U.S. Senior Citizen Says Her Skull Was Fractured by Israeli Settlers

Mel Frykberg, March 27, 2023

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Courtesy Cassandra Auren
An American senior citizen allegedly suffered a potentially fatal attack in the West Bank as part of a surge in violence that has gripped the Israeli-occupied region since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power at the head of an extreme right-wing coalition.

Local residents told The Daily Beast that Israeli settlers—who are trying to take over Palestinian land—have been emboldened by the radical rhetoric and extremist policies promoted by the new government. Villagers say attacks have become a daily hazard and the Israeli police and military have done little to protect them.

An American mother of two from Wisconsin was caught up in the violence this month. Cassandra Auren, 65, was hospitalized for two days and required six stitches after she suffered a fractured skull and internal bleeding. She told The Daily Beast that she was struck on the head by an Israeli settler with a long wooden stick as she was visiting the village of Tuba in the Massafer Yatta area south of Hebron.

“The attack by the male settler, who had a small child with him, took me totally by surprise as there was no prior confrontation and no provocation on my part. It all happened so fast I had no time to think about whether my life was in danger,” said Auren, a residential carpenter who traveled to the region as a peace activist.

In a video seen by The Daily Beast, another settler armed with a metal pole chased Auren and an Italian woman who was with her.

The doctor’s report said there was a fracture and external bleeding at the site of the trauma. The CT scan showed right subdural hematoma, 3mm in thickness. And the doctor reported decreased hearing in her left ear and said that she continues to suffer from severe headaches. “When I came around my head was painful and I was dizzy.”

A video frame grab shows an Israeli settler chasing Auren.

Although the incident has shaken her badly she has continued to visit the village and remains angry that this behavior often goes unreported.

“I now understand the fear that Palestinians feel all the time, especially the women and children, because at night I also get afraid that the settlers might attack again,” said Auren.

The ancient Hebron hills—with their winding roads that snake around orchards and agricultural fields—have an unmistakable rugged beauty. Generations of Palestinians living in villages and hamlets that dot the territory have earned their living from the land here for hundreds of years. But the unspoilt views can be deceptive—they are hiding a dark side.

Ali Awad, from the village of Tuba in Massafer Yatta, told The Daily Beast that his family and all the other residents are being threatened with expulsion but their livelihoods would be destroyed and they have nowhere else to go.

“Settlers have become emboldened in the last few months and carry out nearly daily attacks on the villages. And if we complain to the police or army when they arrive, we are arrested and told that the land no longer belongs to us and that we have to leave the land,” Awad said.

Cassandra Auren’s head injury.

Last Thursday, he said a Palestinian who confronted a settler on his land was bitten in the face and teargassed while the Israeli army stood by, with residents accusing the settlers of a deliberate policy of intimidation to drive them off their land.

The daily settler attacks have been an ongoing problem for years but with Israel’s new extreme right-wing government their behavior has been given the green light.

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Wisconsin volunteer attacked in West Bank

Cassandra Dixon is helped by women from the Palestinian hamlet of Tuba, in the Masafer Yatta area of the West Bank, after she was attacked by a Jewish settler on March 7.

Ed Treleven, Wisconsin State Journal, March 27, 2023

Cassandra Dixon’s work as a volunteer in the Israeli-occupied West Bank puts her in an area where tensions between Palestinians who live in the region and Israeli settlers run high. 

She and other international volunteers are in the region, she said, to monitor and document attacks on Palestinians by settlers, which have become more common in recent months. Three weeks ago, Dixon herself was attacked by a settler and sustained a serious head injury.

Dixon, 64, is a Stevens Point native who works as a carpenter in Madison but lives between Wisconsin Dells and Oxford at a place called Mary House, which provides lodging for low-income people who are visiting incarcerated family members at the Federal Correctional Institution at Oxford.

She said that on March 7, she was in the far southern West Bank hamlet of Tuba, part of a collection of Palestinian hamlets called Masafer Yatta that was the subject of a monumental decision last year by the Israeli Supreme Court that ordered the eviction of as many as 1,500 Palestinians from lands in the area, so Israel could establish a firing zone for military exercises. 

