It takes courage to run toward someone who is shooting at you, especially if you are unarmed.
In April 2004, in the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani, Hafez Hreini learned that Israeli settlers had approached his 70-year-old mother Fatima in the fields as she was tending her sheep. In this area of the South Hebron Hills, Palestinians have long faces frequent harassment from Israeli settlers and soldiers attempting to take control of more and more land.
Hafez ran to the fields, heart pounding. When he saw his mother, her face was bloodied. Eight Israelis from the nearby settlement of Ma’on had hit her in the head with rocks and beat her with her own shepherd’s rod. One of the settlers had a gun.
In his memory, Hafez barely heard the sound of the gunshots. As he recalls, “I was looking only at my mother.” But as he sprinted to his mother’s rescue, he remembers bullets ricocheting from the rocky ground under his feet, spraying dirt that stung his face.
The Israeli peace activists who had alerted Hafez to the situation also rushed to the scene and caught much of the incident on video. They were intervening as Israeli police and soldiers arrived and the settlers ceased their attack. A Palestinian ambulance rushed Fatima to the hospital. The next day she filed a complaint with the Israeli police, but none of her attackers were prosecuted, in spite of the video and eyewitness evidence.
As he retells this painful story in his gentle voice, Hafez remembers being filled with rage. What culture on earth does not justify retaliation for an attack on one’s mother? Instead, he says, “My first nonviolence came from my mother.”
As he cared for her during her painful recovery, Fatima told Hafez that he must find a good way to resist, but she did not ask for the revenge that he was contemplating. “Will it work or not?” was her simple response. “You will destroy yourself, and your family. You have to promise that you will not go this way.”
“It was the first step for me,” Hafez recalls.
The attack on Hafez’s mother is just one example from decades of harassment faced by his family and village. Consequently, for two years before the attack on Fatima, Israeli solidarity activists had been coming to At-Tuwani to document and try to prevent settler and military violence. Hafez says that it was hard to trust these activists at first, but they showed him and his community a “new reality” that not all Israelis were oppressors in the form of settlers and soldiers.
“I realized that most Israelis and internationals know nothing of the occupation,” recalls Hafez. But this was slowly changing through the efforts of Israeli groups such as Ta’ayush, and international presence provided by Christian Peacemaker Teams and Operation Dove. Their accompaniment, combined with small successes through nonviolent demonstrations and legal advocacy–winning recognition of land ownership, access to the electrical grid, and court-mandated Israeli military escorts protecting schoolchildren from settler harassment–built the community’s confidence in nonviolent resistance.
On these foundations, At-Tuwani continues its struggle. “We’re doing it [nonviolence trainings] to create a new generation that believes in peace,” says Hafez. “It’s like a tree–you have to water it every day.”
But Hafez and his community’s most fundamental form of resistance is not in nonviolence trainings, demonstrations, or lawsuits, but in the Palestinian concept of sumud, or “steadfastness.”
“This is resistance–to go daily to your land,” Hafez explains. In this way, just by living their lives in the face of ongoing oppression and violence, “we are protesting every day, every night.”
According to reports by humanitarian and human rights groups, settler violence against Palestinians throughout the West Bank doubled in 2011 and is the worst since 2005. As in Fatima’s case, perpetrators enjoy virtual impunity from Israeli authorities, with 90% of complaints going unprosecuted.
“It happened to my mother and it is happening everywhere,” says Hafez. “They are looking for excuses to show Palestinians as violent animals. They are provoking violence.”
Recent media reports highlight the Israeli government response to spikes in settler violence, but often ignore the fact that Palestinians still face intense state violence. Residents of At-Tuwani have faced the demolition of their homes and even mosques by Israeli authorities as well as physical attacks on a number of occasions. Two years after being attacked by settlers, Fatima was again hospitalized after being beaten by Israeli soldiers at a nonviolent demonstration.
As Hafez and Fatima’s story demonstrates, neither Palestinian resistance, Israeli activism, nor international solidarity can be successful in isolation. The people of At-Tuwani and throughout the occupied Palestinian territories demand allies at all levels of struggle–on their land, in the courts of their oppressors, and to all corners of the international community. As Hafez states, “We need the support of everyone who believes in peace, human rights, and justice.”
Hafez’s story was just one of many that we heard on our most recent MCC learning tour. These tours are one of the key ways by which MCC shares the stories of our Palestinian and Israeli partners and neighbors with people around the world. Members of the group that met with Hafez in October just hosted their own storytelling night back home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with more than 125 people attending. Such efforts, and the ripple-effects of activism that result, further encourage the steadfast resistance of Hafez and many others.