Israel + 1 more

OPT: Settlers' daily attacks on Abu 'Ayesha family prohibit them from living normal lives, Hebron, Tel Rumeida, May 2005

Raja'a Abu 'Ayesha, age 17

I was born in the same house that I live in today. My grandfather built the house forty-five years ago. It is located in Tel Rumeida, in the middle of a settlement named "Yishai's Lands," across from the big structure that the settlers have been building over the past few years. Only one street separates my house from the building. I live with my father, who is 42 years-old, my mother, age 40, and my six siblings. We live on the ground floor. My grandfather, age 70, and my grandmother, age 50, live on the second floor with my uncles who are five, six and nine years-old. I am the oldest of the girls in my family and none of us are married. My youngest brother is Sharif, who is seven years-old. My father owns a clothing shop in Bab a-Zawiya and my mother doesn't work. I am in tenth grade at the Kortova School that is across from the "Hadassah house" building.

The only people I meet are at home and at school. Outside these frameworks, I have no social life. Our house is like a cage. It is completely fenced in, including the entrance. My grandfather set it up that way in 1996 to protect us, after settlers broke all of our windows. Our house looks like an island surrounded by a sea of soldiers, settlers and a violent atmosphere. As long as I can remember, I have been surrounded by the soldiers and the settlers. The settlers have also attacked my school.

Our neighbors, the al-Bakri, a-Dajany and a-Swety families, left the neighborhood when the current intifada began. Two months ago, settlers took over the house of al-Bakri family, and have been living there ever since. It is a two story house. We were left alone in the neighborhood because my grandfather refuses to leave as the others did. He says that he will die in the house he built, surrounded by all of his memories.

My family suffers in many ways. We have difficulties getting out of the house to go to school and to come back home. Almost every day, the settler children block the path for me and my sister, Fida'a, age 14. They throw stones, water and leftover food at us. We try to ignore them as much as possible. Sometimes we run away or wait until they clear the path and cross only then. There are soldiers in the area and sometimes they tell the children to stop throwing stones, but usually they don't listen. I have been injured by stones thrown at me more then once. The last time was when I walked my grandfather's second wife back from the hospital. Two weeks ago during the Jewish holiday of Passover, my uncle Ibrahim, who is six years-old, broke his arm when he fell from a window after settlers threw stones at him. We filed a complaint against them.

The settlers throw stones and leftover food at the house while we are inside, and sometimes at night while we are sleeping. My brothers and I wake up frightened, worried and scared. Sometimes I feel helpless and depressed and I don't know what to do. My grandfather calls the police to complain and they come and take our testimony. My grandfather said that he has saved dozens of complaints that he submitted and has all of the documents to prove it, but the situation hasn't changed. As a mater of fact, there is not one family member that hasn't been attacked by settlers - my grandfather, my parents and my siblings. On Friday two weeks ago, they spilled hot tea on my father and my brother Ashraf, on their way back from prayers.

I don't leave the house once I come home from school, because doing so means risking getting hurt by the stones the settlers throw on the road. I'd rather stay inside the house and be bored. I don't visit friends or relatives, and it is rare that people visit us. People who don't live in this area are not permitted to enter. The soldiers block the way in and tell everyone to go back. I don't take part in extra-curricular activities because it means I would have to come home late and that scares me even more. My father and grandfather don't let me leave the house because they are scared of the settlers. I don't go to summer camps like the rest of my friends. In eighth grade, I took part in a program run by Defense for Children International. It took place in H2 every day near the government hospital. I had to stop going because it meant coming home late at night.

The holidays are the saddest times. Our relatives don't come over so we have to leave the house and stay with my grandfather on my mother's side. We can't all leave the house together. When we go, my grandfather and his family stay home, and when we come back my grandfather and his family go. When we leave the house during a holiday, I don't stay at the house of my relative [who we went to visit]. I go out and visit with the neighbors. Everybody looks for me but they can't find me, because I like to stay outdoors for as long as I can. I feel like I have been freed from prison.

Now, the army does not impose a curfew on us except during the [Jewish] holidays. The last time we had a curfew was during Passover while the settlers had a house-warming for the new building. The soldiers entered our house and locked us all in one room from 8 A.M. until 5:30 P.M.. And our house is crowded enough as it is. The soldiers come into my house every two weeks and conduct search. Sometimes they come late at night and wake us up and scare us.

I remember that in the beginning of the intifada, we were put under curfew for many hours at a time. We suffered a lot from not being able to leave the house and living in a small place with many people. I didn't go to school for weeks and we had a lot of free time. My father bought us pigeons, birds and chickens to keep us occupied. At one point, the curfew was so long that we ran out of food for the animals and they refused to eat anything else and they ended up dying. We had thirty birds of different kinds.

My father bought us bicycles as well, but there was not enough room to ride them in the house so my mother took out the furniture from one of the rooms so we would have room to ride. It hurts me to see the settler children playing soccer and riding their bikes happily near my house as the soldiers protect them. We can't do the same thing, so we look at them jealously through the window. We even have problems with their games. Two weeks ago my father bought Ashraf a soccer ball. One of the soldiers came into the house and claimed that the ball belongs to one of the settler kids and not to us. The soldier took the ball from Ashraf and gave it to the children. My brothers also can't buy toy weapons because it's not allowed.

Getting to school is awful as well. Volunteers and members of TIPH [Temporary International Presence in Hebron] walk me to school to protect me. It doesn't really help. Many times we have been attacked by the settlers even though the volunteers are with us. The last time was on Saturday, 23 April 2005. While leaving the school, dozens of settlers threw stones at us and beat us. More then fifteen students were injured. This was in the presence of many soldiers and cops.

Since the intifada started, the number of students in my school has dropped drastically. Before the intifada, there were about three-hundred students and today there are eighty-seven. Most of the students left to go to another school because of the attacks by settlers and the checkpoints. Two of my good friends, Asma'a a-Sha'rawi and Sara Abu Ramuz left school at the beginning of the year and I haven't seen them since because as I have said, they can't come back and visit me. We had been in school together since we were very young.

In March, we took a field trip to Jericho. At first I said that I couldn't go because I would have to leave the house at 5 AM and that frightens me. So the headmaster and the students waited for me down the street, about twenty or thirty meters away and they walked with me. Otherwise I would have stayed home. When we came back in the evening, the volunteers walked us back home.

I think about the settlers all the time. In the morning I think about them and before I go to sleep. I ask myself when it will all be over. I feel that the only solution is for one of us to leave. It probably won't happen since my grandfather doesn't want to leave, and the settler population in the neighborhood is only growing.

A few weeks ago we visited Tel Aviv to talk to Israelis about our situation. We got there by bus. We sat quietly in the bus and the Israeli bus driver noticed that we were quite so he asked us if we were depressed. I personally do suffer from depression. I feel happiness very rarely. Ashraf won't sleep alone. He only sleeps in my father's bed. Ashraf and the other children in our family do not get to experience the innocence of childhood. We are constantly in the house, looking out of the windows and discussing the situation.

Raja'a Taysir Muhammad Abu 'Ayesha, age 17, is a high school student and resident of Tel Rumeida neighborhood in Hebron. Her testimony was taken by Musa Abu Hashhash at her home, on 8 May 2005.