I had some excellent video footage today, but unfortunately some settler youths stole my camera.
This morning members of Taayush went to Safa, the village right next to the settlement of Bat Ayin. The settlers of Bat Ayin have a reputation for being particularly violent and extremist. Today they did not disappoint.
I was with two other Taayush activists, along with two older Palestinian women and a young girl who were collecting grape leaves. I noticed up above us on a ridge there were three IDF soldiers surveying the area and watching us. Suddenly, across on another hill we saw 15 to 20 settler youth (aged 14 to 20s) running toward us screaming.
The Palestinian women started to run away as the settlers approached. When the settlers reached us, I was immediately struck in the face, and they tried to pull my camera from my hands. Other settlers were throwing rocks at the women as they fled. Settlers continued to hit me and another Taayush activist and they managed to take my camera, with which they then used to hit the other activist.
They then continued running in the direction of the Palestinians, and came across the car of Ezra, a veteran activist. The settlers then flipped the car onto its side, cracking the windshield. They kept on running away from us after this. By this time, the three soldiers I had seen earlier arrived. They yelled at the settlers, and half-heartedly chased after them. I followed them and said the settlers had stolen my camera. One of the soldiers then started yelling at me, threatening to arrest me unless I backed away.
The soldiers then went off as well, and soon a group of Palestinians gathered by Ezra’s overturned car. A few minutes later, about 10 IDF soldiers arrived, who stood around, some of them joking with each other. After initially telling Ezra they would help right his car, they then changed their mind and said the Palestinians with us (most of whom were children) should do it. The Palestinians brought a tractor to turn the car over.
While they were working on his car, another 10 to 15 border police arrived, all of them carrying fashioned wooden sticks. They said it was a Closed Military Zone, and that we had to leave the area. After Ezra’s car was turned right-side-up, we all started to leave. After we walked for a few minutes, the border police began yelling at us to go faster, and ran at us with their sticks raised. They started shoving us and pushing us with the sticks, and the Palestinians started running away.
By this time additional Taayush activists had joined us and a few them became distressed by the aggressive behavior of the border police. As we were leaving amidst the ensuing clamor, one of the border police suddenly grabbed a Taayush member in a chokehold and wrestled him to the ground. Other police held him down, one of whom kicked him in the head. He was arrested as was his girlfriend who was trying to shield him. Two Palestinian boys, no more than 12 to 14 years of age were arrested as well for supposedly throwing stones. However, I had not observed them doing anything except moving along with everyone else during this melee.
I was disturbed by the interaction of the border police and army with us and the Palestinians. They were not taking action against law-breakers, but against the victims. There seemed to be no order or law at that time.
The rest of the day consisted of trying to lodge a complaint with the police regarding the settler’s assault on us and the Palestinians. That in itself proved surprisingly difficult.
We first went to the nearest police station which happened to be in the settlement of Kiryat Arba. We were told to wait outside the gate. As we stood there in the heat for 45 minutes, a group of settler children aged 8 to 12 gathered around throwing rocks and glass bottles at us. The guard on the other side of the gate told them to be careful because they ‘could hurt someone’. This mild rebuke was followed by a volley of eggs thrown at us. One 12 year old threatened to drop a cement block on us – “if only it wasn’t Shabbat.” All this time we had been doing nothing aside from waiting outside the gate of the Kiryat Arba police station.
Soon afterward a few officers arrived and let us inside. We told them we wanted to lodge a complaint, and we were led to a room to wait in. A few police came in and out of the room, but told us that we could not lodge the complaint with them. Finally we left, skeptical that any help would be forthcoming after almost two hours of stalling and inaction on their part. We were then escorted out in a police car because we feared the settler children and adults with them might attack us.
We then drove on to the police station of Gush Etzion. We managed to get one guard’s attention through the locked, barred doors of the station, only to recognize him as one of the border police who was present back at Safa a few hours earlier. He coldly stared at us and then walked away. We were clearly not going to get any help there either.
These two police stations were indifferent to the crime committed against us, and would not help file a report or help me find my stolen camera. The tolerance the police and army has for illegal outposts seems to extend to tolerating other illegal and even violent behavior from the settlers.