I sat in the Jerusalem Hotel restaurant on Sunday 27 January 2008 and read the headline in the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, "Yeshiva counselor who killed terrorists lives to tell the tale." In that article Elyakim Kovatch, the counselor who shot two intruders, used the word "terrorist" twelve times to refer to the young men he killed.
I boarded the bus for Hebron, and got off at Beit Ummar to meet the grieving families of the men whom Kovatch had shot. Cousins Mahmoud (aged 21) and Muhammed (also 21) Sabarnah had entered the library of a Yeshiva (school) at Gush Etzion settlement (adjacent to Beit Ummar) late on 24 January, wielding a knife and a handgun, according to Kovatch, and ordered those in the library to stand in a line. The Sabarnah cousins wrestled with Rafael Singer, who had pulled out a gun, and stabbed him. Kovatch then shot and killed the cousins.
I recognized Mahmoud Sabarnah's mother when she rose to greet me, eyes filled with tears. The last time I saw her she was dancing at the wedding of one of Mahmoud's cousins. I thought of how I first met members of the extended Sabarnah family in the summer of 1997 when the Israeli military issued demolition orders on their homes.
I remember that in 2000 and 2001, the early months of the Intifada, Israeli soldiers killed many from Beit Ummar along road $60 for the crime of living and walking near the road.
I remember going with members of the Sabarnah family and other Beit Ummar farmers a few years ago when the Israeli military announced they were placing a security zone around Karme Tzur settlement, in effect more than doubling the size of Karme Tzur, and confiscating the plums, grapes and olives of Beit Ummar farmers.
I visited Mahmoud Sabarnah's sister in 2002 after the Israeli military threatened her husband with home demolition if anyone threw stones from near their home or from the almond grove north of their home on road #60. I remember that shortly afterwards their six-year-old child cried when the Israeli army uprooted the almond trees.
In 2004, I stayed overnight with one of the Sabarnah families when Israeli soldiers entered their neighbour's home, forcing the family out at gunpoint, and abducting their son.
Christian Peacemaker Teams, with whom I work, opposes all weapons - carried by soldiers or civilians. But why do newspapers refer to Palestinians as terrorists when they threaten armed settlers, and not use that term when armed soldiers enter homes and terrorize unarmed families?
Suppose the occupier and the occupied changed places. The headline of the event might be "Head of Israeli terror group kills two Beit Ummar soldiers as they infiltrate terrorist cell." Or suppose instead of changing places they become equal neighbors, sharing the land with no wall between them and no weapons in their hands?
What is ahead for future Sabarnah cousins? There is a non-violence movement in Beit Ummar. Can Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals help sustain it?
(c) the author and CPT, with grateful acknowledgements.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (www.cpt.org) has a mission of "Getting in the Way" of violence and injustice. What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war? Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) seeks to enlist the whole church in organized, nonviolent alternatives to war and places teams of trained peacemakers in regions of lethal conflict.