During Passover, I traveled to the West Bank with two other women, all of us members of Machsom Watch, an Israeli human rights group. Our goal was to visit two Palestinian villages: in one, Kafr a-Dik, settlers had recently cut down some olive trees; in the other, Urif, residents had tried to work in their olive groves, but, even though they had arranged this with the army, settlers stopped them from doing so. We wanted to see with out own eyes, rather than reading about, the places where all this had happened. Both villages are less than 10 kilometers east of the Green Line, about 30 miles from either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
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Accompanied by a resident of Kafr a-Dik, we got as far as the settlement of Alei Zahav, on whose outskirts another settlement, Leshem, is being built. Tractors were working and some kind of a tour was going on, possibly for prospective buyers of what indeed appears to be what will be a lovely neighborhood. (A promo for Leshem on the settlers’ Arutz 7 website calls it “one of Israel’s fastest growing communitiessituated on the charming Samarian hilltopsa haven of fresh air and serenityaffordable, top quality homes.”)
But we could not go any farther to reach the village farmlands, because a closure had been imposed on the territories for the duration of Passover, the Feast of Freedom, and our Palestinian guide would not be allowed in.
So we proceded to Urif, a few kilometers northeast. There we met Adel, a young field worker for B’tselem, a human rights organization that works in partnership with Machsom Watch for these tours, and drove to the outskirts of the village, whose lands border the infamously hardline settlement of Yitzhar.
Besides Adel, we were three women in our 60s and 70s. Together we walked up a gentle slope covered with low shrubs and wildflowers to the edge of a ridge overlooking an olive grove below. On the opposite ridge stood the homes of Yitzhar, whose radical yeshiva is a beneficiary of the Kushner family’s charitable donations. We stood there for about 10 minutes, while Adel told us what had happened in the grove about a week before, when Palestinian farmers arrived there by prior arrangement with the IDF. Settlers had come down and threatened them, a clash ensued, the army fired tear gas and the farmers were forced to leave.
We were ready to go back to the car when we saw several figures emerge from the bushes and rocks on the hill opposite – first one, then two, then three people, apparently young men or older teens.
As we watched, some put on masks and started coming down the hill toward us. Knowing Yitzhar’s reputation as one of the most extreme West Bank settlements, with a long history of violent harassment of their Palestinian neighbors, as well as numerous incidents of assaults on the Israeli army and police, I was definitely not interested in any encounter with them. I had come to learn and observe, not to engage in deliberate heroics. Two of us started walking quickly toward the car, while the third, more defiant, stood her ground and watched as they made their way down the hill.
As they came closer, I could see that the leader, who seemed older than the others, had a club or heavy stick in his hand. Then, suddenly, they started throwing stones at us. All three of us women now ran to the car. But Adel picked up a stone, threw it back at them, and made a phone call.
By the time we reached the car, several men he had apparently summoned by phone from the Palestinian village – including an older man with a white beard, two younger men and a couple of kids – were arriving at the hilltop. This ended the incident; the settlers, seeing reinforcements, and with no soldiers around to intervene, apparently decided it would be best to withdraw. They retreated up the hill, and we quickly got in the car and drove home.
This had been a routine visit by Machsom Watch, its aim being to witness and bear witness to Israel’s settlement project. We came away with a small but bitter taste of what the Palestinians in the area have to face on a regular basis – in a place where the mere presence of one Palestinian and three women easily identifiable as “leftists” was enough for the neighboring settlers to arm themselves with sticks, stones and hatred.
We returned to Israel through the Shomron Crossing (for Israeli vehicles only), where the suspicious female security guard opened the car door and scrutinized our Israeli ID cards carefully, asking: "Where do you live? Where have you been?" I am still considering my answer.
Carol Cook is a journalist and editor at Haaretz.