americans beaten walking children to school

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    Washington Report, December 2004

    Heroism in the Holy Land: Americans Beaten for Walking Children to School
    By Alison Weir

    Loren Friezen walks Hebron schoolchildren home (Courtesy CPT).

    THERE ARE A SMALL number of people around the world who exhibit extraordinary courage. An even smaller number commit repeated acts of heroism. San Francisco resident Chris Brown is one of them.

    On Wednesday morning [Sept. 29], Brown, with his colleague Kim Lamberty, was on the other side of the world walking children to school. The children were like any other children—except for one thing. They were scared. Not that they would fail a test, not that their teacher would call on them with a difficult question, not that they would lose a schoolyard game. These children were scared that adults would physically try to attack them.

    They were right.

    It was a bright morning. There were two girls and three boys, and they ranged in age from 6 years old to 11. Chris, 39, and Kim, 44, were there to protect them. The children were Palestinian.

    Chris and Kim are volunteers with an organization called Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), which provides nonviolent intercession in areas of violence. They serve in the West Bank city of Hebron, where Palestinian civilians are frequently attacked and harassed by Israeli settlers. The presence of such international witnesses often reduces this violence.

    Children in a small village outside of Hebron, Tuba, attend school in the neighboring village of Tuwani. The problem is, Israeli settlements lie between Tuwani and Tuba. The route around these settlements is over six miles—too long for small children to trek twice a day. There is an alternative route between settlements that reduces the journey to a little over a mile. Villagers asked CPT to accompany the children on this shorter route.

    Last Wednesday, Chris and Kim picked up the children from their village at 6:30, and all began walking to school. Part of the way there, settlements on either side, Kim and two of the children had gotten a little ahead and were just turning a bend in the road, when Chris saw them suddenly stop and begin running back, screaming.

    Then he saw why.

    “I saw men with black masks on, dressed all in black, wielding chains, one carrying a bat, most of them wearing black.” As the five men rushed at them, Chris called out, “Please don’t hurt the children, please don’t hurt the children.”

    The men smashed a rock to his head, knocking him to the ground, and began beating and kicking him with steel-toed boots. The attackers tried, unsuccessfully, to break his left wrist and dislocate his shoulder.

    “I said, ‘Why are you doing this? All we’re doing is walking children to school—we’re nonviolent,’” Chris told them. “We’re Americans.”

    Israeli settlers smashed Chris Brown’s head with a rock, knocked him to the ground and kicked him, puncturing his lung and breaking his ribs (Courtesy San Francisco Bay View).

    An attacker laughed, and Chris heard a man say, in a heavy Israeli accent, “They’re Americans.”

    Kim, meanwhile, lay face down, not moving as the men kicked and beat her. She says much of the attack is a blur—“It’s almost like for a moment you leave reality.…I just remember thinking, ‘If I just lie here like I’m unconscious, maybe they’ll leave me alone.’”

    Finally, the men sauntered away, stealing Kim’s waist-pack containing her money, passport and cell phone. Unable to walk, she crawled over to Chris, who still had his phone and was able to call for help.

    Upon receiving Chris’s call, two CPT members rushed over immediately, despite fear that the attackers might still be nearby. They called for an ambulance on the way, and arrived to find Chris and Kim bleeding and in enormous pain.

    Twenty-five minutes later, Israeli officials—who, according to international law, are responsible for the safety of all civilians under their occupation—finally arrived, having taken half an hour to cover the 10-minute distance. The officials took statements, provided an ambulance to transport Chris and Kim to an Israeli hospital, but made no effort to find their assailants.

    At the hospital, Kim was found to have a broken arm, a severely injured knee, and bruises across her head and body. It is still difficult for her to move. Chris has a punctured lung and broken ribs and is similarly covered with cuts and body-wide contusions. He is still in the hospital. The children, who were able to flee immediately, are largely unhurt, physically.

    Who committed this vicious assault? Why? What kind of people try to prevent small children from going to school?

    It is unlikely that non-Israeli Americans will ever learn the names of the attackers, since Israel rarely shares this kind of information with its “ally.” We do know, however, the type of people who attacked Chris, Kim and the children. And we do know why.

    To answer this, it’s necessary to first take a lightning trip through Israel’s strange history. The nation of Israel was created only a little over 50 years ago, and its purpose was to be a “Jewish state.” While people throughout the world were profoundly sympathetic to this goal, there was one major problem: two-thirds of the inhabitants were Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

    As a result, Israel’s creation entailed the forcible expulsion of more than 750,000 Palestinians. Many of these people ended up in the West Bank and Gaza.

    In 1967, the situation worsened, when Israel expanded its borders in the Six-Day War, capturing the West Bank and Gaza. Immediately, the Israeli government began confiscating Palestinian land in these newly occupied areas to build Jewish-only settlements.

    As might be expected, such actions are illegal—both because a government cannot just take other people’s land, and also because the acquisition of territory by conquest has been deemed illegal by the international community. The United States cannot decide—simply because we have the military might—to kick Canadian farmers off rich farmland and give the farmers’ land to Americans, and then say that this is American land for all eternity. Yet, this is what Israel is doing to Palestinians.

    Many Israelis oppose these settlements, considering them illegal, immoral and bad for Israel. Many of those who go to live in them are economically disadvantaged Israelis simply availing themselves of subsidized homes.

    A significant portion of these settlers, however, are a far different story, and these are the settlers that the villagers around Hebron, in particular, are facing. This group is made up of religious fanatics who believe that only Jews have the right to live in “Eretz Israel.” They move onto Palestinian land, they say openly, to “redeem” it and to “cleanse” it of Christians and Muslims. These settlers are notorious in Israel for their extremism, violence and deeply racist religious beliefs.

    For Palestinians around Hebron, it is like living next to KKK members who can kill you with impunity. Murders of Palestinians are rarely prosecuted, and when they are, little results. For example, three years ago, when a settler was found guilty of killing a 14-year-old boy by breaking his neck, the punishment meted out was a fine and six months’ community service.

    “It’s just like South Africa,” Chris Brown says, “only worse.” South Africa, many point out, didn’t use F-16s against its Bantustans.
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