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Posts Tagged ‘Safa’

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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During this last week, settlers from Bat Ayin destroyed over 100 fruit trees belonging to the Palestinian town of Khirbeit Safa.  For the last few months there has been regular violence and harassment against residents of Safa following the murder of a boy from Bat Ayin.  The man who committed the murder had been apprehended quickly, but revenge attacks against the entire village continued.

The Palestinian farmers have been consistently prevented by the Israeli Army and Border Police from working their fields, which lie between Safa and Bat Ayin.  This is contrary to an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that the IDF should not order Closed Military Zone’s that prevent Palestinians from agricultural work.  The Border Police and IDF have issued Closed Military Zone’s over the fields of Safa on an almost continual basis since the beginning of April.

IDF and Border Police pushing Taayush activists

IDF and Border Police pushing Taayush activists

This morning members of the Israeli-Palestinian group Taayush, along with other activists and internationals attempted to accompany residents of Safa onto their farmland.  Israeli soldiers and Border Police numbering at least 30 were already there when we arrived, and immediately proclaimed a Closed Military Zone.  Initially they said that if the Israelis and internationals left, 3 residents of Safa would be permitted to stay and work.  This number quickly went down to zero whereupon they resorted to force in trying to remove us from the area, shoving and grabbing men, women and children.  The activists and Palestinians non-violently resisted and a number refused to leave, resulting in 15 Israelis being arrested.

arresting Taayush activist

arresting Taayush activist

In the course of the struggle, Border Police threw people to the ground, grabbed people’s throats, and one Israeli had her arm twisted behind her back causing a serious sprain.  One Palestinian man who was thrown to the ground, bloodying his face, had his leg broken through IDF aggressiveness.  I overheard one Border Policeman say to a distraught Palestinian, “stop the theater”.

IMG_0479

As we left the fields and entered the town of Safa, the soldiers and Border Police followed and said we also had to leave there.  The Border Police escorted our cars to the entrance of Beit Ummar.  When we got out of our cars, they presented us with another Closed Military Zone order for Beit Ummar.  They also claimed that our driver had entered “Area A” by coming so close to Beit Ummar.  In fact, although the IDF has put a sign up at the entrance that Beit Ummar is “Area A”, it is actually “Area B” as can be seen on all official maps.  Furthermore, our driver is not an Israeli citizen, but has Jerusalem residency, which grants him the right to enter “Area A” if he wanted to.  Our driver was threatened with arrest under these false charges.

The Police then took his ID and said we would have to come to the Etzion Police Station to get it.  We all went to the station, where we found our members who had been arrestted earlier.  We were all detained at the station, totaling 30 people.  Two of those who had been arrested told me that after their arrest the Border Police brought them to the station.  However, along the way, two Border Police stopped the vehicle, took out 3 activists and proceeded to beat them.  One was punched in the face, another was hit on the head with a baton, and a third was hit and was pulled by his hair.

They wanted to file a complaint against the officers who did it, who made a countercomplaint.  Our group was not told why were being held or given any information.  We were in the police station for 3 hours before we were all released without charges.

A video clip I took of Border Policeman twisting Taayush activist’s arm

(All Photos Taken 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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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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