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Archive for May, 2009

I had some excellent video footage today, but unfortunately some settler youths stole my camera.

This morning members of Taayush went to Safa, the village right next to the settlement of Bat Ayin.  The settlers of Bat Ayin have a reputation for being particularly violent and extremist.  Today they did not disappoint.

I was with two other Taayush activists, along with two older Palestinian women and a young girl who were collecting grape leaves.  I noticed up above us on a ridge there were three IDF soldiers surveying the area and watching us.  Suddenly, across on another hill we saw 15 to 20 settler youth (aged 14 to 20s) running toward us screaming.

The Palestinian women started to run away as the settlers approached.  When the settlers reached us, I was immediately struck in the face, and they tried to pull my camera from my hands.  Other settlers were throwing rocks at the women as they fled.  Settlers continued to hit me and another Taayush activist and they managed to take my camera, with which they then used to hit the other activist.

They then continued running in the direction of the Palestinians, and came across the car of Ezra, a veteran activist.  The settlers then flipped the car onto its side, cracking the windshield.  They kept on running away from us after this.  By this time, the three soldiers I had seen earlier arrived.  They yelled at the settlers, and half-heartedly chased after them.  I followed them and said the settlers had stolen my camera.  One of the soldiers then started yelling at me, threatening to arrest me unless I backed away.

The soldiers then went off as well, and soon a group of Palestinians gathered by Ezra’s overturned car.  A few minutes later, about 10 IDF soldiers arrived, who stood around, some of them joking with each other.  After initially telling Ezra they would help right his car, they then changed their mind and said the Palestinians with us (most of whom were children) should do it.  The Palestinians brought a tractor to turn the car over.

Palestinians righting Ezra's car

Palestinians righting Ezra's car

While they were working on his car, another 10 to 15 border police arrived, all of them carrying fashioned wooden sticks.  They said it was a Closed Military Zone, and that we had to leave the area.  After Ezra’s car was turned right-side-up, we all started to leave.  After we walked for a few minutes, the border police began yelling at us to go faster, and ran at us with their sticks raised.  They started shoving us and pushing us with the sticks, and the Palestinians started running away.

By this time additional Taayush activists had joined us and a few them became distressed by the aggressive behavior of the border police.  As we were leaving amidst the ensuing clamor, one of the border police suddenly grabbed a Taayush member in a chokehold and wrestled him to the ground.  Other police held him down, one of whom kicked him in the head.  He was arrested as was his girlfriend who was trying to shield him.  Two Palestinian boys, no more than 12 to 14 years of age were arrested as well for supposedly throwing stones.  However, I had not observed them doing anything except moving along with everyone else during this melee.

Palestinian boy held for arrest

Palestinian boy held for arrest

I was disturbed by the interaction of the border police and army with us and the Palestinians.  They were not taking action against law-breakers, but against the victims.  There seemed to be no order or law at that time.

The rest of the day consisted of trying to lodge a complaint with the police regarding the settler’s assault on us and the Palestinians.  That in itself proved surprisingly difficult.

We first went to the nearest police station which happened to be in the settlement of Kiryat Arba.  We were told to wait outside the gate.  As we stood there in the heat for 45 minutes, a group of settler children aged 8 to 12 gathered around throwing rocks and glass bottles at us.  The guard on the other side of the gate told them to be careful because they ‘could hurt someone’. This mild rebuke was followed by a volley of eggs thrown at us.  One 12 year old threatened to drop a cement block on us – “if only it wasn’t Shabbat.”  All this time we had been doing nothing aside from waiting outside the gate of the Kiryat Arba police station.

Soon afterward a few officers arrived and let us inside.  We told them we wanted to lodge a complaint, and we were led to a room to wait in.  A few police came in and out of the room, but told us that we could not lodge the complaint with them.  Finally we left, skeptical that any help would be forthcoming after almost two hours of stalling and inaction on their part.  We were then  escorted out in a police car because we feared the settler children and adults with them might attack us.

We then drove on to the police station of Gush Etzion.  We managed to get one guard’s attention through the locked, barred doors of the station, only to recognize him as one of the border police who was present back at Safa a few hours earlier.  He coldly stared at us and then walked away.  We were clearly not going to get any help there either.

These two police stations were indifferent to the crime committed against us, and would not help file a report or help me find my stolen camera.  The tolerance the police and army has for illegal outposts seems to extend to tolerating other illegal and even violent behavior from the settlers.

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Today Taayush members went out to Hebron.  We were accompanied by a new friend, whom I shall call Y.  Not long ago, Y finished his service in the IDF.  Although coming with Taayush for the first time, he had been out with a couple of other groups, learning more details about the situation in the Occupied Territories.

However, his first real learning experience took place while in the army.  He had been a soldier in Bil’in, the site of regular protests against the construction of the Separation Barrier which often end in violence.  Y said that his time there raised questions for him about the morality of what the army was doing.

