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7.19.2018

What does a burning car mean?


burned cars


burned cars in forground.  The terrorists came from the ilegal Israeli settlement at top of hill.
No one likes to see a car on fire. Imagine that the flaming car is right next to your house. And imagine it happens in the middle of the night when you think your family is safely asleep.  And the attackers came into your door yard to start the fire.  Bad as that is, it takes on an entirely new feeling when graffiti is sprayed on the wall saying “We will return.” This was not part of some organized crime scene.  This is what innocent Palestinians face when they simply continue to live their ancestral life in their own village after an Israeli settlement is built near them. 

In this case the attacking Israeli settlers came from the Yitzahar Settlement. They sneaked down under the cover of night to terrorize the village of Urif. These attackers were determined enough to climb down more than a kilometer of steep cactusy hillside just to spread their venom of hate.

When we arrived, some 24 hours after the fire had been put out, there was a group of women gathered around the remains of the cars.  As they shared their feelings among themselves, my eye was drawn by the obvious heat, power, and destruction displayed by the burnt out remains of the cars.

The residents of Urif have faced years and years of attacks. I personally have witnessed attacks in Urif for 5 years - from stealing live stock, attacking the boys school while school was in session, to the use of fire and tear gas. The village has been attacked so many times with tear gas that one enterprising teenager had a business collecting the spent teargas shells for scrap metal.

To deliver a message of threat and hate attacks like this do not have to come from everyone in the illegal Israeli settlement, just one or two individuals.  It does not have to happen every day, or every week, or every month to create a terrorized life in the community. It just has to happen enough that the fear and threat feel omnipresent.  Especially when the terrorists take time to sign their work with the Star of David and the message “We will return.” 
We will return


Slow motion attack on Asair al Qibliya

The village of Asair al Qibliya clings to the west slope of the mountain. It is so steep it feels like every step you take is either up or down. Like many old Palestinian villages the history and the structures go back to Roman and Ottoman times.

People wanted us to see how the illegal Israeli settlement of Shalhevet Farm was encroaching on the the village of Asair al Qibliya.  The word encroach disguises what is actually happening - attack or displacement might be more accurate expressions. My first clue that the encroaching settlement buildings were not some benign encroachment came when I realized that the reason our driver had turned the car around and backed up the hill was so he could be prepare for a hasty escape if the settlers attacked us.  Even with the car headed down hill away from the settlement the driver cautiously stopped his car several houses before the end of the street. When we got out of the car the new settler buildings stood out against the horizon, only a thousand feet or so up the hill.

Actually these Israeli settler buildings are an “outpost” not a “settlement.”  Technically the Israeli “settlements” are communities that are in violation of international humanitarian law but that are recognized by the Israeli government.  On the other hand the “outposts” are in violation of both international and Israeli law. Outposts are the efforts of zealous advocates of settlement expansion who just take other people's land.  Their strategy is to take Palestinian land by just building and living on it.  They know that if called the IOA will not arrest them for violating the law, but instead will defend them and their illegal seizing of Palestinian land.

Back to the reality on the ground in Asair la Qibliya. Between the top of the village and the outpost was a stone structure from which a blue and white flag was flying in the gentile breeze.  This had been the spring that supplied water to the village, but the outpost residents had stopped the water flowing from the spring to the village and would not let anyone go up the hill to restore the flow of water.  So instead of using their own spring water the village residents had to have water brought in by tuck. 

We saw this insidious slow but steady illegal forcing Palestinian off their land take many forms. But in Asir al Qibliya the settlers used denying people access to water, physically threatening their well being, and just occupying their land to squeeze the village.
You can see he road in forground, the spring is the gray area, right center behind tree, the outpost buildings are against sky


Looking out overAsair al Qibliya
 

7.16.2018

Water access as a tool

In the morning occupying Israeli soldiers arrived in the Palestinian village of Bardala with excavation equipment and a team of contractors.  Soon they had water gushing from water lines and the village's water shut off.





