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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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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‘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.

The Heartbreak and Defiance of Occupation

WORT 89.9FM Madison
2023-03-12

The Heartbreak and Defiance of Occupation

At a 1979 meeting of Israel’s “Ministerial Committee for Settlement Matters in the Judea and Samaria area,” created in 1972 for the purpose of establishing new settlements in the West Bank, chairman of the committee Ariel Sharon said of the “firing zones” he moved to create in 1967, “They were all aimed at a single goal, which was to create the option of Jewish settlement in the area. … These firing zones were seized for a single purpose, which was to be our land reserves for settlement.”

In the 1980s, Israel classified most of Masafer Yatta, an area in the south Hebron Hills, as a closed “firing zone,” Firing Zone 918, for military training purposes.

In 1999 Israeli forces expelled all the residents in Masafer Yatta on the grounds that they were living there “illegally” and were not permanent residents, despite most residents having documents proving their ownership of their lands.

A few months after the expulsion, they were permitted to return “temporarily” after an interim injunction from an Israeli court, as they fought for their right to remain on their lands. They suffered under IDF training, the noise of helicopters and tanks and presence of troops on the ground, disrupted access to grazing areas, destruction of crops, anxiety and fear among children and adults, blocked roads, denial of water and electricity. But they were home.

And then in May 2022, more than 20 years after the case began, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem ruled that the residents of Masafer Yassa could be expelled.

Ali Awad, activist and journalist and resident of the village of Tuba in Masafer Yatta talked to Gil Halsted about what is happening now. Awad write for 972 Magazine and posts often on Instagram as ali_awad98.
 

Upcoming Events: March 12-16, 2023

Sunday, March 12: WORT interview with Masafer Yatta Activist
Thursday, March 16: Cindy and Craig Corrie on WORT
Thursday, March 16: Tantura Film and Discussion


 
On Sunday March 12 at 5 pm, tune into WORT’s World View program for a taped interview with Masafer Yatta activist Ali, who will discuss the current situation of Israeli army and settler attacks and Palestinian resistance there.  (The interview will be aired after the news.)

Thursday March 16, 2023 marks the 20th anniversary of the killing of Rachel Corrie in Rafah. We continue to mourn her loss and celebrate her life. We will never forget her.

Locally, we invite you to tune in to WORT Radio’s A Public Affair with host Allen Ruff at 12 noon on Thursday March 16, 89.9 FM or listen on line for a live conversation with Rachel’s parents Cindy and Craig. 

A Public Affair with host Allen Ruff
WORT 89.9 FM Madison

Live Interview with Cindy & Craig Corrie, parents of Rachel Corrie
Thursday, March 16, 2023 10-11 am PDT; Noon-1pm CDT; 1-2 pm EDT

The Corries will talk with host Allen Ruff about their daughter, 20 years of the Rachel Corrie Foundation, RCF’s kinship with the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and the foundation’s commitment to Gaza and to Palestinian rights today, as startling events continue to unfold in the region.

The hour-long program can be heard live at the WORT 89.9 FM website here. The program will be archived at the WORT 89.9 website for later listening, as well.

At 9 pm CT on March 16, we also invite you to join a zoom showing and discussion of the new film Tantura, about the 1948 massacre in that village, co-sponsored by the Rachel Corrie Foundation as part of a year-long commemoration. 

Mideast Focus Ministry 10th Annual Film Series
Break the Silence – Stories of Occupation
Tantura: Film & Discussion

Thursday – March 16, 2023, 7 pm PT

Zoom only: Register for a link to this film and discussion by requesting a link at seattlemideastfocus@gmail.com

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The theft of Harun Abu Aram’s body, home, and life

Harun was born into, paralyzed, and killed by Israel’s colonial system. The struggle to dismantle it begins in the cave where he spent his final years.


Harun Abu Aram in his village of Al-Rakeez in Masafer Yatta, West Bank. (Emily Glick)

Yuval Abraham, +972 Magazine, February 16, 2023

Harun Abu Aram is dead. For two years, he lay completely paralyzed in a dirty cave, without running water, plagued by pain. This was his life from the moment an Israeli soldier arrived in the South Hebron Hills, in the occupied West Bank, to confiscate an electric generator and shot Harun in the neck in January 2021. The army refused to allow his family to build a home for him, despite the fact that the family was on their privately-owned land, and so they were forced to live in the cave. This is what Israeli expulsions and ethnic cleansing look like in the region of Masafer Yatta.

