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Posts Tagged ‘Palestinian’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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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On this last Saturday, June 6, Taayush members started the day by going to Safa.  Honestly, after last week’s violence I wasn’t that eager to go, but as Amiel said, for that reason, “the people there need us the most.”

We went to the fields where the villagers of Safa pick grape leaves.  Upon arriving we discovered that the army had declared a “Closed Military Zone” on the lands they use for agriculture.  Not only was the land off-limits, we were told that the order was in effect until June 21, over two weeks.  By that time, many of the grape leaves may no longer be usable.  Furthermore, this goes against an Israeli Supreme Court ruling stating that the Palestinians should not be prevented from accessing their agricultural lands.

The IDF, in trying to make their own job easier, is essentially punishing the Palestinians for the settler attacks against them.

After we photographed the military order for a Closed Military Zone we left.

Our next activity took place in the village of Susya, in the South Hebron Hills.  The Israeli-Palestinian group Combatants for Peace had organized a group of about 100 Israelis, Palestinians and internationals to erect a structure along-side the developing illegal outpost ‘Givat HaDegel’.

The land the outpost is on is unquestionably Palestinian.  The owner has documentation, the IDF did not dispute it, and Israeli news confirmed it.  Nevertheless, the IDF is allowing the settlers from the settlement of Susya to build there.

Back in January I wrote about the developments at Givat HaDegel. A couple months after that, I saw that they had started to build a cement floor.

Cement floor at Givat HaDegel

Cement floor at Givat HaDegel

On this Saturday, when we ascended the hill, I saw close-up that a full building had been constructed.

G HaDegel

The Combatants for Peace and the people that joined them built what was essentially a ‘sukkah’, and covered it with the colors of the Palestinian flag.  Immediately soldiers started to dismantle it.  After a short time they declared a Closed Military Zone.

Palestinians waving their flag and colors after their 'sukkah' was dismantled

Palestinians waving their flag and colors after their 'sukkah' was dismantled

I cannot say that I was surprised by what happened.  However, Givat HaDegel is not on the government list of illegal outposts, which has 26, far short of the actual number.  Also, Israel’s Channel 2 news had a brief piece on the event, but neglected to even mention the settler’s construction.

There is something very wrong here when it is regarded as radical action for people to go to their private land.  It is somehow normal here that the land owner is not allowed onto his own land, and that the IDF is used to keep him off, while permitting Israeli citizens to build on it.  This is the situation Palestinians find themselves in.  The Israeli police and military have authority over them, but only work to protect Israeli citizens, even when they are committing crimes.

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Ezra Nawi

Ezra Nawi… If we had 20 Ezra Nawis, the Occupation would be already finished.  Ezra is one of the righteous men, that thanks to them, we are not yet [destroyed like] Sodom and Gomorrah.                  (Yehuda Agus, Taayush Activist)

If there was one face that represents the efforts of Israeli activists for coexistence and human rights, it would be Ezra Nawi.  A plumber by trade, Ezra is a Jew of Iraqi origin who has been involved in progressive causes and politics since childhood.  Around 1999, Ezra began dedicating his energies and passions to human rights in the Palestinian Territories.

I have found Ezra to be a warm and generous person.  He is welcoming to the newcomer and is ready to give them his attention and respect.  Even in the most difficult situations, Ezra uses humor and grace to put others at ease.  A recent documentary, “Citizen Nawi”, captures the passion and dedication of the man.

Recently, Ezra has been convicted of assaulting a soldier, a charge rejected by those who know him.  He is currently awaiting  sentencing in July.

I have invited a few experienced activists to share their experiences with Ezra and the importance of his role among Israeli human rights activists.  At the end are a few thoughts that Ezra himself shared with me.

David Shulman (Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; author of Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine.)

Ezra Nawi is probably the most courageous person I have ever met. I have seen him in countless moments when settlers violently attacked him and other peace activists, Palestinians and Israelis; his presence of mind, steadfastness, and clarity always got us through such times. He is that most unusual of human beings– a person of profound inner gentleness and moral principle, selfless and creative in finding ways to help the Palestinian shepherds and farmers of the South Hebron hills. It is largely to Ezra’s unremitting efforts that these people are still living on their lands in the face of constant efforts by the Israeli state, the army, police, and rampaging settlers, to dispossess them. Ezra is utterly committed to non-violent protest in the Gandhian mode; he is an inspired force for goodness and a reason not to lose hope in human potential to do the decent thing. But I don’t want to give the impression that he is some kind of saint:  he is an earthy, full-blooded man, certainly capable of anger and capable of verbally expressing his contempt for the (indeed contemptible) soldiers, settlers, and policemen who have turned the lives of the south Hebron Palestinians into a living hell. Although I have an instinctive dislike of “heroes,” and abhor hero-worship wherever I meet it, I have to say that in my eyes, and in my experience, Ezra Nawi is heroic in the finest sense of the word– the sense of an ordinary human being who puts himself at risk, even great risk, in order to do what is right in the service of those who are suffering, oppressed, and in need.