It was no mistake. It was not a construction project. It was a destruction project. They cut up and removed 2000 feet of 6” steel municipal water pipe. They ripped up plastic water lines on private property and piled it in the road.  They dug up streets.  And all the while 20 soldiers, guns at ready, held that part of town including a major intersection and a bridge in a “security perimeter”, denying access to vehicles or pedestrians and generally threatening the residents.

The soldiers and contractors claimed this was all justified because the village has been stealing water.  Of course there was no explanation why a simple court case and fine would not have resolved the issue rather than sealing private and public pipes, cutting off the water, and generally terrorizing the community.  All this was a shock to me - I have run a municipal water system where people stole water and didn't pay their bills. We, the officials, would have been behind bars if we had done anything close to this. And rightfully so.



The village residents said Mekorot (the Israeli government water company) had taken over their municipal well guaranteeing them 250 cu meters of water. This was way more water than the village needed or used, but was less than their well produced. In 2006 Mekorot starting cutting back on the water going to village allowing them less and less. Now it only allows the village 62 cu meters. During the same time Bradala has gown from 200-300 to 3,000 people and with the day workers during working hours the village supplies water to 5,000 people.

Restricting the water that is allowed to flow
While Mekorot restricts water in Bardala its water lines carry water from Bardala's 4 water wells to supply to the illegal Israeli settlements of Mehola, Sdemot Mehola, Nahaf Rottem, Maskiyyat, and 4 military bases.

With their wells and traditional springs taken over by Israel's Mekorot Company the native Palestinians resorted to building rain water collection facilities, water conservation projects, and rain water storage tanks; only to have them destroyed by the Occupying Israeli Army - repeatedly. The justification for destroying them seems to always be that they do not have the proper Israeli issued permits.  But the UN says Israel denies 97% Palestinian permit allocations in theJordan Valley.  Where as near by the illegal Israeli settlements have no problem getting permits or water.

There is a bigger picture than just the water lines in Bardala.  It involves water access throughout the Jordan Valley in Palestine. A pattern of restricting water for the native Palestinians and giving water to the illegal Israeli settlements and their imported residents.

As a result the illegal Israeli settlements have green lawns, swimming pools, and lush thousand acre irrigated farms. Whereas in the Palestinian villages water is always at risk. Crops are limited by water availability. Goat and sheep herds are limited by water availability. Palestinian farmer Khalid Ahmad Ali Fahamni puts it simply, If there is no water there is no farming.

Meanwhile no one knows the future of Bardala. With their water mains ripped up and they only have about 3 days supply of water for their herds and crops.

7.14.2018


Fifteen Kilometers from the Sea

          Everyone in the city of Tulkarem seems to have a sea story. Of not being able to go to the sea. Just 15 kilometers from the Mediterranean, on the border between the West Bank and Israel, Tulkarem is as close to the sea as its residents can get. From the outskirts of the city you can see Netanya, the Israeli seaside town which many Palestinians remember visiting as children. But since 2002, in response to the Second Intifada (popular uprising) access to Netanya has been denied. “I have forgotten how to swim,” one man complained to us. Another said that now that his wife has turned 50, she can go to Netanya without breaking Israeli law, but even though he is 55—the legal age for men—he can’t, because of a five-year jail sentence he served in his twenties for student activism. Israeli treatment of Palestinians is often brutal, but sometimes it can be as elegantly cruel as a stiletto wound; imagine having to tell your child, in the blazing heat of a West Bank summer, that she can’t go to the sea! The people of Tulkarem who inspired me are as elegant in their defiance of the occupation as Israel is in its cruelty.

          The first thing you notice about Hassan (not his real name) are his movie star good looks. For those who remember Dr. Zhivago, he evokes a taller, leaner Omar Sharif. Then there is his stride. For an activist, it’s decidedly non-purposeful. Lounging down the street, he has the air of someone with all the time in the world. But Hassan is leader of the International Solidarity Movement, the organization with the biggest, strongest, and most vocal presence in the West Bank. He turns unruly young people who bring all their issues with them to Palestine into effective advocates for human rights. As founder of the Society of Social Work Committees in Tulkarem, he coordinates efforts to help the city’s homeless and disabled. His secret? Charm, of course, but to say that Hassan is charming is like saying that LeBron James plays pretty good basketball. His eyes dance when he is talking with you, his voice is soothing—I  heard him scold one of his Palestinian volunteers for not using English in a tone more appropriate, I thought, for comforting the boy. But all this is superficial. What makes Hassan compelling is that when you are with him you have the sense of being in the presence of a free human being.  

