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What Happened in Taybeh?
September 21, 2005

The small town of Taybeh, located a few miles outside of Ramallah, was recently attacked by a mob from the neighboring town of Deir Jarir.  The report below is based on news accounts and conversations we have had with friends in Taybeh, eyewitnesses to the event in question. 

For ten years, a Muslim woman named Hiyam from the village of Deir Jarir had been working at a sewing shop in Taybeh owned by a Christian man named Mahadi Khourieh.  Thirty-two years old, unmarried and pregnant, Hiyam was found dead from poison on Wednesday, August 31, 2005.  According to her family, she committed suicide rather than bring the shame of a child out of wedlock on her family.  It is likely, however, that her family forced her to take her own life.  The family accused Mahadi Khourieh of being the father, a charge he denied. 

On Friday and Saturday, September 2 and 3, the elders of Taybeh went to Deir Jarir to ask for a period of hudna (quiet) while the matter was being investigated.  The elders of Deir Jarir refused. 

At 10 pm on Saturday, hundreds of young men from Deir Jarir arrived in Taybeh.  They set fire to Mahadi Khourieh's home, as well as those belonging to other members of his extended family.  All in all, seven houses (home to fourteen families) were torched, but no one was harmed.  The families had fled earlier, expecting some kind of retaliation after the calls for hudna failed. 

Residents of Taybeh began calling authorities to intervene - Palestinian, Israeli, and American (several residents of Taybeh are dual citizens).  The Israelis arrived first in three jeeps, after the first house had been torched, and watched.  They did not intervene.  The Palestinian police, coming from Ramallah, had to pass through an Israeli checkpoint to arrive in Taybeh.  They were held at the checkpoint for three hours.  The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem persistently called the Israeli military to allow the police to pass through, an intervention that may have facilitated their eventual passage to Taybeh. 

The Palestinian police arrived after midnight and dispersed the crowd, arresting 13 of the young men from Deir Jarir.  Major Taybeh institutions, including the three churches, the Taybeh Beer Brewery, and the ruins of the ancient al-Khader church, were untouched. 

On Sunday, September 4, the mayor of Ramallah came to Taybeh to investigate.  Mahadi Khourieh confessed to an affair, but denied being the father.  The elders of Taybeh again went to Deir Jarir to ask for another hudna because of the confession.  Elders of other villages, including the mayor of Ramallah, were present.  These community leaders all condemned the acts of mob violence in Taybeh.  The hudna was agreed to with the following stipulations:

After the six-month period of hudna, the two villages, with support from neighboring communities, will begin the work of sulha (reconciliation).  In the meantime, police patrols have remained as needed in Taybeh and the Palestinian Authority has "put all its weight" into solving the conflict, according to Taybeh's Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Ra'ed Abusahlia. 

The incident itself bears a closer look to understand what is at stake. 

Taybeh is the only completely Christian town in the West Bank, and consequently many immediately assume that this attack was an Islamic anti-Christian pogrom.  Some newspapers (including the Jerusalem Post) have reported this as fact.  If this had been a pogrom, however, one would have expected that the churches would be torched.  As Fr. Ra'ed has said, "The reaction of the people of Deir Jarir would probably have been the same, had the man not been a Christian." Indeed, some Palestinian tribal conflicts among co-religionists have raged for months before calm is restored.  In this case, swift condemnation of the mob by other villages in the area, the immediate conflict intervention by these villages, the city of Ramallah, and the Palestinian Authority - all predominantly Muslims - meant that quiet returned in a mere two days. 

And yet, the attack has sent nervous shockwaves through Palestinian Christian communities in the Occupied Territories.  Some feel the attack is connected to the rise in Islamic militancy in Palestinian society.  The centrality of religious identity in Middle Eastern culture, coupled with a rise in Islamic extremism and religiously inciteful language from the West, emphasize that the potential religious consequences of this incident should not be ignored. 

In the end, the mob violence in Taybeh evidences the vulnerability felt by minority communities and of the ominous power majority cultures wields.  To paraphrase Maria Khoury, wife of Taybeh's mayor, "Muslims attacked us and Muslims saved us." Whether the lines are drawn by race or religion, class or culture, minority existence is tenuous. 

Honor Crime
According to the Palestinian constitution, sex and pregnancy outside of marriage are not illegal, even between Christians and Muslims.  Unfortunately, in such situations, people often still take matters into their own hands, regardless of the law.  Hiyam was likely forced to drink poison by her family to return the family's "honor." At this point it appears that there will be no investigation of her death to see if it was murder, and it is unlikely that there will be any accountability for those responsible.  Sadly, Hiyam is not alone.  In May, 2005, a Palestinian Christian family in Ramallah carried out an "honor killing" of their daughter for an affair with a young Muslim man.  Palestinian society, like many around the world, still has a long way to go to guarantee women's rights. 