To begin with, he wondered about the path of the wall, which went right through the middle of a grove of olive trees, instead of around it.  Then there was the attitude of some of his fellow soldiers who said “we have the power, no one can tell us what to do.” They were angered by the challenge to their authority, and often responded with brutality.

Y recounted one instance when a settler woman told the soldiers that someone had thrown a stone at her.  The army’s response was to go to the Palestinian village, and line everyone up.  Most of the Palestinians there were children, and Y said he started to feel like the  ‘bad guy’.

While off-duty as a soldier, Y began to join the Bil’in protesters and see the conflict from their side.  One day he was called up by an officer and told that he would no longer serve with them because of his activities.  The rest of his service was spent as a ‘jobnik’, doing secretarial work.

I admire Y’s standing up for his convictions, and refusing to ignore the reality of what he and his fellow soldiers had been doing.  He told me he considers himself an Israeli patriot, and I believe his values have proven it.

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Yesterday morning members of Taayush split up into two groups.  One group went to Khirbet Safa, and the other group – which I was in – went to Umm Zeitouneh.

Havat Ma'on

Havat Ma'on

Umm Zeitouneh is a valley between the outpost of Ma’on, and the barn that is shared by Ma’on and the settlement of Susya.  The settlers from Ma’on have a history of violence against Palestinians, and our goal was to try to prevent any attacks on them.  We were accompanying Palestinian shepherds from the village of Tubah who had brought their sheep out to graze.  Some of the young shepherds, boys of 14 and up, had in the past been attacked by settlers on their way to school.

Two young Palestinian shepherds

Two young Palestinian shepherds

Luckily however, the sheep’s grazing passed without incident.

Sheep grazing

Sheep grazing

Later on, the group that went to Khirbet Safa met up with us and we all went to see if there had been any additional building on Hill 26.  Upon arrival, we could see that the whole area was a mess.  Building materials and garbage were strewn around, and there was a spot with used toilet paper.

DSCN1562

There had been some small changes made, but no new structures had been built.  There were a few teenage boys from Kiryat Arba hanging out in their ‘hut’, and upon our arrival one of them pulled out a video camera to record us.  Minutes later, a group of soldiers arrived.  They did not speak to us, but rather with the teenage settlers.

We waited for the arrival of an order for a Closed Military Zone, which would compel us to leave the area or face arrest.  In the end, 7 cars from the army, border police, and police arrived.  There were more police and soldiers than Taayush members and settlers combined.

Soldiers and police around the settler's structure

Soldiers and police around the settler's structure

A Closed Miltary Zone was declared and we were told to leave.  The police officers said that the settlers would also have to leave.  They had said this on previous occasions and the settlers were permitted to remain.  This time, however, the soldiers did actually make them leave.

Young settlers being escorted away

Young settlers being escorted away

To be sure, while we were made to leave by threat of force and arrest, the settlers left through urging and polite escort.  Also, it seemed likely the settlers would return after an hour or so.  Nevertheless, they did actually have to leave their illegal structure for the first time.  Hopefully this has helped to establish a precedent, so in the future whenever we have to leave, they will as well.

For an account of Taayush activities yesterday in Khirbet Safa, check out IbnEzra’s blog

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Today members of Taayush went to help the Jabari family with agricultural work in Hebron.  The Jabari home is near the settlement of Kiryat Arba, and not far from the ‘House of Contention’ further inside the city.  This location has made the Jabari’s a frequent target for harassment by settlers.

Palestinians and Taayush members gathering plants

Palestinians and Taayush members gathering plants

After meeting with the family and drinking coffee, Taayush members, some local Palestinians and a few international volunteers went to a small field nearby owned by the Jabari’s.  We quietly collected plants to feed their goats until a group of soldiers, border police, and regular police showed up.

Palestinians working with Border Police in background

Palestinians working with Border Police in background

They said we had to leave and they were declaring a ‘Closed Military Zone’ on the area we were working on.  While we had been working there had been no problems, there were no settlers present, and we were on the Jabari’s land.  Still, the police showed up in force to make us leave.

Soldiers, Police and Border police.  Itamar Ben-Gvir on the left

Soldiers, Police and Border police. Itamar Ben-Gvir on the left

One settler by the name of Itamar Ben-Gvir came up with the police.  Ben-Gvir is a former Kach member and a radical right-wing settler.  He was standing with the police, telling them to arrest us, as they were preparing to remove us from the area.  After a short time, the border police came forward and started pushing us away from the field.  Meanwhile, Ben-Gvir was standing inside the Closed Military Zone, on the Palestinian’s land.

Today’s action by the Israeli soldiers and police seemed particularly unjust.  We have a man who needs outsiders to help him safely work on his own land, and when it is done peacefully and without any interaction with settlers, the army and police force them all to leave.  The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that Palestinians should be permitted to work their own lands, but the IDF and police choose to flout this ruling when it suits them.

