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Archive for June, 2009

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”.

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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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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/

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