Settlers have also been establishing settlements and outposts in the area, disrupting crops grown by Palestinian shepherds during the region’s short spring growing season to feed their flocks. Settlers have been hostile to Palestinians and attacked some who pass through the settlements, Dixon said, including schoolchildren whose route to school takes them through settlement areas. 

Dixon said she was standing on the outskirts of Tuba, where she had been visiting friends, and was watching a settler with a flock of sheep when four other settlers were spotted running nearby. 

As Dixon and a companion approached a hill, she said, one of the settlers appeared at the top of the hill, wearing a mask and waving a pointed metal pipe. He and the settler who was tending sheep, who had a stick, began running toward Dixon and the companion. They tried to run but Dixon was struck hard from behind on the right side of her head, hard enough to knock her off her feet.

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Israelis, welcome to BDS

Though not named as such, BDS tactics have been central to Israel’s anti-government protests. And the hypocrisy is not lost on Palestinians.

Israeli protesters clash with police on horseback while blocking Ayalon Highway during an anti-government demonstration, March 16, 2023. (Oren Ziv)
Israeli protesters clash with police on horseback while blocking Ayalon Highway during an anti-government demonstration, March 16, 2023. (Oren Ziv)

Amjad Iraqi, +972 Magazine, March 19, 2023

This article originally appeared in “The Landline,” +972’s weekly newsletter. Subscribe here.

It took only two months for Israelis to shatter one of their biggest political taboos in the fight against the far-right government. Riled by the coalition’s relentless power trip, Jewish opposition parties have pledged not to participate in the Knesset’s final votes on legislation aimed at overhauling the judiciary. Israeli diplomats and envoys are quitting their posts in protest. Army reservists are objecting to service en masse, affecting every unit from combat troops to the air force. Tech companies and venture capital firms are relocating abroad and transferring out hundreds of millions of dollars. Artists, writers, and intellectuals are calling on world leaders to shun meetings with senior Israeli officials, including the prime minister.

None of these groups will admit it, but this is, by all accounts, one of the most impressive BDS campaigns ever witnessed.

In the topsy-turvy Israel of today, boycotts, divestments, and sanctions — though not explicitly named as such — have become central strategies of the Israeli protest movement. Large swathes of society are not just distancing themselves from the government’s agenda, but are actively pursuing nationwide disruption and international intervention to stop it. The economy, security, and day-to-day life are all necessary sacrifices in the name of saving “democracy.” At this scale, the movement has gone beyond merely ending public complicity; it is, in effect, a civil revolt.

Ironically, these methods of civil resistance are being encouraged by figures who spent years undermining those who used them. Yair Lapid, the Knesset opposition leader and former prime minister, is continuing to call for mass demonstrations and strikes, and has urged municipalities not to cooperate with certain government ministry units, later describing such political expression as part of Israelis’ “deep democratic instinct.” This is the same Lapid who accused Israeli anti-occupation groups of “subversion” for exposing military abuses; oversaw the outlawing of Palestinian human rights NGOs as “terrorists”; and demanded American anti-BDS laws be used to punish the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s for not selling products in illegal West Bank settlements, blasting the divestment as a “shameful surrender to antisemitism.”

Activists carry a BDS banner during a protest calling for the liberation of Palestine and to protest the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, Paris, May 22, 2021. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)
Activists carry a BDS banner during a protest calling for the liberation of Palestine and to protest the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, Paris, May 22, 2021. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Israel’s own anti-boycott law, enacted in 2011, now technically hovers over all these new dissidents, enabling any citizen to sue the protesters for causing “financial or reputational harm” to the state and other entities under its control. The Israeli Supreme Court — the institution that the protest movement has been fighting so hard to defend — enthusiastically approved the anti-democratic law in 2015, calling boycotts a form of “political terror,” “bigoted, dishonest, and shameful,” and an attempt to “annihilate” the Jewish state. Israeli politicians, including from the center and center-left, saw the price tag on civil rights as necessary not just to stifle Palestinians, but to deter Jewish Israelis from boycotting the settlements. Now, if the right chooses so, the anti-government movement could be made to pay a literal price for its sedition.

