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Archive for April, 2009

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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