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Here is an article from Ha’aretz recounting some of yesterday’s activity.

What follows are sections of an account written by Professor David Shulman, who took part yesterday.

“No settlers anywhere nearby, no soldiers, nothing will happen today”— Ezra keeps reassuring our Palestinian friends on the cell phone as we drive down to south Hebron in the early morning.  By the time we reach our meeting point near Samu’a, a good group is in place: some twenty Palestinians and another eight or nine Ta’ayush activists. Most of the Palestinians belong to Samu’a, and the fields we were heading toward through the wadis belong to them, though they have no access to them any more. The “illegal outpost” of Asa’el, one of the uglier and more malignant in this area, has stolen them. …

We begin working with pick-axes and our bare hands, and as always there is the joy of doing it and especially of seeing the rightful owners of this land returning, at last, to care for it. I’m especially moved watching a middle-aged Palestinian woman working, face partly covered, hands heavy with thorns and stones, beside me. Of course we can’t remove all the rocks, but the plot is looking more inviting by the minute, and soon we drift to the next terrace up, and the next one, getting closer at every step to the outer perimeter of the settlement on top of the hill. Naturally, we haven’t gone unnoticed. A heavy-set settler in his Shabbat white is staring down at us, and beside him there are soldiers, first only a few, then more and more, and in less than an hour, with the horrid sense of inevitability that so often signals human folly, they are clumsily descending in our direction. They are proudly waving the piece of paper that can only be the order declaring this area a Closed Military Zone.

The senior officer, bearded, young, opaque, reads it out: “By the authority legally vested in me, etc. etc.” He gives us exactly ten minutes to desist from our subversive activity and to disappear. Well drilled in these rituals, we argue with him. If this is a CMZ and we are supposed to leave, we say, then why do those settlers on the hilltop get to stay? Ah yes, “by the authority vested in me, those whom I allow to stay can stay. You now have nine and a half minutes.” Amiel leaps to the occasion. He carries with him, always, the text of the Supreme Court’s ruling that local military commanders have no right to declare these closed military zones whenever the whim strikes them, and above all they are prohibited from using this mechanism to keep farmers away from their lands. Amiel reads out the text of the court’s decision. The officer is utterly unimpressed. “You have eight minutes left.”

We go back to work, and now each rock I pry from the recalcitrant soil seems to have some special meaning, as if defiance, however quixotic, were imprinted on it. The Palestinians also accelerate their pace. As always, the South Hebron hills are a good place for unexpected encounters. One of the soldiers, smiling, suddenly greets me by name. I don’t recognize him at first, in his fancy-dress costume—helmet, uniform, rifle—but he tells me his name:  Spartak, a former student. He studied Sanskrit with me, wrote a very good M.A. thesis. I haven’t seen him for some years, but I announce at once to whoever wants to hear:  “I don’t mind being arrested, but only if Spartak carries out the order.” It would be nice to hear his views on the task he is engaged in. “Seven and a half minutes.” By now a genial policeman whom we know well from many such occasions has also turned up and announced, in his mild-mannered way, that by refusing to leave the CMZ we are committing a crime, hindering a public servant in discharging his duty (shades of Judge Ziskind). I figure this merits a response, so I say to him: “And what about those settlers? Their very presence here is a crime by international law and by any ethical standard.” He smiles and nods. To my surprise, he agrees with me. “True,” he says, “but that’s not relevant now.” “How could it not be relevant?” “Six minutes left before we start making arrests.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Soon afterward, three Palestinians were detained and five Israelis were arrested.  The Ta’ayush members are held in the Kiryat Arba police station for about 8 hours before being released.

Comet-ME

I want to take this opportunity to introduce people to the group COMET-ME (Community, Energy, and Technology development in the Middle East). On their website, the group states its mission as  building

renewable energy systems for communities that are not connected to the electricity grid because of political reasons and build local capacity to install and maintain those systems. The provision of renewable energy to off-grid communities answers a social, economic and environmental need. This is by no means a luxury issue but rather a matter of life-support in a particularly harsh situation.

One of these communities is Palestinian Susya, a village Ta’ayush has been going to for years.  Because of the installation of a solar panel and a wind turbine, the village has been able to store goats milk in a refrigerator that would spoil otherwise.  This month, volunteers from Comet-ME and villagers from Susya flew kites in the village. A video can be seen here. I urge everyone to vote for the group in the BBC World Challenge. Your vote could help the group expand its work in providing power to Palestinians who are off the grid.

More information on the group can be found in this article by the New York Times and this one published in Ha’aretz.