          Like virtually all the activists we have met in Palestine, Hassan has spent time in jail. He showed us pictures of him and his wife at their engagement party, then mentioned that the next day he had to go to jail for 11 months. “It was a cheap engagement!”  Before meeting his wife, he had been a political prisoner for 5 years. “For the first year it is difficult, but then it becomes a life,” he shrugged, “there is always work to do.” I thought of Daniel Berrigan saying to me once that inside or outside prison, it was the ministry that was important. And then I realized the source of Hassan’s freedom. He has let go of his private dreams and ambitions and has surrendered himself to “the work” –ending the occupation of his beloved country. When you do that, you live beyond fear, beyond pettiness, caught up in the power of a love that embraces us all. As I grumble about how my hair looks in the West Bank heat or how it’s been three days since I’ve taken a shower, thinking about Hassan makes me gasp with admiration.

          Another inspiration in Tulkarem was a whole group of people, an artist’s collective, founded in 2003 under the hopeful name of Dar Qandeel, or Lighthouse.  The building they rent is from the Ottoman period, with elaborate stone work, high ceilings and a patio in the rear with flowering trees and a chicken coop. As we headed to our meeting on the patio, we passed paintings, sculptures, posters, and banners (“Evolution begins with R”) all created by the young people who take classes at the studio. Officially an NGO sponsored by the Anna Lindh Foundation, Dar Qandeel  “believes in the power and enlightenment that culture and arts can bring to the people as an instrument to foster social changes and peace.” http://www.annalindhfoundation.org/members/dar-qandeel-arts-and-culture

Three staff members and a cadre of volunteers teach painting, digital arts, music, dance, sculpture, and taekwondo after school and during the summer holiday. While we drank tea or coffee in little cups, a young man (nominated for the TV show, Arabs Got Talent, from Tulkarem, his friends told us) performed magic tricks and another demonstrated the traditional dance ( dabka.)  

          As we went around the circle, which included a Tulkarem native back with his family after 35 years in Saudi Arabia, you could feel the openness of the place (they are proud of teaching “mixed” or coed classes) and the gentle spirit I always associate with artists. But then one of the speakers got angry as he listed all the injustices done to farmers in the area by the occupation. Israel controls imports and exports, he explained. Palestinians grow the best oranges and lemons, but they’re not allowed to sell them in Israel, whereas Israel floods Palestinian markets with their produce. Now farmers who can’t make a profit are forced to work as day-laborers in Israel. As he went on an on, I was moved by his passion. Once again I could see that beneath the surface of these warm, hospitable people who joke and laugh easily is a fierce attachment to their land, which is based not on ideology—as the Israelis’ is—but on generations of working it to sustain themselves. Where are they to go if they are pushed off their land? How can Israel do to the Palestinians what has been done to them down through the centuries? As I ponder these questions, I realize that the Palestinian people and their cry for justice have worked their way into my heart. And I will never again take a trip to the ocean for granted.





         



 



         

            

          

         

7.09.2018

Khan Al Ahmar in the cross hairs

Khan Al Ahmar school

opposing views line up

No room for discussion, just a show of force

New road cuts with in inches of village edge

Building a road along the edge of town
Across Palestine the Israeli policies work, below the radar of world attention, to move the native populations off of their land and fill it with Jewish immigrants. One microcosm of this process is in the village of Khan Al Ahmar, located between Jerusalem and Jericho, where we have gone a number of times.   

