Before I even could settle down properly in my placement in Hebron, I found myself already traveling through half of the West Bank. My destination? The beautiful village of Yanoun, surrounded by lovely hills with olive trees, sheep and settler outposts. And the last small detail is the reason why I was there.
In 2002 the villagers left their homes in Yanoun, because the harassment by the settlers, living in three outposts encircling the village, became unbearable. Kids got beaten up and settlers constantly entered the village and threatened to kill the inhabitants if they don’t leave. More than once the well of the village got contaminated by them. But already one day after leaving, some of the villagers began to return, under the protection of israeli and international activist groups. Ever since there is an international presence in Yanoun. Since June 2003 EAs fulfilling this task. There is always at least one EA staying in the village as protective presence. From the once 150 people living in Yanoun only 60 returned till now. The rest prefers to stay in the nearby city of Aqraba where they don’t have to face the settlers on a daily basis.
Apart from maintaining a permanent presence in Yanoun the EAs are visiting villages in the region and from time to time the Jordan Valley. I was excited when they told me that they are going to pick me up and we will go to the Jordan Valley. But like ever so often here plans changed. In the night before I arrived the village of Asira got attacked by settlers and we were called to speak with the people, collect evidences and write a report. People were trembling and recounted the nightly attack while their hands were shaking. According to the people from the village around 50 to 100 settlers entered the village at 1:00 am at night and smashed the windows of six houses and one taxi bus. In some houses the settlers even tried to enter forcefully, but got pushed back at the front door from inhabitants.
Apparently the israeli military, which has the task to protect israeli citizens, was present during the attack and only intervened after half an hour watching with teargas, sound- and light-bombs. This is a pattern we heard already from other settler attacks and nobody seems to have an answer why they do not stop the settlers from attacking at all and how far (if even existent) the coordination between the settler groups and the military goes.
Back in Yanoun the village suddenly felt so peaceful and calm. I joined the team for their regular evening walk which helps to show presence in the community. People feel saver and the settlers watching from their outposts get the constant reminder that internationals are present. Apart from its usefulness it is also a beautiful walk and you can relax a bit from the daily stress of seeing so much violence. The sunset and the view from the nearby tomb of Nun down to the Jordan valley is gorgeous. On our way back to our house we cant pass the house of the mayor without getting a cup of tea and having a short chat. Hospitality is such an important part of the Palestinian culture that I am sure that I will end up with a serious addiction to coffee or tea because of all this invitations.
As always the time passed way to fast and my visit was about to end. There was a family visit planned in a nearby village for the morning and after that I was supposed to leave to Hebron. But again plans changed, we got a call and off we went for another settler attack. This time they tried to torch a car and opened the nearby gas bottles. Only because the father of the family realized early enough he could push away the burning car from the bottles and nobody got hurt. Will this ever end?