Increasing attention is being paid to the upcoming J Street conference taking place in Washington DC on October 25-28.  I will be attending this conference and am greatly looking forward to it.  A recent article from The Forward, reprinted on the Ha’aretz website, called Sure, J Street is pro-peace – but is it pro-Israel? illustrates pretty clearly the problem of the current Israeli government.  The article says J Street

is still struggling to prove its pro-Israel credentials.  The latest bump in the road was the refusal of Israel’s ambassador to the United States to meet with the group, citing concerns that J Street’s views might harm Israel’s interests.

The problem here is that the Israeli government has not proven that it is truly interested in making any efforts to engage in real negotiations.  The simple dismissal that has come from the Israeli embassy does not bolster their case.  No specifics are offered as to what they don’t like, and instead of engaging in discussion, the ambassador chooses to ignore the group’s invitation.

I think J Street is a pretty moderate group that clearly supports the State of Israel.  I know people on the left who are skeptical of the group because of their strong support of the country.  In my opinion, J Street is acting pragmatically and I have real hope for the group.

If the Israeli government really regarded peace as an important goal, it would at least claim to support J Street’s aims.  Israel has a history of undermining American Jewish groups that advocate for peace efforts.  In the 1970s Israeli officials spoke out against the group Breira, which urged Israel to make greater efforts for peace with the Arab world.

Today’s Ha’aretz has an article elaborating on the Israeli response, and the positive reception by the Obama Administration. It’s encouraging and perfectly understandable that the Obama Administration would see J Street in a positive light, particularly as the Israeli government has been less than honest with the American government.  As pointed out in an article from a few days ago pointing out that ‘despite promises to Obama, construction continues in dozens of W. Bank settlements’ .  It’s difficult to take claims by Netanyahu seriously when he constantly thumbs his nose at the US.  A group like J Street is needed for those who genuinely care about Israel.  The Israeli’s seem set on driving off a cliff, and J Street is trying to stop them.

This week’s Washington Jewish Week has a short piece about a counter-protest against the TIFF protesters. For those who don’t know, a group of filmmakers, artists and academics protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s holding a special focus on Tel Aviv.  The protest document, called ‘The Toronto Declaration’ has rankled many of Israel’s aggressive supporters for making a comparison to apartheid South Africa and the general characterization of the state.

Now, a group of mostly Hollywood directors, actors and writers have written a letter protesting the Toronto Declaration, calling it an effort at ‘blacklisting’. I personally have some problems with the wording of the Toronto Declaration, but the counter-protest and the Washington Jewish Week piece distort what the Declaration said.  It is hardly a ‘blacklisting’, as the protest does not call for any restrictions on Israeli films or filmmakers.  The focus on Tel Aviv does not appear to be part of a focus on Israeli film, but rather part of an advertising campaign, as noted by Roger Ebert, who is not a signatory to either petition. Not surprisingly, Israel wants to draw attention to the realities of the occupation, and this is part of a new effort.

The aspect of the Washington Jewish Week piece that I find to be most pernicious is the attempt to discredit the signatories of the Toronto Declaration, partly through a subtle racism.  Five signatories are named, Jane Fonda, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Julie Christie, and Alice Walker.  First is Jane Fonda, who for most people self-identified as “pro-Israel” will dismiss as a lefty radical who supported the Viet-Cong.  Belafonte, Glover, and Walker are all black.  This seems like an effort to characterize blacks as enemies of the Jews, as the number of African-Americans on the list is not very large.  Furthermore, a significant proportion of the signatories are Jewish, and there are a number of Israelis on the list as well.  As for other celebrities, there is Viggo Morternson, Howard Zinn, Slavok Zizek, Ken Loach who are all as notable as Julie Christie.

I have not written posts lately because I have moved to the US and am still transitioning.  However, this morning I received an e-mail from Ta’ayush activists that today settlers from the settlement of Susia have attacked Palestinan Susya.

My translation of the message follows:

This morning, Ta’ayush activists escorting Palestinian farmers in Safa received a message about settlers concentrated in the area of Susya because of the expected evacuation today of the illegal outpost Givat HaDegel nearby.  Due to the concern about acts of revenge by settlers toward local Palestinians, two Ta’ayush activists went to the area.  One the way, it became evident that our worry was justified.  A group of 12 settlers had come to the tents of the Harani and Nawajeh families.  The settlers threw rocks, hit men and women, and smashed a solar panel (one of their main sources of electricity).  Also, they broke the video camera of a Palestinian activist.  Four soldiers arrived shortly after the attack started, but didn’t succeed – or perhaps didn’t particularly try – to stop it.  Only the arrival of additional forces caused the settlers to leave the area.  Of course, not one of the settlers was detained or arrested.  When we arrived, the attack was over, and all we were able to do was calm the families, sign a report, lodge a complaint with the police, switch video cameras, and organize activists to stay at least through the night.  But it was this that the soldiers were in a rush to prevent.  The soldiers that were unable to interfere with the settler attack on Palestinians told us it was  a Closed Military Zone, and that we had to leave the area.  When we refused, one of the activists was arrested for ‘insulting a public servant’!  He was released after a short interrogation by the Hebron police, and then he returned to Susya.