‘We told you so’

The cognitive dissonance of this moment is not lost on Palestinians. In the two decades since the BDS movement was launched, Palestinians and their allies have been smeared, censored, and attacked for calling on citizens, companies, and governments to use nonviolent tactics to pressure Israel into ending its human rights abuses. Its demands, explicitly rooted in international law, are to achieve equality for Palestinians in Israel, end military rule in the occupied territories, and allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland — basic rights which, in any other country, would not be so controversial.

However, far from even respecting the right to challenge Israel, BDS has been aggressively denounced as “counterproductive” at best and “antisemitic” at worst. A slew of U.S. and European laws and policies are effectively criminalizing the movement and defining it as a form of racism. Even liberal American Jewish groups — some of whom entertain the idea of conditioning military aid to Israel, and last week called for revoking the visa of Israel’s finance minister — still adamantly insist that they neither support nor participate in the BDS movement.

URGENT! Stand with Masafer Yatta today!

MRSCP has decided to join in an emergency campaign sponsored by Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) and Stop the Wall Coalition to provide emergency shelter and schools for the families of Masafer Yatta in the South Hebron hills area.

You will hear more from us in the coming week about our portion of the campaign, and about the experiences of MRSCP member Cassandra Dixon who is currently in the area.

MECA has a deadline of March 31 to raise $25,000 to begin the work and we want to encourage all our supporters to give what you can now.

As always, we thank you for your support.

They can demolish our houses, schools, and clinics but they can’t destroy these caves nor our determination to keep steadfast until we have achieved justice and freedom.
— Abu Mahmoud of Masafer Yatta

Dear Madison-Rafah,

I’m sure, like all of us at MECA, you have watched in horror these last few months as Israeli settler and military violence gets more severe and more widespread every day.

Give now for emergency shelter & schools for the families of Masafer Yatta.

Meanwhile, the people in the villages of Masafer Yatta of have suffered some of the worst abuses of Israeli Apartheid. The Israeli government designated Masafer Yatta as a “military zone.” The government and illegal settlers are intent on expelling the Palestinian families who have lived there for hundreds of years.

Last year, after an Israeli court order, bulldozers entered several of the small, rural communities in Masafer Yatta, smashing homes, clinics, and schools to rubble.

While Israeli leaders and US politicians alike watch—even encourage and support—Israeli violence there IS something you can do now to support the people of Masafer Yatta who are steadfast in defending their land and fierce in their commitment to the education of their children.

Masfer Yatta has two very significant resources. They have natural caves which, with your support now, will be turned into homes and schools. They also have the solidarity of people like you who stand against the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Your contribution to MECA now for our joint campaign with Stop the Wall will help to renovate 36 caves to create homes and schools in Masafer Yatta and provide 10 tents and 10 electricity generators as temporary shelter in case of demolition.

This is part of the Defend Masafer Yatta Campaign, and the goal is to raise an initial $25,000 by March 31 to begin the work. Please give the most you can afford today.

Shukran (Thank you),

Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch
Executive Director

P.S. The Defend Masafer Yatta Campaign must eventually raise a total of $70,000 to complete the renovation of caves for homes and schools.  Please make the most generous contribution you can now to start this work immediately and support the steadfastness of the people of Masafer Yatta. Many thanks.