A Road That Divides

July 4th we joined demonstrations, protests, and arrests as the occupying military started building a road next to Khan Al Ahmar.  The road is an important tool of control of the land and removal of the traditional population in the West Bank.  The illegal Jewish settlements Kfar Adumim and Mishor Adumim, which are really small cities with industrial parks, shopping centers, schools, etc, want to expand but the village of Khan Al Ahmar is in their way.  The planned road cuts diagonally from the existing 4 lane highway along the very edge of the village up to an outpost road on the way to the illegal Kfar Adumim settlement. This road will be a barrier keeping Khan Al Ahmar herders away from thousands of acres of their traditional grazing land. It will leave the community penned into a small pie shaped piece of land between the new road and Route 1. It will simply make it impossible for them to carry on their herding lie style. And their whole culture is built on thousands of years of herding.

Eliminating the residents of Khan Al Ahmar from this large piece of land gives the developers from the illegal settlements unencumbered access to developing that land. Of course the goal is not just that large piece of land; the goal is obliteration of the village. Clearly the Israeli intent is to make life in Khan Al Ahmar so untenable that the residents will be ready to just leave their traditional lands. Since the occupying Israeli government has passed the orders to forcefully remove the residents and eliminate the Village, they could just back up trucks and forcibly remove the residents. But they are afraid of the bad PR associated with public images of soldiers herding citizens onto trucks, reminiscent of what happened in Nazi Germany.  Whether they do it gradually or all at once the outcome is the same - the illegal moving of an occupied population and the illegal importation of another population into an occupied territory. 
    
Israel Targets a Local School Built of Recycled Materials 

Why would anyone, let alone a government, want to demolish a school?  Especially an elementary school serving several villages that have no other available education.  This school was built only after these Bedouin communities requested and were denied that the Israeli school buses which went by their villages stop and pick up their children too. At first the school was just a couple of rooms, but as the children advanced in grades more class rooms and teachers were needed until now the school is more that 14 rooms. Since building materials were scarce they built much of the school with recycled materials like stacking old car tires filled with concrete. Despite its humble beginnings this school has been providing education to Bedouin children of several villages, something the occupying Israeli government has refused to provide. Making education available locally is especially critical for the girls.  Incongruous as it may be the Israeli authorities are spending tens of thousands of dollars just to be sure this little school is demolished. For them it is not just a school, it is a symbol of the determination and resistance of the Palestinian people to stay on their traditional land. The occupying Israel hopes that demolishing the school will break the village's will to resist. But it is doing the opposite - the village is organizing materials and labor to rebuild right away if the school is demolished.  Our team has spent nights and days in the school to offer a protective international presence which the community leaders see as important for delaying demolition and maybe even saving this school.
 Education the Victim of Politics

The Khan Al Ahmar elementary school is caught up in the internal politics of the two illegal settlements Kfar Adumim and Mishor Adumim which are built on                     traditional Bedouin lands. In the master plans for the illegal settlements they plan to get rid of the traditional Bedouin villages there. One of the settlement politicians is fueling his political base by saying he will see that the school is demolished as a symbol for forcefully removing the villages.  But some others living in the illegal settlements are having second thoughts. For example one settler realized that a leader in the Khan Al Ahmar village is the man who built his house, and the settler is asking “How can I demolish the house of the man who built mine?” 

There is also a group of settlers who apparently don't mind the villagers being forcefully removed but feel the planned place of relocation is intolerable for three reasons. 1) The plan calls for relocating Khan Al Ahmar from their traditional herding grounds and putting them on little plots of land where herding is out of the question. Those little plots are in a sliver of land along a 4 lane highway and hemmed in on the other side by an existing Bedouin community.  2) The existing community says the relocation plan takes their land, land they need for subsistence, and plunks the Khan Al Ahmar residents in it.  3)The relocation place is directly down hill from a major industrial dump and that studies have shown that people already living there have very high rates of birth defects.

It seems the future of Khan Al Ahmar may depend on the internal politics of illegal settlements which are built on land stolen from Khan Al Ahmar.

Why would a government care about the location of a tiny community?

The village of Khan Al Ahmar is on the “Israeli side” of the planned apartheid wall. The purpose of the wall is to separate the Jewish population from the local population and letting a Bedouin village stay on the “Israeli side” defeats this.  Khan Al Ahmar is caught in this position because the wall at this point will be deep inside the West Bank. The wall at this point will be about 13 kilometers from the internationally recognized green line. In fact the wall will be about half way across the entire West Bank.

