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This summer the at-Tuwani villagers organized a two and a half week summer camp for local children. The children loved the fun of the camp. New play equipment had been donated and it was sometimes difficult to tell who enjoyed the swings, seesaws and roundabouts more, the children or the adults!
However, under Israeli military occupation, summer camp is not all fun.
During the school year the Israeli army escorts children from the villages of Tuba and Maghaer al-Abeed to school in At-Tuwani, because they are in danger of attack from Israeli settlers living in the nearby illegal settlement and settlement outpost. Prior to the camp, villagers contacted the DCO (the Israeli military division that administers civilian affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories) and requested an army escort for the children. They received an ambiguous reply, and some days the army escorted the children to camp, on others they did not.
On Friday 25 July, CPTer Jessica Frederick and I stayed overnight in Tuba. The following morning we left the village at around 7:30 am and walked with the children, aged between six and 15 years old, to the edge of the Israeli settlement, where they meet the army escort.
The children were happy as we walked along. It was camp day! They were all proudly wearing their summer camp T-shirts and baseball caps, given out the previous day. They ran and skipped along the road, laughing and joking. Suddenly, we heard shouts and saw Israeli settlers walking towards us from the outpost. The fun-loving atmosphere instantly evaporated. The children moved into family groupings, the older clearly taking on a protective role towards the younger. Only three days previously the children had been chased by settlers, one masked and carrying a stick.
We immediately called the army escort, but the soldiers refused to come because they did ‘not have orders.’ The settlers stood some distance away, but continued to yell. The children, although clearly petrified, told us they still wanted to walk to the camp – not by the shorter, direct route they take with the army, but a longer, slightly safer one.
It was shocking to watch the children as we made our way to at-Tuwani. Two older boys ‘scouted’ ahead with me, directing me where we needed to be more cautious. Jessica walked behind the children, still tightly knit in their family groups. When the path forced us to pass within sight of the outpost, the children almost crawled along the ground, anxious not to be seen by the violent settlers living there.
That day the settlers did not attack, but their shouts and jeers, their very presence, were enough to inflict horrific fear in the children.
Abusers do not need to beat their victims daily. They beat their victims often enough to intimidate and frighten them. Then a mere threat is enough to terrorize.
Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical initiative to support violence reduction efforts around the world. To learn more about CPT’s peacemaking work, visit our website www.cpt.org