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I Witnessed a Shocking Attack on Palestinian Civilians

What I Saw May Be a Sign of What’s to Come

Mourners march with the body of Abdel Fatah Hussein Khroushah, a 49-year-old Palestinian who was killed and was accused of killing two Israeli settlers in the Palestinian town of Huwara on Feb. 26. The funeral was held the Askar camp for Palestinian refugees east of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on March 8. (Zain Jaafar/AFP—Getty Images)
Mourners march with the body of Abdel Fatah Hussein Khroushah, a 49-year-old Palestinian who was killed and was accused of killing two Israeli settlers in the Palestinian town of Huwara on Feb. 26. The funeral was held the Askar camp for Palestinian refugees east of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on March 8. (Zain Jaafar/AFP—Getty Images)

Rula Salameh, Time, March 18, 2023

Salameh is the Education & Outreach Director of Just Vision

Israeli settlers thronged my car as I drove slowly ahead, hands shaking. I tried to reassure my colleague Eman, who lay on the back seat floor. She began muttering a prayer for protection. Heart racing, I hoped that Eman was well-hidden, and that my Israeli license plates would hide our identity. If the settlers realized we’re Palestinian, we might be their first victims.

On Feb. 26, 2023 at approximately 9:00 am, I parked my car in the northern West Bank village of Huwara, close to Nablus, then headed with Eman to organize a film screening in a village further north, as part of my work as Just Vision’s Palestine Education and Outreach Director. At 2:00 pm, I learned that a Palestinian man killed two Israeli settlers, brothers, in a shooting ambush in Huwara. This shooting took place against a backdrop of increasing violence in recent weeks, including Israeli military raids in Nablus and Jenin in which 21 Palestinians were killed.

Once I heard the news, I told Eman that we needed to immediately head back to my car and drive home to Jerusalem. If tensions escalated and the area was locked down, I didn’t want to be trapped in Nablus, unable to return to our families.

The first three taxi drivers flat-out refused to take us. The Israeli army had closed the roads to and from Huwara, and Israeli settlers were calling for a large demonstration that evening in retaliation. It was too dangerous, they explained. The fourth finally agreed, winding through villages to avoid the main road. As we neared Huwara, the driver pointed out Israeli settlers climbing the distant hills, wisps of smoke visible. Shouts in Arabic rose up. Perhaps they were calls for help? I couldn’t hear clearly.

I was witnessing the beginning of one of the most shocking attacks on Palestinian civilians from Israeli settlers in recent years—one in which a 37-year-old Palestinian man was murdered, 350 more injured, and dozens of homes and cars smashed and torched. This pogrom on Huwara was far from isolated. Settlers, backed by the Israeli military, have attacked Palestinians communities for years, violence which has been rapidly spiraling. But the assault on Huwara may prove to be a terrifying harbinger of new levels of violence yet to come. Indeed, on March 1, 2023, Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for the entire town of Huwara to be wiped out and three days later, a group of settlers pledged to do just that.

Daylight was fading by 5:55 pm as we reached my car—the news reporting that Israeli settlers were already gathering on the road ahead. Eman is easily identifiable as Muslim in her headscarf; I told her to lie down on the backseat floor of my car and began to drive, managing to convince an Israeli soldier at the temporary checkpoint erected at Huwara’s entrance to let me pass. All around me, Israeli settlers parked cars and mini-buses in the middle of the road and then proceeded on foot, swelling in volume, and shouting angrily as they streamed past me.

I knew I couldn’t rely on the handful of Israeli soldiers that I saw for protection; they were standing around, or, for reasons I could not ascertain, taking photographs of the settlers. The Palestinian homes I could see from the road were dark and silent. I wished I could do something to protect the families inside, who I imagined huddled in fear, awaiting attack.

By 6:20 pm, Huwara was behind me. Eman and I were headed south toward Ramallah. But even once out of the fray, the smell of burning cars filled my nostrils and rage-filled Hebrew shouts lingered in the air. The street lights were dark. The settlers casually strewing their vehicles across the road came to mind. The settlers controlled these roads.

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“A Closed, Burnt Huwara”

How Israeli Settlers Launched A Pogrom

With Israeli politicians constantly fanning the rhetorical flames, last month’s violence—and actual arson—didn’t exactly come as a surprise.

