party she had wanted to have, until the settlers and soldiers prevented it. I started to wonder how many other parties were canceled because of the Israeli occupation that day. But then Mona smiled. “Maybe we’ll have our party tomorrow,” she said. Sure enough, the next afternoon I sat on Mona’s front porch laughing and sipping tea. As we ate the food that Mona had promised, I imagined the celebration she will throw when the occupation is finally over. Soldiers and settlers won’t be able to cancel that party — they can only postpone it.

The names of individuals in this story have been changed for their protection.

Joy Ellison is an American activist with Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that supports Palestinian nonviolent resistance. She lives in al-Tuwani, which is nonviolently resisting settlement expansion and violence. She writes about her experiences on her blog, “I Saw it in Palestine” at http://inpalestine.blogspot.com.