An outbreak of violence in the occupied Palestinian territories came literally almost to the front door of the family home where state Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid (D-Bridgeview) is spending part of this summer with his family.
On two days last week, marauding Israeli settlers, angry after four settlers were shot and killed by Palestinian gunmen, according to news reports, attacked the West Bank village of Turmus Ayya, where Rashid lived for six years as a child and where his parents have a sprawling home.
“On [June 22] it was right outside our house, it was in our neighborhood,” Rashid, whose 21st District includes portions of Riverside, North Riverside and Brookfield, told the Landmark.
In the early evening of June 22, Rashid, whose family of five was staying in his parents’ house with his brother’s family, a sister and a nephew, got a text from a neighbor saying that settlers were near. His family prepared to flee the house and some were already out the door. But their plans suddenly changed when they heard gunshots.
“They were right in the street right next to my house, so we immediately changed plans, said everyone get back inside,” Rashid told the Landmark in a telephone interview from the village on June 26. “I called my parents back and they were outside — my nephews and nieces, my kids — to get back inside now,”
They quickly bolted the doors behind them and stayed away from windows until the threat subsided after young men from the village drove the settlers away. Rashid said it was a terrifying moment, especially for his three young children, the oldest of whom turns 8 this week.
“It was in that moment we didn’t know, I didn’t know, whether the settlers would come in and shoot us,” Rashid said. “That was the day after hundreds of them stormed the village and killed a young man in his 20s, torched homes and cars. Thursday was a smaller group, and villagers pushed them back. Had it been a larger group, God knows what would have happened.”
Rashid said he didn’t know exactly where the gunshots came from, but they weren’t far away.
“I don’t know how close the settlers got to my house, but the gunshots felt like they were right outside my house,” Rashid said.
Rashid said he had to have difficult conversations with his young children.
“It was absolutely heart breaking, just heart wrenching,” Rashid said. “My 7-year-old daughter talked to me and said, ‘What do we do if we get shot?’”
The first settler attack on Turmus Ayya, where Rashid’s parents grew up and still have a home they live in part of the year, occurred on June 21, immediately after the burial of a 17-year-old who was among four Israeli settlers shot and killed at a gas station the day before. After the funeral hundreds of angry settlers attacked Turmus Ayya.
The day before that attack, seven Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, had been killed during a clash with Israeli soldiers in Jenin.
The Palestinian who was killed by a settler on June 21 was married to an American citizen. Turmus Ayya, which is an area controlled by the Israeli military, is home to a large number of American citizens.
“I have many, many family members here,” Rashid said. “I have uncles and aunts who live here permanently, many relatives who live here permanently, one sister who lives here permanently.”
Fourteen members of the extended Rashid family were staying in the house last week.
Rashid was in the nearby city of Ramallah on June 21 when the first attack on the town happened. When he heard about the attack, he immediately contacted the United States embassy in Israel and has remained in contract with U.S. State Department officials.
“I’ve been keeping senior State Department officials updated on what’s happening here, and I know that they have been in touch with the Israelis. I don’t know the exact consequence of that communication between them,” Rashid said. “My hope is that our country, the U.S. government, makes it absolutely clear that there needs to be accountability for these actions, for these invasions, that the perpetrators have to be held accountable.”
Rashid said that three or four settlers have been arrested for the violence in Turmus Ayya.
“That is not justice,” Rashid said. “Will the person who murdered the young man be brought to trial? Will the arsonists be brought to trial? I’ll be honest, Palestinians do not believe that will happen at all.”
Rashid said that the attack on his town on June 21 was a complete shock.
“To invade the village in broad daylight with hundreds of people torching homes and cars and hurting villagers, this is unprecedented,” Rashid said. “There is absolutely no reason for only three or four people to be arrested.”
Rashid said that American policy towards Israel must change.
“The question I ask is, how does the United States remove obstacles to peace? And the reality is giving Israel $4 billion a year is not the way to do that,” Rashid said. “That does not help bring peace.”
In a letter sent to his Democratic colleagues in the Illinois General Assembly, Rashid said he was participating in patrols to keep his village safe.
“Every night since [June 21], I have been helping keep watch in case settlers invade again,” Rashid wrote.
Rashid and his family have been in Turmus Ayya for nearly two weeks. The family plans to stay for another couple weeks.