Smoke and flames rise after Israeli settlers went on a rampage in the West Bank town of Huwara, setting fire to several homes and cars and injuring dozens of Palestinians, on February 27, 2023.
Smoke and flames rise after Israeli settlers went on a rampage in the West Bank town of Huwara, setting fire to several homes and cars and injuring dozens of Palestinians on February 27, 2023. (Hisham K. K. Abu Shaqra / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Fatima AbdulKarim, The Nation, March 16, 2023

    EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was produced in collaboration with +972 Magazine and Local Call, two media outlets run by Palestinian and Israeli journalists.

He lives right next to the station in central Nablus city, in the northern occupied West Bank, and within minutes he paired with ambulance driver Yaser Antar and was on the move.

They were responding to a call for an elderly man whose health deteriorated at the same time and place as the shooting of two Israeli settlers traveling on the main road in the Palestinian town of Huwara, just outside Nablus. The Israeli army had already sealed the area off after the Palestinian shooter had fled, preventing the entry of the ambulance.

“We reached the elderly man by foot, but we asked the army for protection,” said Hawah, who found that the man’s condition had improved. “The tension and the hatred was very clear, and we knew we would not be safe.”

In recent months, Huwara—where the Israeli army is in charge of security while the Palestinian Authority is responsible for civil affairs—has become a site of regular friction between Israeli settlers and Palestinians, who both use the town’s main road. Israeli soldiers have frequently been documented standing by or protecting settlers during attacks on Palestinian residents, which tend to increase in the aftermath of attacks on Israelis across the West Bank.

Understanding the intensity of the situation and the likelihood of settler violence in the area, a second ambulance was sent off by the PRCS minutes later to the same location with another two paramedics, Khalil Qadoumi and Khaled Be’ara.

Qadoumi, a 35-year-old father of two young children, had known Hawah from their teenage years, before the pair started training together two years ago. But nothing could have prepared the four-person medical team for the situation it would be forced to respond to in Huwara that evening.

“We arrived into Huwara through dirt roads off the main street, because the army did not let us through,” Qadoumi told The Nation. By the time they got there, “flames were coming out of the cars that were blowing up in the garage that had been set on fire on the main street.”

In what came to be known as the “Huwara pogrom”—a reference to Tsarist Russia’s organized mob violence against Jews—as many as 400 Israeli settlers rampaged through the town as retribution for the killing of the two Israeli men.

Over the course of several hours the settlers burned dozens of cars and over 35 houses—many with families inside them that had to be rescued. One man was killed and at least 390 others injured that night, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Continue reading

Upcoming Events: March 21 – April 1, 2023

Tuesday, March 21: No Way to Treat a Child Webinar
Tuesday, March 21: Another chance to watch film Boycott online
Tuesday, March 21: Ground the F35s Online Capitol Calling Party
Friday, March 24: Film Theaters of War: How the Pentagon & CIA Took Hollywood
Fri-Sun, March 24-26: Anti-Militarism, Ground the F35s Conference
Saturday, March 25: Online World-Wide Rally Against the Yemen War 
Sunday, March 26: Settler Impunity in Hawara Webinar
Thursday, March 30: Land Day Film: 1948 Creation and Catastrophe
Sat-Sun, April 1-2: International Festival at Overture

Recordings of the Week: WORT Radio
The Heartbreak and Defiance of Occupation: World View interviews Ali Awad from Masafer Yatta; (30 minutes); and
A Public Affair interview with Cindy and Craig Corrie on the 20th anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s killing in Rafah (55 minutes) 
(See also this excellent article about the long struggle for justice for Rachel.)

Action of the Week: This Ramadan and always:


Tuesday, March 21:
No Way to Treat a Child Webinar
11 AM Central Time
From the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC):

We’re anticipating the introduction of new U.S. legislation advocating for Palestinian children’s rights. This webinar will help advocates prepare. The training will equip you with the skills to understand and explain legislation, the U.S.-Israel relationship, and how the U.S. funds Israeli violations of Palestinian rights. More info and registration here.

Tuesday, March 21:
Online Screening of film Boycott
3 pm Central Time
Fellowship of Reconciliation is offering a free screening of the film Boycott, including a post-film discussion with Julia Bacha, Just Vision’s Creative Director and Boycott Director. Register here for this zoom session.

