July 27, 2008
At 6:45 a.m. this morning, our friend, Joel Gulledge, called from At-Tuwani, a village in the West Bank where he and another Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) member were escorting Palestinian children to a local summer daycamp, protecting them from hostile Israeli settlers. A masked settler, carrying a slingshot, was threatening the children. While Jan Benvie, the other CPT team member, raced the children to safety, Joel paused to film what was happening. The masked settler caught up with Joel and attacked him. "He smashed my head again and again," said Joel, "with my video camera, and punched me in the face, repeatedly, with his other hand." Joel managed to remain standing. He didn't fight back, but he screamed for help. The attacker broke Joel's glasses, and Joel was bleeding from a gash over his eyes. When he called, he was waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
Earlier this week, CPT's website, (www.cpt.org), reported that on Wednesday 23 July, "three Israeli settlers, one masked and wielding a stick, pursued fourteen Palestinian children who were on their way to a summer camp in At-Tuwani. The children from the villages of Tuba and Maghaer Al-Abeed waited thirty minutes for the Israeli military escort that should have accompanied them on the most direct road between the villages of Tuba and At-Tuwani. When the military failed to arrive, the children began walking along a long path through the hills to At-Tuwani. When the children neared the Israeli settlement outpost of Havat Ma'on, three settlers with two dogs came out from the outpost and began walking in the direction of the children."
"Members of the At-Tuwani team yelled at the children to alert them that settlers were coming at them from behind. The children ran down and across a valley to a location further from the settlers. They continued to At-Tuwani. The settlers remained on a hill top near Havot Ma'on, watching the children as they walked toward the school."
"The previous day, Tuesday 22 July, the military escort never arrived to escort the children to summer camp. Seven children took a long path to the school. They told the At-Tuwani team that at least eight other children did not attend summer camp because they were too afraid to come to school without an escort. The mayor of At-Tuwani spoke with Israeli military to coordinate the escort for the children. However, several military spokespersons and soldiers on the ground denied receiving orders to escort the children."
"In 2004, the Israeli Knesset recommended that the Israeli military carry out a daily escort of the children of Tuba and Maghaer Al-Abeed to their school in At-Tuwani because settlers repeatedly attacked them."
Yesterday's New York Times carried a front page article, "Dear Parents: Please Relax, It's Just Camp," about parents in the U.S. who experience separation anxiety when their children go to sleep-away camps. Summer camps frequently post videos and still photos of the children on their websites, allowing parents to keep in touch with the children's activities. But now it's customary for many camps to hire a full-time "parent liason," because the parents become very involved in their children's lives at the camp, so much so that some camps are bombarded with phone calls, daily, from anxious parents. Could these parents understand the terror of Palestinian parents whose children are at risk of being beaten and killed as they walk between their village and the local summer camp, each day.
"Nobody goes to school for how to send your child away from you," said Maria Coleman, a past president of the American Camp Association. "We help the parents become independent. And especially post-9/11 in today's society, that's definitely a heightened need." Clearly greater than American parents' fear of terrorist attacks, we hear of Israeli parents and their fear that their children will fall prey to terrorism, but human rights groups like Israeli B'Tselem (www.btselem.org) tell us that Palestinian children are far more likely -- by a factor of over eight to one in recent years -- to die by violence in the conflict, often by weapons provided to Israel, without significant human rights oversight, by the United States. All lives are precious, especially children's lives, from whatever community they make their way out into the world. How must the parents of Palestine, the parents of Iraq, the parents of Iran, feel knowing that not only they but their children are at the wrong end of American weapons?
I feel such a concern for my friend and co-worker Joel as he and his fellow CPT team members try to protect endangered Palestinians and their children in the West Bank. The example they set, in their dedication to nonviolence and their refusal to carry weapons, can help all of us gain independence from the cycle of threat and violence which the U.S. has driven in its support for and arming of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.