Settlers' strikes create cold fury

January 03, 2002|By Kathleen Kern

WEBSTER, N.Y. -- I saw the familiar signs of a settler attack as I arrived at Rania Abu Jabari's house around the corner from our own in the Old City of Hebron.

Chunks of granite, cinder block and other heavy items lay on the ground, and Jewish settlers had cut or pushed in the heavy wire mesh that the family installed around their home to protect themselves.

Members of our Christian Peace Team in Hebron saw dozens of houses in similar condition last summer as settlers carried out reprisals for Palestinian bombing and shooting attacks that killed Israelis. That Sunday, however, there seemed no reason beyond simple malice for the attack on the Abu Jabari family (not its real name).

Glancing at a framed photo on the wall, I saw something still more familiar: Haj Abu Jabari, Rania Abu Jabari's father. Teammate Wendy Lehman and I had met him when we first came to Hebron to conduct background research for what became the CPT Hebron project in 1995.

His family has lived under a state of siege since the Israeli government built the settlement of Avraham Avinu next to his house in 1985. Avraham Avinu is one of four tiny settlements that together total 500 Jewish settlers who live in the center of Hebron, the second-largest city in the West Bank, with 120,000 Palestinians.

In addition to throwing all sorts of heavy objects and garbage at their house, cutting their water pipes and electric power lines and destroying their potted plants, settlers for their last 20 years have shouted daily obscenities at the devout Muslim family.

Haj Abu Jabari always refrained from responding in kind. He dutifully complained at the police station, although the police rarely followed through, and warmly welcomed Jewish visitors, Israeli and otherwise, into his home. He said he knew the Hebron settlers did not represent Jews in general and that one could find good and bad people in every religion.

Every time Wendy and I met Haj Abu Jabari on the street, he would approach us, beaming, and tell us in voluble Arabic how delighted he was to see us (or so we assumed.)

On the day before her father died three years ago, Ms. Abu Jabari told me that he was sleeping as settlers attacked the house yet again. When he awoke and saw the damage, he told his children he would go to the police station and file a complaint the next day. He died before he could do so. The next night, the settlers of Avraham Avinu held a party to celebrate his death, calling out in jubilation, "Abu Jabari is dead! Abu Jabari is dead!"

Of the 15 rooms of the house in use at the time Avraham Avinu was built, the family now uses only five because the other 10 are too vulnerable to attacks. When I left the Abu Jabari home the next morning, I asked Ms. Abu Jabari if she wanted our team to help her repair the protective screens. She told me the family must first get permission from the Israeli military authorities to fix them. When they receive the permission, they will fix the screens at midnight to avoid further settler violence.

The children of Haj Abu Jabari have not inherited his magnanimous attitude. They view the vicious attacks on their home as characteristic of Judaism in general. On the street last summer, I heard increasing numbers of Palestinians spouting the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and supporting violent attacks on Israelis as the death toll mounted.

We tell our Palestinian friends that the vast majority of Jews and Israelis do not support what the Hebron settlers are doing, that many are deeply critical of Israel's human rights violations.

We know that the dearth of empathy shared by Palestinians and Israelis regarding each other's suffering fuels the ongoing trauma of this Intifada.

But when I think of the kind old man who resisted the settlers of Avraham Avinu with such dignity for more than 15 years, when I think of the settlers celebrating his death, I feel my own empathy diminishing and a cold fury turning me into someone I don't want to become.

Kathleen Kern was a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron. The CPT is an initiative among Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations and Friends Meetings that supports violence-reduction efforts around the world.

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