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.
“We were just taking a look at the morning when that happened,” she said. “If you’re asking why this happened, I can’t tell you that.”
She was knocked unconscious and awoke to blood coming from her nose and left ear. Her companion accompanied her into Tuba, where women in the hamlet assisted her. From there she was driven to a clinic and was told a CT scan was needed, so she went to a hospital in Yatta and then to one in Hebron, a large Palestinian city about 20 miles south of Jerusalem.
The scan found she had a skull fracture, small bleeds in her brain and in a protective layer over her brain, along with a broken eardrum. Her head wound required six stitches to close. She remained at the hospital overnight.
“I’m doing really a lot better,” Dixon said by internet phone from Israel last week. “I had fantastic medical care. I think I’m really lucky. (The doctor) said I was lucky to have such a hard head.”
Dixon reported the attack to Israeli police, who she said at first were more interested in what she was doing in the West Bank, who she had been with, when she arrived and when she planned to leave. Their position, she said, was that nobody gets attacked for no reason, and they wanted to know what Dixon did to provoke such an attack.
The police investigation may have been due to pressure from the U.S. Consulate, which was asked to look into the incident by the office of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison. Dixon said at least a dozen people contacted Baldwin’s office asking that the State Department act. Those contacts, she said, are “making a difference.”
“We can confirm that the victim of the attack in Tuba was a U.S. citizen,” a State Department spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “The Embassy has been in contact with her and is providing all appropriate consular assistance. The Department of State has no greater priority than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad. We reiterate that extremist violence by settlers is unacceptable, and we are deeply disturbed by this reported attack against a U.S. citizen. We urge a full investigation into the incident, and accountability under the law for the perpetrator.”
Late last week, Israeli prosecutors issued an indictment against the settler charging him with aggravated intentional damage. Earlier, Dixon said she was told the settler has “admitted to having been there but not to the actual attack.”
She said she has a ticket to head back to the U.S. on Tuesday, but it’s likely she’ll remain in Israel until the suspect in the attack makes an initial appearance in court. She added that it’s important for settlers to face legal consequences for violence, to discourage its spread.
While her experience was difficult, she said, it’s “nothing compared to what it’s like for Palestinians when they report similar crimes.”
Cassandra Dixon a day before she was attacked, talking with one of the children who walks to school from the hamlet of Tuba to the village of Tuwani in the southern West Bank region.
Dixon spends time in Palestinian areas of Israel, she said, in part to tell others about the plight of Palestinians who are losing their homes to Israeli settlements.
“I feel that we fund Israel enormously,” she said, and that people in the U.S. should see for themselves how some of that money is spent.
In the past, Dixon had visited the area with Christian Peacemakers, but said she was there this time on her own. International volunteers, she said, are there to learn about and document things that are happening in the area. Dixon also regularly volunteers in the Masafer Yatta area with Operation Dove, a humanitarian project based in Italy.
On the day she was attacked, Dixon said, she was fortunate to be with someone who had a car who could drive through settlement areas to reach medical help, rather than take a terrible, sometimes impassable, road to avoid settlements that would have taken much longer.
“I could have really been there with no way to the hospital with a head wound,” she said.
As a result of the May 2022 decision that prompted demolition orders in Palestinian villages, many are losing their homes and livelihoods, she said, also calling the evacuation “ethnic cleansing.”
“The area is facing erasure right now,” Dixon said. “The people have nowhere to go. This is their land. This is their everything.”
State Journal reporter Chris Rickert contributed to this report.
“The area is facing erasure right now. The people have nowhere to go. This is their land. This is their everything.”