8 February 2011
[Note: According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Regulations, the International Court of Justice, and several United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements and outposts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal. Most settlement outposts, including Havat Ma’on (Hill 833), are considered illegal also under Israeli law.]
At-Tuwani, South Hebron Hills, West Bank—On the afternoon of 7 February 2011, three Israeli settlers from the Havat Ma’on outpost chased a group of twelve Palestinian schoolchildren who were walking home from school. The Israeli military had failed to arrive to escort the schoolchildren, forcing the children to take a longer path without the army’s escort.
Shortly after the schoolchildren and Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) volunteers set out on the path towards Tuba and Maghayir al-Abeed villages, Israeli settlers, two of whom were masked, emerged from the grouping of trees that encompass Havat Ma’on and began moving towards the children. Upon seeing the settlers, the children turned and sprinted to distance themselves from the settlers. Several children cried and screamed as they ran away from the settlers; one young girl began shaking uncontrollably as soon as she stopped running from the settlers.
The Israeli Border Police, who were located on an adjacent hill for the duration of the incident, arrived at the scene after the Palestinian children had safely distanced themselves from the settlers. The Border Police stopped and spoke with the settlers, two of whom remained masked during the entire conversation.
The Border Police then approached the edge of At-Tuwani village where the children, CPT volunteers, and Palestinian adults had gathered. Border Police officers spoke with a CPT volunteer and an At-Tuwani resident, seeking to understand what had happened. After hearing their accounts but refusing to hear the role the settlers had played, the officers suggested that the Palestinian children, internationals, and At-Tuwani villagers were the ones causing problems, rather than the settlers.
Before the children had set out on the longer path without the military escort, CPT volunteers had called the Israeli military four times inquiring as to the whereabouts of the escort. During CPT’s final call to the military—more than thirty minutes after their initial call—the military dispatch office said that they had not yet called the soldiers who were to provide the escort, because they had more important duties to perform.
The Border Police officers eventually escorted the children home, but all of them remained in their jeep, laughing, as the children walked behind the jeep, visibly shaken.