Eight Birthright participants who walked off of their trip earlier this week to learn about the occupation were on a tour with Breaking the Silence when settlers began harassing them, culminating with paint thrown on their guide’s head.
If the settlers of Hebron were trying to show a group of Birthright participants who had walked off their trip earlier this week that their views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are skewed, it’s safe to say that they failed miserably.
Halfway through a tour of occupied Hebron that the eight Birthright participants were taking with Israeli anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence on Monday, a settler child, who appeared to be between eight and 10 years old, threw yellow paint onto the head of tour leader Frima “Merphie” Bubis.
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The incident followed at least half an hour of harassment by adult settlers, accompanied by children, as part of their routine attempts to disrupt and drown out Breaking the Silence tours in the city.
Bubis was shaken but required no medical attention. Eight Israeli soldiers who were present did nothing to stop or apprehend the child.
The tour on Monday was part of several actions in the West Bank so far this summer organized or facilitated by IfNotNow, an American Jewish anti-occupation group. The movement’s “Not Just a Free Trip” program, which has already seen two groups of Birthright participants walk off their trips, aims to challenge Birthright’s narrative while inviting participants to learn about Israel’s military regime during their 10-day free trip to Israel.
The Birthright attendees, almost all of whom were affiliated with IfNotNow before the trip and their decision to leave it, documented the incident on their phones. They handed their footage over to Israeli police in support of a criminal complaint filed by Bubis.
“Today, Birthright participants saw exactly what [the trip] tried to hide from them — a group of violent nationalists who are forcefully taking over the center of a Palestinian city,” said Breaking the Silence executive director Avner Gvaryahu.”
The age of criminal culpability is 12 for both Israeli and Palestinian children under Israel’s segregated civilian and military legal systems in the West Bank, so police couldn’t have arrested the child for the assault even if he had been located. However, the incident highlighted the stark contrast between how Israeli forces treat Palestinian and Israeli children in the West Bank — particularly in Hebron.
There have been numerous incidents in recent years in which Israeli troops have been videotaped detaining children as young as five years old in Hebron. The Israeli police officers who arrived on the scene of the attack against the Breaking the Silence guide on Monday didn’t appear to do anything to try and find the child (or his parents) and didn’t even ask the soldiers present if they could identify him.
Activists in Breaking the Silence described the incident an escalation in settler attacks against its tours, which largely focus on Hebron and the surrounding areas. In recent weeks, they said, settlers have hurled eggs, stones, bags of water, and other objects at tour participants. Although guides have been physically attacked in the past, this is the first incident in several years.
“We served in the army and we know that settler violence is an inseparable part of the routine of occupation,” Gvaryahu added. “Usually it targets Palestinians, but when the demands of the settlers are not met, the violence is directed at soldiers and Israeli citizens. We have one message to settlers who think they can stop us with laws in the Knesset or violence in the streets: We won’t stop until the occupation ends.”
Asked if more walk-offs can be expected, IfNotNow spokesperson Alyssa Rubin told +972 Magazine that “Not Just a Free Trip” has been providing resources and support both online and on the ground to young Jews who feel Birthright isn’t answering their questions about the occupation. “We can expect young Jews to continue to challenge Birthright in lots of different ways throughout the summer,” she said.