St. Pierre parish, Baradères, Haiti — sister parish of St. John the Baptist Catholic Community, Silver Spring, Md.
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Kim Lamberty recovering from ambush by Israeli settlers
[Note: On Wednesday morning, September 29, 2004, Israeli settlers attacked Christian Peacemaker Team members Chris Brown and Kim Lamberty, former director of social concerns at SJB. At the time, Brown and Lamberty were accompanying young children walking to school. The children, from the village of Tuba, have experienced harassment from settlers in the past as they walk to school in the nearby village of al-Tuwani. Following is Kim's personal account.]
I was supposed to leave Tawani on the morning of the attack. Another CPTer was ready to replace me so that I could join the CPT delegation in Jerusalem. The night before, Chris asked who would do the school accompaniment with him, and I agreed to do it before I left. I got up before six, packed my back-pack, woke up Chris, and we set off to escort the kids from Tuba to their school in Tawani.
Tawani is a village of about 350 Palestinian souls located in the hill country south of Hebron. It is part of a cluster of six small Palestinian villages. Many of the families here are shepherds and others tend olive groves or fig trees. Some families live in caves that are part of an ancient way of life.
CPT was invited by the villagers in Tuwani to stay with them as a deterrent to the violence they experience from the nearby Israeli settlement of Ma'on. Almost everyone in Tuwani can tell a story about Ma'on settlers beating or harassing them. The people are frightened, but they are also determined to resist. They think the settlers are trying to intimidate them into abandoning their land and way of life. One community priority is providing safe passage of the children from the nearby village of Tuba to their school in Tuwani. The path to school passes through the settlement area.
Before the war of 1948, Palestinians owned about 87.5% of the total area of Palestine, while Jews owned 6.6%. The 1967 war created the "green line" boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, establishing those lands as Palestinian territories occupied by the Israeli army. Israel claimed about 78% of Palestine, while the occupied territories made up about 22%. Since 1967, the Israeli occupation authorities have expropriated more than 70% of the West Bank/Gaza Strip territory: some for military purposes, some for "public use," and some for Israeli settlements, or colonies, established within Palestinian territory. All of this land was confiscated from Palestinian owners, creating a severe refugee problem, as well as poverty, unemployment, and despair among the Palestinian people.
We started accompanying the children on Monday without incident. On Wednesday morning I was feeling anxious, because I wanted to finish in time to catch a van to Yatta at 7:30. We were hoping that the kids would meet us halfway, because the settlement area is at the Tawani end of the path. Although the path is only two kilometers long, it feels like much more in the desert heat and rough terrain, and I was anxious about being late. Chris and I both grumbled about the kids not coming out to meet us.
At this point on the way to Tuba, I started to pray. I wish that I could say I was praying for the children, but mostly I was praying because I was feeling anxious. I prayed that I would get back in time for the van. I also prayed that I would be able to accomplish God's will for the morning accompaniment, whether or not it included getting to the van on time.
We arrived in Tuba at 6:30 a.m. in plenty of time for my planned departure. However, the children were not yet ready to leave. Some parents offered us tea which Chris politely accepted, but I refused. Chris made it very clear that we were in a hurry and needed to leave, and by ten of seven, I had waited long enough and (stupidly) set off on my own. I thought that if I left, it would hurry the process along. Shortly thereafter Chris and the five children left Tuba. Due to a previous knee injury, I walk more slowly uphill than I would like, so I hoped and assumed they would catch up with me. Before long the two girls were next to me and Chris was not far behind with the three boys. The girls, Miriam and a-Sophia , and I chatted as best we could with my practically nonexistent Arabic and their practically nonexistent English. I shared my water with them.
As we approached the settlement area, the girls and I were still 20 or 30 feet ahead of Chris and the boys. This did not worry us, because there had not been any problems the last couple of days. On the right side of the path is the actual settlement of Ma'on surrounded by a chain link fence with barbed wire. Inside the fence is the paved settlement perimeter road. On the left side of the dirt path is a grove of trees containing a settlement expansion outpost called Ma'on Ranch. Settlers live there in trailers and mobile homes. The Israeli army prevents Palestinians from entering this area, and none dare attempt to enter for fear of arrest, beatings or worse. It is a strictly settler area; the children are the only exception so they can go to school.
A few minutes after we entered into the settlement area, the girls next to me started to scream. I looked up and saw a man dressed in black swinging a chain coming out of the trees about thirty feet ahead. He had on a black face mask that looked like two scarves, one over the bottom half of his face and one over his forehead, leaving a slit for his eyes. The girls immediately turned around and started running back toward Tuba, and I followed them. Just as we reached Chris and the boys, at least four other men emerged from the trees similarly dressed. The children continued to run toward Tuba, and Chris started yelling, "Don't hurt the children, don't hurt the children!" It seemed that Chris and I were their targets, because they headed straight for us and let the children go. I learned later that the men had thrown rocks at the children as they ran toward Tuba, but that they did make it back safely.