On Tuesday morning, at 26 years old, Harun took his final breath. His mother, Farisa, who goes by the nickname Shamiya, never left his side. She bathed his immobilized body with a bucket of water. She stayed awake with him as he writhed in pain during the nights. His sisters loved him deeply, holding the phone to his face whenever relatives would call to ask about him.

I met his mother for the first time at the end of 2020, when Israeli bulldozers arrived to demolish the family home. She built it for Harun, who was meant to get married and raise a family in one of its rooms. An inspector from the Civil Administration, the military body that governs the occupied territories, berated Shamiya not to retrieve any of the family’s belongings.

The bulldozer plowed through the home with everything inside, including kitchen cabinets. Doha, Harun’s youngest sister, cried as she watched her home torn to shreds. I remember how the dust stuck to her hair, and how her mother, a proud woman, said: “They demolished, we’ll continue to build.”

Weeks later, Harun was shot after he attempted to prevent Israeli soldiers who had arrived at his village of Al-Rakeez from confiscating a communal generator.

Harun Abu Aram in his village of Al-Rakeez in Masafer Yatta, West Bank. (Emily Glick)

Harun Abu Aram in his village of Al-Rakeez in Masafer Yatta, West Bank. (Emily Glick)

‘Geographic terrorism’

The last years have seen armed soldiers aggressively trying to block Palestinian construction by confiscating their tools, often at the behest of Israeli settlers living nearby. Sometimes, settlers themselves try to stop Palestinian construction, as they reportedly did last Saturday in the town of Qarawat Bani Hassan, where they shot and killed 27-year-old Methqal Abd al-Halim Rayan. Other times, soldiers fly drones to take aerial photos and send them to the Civil Administration, whose inspectors then arrive. This is one part of Israel’s vast colonial system, one that systematically prevents Palestinians from building their homes in areas such as the South Hebron Hills.

The dreadful hum of these drones buzzed overhead during the countless times I visited Al-Rakeez, one of the smallest villages in Masafer Yatta. Drones that peered into the homes of the poor farmers, forcing them to build at night, in secret.

Harun’s killing is a result of this colonial system, and more specifically, of the sick worldview that deems Palestinian construction as a form of “terrorism,” thereby creating a pretext for the army to “counter” it with military might.

Israeli politicians like to call this the “battle for Area C.” During hearings in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at the time, Likud MK Avi Dichter referred to Palestinian building as “geographic terrorism”; right-wing MK Gideon Sa’ar argued that it will “determine the future borders of the country”; and far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich, who today serves as finance minister, said that the Israeli army is responsible for the “battle.”

Palestinian residents from the village of Al-Majaz look on as the Israeli army trains in Masafer Yatta, June 21, 2022. (Oren Ziv)

Palestinian residents from the village of Al-Majaz look on as the Israeli army trains in Masafer Yatta, June 21, 2022. (Oren Ziv)

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‘Badge of Shame for Israel’

Palestinian Shot and Paralyzed by Israeli Forces Two Years Ago Dies of Wounds


Harun Abu Aram with his father, Rasmi, at home this week. Harun was born in the very same cave where he lies now, unable to move. Credit: Alex Levac

Harun Abu Aram was shot in the neck by Israeli soldiers during a confrontation with the Israeli military in the southern West Bank in January 2021, paralyzing him. Israeli authorities refused to recognize his condition or finance his treatment

Hagar Shezaf and Jack Khoury, Haaretz, Feb 14, 2023

Twenty-five-year-old Harun Abu Aram, who was shot by Israeli military forces two years ago in the southern West Bank, died of his wounds on Tuesday morning, the Palestinian Health Ministry announced on Tuesday.

