Friday, December 5, 2008

Terror in Wadi Nasara

Today the Abu-Saifan family’s worst fears were realized. (Or maybe not quite their worst fears; as far as I know, they are all still alive.) This afternoon they endured what the Israeli daily Haaretz aptly called a “pogrom.” While hundreds of other settlers stood by, masked men swarmed the family’s house, in Wadi Nasara, on the outskirts of Hebron, pelting it with stones and setting the southern entrance on fire. The 20-person family, all women and children except for three men, was trapped inside, terrified, awaiting their fate at the hands of the rioters.

It was journalists who finally entered the family’s home and put themselves between the settlers and their victims. Soldiers and police did not come for over an hour. The city, one would imagine, was teeming with Israeli forces on this day when 250 extremist settlers, who had already rioted, were being forcibly evicted from a house across the valley from the Abu Saifans. But like so many times before, this tormented family was left defenseless while the settlers unleashed their frustration and hatred.

This summer I visited the Abu Saifan family in their home a couple times a week. They live in a valley between the settlement Kiryat Arba and a house that, until today, was occupied by extremist Jewish settlers. The family faced frequent attacks from the settlers that surrounded them. Internationals from various human rights organizations in Hebron would try to visit at least once a day, armed with video cameras, trying to prevent the stone-throwing and threats that, by the end of the summer, happened almost daily.

It was never enough. We would come for a few hours, drink coffee and tea, and play with the children. I would practice my Arabic, having conversations I half-understood about U.S. politics, my family back home, and, always, the occupation. But eventually we would leave, and inevitably the attacks would continue.

I will never forget Jamal, the 40-something father, saying to a friend and I, “I just want one day of a normal life without settlers and occupation and soldiers. Just one day – not even two – and then I can die.”

I would often see Jamal, a journalist, carrying a video camera outside the house that was evacuated today. When settlers attacked, he and other Palestinians would film and give their video to Israeli authorities and B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization. It is people like Jamal who helped raise the profile of settler attacks against Palestinians this summer so that Israeli politicians are now regularly using words like “pogrom” to describe the violence.

Even so, when the mob descended on his home and family today, no state authority offered protection. I’m sure Jamal was not surprised. His cynicism is practical, not vindictive; today’s attacks were just an amplified episode in an ongoing cycle. The settlers may be out of the house across the valley, but the violence continues.

The Abu Saifan family is caught in a political and ideological battle between Israeli factions. The evacuation of settlers today had nothing to do with the welfare of the Palestinians. It was about the state asserting its ultimate control over extremists who had showed their willingness to defy the government. Today, at least, it was prudent for the state to confront them.

Meanwhile the Abu Saifans remain a Palestinian family dependent on the Israeli military for protection from Israeli civilians. Today, as in the past, the Jewish state was unconcerned with its obligation to provide it.

Tomorrow the family will wake up with an empty house across the valley - and their own house, charred and shattered.

3 comments:

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michael said...

Hi Emily--I read your piece in IC View and really appreciate your courage in reporting this stuff. As you know, that essay has sparked a controversy here at the college and I find the new president's response to the controversy very troubling.

Thank you for doing what you do. Stay in touch!

Michael Smith
Dept. of History
Ithaca College

Dennis said...

I read your article in the IC View and I have a few questions? How long did you live in Israel? Why was your article so one-sided? You mention all the attacks on the residents of the West Bank but you fail to mention a single bus, coffee shop, pizza restaurant, night club, grocery store bombing done to the Israelis during this"holy war". If you do not live in Israel it is easy to assume the worst. I have a suggestion spend a year living in Israel and I will be certain at the end of that year your opinion will be changed. Shalom Shalom