Shanti Sena Stories: Thoughts on Being Stoned
2006 January 6
It was almost dark. Six of us were on our way home from Yara Abu Haikel’s first birthday party, 2006 January 6. At the bottom of the Tel Rumeida hill, instead of going left through the usual checkpoint, someone in front turned right onto Shuhada Street. The rest of us followed. I had never come home this way before.
A single soldier, and half a dozen settler boys, stood in front of the Beit Hadassah settlement. One of the smaller boys trotted over and spit on me. The soldier started to scold him. Before he could finish, the other boys began tossing stones at us. The soldier stopped in confusion. (I think his unit may have been new to Hebron.)
Twenty boys were hanging out along Shuhada Street, from the settlement down to the corner of the Israeli army base, a good 100 meters away. As we came to each group of boys, they joined in the stoning. Each successive group of boys seemed older, and to throw larger stones, and with greater force. I was able to pull down, or deflect, some of the stones coming at me. But some were getting through. Then a large stone, thrown with considerable force, struck the center of my knapsack. Had it been aimed one foot higher, it might have knocked me unconscious.
We turned down the side street toward the Beit Romano checkpoint. Most of the boys continued to follow and stone us. Art began shouting “Stop it!” very loudly. Some seconds later, Jerry began rushing towards the boys with his arms flapping. I decided to walk as close as I could to the settler cars parked along the street, hoping our assailants would hesitate for fear of hitting their own vehicles.
Four months later I finally wrote my mentor, Michael Nagler, a Gandhian scholar, an account of what happened, with this conclusion: “My primary concern arises from my understanding of how nonviolence works… Suffering accepted voluntarily “compels the (opponents’) reason to be free”. Our willingness to accept the suffering they impose on us challenges their dehumanized view of us. Our courage and self-discipline and selflessness make their hate for us decrease, and their respect for us increase. But in order for this principle to operate, they must be able to see our pain. In the dark they could not see much of our faces, much less our pain.”
Professor Michael, as I call him, wrote back: “There’s an issue of ‘emergency’ here, ie, we’re high on the escalation curve or the ‘stage and scale’ curve. I suppose the ideal nonviolent way to have handled it would have been to have walked straight up to the boys and said something to them to show you had no fear (?) and understood their feelings and – again ideally – not tried to protect yourself. However, it’s an emergency, so there’s no guarantee that it would “work”. And yes, CPT should avoid getting into such emergencies if they can possibly help it. That’s about all I can say.”
“No fear(?)” Thank you, Michael, for your parenthetical question mark! Gandhi apparently had no fear of death threats. But Jesus himself, the night before his crucifixion, was afraid. So perhaps we can allow ourselves to be afraid of stoning.
One problem is that none of us speaks Hebrew well enough to show that we have no fear or that we understand their feelings. What kind of sign or body language will communicate these things? Should we carry a handout in Hebrew that explains our intentions? Have we ever written a letter, in Hebrew, to the Hebron settler community?
In June I discussed the January incident with Rich Meyer. He said, “That lone soldier probably thought about, and told his fellow soldiers about, what he saw. Many soldiers are changed by their experience of Hebron. Our suffering is one part of that process.”
In July, three hours after I returned to Hebron, Rich decided to take his wife and six of her classmates on a walk past Beit Hadassah. The settler shebaab (Juvenile boys) greeted us with stones, again. Rich, in front, took a number of hits, while trying to talk to the boys. The visiting women, in back, became obviously uncomfortable, and stopped walking. So Rich gave the group the option of going up Tel Rumeida via Abraham’s well. We accepted.
Gandhi taught that “every state puts down criminal disobedience by force. It perishes if it does not.” Should we treat stoning as criminal disobedience? The Hebron police always ask for photos of the boys. When we expect to walk by settler boys, should we designate a photographer, who walks behind, with a companion? If police are present, is it appropriate for us to shout for help? What if only soldiers are present?
Is it appropriate for us to confront settler boys who are stoning us, as Brendan did when Tracy was momentarily immobilized? As I recall his description, he started walking towards the most violent boy while making eye contact with him. The boy ran. Brendan admitted to us he would not have known what to do if the boy had not run. What should we do if the boy does not run? Continue eye contact? Stand silently? Smile? Talk?
How important is it for us to challenge the settlers’ claim that the streets are theirs? How should we challenge this? How often? When should we retreat? Does retreating encourage future stoning? Or can retreating communicate our humanity? How should we retreat?
How important is it to have a clear plan before the stones begin to fly? If we pause for planning after the stones begin to fly, we allow more boys and stones to gather. Are there any circumstances under which we would pause while stones are flying?