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Posts Tagged ‘Taayush’

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.

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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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This last Saturday was an eventful day for Taayush in the South Hebron area. First we accompanied Palestinians to go farm their lands near the illegal outpost of Asahel.

Soldiers standing next to settlers

Soldiers standing next to settlers

Immediately after arriving near the outpost, a female settler came out and started throwing stones at our group.  A few soldiers were already there, and they just watched while she threw rocks which hit a couple of people.  Soon after this we started working, a young Palestinian man was arrested – apparently for not moving back a foot when the soldiers told him to.

Settlers sitting with a police officer

Settlers sitting with a police officer

The soldiers then demanded that the Palestinians and Taayush members leave the area stop working.  To hasten the process, the soldiers came with a paper they said was a military order identifying the area as a closed military zone, and an accompanying map to prove it.  However, when we challenged the authenticity of the order and the map, they backed down.

Soldiers overlooking Palestinians and others workingSoldiers overlooking Palestinians and Israelis

While this was happening, a few more settlers came down the hill, yelling obscene insults at us.  This included graphic comments about Taayush members engaging in sodomy.  There were more threatening gestures and comments, however.  The male settler pretended to shoot us with his fingers, and said we belonged ‘underground’.  One of the women said to a Taayush member that she would kill her, and threatened another with having his head smashed by a rock.

Eventually the soldiers brought a real military order for a ‘closed military zone’.  The soldiers wanted to make us leave in a way that required the least effort from them.  They proposed that if we left, they would release the Palestinian they had previously arrested,although he would have to report back to the police the next day.  After a bit of wrangling over details, we came to an agreement and set off for our cars with our Palestinian friend in tow.

As we neared the road, two of the settlers approached from the opposite direction.  They had gone around the back of the hill to meet us.  The same female settler as before started throwing rocks at our group, hitting several people.  One time, she was clearly aiming at the head of a young Palestinian, and the rock cut the hand of a Taayush member who tried to block it.

Settlers covering their faces

Settlers covering their faces

During this barrage, the two settlers covered their faces.  The man wrapped his tallit (prayer shawl) around his face, and the woman covered her face with part of her head covering.  It is not clear why they did so because we had already seen their faces.

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The next notable event of the day occurred near the settlement of Kiryat Arba, close to Hebron.  We had heard that some settlers from Kiryat Arba were starting to fence off an area on a Palestinian’s land.

Settler family on Palestinian land

Settler family on Palestinian land

The status of the land there is particularly clear-cut, as Kiryat Arba is fenced off around its perimeter, negating any possible claims that its land extends further.  We went to inspect the land in question and found a family of settlers sitting there surrounded by several poles they had recently erected.  From there, we went about 100 meters to view a structure, apparently some sort of clubhouse, that had been built by settlers.  On this day, there were several boys, none older than 14, standing around this crudely built structure containing supplies of water and gas.

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Three soldiers sudenly arrived, apparently in response to having been alerted by the settler family.  The leader of the three was fairly aggressive, and tried to grab the video camera out of the hand of a Palestinian who was with us.  This soldier then approached him again as if to threaten or engage him physically, but turned away when the Palestinian yelled for us to film what was happening.

Shortly thereafter, the family of settlers came over, and then around 10 more soldiers arrived.  The mother settler immediately started screaming invectives at us, and yelling at the Palestinians with us to ‘go back to Iraq’.  After some Taayush members argued with her for a little while, the soldiers produced a document declaring the area a closed military zone.  However, there were two problems with this claim.

First, the military order wasn’t signed, making it invalid.  Second, and more significantly, the soldiers only wanted us to leave, and to let the settlers stay where they were.  This was a violation of the law, as the structure was on private Palestinian land.  Legally, all of us, including the settlers, should be required to leave, however the settlers were permitted to stay.

The unsigned military order

The unsigned military order

We pointed these facts out to the soldiers, but they told us that if we did not leave the area in the next 10 minutes, we would all be arrested.  During our argument, the settlers all went inside the clubhouse.  With no alternative, we left, but with the knowledge and proof that in this instance the soldiers had broken Israeli law.

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Going back to a few weeks ago, I’ll report on events that occurred near the settlement of Karmei Tzur.

Members of Taayush went there to escort Palestinians to their own lands close to the settlement.  Under Israeli law, the land-owners are able to go up to the fence of Karmei Tzur to work.  In practice however, the army will often prevent the Palestinians from working.

Soldiers blocking us from accessing Palestinian land in front of Karmei Tzur

Soldiers blocking us from accessing Palestinian land in front of Karmei Tzur

Beyond the hardship of not being able to go to their own land, the Palestinians fear this land could be seized by the settlers.  In the West Bank, there is an Ottoman Law in place which allows the state to take land that is not worked for 3 years.  Therefore, the Palestinian owners need to go to work their land to keep their legal claim on it.

When we went out, we were joined by about 20 Palestinians who came to assist in the work and to protest against the restrictions placed upon them.  Immediately, Israeli soldiers and police arrived on the scene.  Instead of allowing us to work the land near the fence, they would not let us within 500 meters – perhaps more – of the settlement.  We had planned to work the land of a farmer named Issa, a very friendly man with the appearance of a Palestinian Santa Claus.

