Of Olive Orchards and Armed Zealots

Yanoun Village, Occupied Palestine. At 8 o’clock on a sunny morning, a small group of internationals from ISM and other peace organizations accompanied members of a few local Palestinian families as they went into the nearby fields to harvest their olives. Because this village has been under continuous attack from armed zealots of the illegal Itamar settlement, these farmers didn’t dare to harvest from any trees except those close to their village. Recently the entire population of this simple village fled after repeated nighttime attacks from the armed settlers, and only because internationals promised to accompany them did a few of the families gain courage to return.

On this peaceful Sunday morning as I was enjoying the sun and the company of about two dozen villagers who frequently made certain we were well supplied with water and tea, our quiet labors were interrupted by gunfire close by. As the villagers continued picking olives, a few internationals investigated the shots and learned that IOF soldiers were shooting for reasons that were unclear, except that apparently they knew there were settlers prowling the area. The soldiers asked that all of us to move back close to the village, which we immediately did. Perhaps thirty minutes later, we learned there had been a bombing at the Ariel settlement, and it was decided we should stop harvesting and guide the villagers home.

Everything was packed up within a couple of minutes and the Palestinian harvesters quickly climbed out of the valley towards their village. The internationals stayed back to make sure they made it home safely, and all seemed calm. Suddenly I heard shouting beside me and saw that several young armed settlers were attacking the peace activists with rifle butts. I saw one smash his rifle down on the head of Robbie Kelly, an Irish ISM volunteer, and also witnessed them attacking Omer, who is an Israeli member of Tayuush. I continued to climb the path as quickly as I could, hoping to reach the village and perhaps call for help.

 

Then I noticed I was alone, except for James Delaplain, a 74 year old grandfather from Wisconsin, who was hurrying along a lower level toward the village. Suddenly he was surrounded by armed and angry settlers, they set upon him with fists and weapons, pushing him out of my sight behind an olive tree. Fearing for us both, I continued my climb hoping to reach safety and calling for help for James.

Seconds later I was surrounded by four or five of these angry young men who began screaming at me in Hebrew. Two more began to throw rocks at me from the top of the ridge above me. One grabbed the stick I had been using to help me climb along the rocky path and he struck me hard on my left arm with it. I was shocked because I never imagined they would attack someone clearly old enough to be their grandmother–I am 68. The others began to kick me and one knocked me down. I got up quickly because I had been told during ISM training that once you are on the ground you would be beaten more severely. By now, I realized they were planning to hurt or even kill me, and I was really scared. As I pleaded with them to stop, telling them I was there in peace and that I was frightened, they continued striking me on my arm and shoulder with the stick and rifle butts, all the time screaming at me that they would shoot me. I was struck on my back and chest with the stick and I really felt they wouldn’t stop until they killed me.

My backpack which held all my money, my airplane ticket, my US and British Passports, my credit cards and my digital camera, was over my right shoulder and I tried to hide it from their view. Perhaps it was fortunate that one of them saw it because as soon as they had snatched it from my shoulder they stopped beating me. They screamed “Just Go!”, “Go!”, “Don’t come back!”, “Next time you get a bullet!”, and I sobbed and said I wouldn’t come back. I’m afraid I behaved like a total coward, but I just wanted them to stop hitting me.

As the settlers left and I started again up the path, two other young settlers appeared above me. I was afraid they would attack me, so I shouted that the others had told me to go and that I was going. After a few more seconds, I saw several people in front of me and was momentarily afraid, but was so relieved to find some wonderful internationals who were anxious about James and myself. I screamed that the settlers had beaten James, and just seconds later James also struggled to the edge of the village and safety.

It was evident the IOF, which knew there was trouble brewing and ought to have been there protecting civilians, had deliberately stayed away. The soldiers only intervene to protect the settlers–it is unheard of that they intervene to protect Palestinians.

Robbie needed seven stitches to repair the wound to his left ear. James had been hit in the left eye by a rifle butt and had been beaten in the ribs. My injuries were less severe and it turned out I have no broken bones. Poor James, who had pneumonia two weeks before leaving for Palestine, has fractures of one or more ribs and a collapsed lung; he is currently in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

MARY HUGHES-THOMPSON was born in Lancashire in 1933, lived in Canada from 1953 to 1961, when I moved to California, where she worked in the motion picture and television industry. She is a member of the Writers Guild of America and a private pilot.

About ISM: Read the interview with Ghassan Andoni here: audeh1029.html

 

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