Rising Violence In The West Bank

A Conversation With Cassandra Dixon And Ali Awad


On March 7th, Cassandra Dixon, a peace activist from Wisconsin, was attacked by Israeli settlers while visiting and volunteering in the Masafer Yatta area of the West Bank. She was struck in the heard resulting in a fractured skull and concussion. At the time she was with Ali Awad on his grandfather’s land. Ali and his family has been the victim of violence from Israeli settlers in attempt to remove them from the land.

Cassandra Dixon joins us into the studio and Ali Awad joins us by phone from the West Bank.

More information about the incident can be found on the Madison-Rafah website. Cassandra and Ali were also featured on the podcast Occupied Thoughts.

Ali Awad is journalist and activist from the village of Tuba in Masafer Yatta. He is co-founder of the new media project Humans of Masafer Yatta.

Cassandra Dixon is a residential carpenter in Madison, Wisconsin and lives near Wisconsin Dells at a Catholic Worker house that provides hospitality to low income women, and families visiting a loved one at a nearby federal prison. She is also a founder of Palestine Partners.

Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

Interview with Cassandra on WORT’s World View, April 16, 2023

A brave humanitarian: Tom Hurndall remembered 20 years on

Tom Hurndall, Youth Of Sumud

Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, 11th April 2023

Tom Hurndall was 21-years-old when, twenty years ago today, he was shot in the head while trying to rescue a small child in Gaza. Tom lay in a coma for eight months, until his passing on 13 January 2004.

Tom is an enduring inspiration for all of us. So too is Tom’s mother, Jocelyn, who is always incredibly encouraging, perceptive, kind, incisive and caring. We are extremely grateful to have her truly inspiring support as a Trustee of LPHR.

Twenty years on, we acutely know that Gaza is still a small piece of occupied territory in this world – now subject to an intensive closure for the past fifteen years – where children are at substantial risk of grave harm. Many hundreds of children have been killed in Gaza, and across Palestine, in the two decades since Tom was killed.

Tom’s profound courage to rescue a young child whilst putting his own life in danger, reminds us that we must do all we can to soon reach a time when children in Palestine no longer need to fear being killed by a soldier’s live-fire or a military bombardment.

We must strive to rapidly reach a time when a child in Palestine no longer needs to be rescued by a brave humanitarian.

In honour of Tom, and all young lives lost far too soon, we will seek to do all we can – together with others – to accomplish this.

Cassandra is Back from Palestine!

MRSCP member and Palestine Partners founder Cassandra Dixon is home safe and (mostly) sound from the Masafer Yatta area of the West Bank after being seriously injured in a settler attack. (Check out this podcast.)

This week you have three chances to hear from her:

First, on Sunday April 16 starting at 5 pm, a taped interview with Cassandra will be aired on WORT Radio’s World View show. Listen at 89.9 FM or live on line; the segment will air in the second half of the hour, and will be archived for later listening.

Second, on Thursday, April 20 from 12 noon – 1 pm, Cassandra and Massafer Yatta activist Ali Awad will be interviewed live on WORT’s call-in show A Public Affair with host Allen Ruff. Again, listen (and call in with your questions) live at 89.9 FM or online, and the show will be archived.

Third, on Sunday, April 23 from 2-4 pm, you are invited to Cassandra’s thank-you event in appreciation of all the support she received from folks here in Wisconsin while she was in Palestine:


There is no admission charge, although we will be soliciting support for Cassandra’s expenses and also for our new humanitarian project in the the Masafer Yatta area (See below).

We look forward to seeing you.


Support Palestinians in Masafer Yatta

“We are staying here, herding our sheep and cultivating our land. Nothing will uproot us from our land.” —Jaber Dbabseh, Masafer Yatta

Two Hundred Fifteen Palestinian families in Masafer Yatta, near the southern border of the West Bank in Palestine, are asking us to help them resistforced expulsion from their lands. Israeli authorities have delivered  demolition orders for ALL of their above ground structures, including homes, schools, agricultural buildings and energy and water installations. These demolitions are already underway.

Stop the Wall and the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) have responded to requests from these families to assist in transforming existing caves on their lands into livable environments. They have launched a campaign to purchase cement, tile, cooking and heating stoves and reinforced front doors, as well as tents and generators for temporary use after the the imminent demolitions. 

Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP) has decided to raise the $2,000 needed to renovate one cave space. We hope you will join us in supporting this campaign.


About 2,000 Palestinians, more than half of them children, live in 13 Palestinian villages in Masafer Yatta. Their forced expulsion by Israel would be the largest since 1967. 

The area was seized by Israel in 1979 for the creation of “Firing zone 918”. Classified documents have recently shown that these firing zones — which now take up roughly 18% of the West Bank — were created in order to take large tracts of Palestinian land using false claims of “national security”.

The villages have fought orders for their removal in Israeli courts for decades, but the Israeli high court has now denied their final appeal and Israeli forces have already demolished schools and homes.  Primary students in Sfai have seen their school demolished twice in recent months.

Many residents of Masafer Yatta arrived in the area as refugees after being driven from their original villages in1948. After Israeli soldiers forced 700 civilians onto trailers and demolished their homes in 1979, many returned to their lands and their flocks of sheep and goats. Since then they have waged a legal battle for the right to stay, and have resisted repeated demolitions of their homes, roads, schools, wells and agricultural buildings by Israel.  They suffer frequent Israeli army live fire exercises that leave their land scattered with spent ammunition, their crops destroyed by tanks and military vehicles, and their children and animals terrified by gunfire and low flying helicopters.

Meanwhile illegal Israeli settlements and outposts have expanded, seizing more and more Palestinian land and subjecting shepherds and schoolchildren to violent attacks and intimidation. Two Israeli outposts in the area (Avigayil and Asahel), illegal under both Israeli and international law, have recently been recognized by Israel as settlements giving hundreds of settlers the right to remain in the firing zone even as Palestinians whose land they have already stolen face imminent forced expulsion.

Continue reading

“Escalating Violence in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank”

A letter to President Biden and Secretary Blinken from Bernie Sanders, Jamaal Bowman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Summer Lee, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, Betty McCollum, André Carson, and Ayanna Pressley

Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Jamaal Bowman
(Photos: Sheila Fitzgerald and lev radin via shutterstock.com)


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.

As the settlers expropriate more and more land, Palestinian children who used to travel to school in the nearby hamlet of At-Tuwani have been forced to take circuitous routes, accompanied by an Israeli military escort to avoid settlers from the nearby Israeli outpost of Havat Maon attacking them.

“Sometimes the Israeli soldiers show up and sometimes they don’t, it depends on their mood,” said Awad, a local journalist.

Continue reading

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.

“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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

My hands still shook the next morning, and for nights afterward, I had trouble sleeping. What haunted me most was that my community was under attack, and all I could do was drive away. Though settlers can and do assault my people with near impunity, if I had attempted to defend them, I would have likely been arrested or killed.

I couldn’t intercede in Huwara—but what I can do is call on people of conscience in the international community, particularly U.S. citizens, whose government consistently shields Israel and funds them an annual 3.8 billion dollars, to pressure their representatives to stop supporting Israel until it ends its military occupation. At the very least, the U.S. must pressure Israel to halt settlement expansion in compliance with international law. The U.S. State Department called the pogrom “completely unacceptable” and condemned Smotrich’s comment as “repugnant.” Palestinians have listened despairingly to empty rhetoric from successive U.S. administrations for years. Until words are followed by meaningful action, the U.S. holds some measure of accountability for each home and car engulfed in flames.

Responsibility for this unhinged violence also lies with the wider Israeli community. The current government, the most racist and extreme in Israel’s history, were voted into power by over two million Israelis. Thousands of Israelis are demonstrating against that government, true, but the vast majority of them are protesting the erosion of Israeli democracy, not the escalating violence directed towards Palestinians.

What unfolded in Huwara may point to levels of horrors yet to come. And yet, I found a sliver of hope in the torched cars. The rampage was intended to destroy lives and property, to crush our spirit and resistance. Instead, it kindled a unity among all Palestinians that I have not felt in decades. Politicians and civil society actors alike put aside political rifts and came together in the aftermath of the devastation. Families all over the West Bank provided shelter to people whose homes were destroyed. Palestinians of every political stripe are calling for freedom, dignity, and basic rights.

What I experienced that day was a fraction of what the residents of Huwara went through, and of what Palestinian families undergo daily living under brutal military occupation. It will take time to repair the damage and to heal. But our determination to be free and unified in our homeland has only been strengthened.

TIME Ideas hosts the world’s leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.

Continue reading