Soon after we started to do work where we were permitted to stand, the soldiers and police told us to leave.  They eventually produced a document declaring the area a ‘closed military zone’ – and threatened anyone remaining in the zone after 15 minutes with arrest.

As the Palestinians continued working, more soldiers showed up.  Then, without warning, they started throwing stun grenades at us.  Stun grenades emit a bright flash and a deafening noise.  My ears were ringing for hours afterward.  More than 10 stun grenades were thrown.  At the same time, soldiers and police started physically pushing us back.  Some of them became overly aggressive in my opinion, shoving women and people from behind who were already walking away.

Soldiers herding us away

Soldiers herding us away

Israeli activist in front of smoke from a stun grenade

Israeli activist in front of smoke from a stun grenade

At one point we had to descend a steep, rocky incline, and one of our members was pushed backwards from it, and could have been seriously injured.  Two Taayush members were arrested for non-violently resisting the soldiers and police.

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Taayush member after being pushed by soldier

The soldiers and police went with us some distance to the road and stayed with us until our transport came.

What began as a simple, peaceful effort to escort and assist Palestinian farmers in working their lands was turned into an ugly confrontation by the soldiers and police forces.

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This last Saturday I went along with members of Taayush to accompany some Palestinian shepherds who had recently been attacked by settlers.  The Palestinians are from a village called Sha’ab-el-But’un, which is about 200 meters away from the illegal outpost of Mitzpeh Ya’ir. 

As mentioned, the settlement is in close proximity to the Palestinians.  When the Palestinian shepherds take their sheep out to graze, it would make sense that they should be able to do so near their homes.  However, the settlers prevent this from happening by intimidating the shepherds and frightening their sheep.

 

a settler chasing sheep

a settler chasing sheep

 

 

I was standing along with a few Israelis near a flock of sheep, when three settlers approached.  They walked right up to the flocks of sheep and start yelling and frightening the animals,.  chasing them almost all the way back to Sha’ab el But’un . One of the Palestinians near me says that this happens every day.

Seeing a few 30 year-old adults running around, making strange noises to scare sheep was bizarre, and would be comical, except that these sheep are the Palestinian’s livelihood.  The shepherds tried to keep their flocks together, but gave up in the end, looking on helplessly.

Shortly after this, a number of IDF soldiers arrived, some of whom immediately shook hands with the settlers who had just spent the last 5-10 minutes yelling and running after frightened sheep.  It seems very unlikely to me that the soldiers did not see some of that behavior. 

 

3 soldiers standing in front of 2 settlers (Taayush member bottom left)

3 soldiers standing in front of 2 settlers (Taayush member bottom left)

 

 

More soldiers then arrived, along with other settlers and their children, numbering around 20.  

 

More settlers and their children come

More settlers and their children come

 

 

The settlers quickly engaged in argument with the Palestinians and members of Taayush as their children join in, hurling insults. One of the adults shouted, “We are on the right side of history.”  

The soldiers wanted the Palestinians to go back to their village, the settlers back to the settlement, and us to leave.

 

The commander

The commander

 

 

 The army commander accused us of provoking the settlers.  Apparently, Palestinian shepherds trying to graze their flocks near their own village is a provocation.

More to come soon…

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I have returned from my vacation, and hopefully will be back to writing on a regular basis. Yesterday I went out with some members of Taayush to an activity organized by the Palestinian Christian group, Sabeel. This was my first meeting with Sabeel, and I think it was also their first cooperation with Taayush.

Sabeel was well organized, and had about 30 people with them.  We went to an area northwest of Jerusalem, close to the settlements of Giv’at Ze’ev and Giv’on Hahadasha.

As a group we went to an area of land owned by the Sabri family, who live on the other side of the separation barrier, so they are unable to access their land or to work it.  It is important for Palestinians to have their land worked, because there is a law that allows Israel to seize lands that lie fallow for three years.

Here is a picture of a map that Sabeel provided.  The black and white line is there because the map was made before the barrier in that area was finished, but it is now complete there.

The Map

The Map

We all worked together – Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals – planting olive and almond trees.  It was tiring work, and in the end we planted about 100 trees.

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Part of the group working.  The settlement of Giv’at Ze’ev in the distance.

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On Saturday I was given a sort of tour around the South Hebron Hills.  I saw some new areas and learned more about the history there.  It was a tough day mentally – hearing upsetting stories, and seeing the difficulty of Palestinian life in this area first-hand.

I will break up the day into a few posts.  First, the road to Avigail.

One of the most affecting parts of the day involved driving on the paved road leading to the illegal outpost Avigail.  When I say ‘illegal outpost’, this means it is illegal under Israeli law, not just International law.

The terrain around the outpost is rocky and hilly.

Avigail in the distance

Avigail in the distance

The road at the bottom leads all the way around to Avigail, which is a fair distance.  Here is what is amazing about this road.  It was originally built by local Palestinians to lead to their villages.  There are a few small villages in the area, I have been to one of them, Jinba.

