“Hi, my name is Peter, I sometimes read Izraelinfo. I was also there at Friday’s tree planting event in Burin, West Bank where Israelis and Palestinians came together peacefully for a common goal. Unfortunately, the event ended in aggression when masked men arriving from the illegal Jewish settlement nearby attacked our group” one of our readers wrote. “If you’d like to write something about this then I’m at your disposal” he offered. We don’t like writing about any kind of terror, especially not about Jewish terror, but staying silent and the one-sided presentation of things is lying. So in order to present the fuller truth we have to write about uncomfortable, painful things too. We agreed to meet on Zoom. My discussion partner was in a hotel when I called him.
Where do you live? How did you get here?
I live in the UK. A few years ago I started having an interest in human rights, international conflicts, and especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Three years ago I visited Israel as part of an organised 10-day tour. After that I went to the West Bank too, and since then I’ve been even more interested in this topic. I spoke to Israelis of my age, as well as soldiers, and after the trip I started to research this conflict even more deeply. I mostly read sources in English – I speak neither Hebrew nor Arabic. I try to follow Hungarian-language news outlets too, but, unfortunately, there are hardly any opinion pieces regarding this conflict. In addition, I also keep in touch with NGOs, such as Breaking the Silence.
I’m here in Israel-Palestine for 2-3 weeks again. Actually, I came for a holiday and I was also looking for events where Israelis and Palestinians would like to act together for peace. And then I found this tree planting event.
I knew that previously settlers have burnt and cut down olive trees at the place of the event, but despite all these it sounded like a completely peaceful thing to attend.
I’d like to add that after these last three years I’m now really opinionated about things, and I’m strongly pro peace, but I don’t consider myself an activist. Planting olive trees is not extreme activism. My itinerary was Nazareth – Jenin – Nablus, and when I was in Nablus I found out about this event in the nearby village of Burin. I didn’t arrive with the Israeli and Palestinian participants – I simply went there by taxi.
Did you join them at the venue?
Yes, I did. And I didn’t know anyone. The event had two organisers, one was Rabbis for Human Rights, the other one was Olive Harvest Coalition. I had to fill in a Google Form, and then they sent me when and where to go. The start was at around half nine. I was there in time, the others came a bit later. I don’t know how many of them they were, maybe 20 to 40. The first thing I noticed was that most participants were elderly. Also, I wanted to chat with everyone, but not all of them spoke English. No-one spoke Hungarian… ah, actually, yes – there was someone who spoke a little Hungarian.
At the beginning most people told me about their families, about their famous ancestors, Hungarian grandparents, and they mentioned Hungarian words like ‘rakott krumpli’, ‘istenem’, szeretlek’ and ‘igen-migen’. I was communicating with whoever I could – there were Arabs too, I don’t know if they were from the West Bank or Israel. People brought the saplings with them, as well as some hoes and spades. We dug small holes, placed the trees in them, and put a ribbon around the saplings so that they can be seen. Everything was absolutely calm. I knew that there was an outpost at the top of the hill – the Givat Ronen outpost. This differs from other “regular” settlements – those are illegal under international law, but legal according to Israel. This outpost on the hilltop next to Burin is illegal even according to the Israeli government. It’s mostly populated by extremist youths who are usually very violent. I knew this so I often looked that way, but I didn’t see anything suspicious. And after some time I stopped looking because I was busy with planting trees and listening to what words the others knew in Hungarian.
We planted around 50 trees, then we started moving to another field to continue the work there. We were walking in a long queue, some people have fallen behind. I was at the front when, towards the back, the settlers appeared from the top of the hill. Their faces were covered with masks, and then everyone was saying that the settlers are coming. Just beforehand I was exchanging WhatsApp numbers with someone, but four minutes later I was already taking a video of the burning car. So everything happened very quickly. Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt myself. Really, touch wood.
On the video that was posted on Twitter you can see that someone goes to the car and starts pouring some liquid on it. The owner of the car, or whichever activist was standing next to it tries to resist and says something to the attacker, who then hits his head with a baseball bat or some kind of large stick. He falls to the ground. I don’t think he fainted, but I’m not sure, I was standing like a hundred meters away. The attacker keeps pouring the liquid and then the car catches fire. And there were many of them, like 10 or 15. Then they start beating the nearby volunteers with sticks.