We tried to run off the path, away from the masked settler men, but it was hopeless. They were bigger, faster, and stronger. I tried to pull out my cell phone to call for help, but they were on top of me immediately, tripping me, throwing me to the ground and beating me. I don't remember much of the actual beating, or feeling any pain while it was happening. I remember thinking to myself that if I just lie very still and pretend that I am unconscious or dead, maybe they will go away. I also remember hearing Chris scream, realizing that he was taking a much worse beating, and knowing that there was nothing that I could do for him.
I can piece together what happened from my injuries. I must have fallen on my face, where I have cuts and bruises on my jaw and above my lip. I must have broken the fall with my left arm, which is fractured just below the elbow. They must have kicked or beat me on the left side of my right knee, where I have an enormous bruise, a lot of swelling and pain, and an undiagnosed injury. They also must have kicked or beat me on the top of my head and my left upper arm where I have bad bruises. I also have other minor cuts and bruises on my hands and other parts of my body. I don't know if they used their feet, rocks or chains. I am relieved that they got my already-bad knee instead of ruining my good one.
When they finished beating Chris, they started to head back into the grove of trees. One of them said in English, "Take her phone," and someone came over and picked up my phone from where it had fallen. They also grabbed my fanny pack from around my waist. When I heard them walking away, I ventured a look up. I saw the group go back through the grove of trees and into Ma'on Ranch. One of them looked back at me and I quickly put my head back down.
After a few minutes, I sat up and Chris walked over to me. I do not remember exactly what we said to each other in that moment. Chris' face was streaked with blood and I felt some dripping off of mine. I couldn't walk. Chris pulled out the cell phone concealed in his pocket and called Diane Janzen and Pier Giorgio Rossetti who were back in Tawani. He told them that we had just been attacked "really bad" by settlers but the kids were okay. I cannot remember what else he said, but I know that Diane and Pier Giorgio said that they were coming out to join us, and that they would call the police immediately. I called Cal in the Hebron office and told him to call the US consulate to report that my passport had been stolen. Looking back, I cannot believe this is what I was thinking about!
Chris and I sat alone for 10 or 15 minutes in the spot where we had been beaten. We were both really scared. I knew the attackers were still in the trees somewhere and I was afraid that they were going to come back and finish the job. We heard and then saw vehicles driving along the settler perimeter road and I was convinced it was them coming back to find us. Looking for a place to hide, I scooted on my butt over to a rock and propped myself up against it. But on that side of the road there was nowhere to hide, nothing but a chain link fence and small rocks.
I will never forget Pier Giorgio and Diane for risking their lives to come to meet us that morning. A few minutes after they arrived, I finally burst into tears. I was just so scared and so happy to see them. In that moment Pier Giorgio did exactly the right thing: he gave me a big hug. I got tears and blood all over his shirt.
Maybe ten minutes after Diane and Pier Giorgio got to us, settler security drove up. Every settlement has its own private security force armed with machine guns. None of us had called settler security. The man got out of his car and asked us what happened. We told him that people from his settlement attacked us. He did not offer us any assistance or first-aid, even though we were bleeding and obviously in pain. He said that they attacked us because we had upset the balance of power between the settlement and Palestinians. He understood immediately, as we did, that the perpetrators were settlers attacking us because of our presence in the area.
Five or ten minutes after settler security arrived, the police and army came, and shortly behind them an Israeli ambulance. In all it took about 30 minutes for help to arrive, even though the region is swarming with army and police and no doubt they could have been there much sooner. The Israeli police or the army did not search the grove of trees for our assailants. By taking so long to get to us, they effectively let the perpetrators get away.
The police asked us to explain briefly what happened. They gave us a piece of paper summoning us to the Kiryat Arba police station that same day. Kiryat Arba is an Israeli settlement located on the outskirts of Hebron. The paramedics checked us over, put me on a stretcher, and took Chris, who had a punctured lung, and me to Soroka hospital in Beersheva. Diane rode with us and Pier Giorgio remained in Tuwani. I was grateful to have Diane's steady presence with us during the emergency room ordeal.
Later that afternoon the police came to the hospital to take statements from us. The US consular officer was appalled that the police insisted we come visit them at another settlement and instead insisted that they visit us. I gave a statement which the officer wrote out in Hebrew. I refused to sign it because I did not know what it said. I do not know what has happened to that statement. I heard later that the police had gone to the court for a search warrant for the settlement but they were denied. I do not know if Ma'on or Ma'on Ranch were ever properly searched.
That same day, two more CPTers went down to Tawani to take our places. Operation Dove, the Italian Catholic group to which Pier Giorgio belongs, sent down an additional person. We all agreed that if the settlers were going to escalate the violence, then we would escalate the nonviolence.
The next morning the team reported that they did the school accompaniment on schedule, and the police were present to provide security. About one hour later, an Israeli army jeep drove through Tawani and soldiers told the villagers that CPT was endangering their children. They threatened that if the children walked home from school through the settlement area, then the violence would be even worse. They blamed CPT for the violence and not the settlement attackers.
We have a quality CPT team here in Hebron. Everybody did what was needed: being with us in the hospital, speaking to the press, phoning family and friends, and bathing and cleaning the blood off of me when I couldn't do it myself. I am grateful for their care. I am also grateful for my extraordinary network of family and friends who have given me much love and support. Without all of this, the horror of it all would have been so much harder to deal with.