Anyway, the Palestinians built this road with their own money.  According to haaretz the outpost was built in 2001, and The Washington Post reported in 2002 that Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the settlers there to be evacuated. I guess the IDF is still waiting for the right moment to make the settlers leave.

In the meantime, the road was paved with money from the Israeli government, and the Palestinians who had originally built the road are no longer allowed to drive on it.  You can see on the picture above that the terrain is rough.  There are now no roads leading to the Palestinian villages near Avigail.  As I mentioned before, I have been to Jinba, one of the small villages nearby.  The drive to get there – over rocks and hills – was like being on a roller-coaster.  For all practical purposes, these villages are inaccesible by car.

More to follow soon…

The Road

The Road

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As documented in the Villages Group blog, at the end of October 2008, there were home demolitions carried out in Umm-Al-Kheir the home of some Bedouin families that live incredibly close to the settlement of Karmel.  I have been there myself, and have taken some pictures.

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This is a view of the Karmel settlement from the edge of Umm-Al-Kheir.

I remember one of the first times I was there, I met an elder of the village.  He was upset because of the difficult economic situation there.  Apparently, the settlers used to hire them for work, but now they only bring in foreign workers, and don’t employ the Palestinians at all.

I think the ultimate reason the settlers do this is to drive the Palestinians away.  The Palestinians become isolated, and the settlers act as if the Palestinians do not exist, and have no normal interaction with them, such as in the context of work.  In such a situation, eventually the Palestinians will be driven to move to an area where they can get work, and are not living next to hostile neighbors.

Here is a picture of some housing units the settlers built close to Umm-Al-Kheir.

Karmel Housing Units

Karmel Housing Units

You may notice that on the left side of all of these houses, there are no windows.  There are no windows towards the Palestinians, only windows facing each other.  It gave me a strange feeling looking at these houses.  The view that they do not see is a beautiful one of desert and hills.

A final point I want to mention refers back to the home demolitions.  These photos are from before the demolitions took place.  I did not include some pictures because the buildings in them may no longer be standing.

There is a Palestinian named Eid who is from this village.  I have talked to him on a few occasions, and he had always impressed me with his atittude.  He said repeatedly that he wants peace, and that this desire for peace has been instilled in him from his family.  He has always been optimistic about the future, at the same time acknowledging that there are Israelis and Palestinians who don’t want peace.

Well, the last time I saw him was in November, and this was about a week after his family’s home was demolished.  I had heard what happened before I saw him, and was unsure in what state he would be.  When he came over to me to say hello, his demeanor and attitude were completely unchanged.  He talked the same way as he had every other time I saw him.  It was one of the most amazing demonstrations of a commitment to values.

For days after, I was impressed with his mental strength, and it encouraged me to not lose hope, because here was a man who actually faced real personal hardship, and his outlook was unchanged.

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Israeli and Palestinian talking

(Above: Israeli and Palestinian talking)

The initial reason I decided to write a blog was to recount my experiences in the South Mount Hebron area of the West Bank.  Not many people know what is going on there, and I wanted to help disseminate information.

I sometimes go out with members of the Israeli-Palestinian group Taayush, which works for relations and cooperation between Jews and Arabs.  The specific activities vary, but involve establishing relationships with Palestinians in the area, and in trying to prevent settler violence.

This Saturday, I went out with the group to the very small Palestinian village of Susya.  It used to be larger and in a different location, which settlers now occupy.  On Saturday our group (Israelis and Palestinians) went to look at a new outpost being built called Givat Hadegel.  This outpost is an extension of the settlement of Susya (not to be confused with the village) and is illegal even under Israeli law.

With us was the Palestinian man who owns the land Givat Hadegel is being built on.  He even has the appropriate documentation to prove it, but the army still allows the settlers to build their outpost.

The Outpost

The Outpost

Above is a view of Givat Hadegel.  In the background the settlement of Susya is visible on the next hilltop.  Not visible in the valley is the illegal outpost of Havat Ya’ir.  Effectively Givat Hadegel will serve as another hilltop the settlers control, and they will then be able to take the places in between in order to connect them.

Givat Hadegel is still clearly not a real settlement, but this is how the outposts often start.  First they make a sort of hang-out spot

"Lounge"

"Lounge"

As you can see, there is a cot, a stove-top and such.  There were also a couple other places where people could sleep.  So the settlers might start hanging out here, and then sleeping here sometimes, and then, suddenly, they put up a real structure, get water and electricity connected,  and it becomes an extension of the settlement.

A 'flag' of sorts

A 'flag' of sorts

I want to stress again that this land is indisputably owned by a Palestinian.  Nevertheless, the IDF and the police are unwilling to remove the settlers or the structures they put up.

Despite the recent violence in Gaza and all the other problems, there are still Jews and Arabs who meet, work together, and desire peace.  I want to remind everyone that there are people to talk to on both sides, and there are people struggling to improve the situation, through small acts of peace.

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