רק אתמול ערך שר הבטחון בני גנץ דיון עדכון שעסק בהקמת הצוותים המיוחדים של מערכת הבטחון בשטחים שנועדו לתת מענה לארועי אלימות מתנחלים, צוותים המשותפים לצהל, שבכ, משטרה, מגב ומנהל אזרחי. התמונות מהארוע החמור היום מבהירות יותר מכל את אוזלת היד של מערכת הבטחון בטיפול בסוגיה. pic.twitter.com/oevVwBPImV— Or Heller אור הלר (@OrHeller) January 21, 2022
Ah, and I didn’t mention the stone throwing yet. So they were continuously throwing stones and rocks at us. The rear window of one of the cars broke. I was in complete shock, I felt really helpless. The situation was very strange because I don’t speak the local languages. I didn’t know what was happening around me. I would have called the army or the local police but I didn’t know their number. Then someone asked me to also take videos, and that’s why I started recording.
It was horrible to see that they were beating mercilessly those people I’ve been chatting with just five or ten minutes before. One of them was hit in the head with a bat. I saw them hitting him, he collapses, and that’s it. Then it was over within a few minutes. This is when the Palestinian firefighters and the Israeli army came, but the perpetrators had already run away by the time they arrived. Finally, the ambulance of the Red Crescent reached our location too.
They provided first aid to the casualties. They took care of everyone – there were some who could walk by themselves. It was clear that they were bleeding. The firefighter started extinguishing the fire. Once the soldiers arrived the area was secured, but well, I don’t know, perhaps they could have arrived earlier…
I’m really glad that I wasn’t hurt myself. But I feel really sorry for the six volunteers who were injured, and the one whose car was damaged beyond repair.
January 21, 2022
How did you experience these events? What did you think, what did you feel?
I knew who was the person who spoke fluent English and I tried to stay close to him. However, he moved away because he was one of the people taking a video from up close. I was really surprised by what happened. Of course, I knew that I was coming to the West Bank, I knew that this region is under occupation. I was aware of the risks, but I didn’t expect that I go to a peaceful event, one based on Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, and that these kinds of things would happen. I also didn’t know whether a car could explode once it’s set on fire. Here it did not. Still, I don’t know whether it can or not.
Do you have relatives here in Israel? Or did you come specifically to participate in these kinds of things?
No, I came here to travel around. And yes, I also wanted to learn about things on the ground, I wanted to talk to the people. It’s one thing to keep reading articles from the UK.
By the way, what do you do? Why are you interested in this conflict?
I do programming, so this has nothing to do with my studies, but I think this is a really important topic. One of the Hungarian news sites reported on what happened, and underneath in the comment section someone asked why the leftists went there to provoke. I would like to reject that completely. In my opinion there’s nothing more peaceful than tree planting, especially a common Israeli-Palestinian tree planting. If I stay home then maybe that’s more peaceful, but I absolutely reject that this was provocation. And even if it was provocation, the solution is not to come to us and start beating our heads with bats and set our car on fire.
What do you think, after all that’s happened, are you going to visit the West Bank again?
I’m still trying to process the events. Settler violence is a routine occurrence here, but it’s rare that it’s Israelis who get injured, and that their car is set ablaze. Members of the Israeli parliament condemned what happened, and even the leadership of West Bank settlements, the Yesha (Judea and Samaria Council) issued a condemnation of the events. This is a very important step, but it’s not sufficient at all. This should have consequences. This wasn’t the first event of its kind. It’s been happening for years that nearby settlers attack defenseless, unarmed, elderly people. Even though there’s an Israeli army, it’s as if they were only protecting the settlers themselves. As far as I saw, most of the injured were Israeli Jews this time. This is very strange to me – who are the perpetrators really representing then?
Things like these are everyday occurrences, but it’s usually the Palestinians who are wounded – and sometimes killed. Apart from Haaretz the mainstream Israeli press barely reports on those. When it’s Israeli Jews who are suffering then that gets a bigger media attention.
For me, all human life is equal and casualties are worth the same. I think that a Palestinian civilian, who was hit in the head with a bat, and a Jewish Israeli civilian, who was hit in the head with a bat, are worth the same, and the acts should be condemned equally.
Thank you to the organisers – even after the incident I think that common, peaceful and non-violent initiatives like this are really really powerful. Thank you to the local ambulance and firefighters for quickly arriving at the scene, to the volunteers who gave up their time and helped the victims of the atrocities, and to the Israeli soldiers who secured the area after the incident.
Finally, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank you for this interview. It would be good if more people knew about what happened. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Salátakisérletező fotós grafikus túrázó blogger, az Izraelinfo alapító főszerkesztője