At the moment, everything is quiet there, and for the time being some international activists and Israelis are staying in Susya.  The Palestinians lodged a complaint with the police, but unfortunately, the soldiers who were there reported to the police that there had been no attack.  Apparently, not only are all the Palestinians and international activists who were with them liars, but the soldiers were also able to ignore the damage, destruction of property, and broken video camera.

Here are two good reports of daily realities in the West Bank

First, the issue of ‘Natural Growth’ is shown to be a false argument.

The second video shows an example of how aggressive and violent many settlers are.  This kind of behavior is not surprising to anyone who has seen settlers interact with peace activists or Palestinians

Peace Now is doing important work in the Occupied Territories.  It is a testament to the seriousness of the problem when the Israeli government is openly lying about its settlement policies.  Peace Now’s work in documenting settlement construction that is denied by the government, yet is illegal even under Israeli law.

I think anyone interested in Israel should see these videos

After last week’s violence in Safa, it seems that the IDF has come to an agreement with the residents and will permit the farmers of the town to work, but no one else will be allowed in the agricultural area.  Therefore, Ta’ayush agreed to not go to Safa, hoping that the farming would resume without problems and that our activities there had indeed been successful.

Instead we went to accompany Palestinian shepherds from the small village of Tu’ba  who wanted to graze their goats near the chicken houses of the settlement Ma’on.  There was little vegetation to graze in the area, and even less in places further from the settlement.  Our group was a few hundred meters from the settlement itself, and the chicken houses were only inhabited by chickens, so we were not very close to any settlers.  Nonetheless, settlement security came to the area and called in the IDF, Border Police and civilian Police.  They declared the area a Closed Military Zone and said we had to leave in 5 minutes.  No explanation was given even though we repeatedly asked for one.  Luckily, by that time the goats had nearly finished their grazing so we were not upset about leaving.

We received a phone call that some Palestinians in the village of Sha’ab al-Buttun had been attacked by settlers from Mitzpe Ya’ir, so we gathered in our cars and went there.  By the time we arrived the settlers had already left, but the Palestinians showed us some video they had taken on a phone.  Apparently, 3 settlers entered the village and went inside the homes of a few residents.  They also hit some of the Palestinians, one of whom showed us the welts on his arms.  Perhaps most disturbingly, the settlers also broke the legs of 3 of the Palestinian’s sheep.  We will try to file a complaint and hopefully be able to press charges against the settlers.  There is a chance of some success because their faces are on video.

Finally we went to visit the small Palestinian village of Susya, where the Border Police and IDF had followed us.  After drinking tea and some discussion, it was decided to go up to Givat HaDegel, the illegal outpost built by settlers from the settlement of Susya on private Palestinian land.  The soldiers and Border Police were already at the outpost when we arrived, ready with an order for a Closed Military Zone.  At least 15 soldiers and Border Police prepared to eject our group of 15 from the area.  After a brief argument, we went back to the village of Palestinian Susya and said our goodbyes

IDF soldiers on Givat HaDegel

IDF soldiers on Givat HaDegel

.

Most of the group continued back to Jerusalem after this, but I went to Beit Ummar with two others from Ta’ayush to say hello to Issa (a Palestinian Ta’ayush activist) and to see if the Palestinians in Safa were able to do their work.  We found that the farmers were able to work today without any problems, which was very positive news.  However, we also heard that the IDF had destroyed part of the walls on either side of a path leading to the farm area and also destroyed a few fruit trees.

Apparently, an army vehicle became stuck in a ditch in the farmland area.  To get it out, the soldiers decided to bring  a bulldozer, which then destroyed part of the walls on either side of the path, leaving rocks and rubble in the road.  Another vehicle had driven in between the fruit trees, at least one of which was totally destroyed, and two or three others were seriously damaged and did not look to me that they would survive.  I don’t think the soldiers intentionally did this damage, but the way they did it indicates that it does not matter to them.  They did not make efforts not to damage property, and there was no discussion with any of the Palestinians about it.  This destruction didn’t take place during a military operation or any kind of emergency, it just was easier for the soldiers to do their work this way.

(Photo by Mairav Zonszein)

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