In addition Khan Al Ahmar is one of the Bedouin villages in the way of expansion of the illegal settlements Kfar Adumim and Mishor Adumim (which are built on the traditional lands of Khan Al Ahmar). At the same time that Khan Al Ahmar residents live under demolition orders, contracts have been signed to build a new 96 unit  expansion of Kfar Adumim on the traditional grazing lands of Khan Al Ahmar.

Removal of the little village fits in with another aspect of the Israeli expansion.  The E1 plan calls for the expansion of illegal settlements in a continuous band from Jerusalem to Jericho dividing the West Bank into two separate pieces. With an apartheid wall to the north of this band and another apartheid wall to the south there will be no connection between the northern and the southern parts of the West Bank. Many people describe this as creating two new Gaza like open air prisons.




7.07.2018

Another Night in Hebron (from David)


I got the call at 9:00 o’clock in the evening, maybe 9:30. I could barely make out the words; the burner phone pushed up against my ear did nothing to help decipher the accented voice coming over the line. “There is an incident in Tel Rumeida,” the voice said a second time, referring to the Hebron settlement where Arabs and Jews lived side by side in an uneasy truce. “Can you come now?” As it happened, John, Laurie and I were already in Tel Rumeida. We showed up in a matter of minutes.

We knew we were in the right place when we saw the Israeli soldiers. At least two dozen were standing in an intersection on a steep hill. They would have created a traffic jam, but there weren’t enough cars on the road to cause one -- there never are, because Palestinians aren’t allowed to drive on it. In the middle of the soldiers, alone, stood an elderly Palestinian man looking dignified but somewhat vulnerable. “Are you alright?” Laurie asked the man. He nodded his head, then told us what had happened. From what we could gather, a woman settler alleged that someone – no one knew who – had thrown rocks at her. In response, the settler’s family came to the eminently reasonable conclusion that the best thing to do was to sit out in front of the house where the rocks had been thrown. This brave act of defiance against unarmed civilians was tainted only slightly by the presence of the heavily-armed soldiers, including two that could be seen on the roof. Their presence essentially barred anyone from entering or leaving the house, which was home to five families.


I started talking to one of the soldiers. “Does any of this seem right to you?” I finally asked him, waving my arm in the direction of the settlers. “I don’t deal in right or wrong,” he retorted. Another soldier, another conversation. “If you want to talk with someone, talk with him,” he said, nodding in the direction of the only two police officers at the scene. The three of us walked over to where they stood and promptly began peppering them with questions. “Look, this is Hebron,” the smaller of the two officers said. “Twelve soldiers have died at this intersection. Don’t be na├»ve.” Laurie asked about the timeframe in which the soldiers had been killed. “Since the beginning,” he replied.

The police asked to see our passports. We all obediently handed ours over to them, which we had explicitly been told not to do during our training. The officer handed mine back to me without looking at it. We were then told to stand away from the soldiers, where a group of young Palestinian boys sat on flattened cardboard boxes smoking hookah. They appeared only mildly interested in the night’s entertainment. I fixed my gaze on the settlers. The men wore kippahs, the women long skirts. One of the men held a baby in his arms; another was absorbed in his smart phone. A few Jewish children were working on setting up a tent. It didn’t look like they would be going home any time soon.

Eventually, some of the Palestinian boys approached one of the soldiers. We watched in quiet surprise as they began to chat in a relaxed manner, laughing easily at each other’s jokes. Nearby, some of the soldiers relieved themselves of their boredom with light horseplay. One of the Palestinians who had been talking with the soldier came up to us and introduced himself as Ahmed (not his real name). “Ahmed?” I interjected. “So it was you who called us.” He smiled and told us that he has been involved in grassroots resistance for several years, a statement incongruous with his youthful appearance.  John asked him what he had been talking about with the soldier. “He told me that I am too young to be married and have a child,” Ahmed said. “I told him that things were different for me; he lost his virginity at 16 or 17, while I lost mine at 22.”