Abu Aram was shot in the neck during a confrontation with the Israeli military in the South Hebron Hills in January 2021, when soldiers tried to confiscate a generator belonging to one of his neighbors on the grounds that it was used for illegal construction. During the confrontation between soldiers and residents, caught on video, the shot that struck Abu Aram can be heard. The Israeli military initially said the incident would be investigated, later reporting that the soldier who shot Abu Aram had not intended to open fire but did so due to a “life-threatening” situation.

In a statement released in June 2021, the Israeli military said that the “investigation revealed that a violent riot unfolded, where IDF forces were attacked by a number of Palestinians who sought to obstruct IDF enforcement activity. After the Palestinians refused to evacuate the area and continued to attack IDF forces, the commander fired warning shots into the air. During the warning shots, the Palestinians continued to violently attack the commander, and one Palestinian forcibly pulled him, whilst another one seized his weapon. As a result, undirected fire struck another Palestinian who was part of the riot.”

First placed on life support in Hebron, Abu Aram was hospitalized for months before being taken home by his family. Abu Aram’s father had requested he be admitted for rehabilitation in Israel, but the Palestinian Authority refused to finance it. In the two years since Abu Aram was shot, his father had appealed to Israeli authorities to recognize his son’s injury and finance his treatment, but they had refused. Abu Aram was eventually hospitalized at a rehabilitation center in Tel Aviv with funding provided by Physicians for Human Rights, and was later treated at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, but most of his treatment was received in the West Bank.

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‘It’s our home! Why would we leave?’

How Palestinians in Masafer Yatta are resisting Israel’s expulsion attempts

Qassam Muaddi, The New Arab, 10 February 2023

In May 2022, the Israeli supreme court ended a 20-year-long legal battle by rejecting a petition, presented by the inhabitants of the 12 villages, against the military declaration of their lands and homes as a ‘firing zone’.

Desert yellow hills extend to the horizon on both sides of a narrow paved road, as thin drops of a light rain shower the front glass of the car. Small groups of dozens of one-story brick houses are scattered along the road, many of them unfinished.

“This is an Israeli road that leads to the settlement chain which separates the firing zone from the rest of the West Bank,” Ali, a 24-year-old local activist explains. “It is one of the few paved roads in this area,” he points out.

The long drive is part of an unusual journey to Masafer Yatta. An agglomeration of 12 Palestinian villages in the southern Hebron hills, extending over some 36 square kilometres.

Visitors arrive at Hebron city, from where public transportation takes them to their last accessible station; the town of Yatta, to the south. From there, locals, often activists, offer a drive to the first village in Masafer Yatta, Twani, already in area ‘C’, under strict, direct military Israeli control.

The car drives the lonely paved road past Twani up a hill, on which the industrial, almost identical houses of Israeli settlers can be seen from a distance. “We will try to reach the firing zone, where local residents are holding a protest right now against illegal Israeli settlement expansion on their lands,” notes Ali. “We hope the Israeli military will let us through their checkpoint,” he says.

Masafer Yatta - Qassam Muaddi
Masafer Yatta, a 36Km2 area in the southern Hebron hills including 12 Palestinian villages was declared a {firing zone by the Israeli army in 1980 [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

Masafer Yatta has repeatedly made headlines in recent months, mainly because of the ramp-up of Israeli demolitions against Palestinian houses and property. However, The story of Masafer Yatta began more than 40 years ago.

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Masafer Yatta Instagram Live!

Tune in to learn how you can stand in solidarity with Palestinian people as they defend Masafer Yatta from Israel’s violence. We’ll be joined by Sami Huraini, a Palestinian activist and co-founder of Youth Of Sumud / شباب صمود, based in Masafer Yatta.

Since June of 2022, the Israeli regime has been demolishing multiple homes and an elementary school for Palestinian children in Masafer Yatta. The Palestinian people in Masafer Yatta have existed and tended to their land for generations. Now, within a matter of minutes, Israeli forces could uproot the lives of nearly 1,000 Palestinian people in Masafer Yatta through demolitions, arrests, and constant attacks on their lives.

Please be sure to join us on Monday at 7:00 PM Palestine time/12:00 Noon ET to learn how you can help defend Masafer Yatta. Our collective action can and will make a difference, and it is up to us to show up for Palestinian people now and for future generations.

#DefendMasaferYatta