New York, December 27, 2011—Israeli settlers attacked two of OneVoice Palestine's staff who were en route to the West Bank city of Jericho in mid-November. Abdullah Hamarsheh and Mohammad Asideh were on their way to conduct a workshop with 25 youth leaders and prospective volunteers and had a Palestinian flag visible in their car.
Travel restrictions imposed by the Israeli army required them to drive about 10 miles north before heading east from Ramallah to Jericho. This brought them near the Beit El settlement and Israeli military base on a road restricted to Israeli settlers and Palestinians who have special permits. “The roads in Palestine don’t make any sense,” said Asideh, OVP's outreach coordinator. “Checkpoints, closures, traffic: sometimes you need to go backwards just to go forwards.” A group of settlers waiting for a bus began to harass them about the Palestinian flag. The settlers then gathered stones and began pelting the car.
“Reaching Jericho after such an experience makes you wonder if this is the right way to deal with the situation,” conceded Hamarsheh, director of the Youth Leadership Program. “But it is the belief in what you are doing and the dedication to it that keeps you going.”
The workshop was designed to introduce the prospective volunteers to the efforts of OneVoice and its youth leaders – from the murals in Jericho, Nablus, Hebron and Jenin painted to spread the grassroots discourse on the two-state solution to their global efforts through the International Education Program – before delving into recent changes in Palestinian politics and their implications for the peace process.
But the run in with the settlers, and its vivid reminder of the settlers' wider impact on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, cast a pall over much of the meeting. “Almost all Palestinians have experienced something like this, something aggressive, with settlers. Clashes during the harvest, mosque burnings, and personal physical attacks: these actions are increasing every day,” said Asideh.
Palestinians have little legal recourse and are understandably frustrated. They can file a complaint with a regional District Coordination Office, a division of the Israeli Civil Administration, but that is rarely any use. “We can’t go to the Palestinian Authority, or the Israeli police. Settlers are above the law,” said Asideh.
And the effect? “They increase hostility,” Asideh continued. “It’s a threat for Palestinians and peace.”
Ultimately, though, the settlements remain an impediment to any solution. “Palestinians are working day and night to achieve their independent state by ending the occupation,” said OVP Executive Director Samer Makhlouf. “Settlements have always been an obstacle in achieving that.”