We received a call a few days ago from a Palestinian friend who lives in a nearby village. He was passing through At-Tuwani on his way home with his family (his wife, adolescent daughter, and two very young children, who were riding with him on his donkey.) For them, the journey home is dangerous, because they must pass in view of the Israeli settlement of Ma’on and the illegal Israeli settlement outpost* of Havat Ma’on. Israeli settlers might attack, harass, throw stones, or shoot at Palestinians passing this way. (Incidentally, the man who called us on this particular day was Shanti. A few months ago, settlers shot at him and his flocks in a valley not too far from where he and his family was going to walk. I wrote about his experience in my previous post, “Shanti’s Shot Sheep”.)
So Shanti called to ask us to accompany his family and himself on their way home. Away we all went, joking, laughing, and having little races along the way. We walked approximately a third of the way without incident. Then Shanti asked us to stand on a hill nearby and watch as they continued home; if we saw settlers coming their way, we were to call them to let them know.
Not long after they left us, we saw a car traveling from the illegal Israeli settlement outpost of Havat Ma’on in the direction of Shanti and his family.
I was standing next to my teammate, Joy, who called Shanti to tell him settlers were on their way. I could hear most of their conversation, which went something like this:
Joy: There are settlers.
Joy: On the road. Going to where you are.
Shanti: Ok. (In the background, people saying, “Quickly, quickly!” and “Run!”) By the way, who is this?
Joy: This is Joy.
Shanti: Joy! How are you?
As he and his family were running (for their safety, possibly for their lives), Shanti was genuinely interested in Joy’s well being.
Shanti and his family arrived home safely, thank God. When Joy called him to see if they made it home, his wife insisted on speaking with Joy. She, too, very sincerely inquired after Joy’s welfare (never mind having just run home with her children and husband, fearing for their safety.)
These sorts of things – the constant threat of people following, harassing, or attacking other people – shouldn’t happen to anyone. But to know this happens regularly to such lovely people, so deeply committed to nonviolence and concerned for the people around them (even as they themselves are running for safety) somehow makes this unjust situation worse. To know that in the States, people believe the lie that Palestinians equals terrorists, when nothing is farther from the truth – it seems an unthinkable, racist crime.
“Joy, how are you?” Such a genuine, other-centered question in the midst of so much violence. It is a question I’ll never forget.
*According to the Geneva Conventions, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and numerous United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal. Settlement outposts are illegal according to Israeli law.