At-Tuwani: Where’s the Donkey?

by Joy Ellison

When I saw Heba* talking to the Ma’on settlement guard, I went running towards her with my video camera poised.  In at-Tuwani, Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinian children walking to school, as well as Palestinian adults working on their own land.  But as I hurried towards Heba, I realized this seven-year-old was about to teach me a lesson in nonviolent resistance.

Her hands clasped behind her back, Heba looked up into the face of the settlement guard.  With her usual composure, she spoke to him.  This particular settler is notorious for harassing Palestinians; I’ve seen adults take off running when he approached.  But he was looking down at Heba and listening.  Before I could reach her, Heba turned and calmly walked away.

“What did you say to him, Heba?” I asked.

“I asked him why he couldn’t bring back our donkey,” she replied.

Recently, Israeli settlers beat a young man from the village of Tuba and stole his donkey.  Palestinians living here have had their livestock stolen before.  From experience, they know the Israeli police are unlikely to recover their property or prosecute settlers who attack them.

Heba and I returned to where Palestinians were plowing.  When Israeli soldiers drove up, neighbors came to see what was happening.  Soon a crowd of children joined them.  Heba’s mother passed out tiny cups of Arabic coffee.  As soon as the settlement guard arrived, Heba’s grandmother, the oldest woman in at-Tuwani, walked up to him.  She greeted him without a trace of fear and asked him where the donkey was.

Armed with nothing but their human rights, the people of at-Tuwani remained on their land.  The farmers convinced the soldiers to allow them to work, and the settlement guard assured Heba and her grandmother that he would do his best to bring back the donkey.  Perhaps the entreaties of a little girl will succeed where the Israeli police fail.  Regardless, I’m sure that Heba will grow up knowing how to resist injustice, and that gives me hope for the villages of the South Hebron Hills.

*Not her real name.