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On Saturday, May 2, the joint Israeli-Palestinian group ‘Combatants for Peace’ (Lochamim l’Shalom) organized an introductory event in the Palestinian village of Susya.  Around 100 Israelis, Palestinians and internationals showed up to learn about the group and the situation in Susya and other villages suffering hardship from settlers.

Gathering in Susya

Gathering in Susya

After talking for a couple hours, it was decided to go see one of the village’s wells, which is close to the developing outpost ‘Givat haDegel’.  (This well may be their primary well, but I am not certain).

Because of the proximity of the outpost, the well has effectively been made off-limits by the IDF and settlers.

Our group walking toward the well

Our group walking toward the well

Our group walked over to see it, and within minutes a contingent of Border Police and soldiers arrived, along with a young settler recording us on his cellphone.  Soon after, the soldiers declared a ‘Closed Military Zone’, threatening anyone who stayed in the area with arrest.  We had not come for a confrontation, so we left.  It should be noted however, that the soldiers were perfectly happy to have the settler stay and mingle among them, although he did leave when we drew attention to this.  It was another example of selective enforcement of the law by the army and police.  It was also a clear case where the IDF and police are actively assisting the development of illegal outposts.

Soldier telling us we have a few minutes to leave

Soldier telling us we have a few minutes to leave

Soldiers standing with the illegal outpost in the background

Soldiers standing with the illegal outpost in the background

After the ‘Combatants for Peace’ get-together was over, Taayush members went on to check Hill 26, an illegal outpost near Kiryat Arba that I wrote about in my last post.  Since the week before, there had been some expansion of the settler’s ‘hut’.

Settler youth in their 'clubhouse' on Hill 26

Settler youth in their 'clubhouse' on Hill 26

There were a number of teens there, none of whom were pleased with our arrival.  The time there was uneventful, but some of the teens gathered rocks in their pockets, and circled around a few of us in a threatening manner.  Suddenly, we received a call that some people had been hurt by settlers in Khirbet Safa.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Today members of Taayush returned to Hill 26, which as I mentioned in the second half of a previous post, is the site where settlers from Kiryat Arba have illegally built a hut on Palestinian land.  We have been monitoring the development of the structure for the last month or so.

The plan was to build a structure of our own nearby, to see if our structure would be treated differently from that of the settlers.

Israelis and Palestinians standing in front of new structure

Israelis and Palestinians standing in front of new structure

Our contingent of Palestinians, Israeli peace activists and internationals quickly built a small structure.  Some settlers tried to interfere with the construction, but mostly they watched and heckled us.

Settler and soldiers. Behind them is the settler hut

Settler and soldiers. Behind them is the settler hut

After it was built, soldiers, border police, and more settlers arrived.  Some of the newly arrived settlers cursed and yelled at us and shoved members of our group.  They provocatively told us that after we were gone, they were going to use the hut we built for themselves.  One settler struck a female Taayush member in the head, knocking her to the ground, and threw a punch at another woman in the group.

(Above is Baruch Marzel)

Baruch Marzel, a well-known settler from Hebron, shoved a Taayush member, and tore down the Palestinian flag that had been placed atop the structure.

DSCN1442

A young settler threw a flaming stick on top of the structure in an attempt to burn it down.

The military then declared a ‘closed military zone’, and said that everyone – Palestinians, settlers, and Israeli activists – would have to leave.  However, despite this announcement the settlers were allowed to stay where they were while we were roughly driven away down the hill.  In the process, Taayush members were arrested, some for peacefully resisting, others because they just weren’t leaving quickly enough.

The experience was upsetting for a number of the Israeli activists.  Israel’s country and army was acting illegally to protect religious extremists who were breaking the law.  While our group was treated roughly and with hostility, the soldiers allowed the settlers to yell invectives at them, and be ordered around by them.  Unfortunately the army effectively promotes the politics of the settlers and tries to marginalize and silence those who want the rule of law.

The events were covered by the Israeli media, and Haaretz used a video I took in this article.http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1084184.html

Settler behind soldiers enforcing closed military zone only on us

Settler behind soldiers enforcing closed military zone only on us

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For years, Ezra Nawi has been an active and outspoken Israeli activist for the Palestinians of the South Mount Hebron region.  Recently he was found guilty of assaulting an officer, a crime that he denies, and no one who knows Ezra believes.

I have worked with Ezra on many occasions, and although passionate about his work with Palestinians, he is good-humored and has never been violent in any way.  I do not believe for a moment that he is guilty of assault.

Neve Gordon wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian that tells the story well.

There is also a website that has been put up to help support Ezra through political petitions and assistance with legal fees.

The website is at:http://www.supportezra.net/


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