Israeli security forces repeatedly ignore racist attacks on Palestinian schoolchildren

South Hebron Hills’ students forced to choose between education and security as a rabbinical group launch a new campaign on their behalf

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Extremist settler harasses Palestinian children and mother in front of soldiersq
Extremist settler harasses Palestinian children and mother in front of soldiersCredit: Rabbis for human rights

■ For more than ten years Palestinian children have been exposed to ethnically-motivated violence while on their walk to school
■ Israeli extremists from nearby illegal outpost are the suspects
■ Israeli security forces often ignore the attacks
■ Policy makers overlook this neglect
■ A new campaign seeks to end this misconduct

Amid extremist settler violence, pursuing an education is an act of bravery:

Getting an education is a way to fight back for 22 year old Ali from the West Bank village of Tuba. For the past ten years continuing until today, extremist Israeli settlers have terrorized him and other children from his community on their walk to school in the village of A Tuwani. In these Palestinian villages seeking out a life in the  isolated, arid West Bank region known as the South Hebron Hills, ethnically-motivated violence and intimidation tactics targeting children has become routine — though no less horrifying. International activists escort the Palestinian children to their school  and monitor the attacks initiated by Israeli extremists coming from the direction of the illegal outpost Havat Maon.

Ali, now a college student, used to be attacked while walking to A Tuwani’s elementary schoolCredit: Rabbis for human rights

Ali, now a college student, used to be attacked while walking to A Tuwani’s elementary school

Attacks on Palestinian students in the region have become so common that the Knesset Committee for the Protection of the Child has discussed the issue. Ali admits to making excuses to not attend school as a result of his fear, and describes frightening incidents where settlers used their own children to ambush Palestinian children on their way to school. Despite this, Israeli security forces often ignore attacks on Palestinians in general and on the students at A Tuwani in particular (as documented here), and the problem extends beyond the attacks to the ineffective or nonexistence response of the Israeli authorities.  As far as we know, security forces have not ramped up their efforts to catch those responsible, while no suspect has been detained let alone brought to justice.

Credit: רבנים למען זכויות האדם

Instead, the security forces offer an inadequate and frankly bizarre solution: a military jeep to escort the children to and from school each day. The escort repeatedly comes late, if it comes at all. Such a “solution” forces Palestinian school children to choose between their safety and their right to education. Refusing to let these extremists prevent him from reaching his potential, Ali overcame his fears and completed high school. He is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree and views his education as a direct challenge to the violence of the extremist settlers and the oppression he has been confronted with living under Israeli military control.

Now Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), an Israeli Zionist rabbinical rights group teamed up with Italian activist collective Operation Dove (associated with the Catholic Church) to pressure the Israeli government to stop what they see as a disgrace for the Jewish state. They have launched a letter writing campaign asking American Jews to channel their progressive values and political influence to call upon the Israeli government to ensure the safety of Palestinian children pursuing an education amid deep poverty and marginalization.

Compared to other parts of the West Bank, the villages of the A Tuwani area were rarely part of the violent conflict. This isolated, rural district— where people often live in caves without electricity, running water or other infrastructure— is distanced geographically, economically and culturally from the backbone of Palestinian society. Yet its inhabitants pay a severe price just for being Arabs. “Israel is facing numerous security threats that sometimes challenge its capacity to adhere to human rights principles,” RHR acknowledges, “but when we talk about protecting Palestinian schoolchildren in the quiet, rural community of A Twuani, far from any fighting zone, one just cannot conceive of any reasonable justification for this shocking moral failure that demands our outrage as Jews and Israelis.”

The easiest crime to solve somehow remains unsolved 

By their nature, the attacks against A Tuwani’s students are the easiest crimes to solve: they occur on a specific short route where security forces intensely patrol, during unchanging and known time frames (when the children are traveling to school or returning home) and have occurred in the same pattern for years. Furthermore, the assailants mostly come from a small outpost nearby, Havat Maon, whose population is minimal, and so suspects (mostly young adults) are not hard to pinpoint. To boot,  a multitude of documentation of the assaults exist.

In light of this, one would expect arrests and justice for these racist thugs. Yet, as far as the human rights community knows,  no one has ever been arrested in relation to the attacks. 

This failure is not the result of a lack of capacity on the part of the security forces. Indeed, Israel’s security forces rightly hold a reputation for catching terrorists and criminals, especially in the West Bank. This failure is a matter of treating the security of Palestinians, even little children, as secondary. This is, then, not just the racist actions of a fringe group of bullies, but rather a policy of discriminatory law enforcement by the Israeli security forces and the government overseeing them.  In this new campaign, RHR calls on the Jewish world to help end this disgrace and violation of Jewish values. “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him” (Leviticus 19).

For the letter campaign>>