Continue reading

20 years later: Remembering Rachel Corrie

WORT 89.9FM Madison

Twenty years ago today, on March 16, 2003, word came to us that our daughter Rachel had been killed in Gaza. She had been run over by an Israeli military-operated and U.S. made and funded Caterpillar D9R bulldozer, as she stood to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home in Rafah. Members of the family watched the bulldozer approach through a hole in their garden wall.

Our family’s journey without Rachel, but with her spirit large in our lives, began on that day.
—excerpt from a letter from Rachel Corrie’s parents

Cindy and Craig Corrie join us on A Public Affair to share their daughters story and tell us how they continue to fight for justice and peace in Palestine and the middle east. More information about Rachel and the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Justice and Peace can be found here: rachelcorriefoundation.org

‘Who hits a 64-year-old woman with a bat?’

Cassandra Auren, an American peace activist, was visiting the Palestinian village of Tuba when settlers attacked her with a bat and fractured her skull.

Yuval Abraham, +972 Magazine, March 13, 2023

Cassandra Auren seen following a settler attack in the village of Tuba in the South Hebron Hills, West Bank, March 7, 2023.Cassandra Auren seen following a settler attack in the village of Tuba in the South Hebron Hills, West Bank, March 7, 2023.

In partnership with
A 64-year-old American citizen was attacked last Tuesday by a group of masked settlers in the South Hebron Hills of the occupied West Bank. Cassandra Auren, a peace activist from Wisconsin, was standing with an Italian activist on land that belongs to the residents of the Palestinian village Tuba, when a group of settlers from a nearby outpost, Havat Ma’on, ran toward them. Auren said that one of the attackers stood behind her, and as she was turning to face him, he hit her in the head with a weapon that she described as looking “like a baseball bat.” She immediately passed out from the blow and was hospitalized with a fractured skull and internal bleeding in her head.

Tuba is an unrecognized village in the Masafer Yatta region of the South Hebron Hills. Like other villages in the area, it is slated for demolition, and its residents, who suffer routinely from harassment by settlers and soldiers, are prevented from building or using infrastructure. Long before the demolition and expulsion orders were issued, and green lit by the Supreme Court, residents were routinely denied building permits and any ability to develop the hamlet. Residents also report that, in recent weeks, settlers from Havat Ma’on have been coming to the village to graze their sheep on Palestinian land, destroying the village crops.

Auren said she came to Masafar Yetta out of a sense of responsibility. “[The United States] sends so much support money to Israel,” she explained, “but without knowing how it is being used to violently push Palestinians from their land. This is money that the U.S. gives with no parameters.”

Auren contacted the U.S. Embassy about the incident, which confirmed to +972 that an American citizen had been attacked near Tuba, and that the Embassy was providing her with assistance. “These settlers come and hit a 64-year-old woman from Wisconsin with a big bat. Who does that?” she said during our conversation. “And in a place where people live, so close to the village. If this had been my home, [it would be as if the attack was] occurring in my driveway. It’s shocking to me that that kind of violence happens so close to where someone lives. Children have to travel that exact path in order to get to their school.”

Cassandra Oren. (Courtesy)Cassandra Auren.

“I have tended to this land with my family ever since I was a child,” said Ali Awad, a local resident, +972 contributor, and one of the victims of the settler attacks. “This is my grandfather’s land. We have never faced anything like this. Suddenly these settlers are coming. They are a group of shepherds from Havat Ma’on who for three weeks have been coming in every day with their flock to destroy our agriculture.”

Israeli authorities have yet to make any arrests for the assault. A police spokesperson told +972 that the police opened an investigation, which is still ongoing. According to Yesh Din, an anti-occupation organization that monitors settler violence in the West Bank, between 2005-2022, police closed 92 percent of cases of settler attacks on Palestinians without filing any indictments.

Correction: An original version of this article used a misspelling of Cassandra Auren’s last name. 

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.