On the penultimate day of the September Freedom Ride, the Freedom Bus visited the small village of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills. The village has a long history and archaeological investigation has uncovered evidence of Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman buildings in the village.
At-Tuwani is located in Area C, which means that it is subject to Israeli administration in all civilian matters. As a result, the villagers of At-Tuwani have had to defend their houses from demolition, as they are not included in Israel’s master plan for the region. They have also struggled to gain access to water, while the surrounding settlements are supplied by Israeli water system. The settlers themselves also frequently attack and harass villagers, shepherds and children on their way to school. The children and shepherds of At-Tuwani are accompanied by human rights volunteers from Operation Dove who act as observers and record acts of violence committed by settlers. Indeed, shortly before we visited, an Israeli activist accompanying Palestinians near At-Tuwani was blindfolded, mugged, beaten and threatened by three Israeli settlers outside the illegal outpost called “Avigail.”
The actors of the Freedom Bus performed outside with a back drop of ancient olive trees. The audience were asked to share their stories, with a focus on experiences with settlers.
A very old woman came forward to tell her story. One day she was in the fields with her sheep when she was attacked by settlers and beaten. She screamed and screamed. People from the village came and started shouting, chanting and protesting. The settlers called the Israeli police. They came and started to arrest her son. At this point she became very angry and started shouting at the police. She took off her slipper and hit a policeman in the face! This story elicited great cheers from the crowd.
A man came forward and told a story of an altercation with some settlers. He called the Israeli police to come and intervene. One policeman came. He stood near to the policeman so that we would be protected from the settlers, who fired shots in their direction. His mother was shot. They called for the ambulance but it did not come. He had to carry his mother to the hospital on the back of a donkey.
Finally, an older man, a shepherd, told a story about settlers. He had wheels made for his car that were decorated with the colours of the Palestinian flag. A settler came and stole one of the wheels from his car. The entire village and people from the surrounding areas went to protest outside the settlement to demand the return of the stolen wheel.. The protest was mainly made up of children, because it just so happened that the wheel was stolen at the same time that a summer camp for the local Palestinian children being held. The army sent more soldiers than there were children protesting to police the demonstration.
The soldiers told everyone to go home, promising that they would find the wheel and return it. The man (pictured above) said, “No! We will not go home until we get the wheel. And we will not go home until the settler who took the wheel returns it to us in person.” Eventually, the settler who had stolen the wheel came with his pick-up truck and gave the man a wheel. But it was different wheel, not the one with the Palestinian colours, but a new one that was better quality.
“This story has nothing to do with the wheel,” the man said, “The point is that we made the settlers concede to us. That is the victory.”
Images by Al Mayuk.