The situation for women in Palestine, however, is not one of suffocating Taliban-style oppression that many in the U.S. assume.  Women play key roles in society.  During our time there, we met women lawyers, professors, doctors.  Many sectors of Palestinian society strive openly and commendably to raise the issue of women's rights.  Ingrained customs and assumptions, however, are difficult to change.  Unfortunately, until more progress is made in Palestine and other societies, young women like Hiyam will continue to pay a tragic price. 

Rule of Law
In a society where the power of a centralized Palestinian Authority is minimal (and practically absent from most villages), and in which people face severe stresses of poverty, insecurity, and hopelessness in an atmosphere of violence, it is astonishing to us that total chaos has not broken out.  Our impression is that the traditional means of conflict resolution are largely responsible for the stability that does exist.  These rely on large, close families and community ties to assure a level of care and accountability.  Elders and leaders in the entire area are expected to be involved in the resolution of major conflicts between individuals, families, or towns.  Although it does not always succeed, the goal of sulha is not so much justice, payment, or calm, but rather reconciliation and restored relationships. 

And yet, we can see how this process can fail - fail to prevent mob violence, fail to protect rights of women.  One woman's affair is seen as an assault on the entire tribe's honor.  The actions of one man are seen as a sin for which his extended family must pay.  The perpetrators of violence are set free and the victims receive no aid to pick up the pieces of their lives.  A stable Palestinian society must find a way to enforce the rule of law, even when it runs counter to traditional customs and even in the midst of a continual crisis facing its authority. 

There are those who blame everything that goes wrong in Palestine on the Israelis.  We hope that our analysis above shows that, in this incident, there's enough blame to go around, and enough work for all to do.  But the continuation of the Occupation plays a key role in all of this.  The undermining of the Palestinian Authority makes it more difficult to establish the rule of law.  The decision of Israeli soldiers not to intervene to stop the mob and the decision to detain Palestinian police from intervening are breaches of a basic moral code, particularly when Israeli society values the rule of law in its own affairs.  This failure simply gives legitimacy to arguments that the Israeli army has little regard for Palestinian life or property. 

The role of the U.S. consulate, however, should be commended, as their intervention probably sped the arrival of police, stopping further destruction.  The visit by the U.S. Consul to Taybeh soon after is a strong indication that there is American concern for what happened to the residents of Taybeh. 

Call to Prayer
"First take the log out of your own eye." - Matthew 7:5
As we look at what happened in Taybeh, we make clear calls for the accountability for those who are responsible for failures of leadership, restraint, and fairness.  And yet, the temptation is always there to feed our prideful souls because we are "better than them." This is a temptation we must resist. 

Christ reminds us that the faithful response to tragedy must focus on repentance (Luke 13:1-5).  Among the many ways we should respond, our first response must be prayerful, and our first prayer must be that of our own accountability, our repentance for wrong and our hope for right relationship with God and our neighbors.  We invite you to join in that prayer with us. 

For the permeating wounds of slavery. 
Gracious God, we humbly beg forgiveness for our complicity. 
For wars, dispossessions, lynchings, internment camps, attacks on synagogues and mosques, and other abuses by the powerful. 
Gracious God, we humbly beg forgiveness for our complicity. 
For failures to protect society's most vulnerable from neglect, exploitation, and natural disaster. 
Gracious God, we humbly beg forgiveness for our complicity. 
For abuse of women in their homes, workplaces, and communities. 
Gracious God, we humbly beg forgiveness for our complicity. 
For manipulation and failure to apply the rule of law, in our jails and prisons at home and abroad. 
Gracious God, we humbly beg forgiveness for our complicity. 
For unfulfilled cries for freedom and liberty by people around the world. 
Gracious God, we humbly beg forgiveness for our complicity. 

For Hiyam and Mahadi, their families, and all women and men who have had their rights and even lives taken from them. 
Loving God, we pray for healing and reconciliation. 
For those who perpetrate violence against their families and neighbors. 
Loving God, we pray for healing and reconciliation. 
For Taybeh, Deir Jarir, and the villages nearby. 
Loving God, we pray for healing and reconciliation. 
For Israelis and Palestinians. 
Loving God, we pray for healing and reconciliation. 
For Christians, Muslims, and Jews worldwide. 
Loving God, we pray for healing and reconciliation.