Anat Rosenwaks (Taayush Activist since 2001)

Ezra Nawi. For several weeks I have been trying to decide what to write. Where do I start? There’s so much to say about Ezra, but it’s difficult to convey who he is to those who have never met him. Why have such a diverse group of people been willing to make such an effort to prevent his imprisonment?

I remember when Ezra joined Ta’ayush. Everyone was talking about the Jerusalemite plumber – not the usual activist. Unique in his appearance, (always wearing an interesting hat) Ezra is charming, charismatic and fully devoted to human rights and political activism.

Recently, on the eve of the holiday Shavuot, there was no “official” activity in the South Hebron area, or in any other place in the West Bank. Most people in Israel were resting or getting ready for the holiday. But Ezra, like always, was in Tuba, a small village in the South Hebron Hills next to the illegal outpost of Ma’on. A few days earlier, a young woman from the village was taken to the emergency room in Jerusalem. Ezra, who has supported her family for years, picked her and her father up from the checkpoint and hosted the father for 2 days in his apartment. Ezra then drove them back to their house when she was released.

For many of the families in the South Hebron area, Ezra is the first one to call when they are in trouble. He’s always available, willing to help at almost anytime of day. He speaks fluent Arabic and never hesitates before getting into his car to drive to the place he’s needed, or make phone calls to “half of the world” just to help someone who is stuck at a checkpoint.

Ta’ayush activity has changed tremendously since Ezra joined us and his influence in the improvements in the situation in the South Hebron area is enormous. Without him, for example, there would be no international activists staying permanently in one of the villages.  Without Ezra, the school children of Tuba might still be using a very roundabout way to school, in order to avoid passing next to the violent settlers.  Without Ezra the farmers of Gawawis, a small village that was occupied by settlers, may not have been able to return to their lands. Without Ezra, the people of Tuwane, who without Ezra, might still be attacked by settlers from the Ma’on outpost every Friday night, and have no access to a great part of their lands.

Ezra is welcome in any Palestinian town or village, and as a result, unwelcome by the police and army. They have tried to stop his activity in many ways, by arresting him so many times, searching his car and apartment.  They try to frighten him by saying that the settlers are angry and want to harm him. And now, he has been convicted on false charges. It was his word against the word of two policeman.

I hope Ezra will not go to jail. But even if he does, this will not stop his activity or break him. He is a strong man, and has the support of all his friends in Israel, Palestine and all over the world.

Amiel Vardi (Professor of Classics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

One of the main reasons Ezra is such an important person is his personality.  I mean, he is really easy prey for them [his detractors], being of Iraqi origin and being a plumber.  Most of us activists come from well-established jobs.  He is more vulnerable because of this, and, of course his declared homosexuality makes him especially vulnerable, and it’s used against him.  It’s used by the settlers and it’s used by the police against him all the time.

So this is one thing that makes Ezra a special case.  Another thing is, that Ezra is the only one of us that really has good relations day-to-day with the Palestinians.  It’s not only a question of knowing the language, which is, of course, in his case superb; it’s knowing the habits, understanding what is behind the words, learning them really deeply and getting their approval.  They trust him, like they trust none of us.  And as such, he is the best activist I can think of.

We get into quarrels very often about the way things should be done.  Sometimes perhaps, we are right and he is wrong, but very often his intuition is so much better than ours, simply because he understands the Palestinians so much better – I couldn’t think of any activity in all the region from Jerusalem south without the help of Ezra.  This is true not only for Taayush, but for all the organizations, The Physicians for Human Rights, The Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Din, all depend on Ezra.  And this is why for us Ezra is the most important issue at the moment.

Ezra in his own words

“If you can see what is going on there (in the Palestinian Territories), you have to get involved.”  Ezra believes that if people ‘realized the price and the pain’ that comes from Israel’s actions in the territories, they would want to change the status quo.  He says that A large problem of the occupation comes from its less visible elements.  For example, “The dehumanization of Arabs and increase in Israeli nationalism.”

Ezra exclaims “Jews have been leaders in liberation and rights movements all over the world, in Russia, Iraq, apartheid South Africa and in the United States.  How come here (in Israel) this hardly exists?”

Despite the setbacks and overwhelming odds, Ezra says, “There is no reason to be depressed or ashamed about the situation.  Only the people who do nothing should feel that way.”  His advice, is “think pink”.

To Help Ezra, please visit: http://supportezra.net/

IMG_0566

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