Ahmed seemed the ideal activist. He was charming, seamlessly transitioning across language and cultural barriers to engage with friend and foe alike. He also had a rebellious streak. He told us that he had recently met with a senior member of the Israeli security forces, who had threatened to arrest any protesters in Tel Rumeida. “I told him that we are already in prison. My friends and family who live outside the settlement can’t come to visit me here to have a cup of tea. People have died waiting for an ambulance to get the clearance to pass through checkpoints. But we still have to pay for our food, our phone, our house. At least in jail we don’t have to pay for those things.”

By now more than two hours had passed since we first arrived, but there was no sign of the settlers packing up and leaving. A new batch of soldiers had replaced the talkative ones, and most of the Palestinians were now kicking around a soccer ball. Ahmed suggested that we go home, telling us that he would call us again if we were needed. That didn’t seem likely given how calm everyone was acting. I wasn’t surprised when I woke up the next morning to no missed calls.

We bid farewell, and slowly began to walk down the hill past the soldiers. Down past the settlers, who still had their young children out with them at this late hour. I could only wonder about those children. Children who would grow up thinking they had a God-given right to this land. Who would grow up fearing and thinking they hate Arabs. Who would grow up thinking the most natural place to pitch a tent is on the cement floor outside their neighbors' house. 






7.06.2018

Four Sisters (from Laurie)


Four Sisters (from Laurie)

        A day after we arrived in Um al Khair, one of the Bedouin villages south of Hebron which are constantly threatened by house demolitions, Linda and I had a meeting with four of the village women. We had already heard from the men, who had given us a history of the village, from their grandfather’s forced move off the Negev at the time of the Nakba to their current situation of harassment by settlers and the Israeli military, but we wanted to hear from the “other half” of the village, the Bedouin women we had seen moving silently about in their traditional veils and long dresses, even in the scorching heat. The meeting was arranged through their husbands, who seemed to be in charge of everything in the village, so I was prepared to encounter shy individuals who might be reluctant to share their stories. As soon as they started talking, however, I realized my misconception: these were strong women, thoughtful and articulate about their lives as Palestinians and their hopes and fears for themselves and their children.


          Maria (34), Nina (33), Jasmine (31), and Sarah (25) (not their real names) are all sisters. They teased and joked with each other as they made their introductions, but became serious when I asked what they did all day. “We are professionals,” Sarah said. As she continued, I was surprised to discover that they had all graduated from college and were employed: Maria as a nurse, Jasmine as a social worker, Nina as a teacher, and Sarah as an intern for World Vision, an international non-profit headquartered in Bethlehem. “Palestinian women are the best educated in the Arab world,” Sarah said, as I was still trying to reconcile the impressiveness of their credentials with our surroundings: a collection of buildings, some made of concrete blocks with corrugated tin roofs, others no more than cloth and poles, sharing space with sheep and goat enclosures on a few acres of rocky, arid land. For a while, Linda and I had the same kind of conversation with these women that I could have with my friends sitting in my living room in South Burlington, Vermont. 

          I envied the women the communal nature of their lives; they see each other every day and their mother takes care of their children when they’re at work. (The children of the village, who are all cousins, run around during the day in age-cohorts, delighted when a group of internationals, like us, appears on the scene to break the monotony of village life.) When we talked about their religion, again, I found I could relate to these four sisters. Sarah, especially, emphasized the importance of Islam in their daily lives. She said that she derives peace from her relationship with God and prayer yields the solution to “any problem” that she has. However, Islam allows men to have more than one wife and none of them liked that. It was clear that they had discussed this subject among themselves, because Sarah could report on what each of them would do if their husbands were to exercise their patriarchal prerogative. She and Nina were the most radical: Nina would do the unthinkable in Bedouin society—get a divorce—while she would refuse to live in the same house as the second wife.

          Finally, we came to the topic on everyone’s mind: the demolitions. Um al Khair, with its tents and shacks, abuts the relatively small Israeli settlement of Karmel, where residents enjoy comfortable lives subsidized by the Israeli government. (It was surreal to us, sleeping in the desert in the “guest tent,” with its canvas cover flapping in the breeze, to realize that just 50 feet away, settlers were spending the night in air- conditioned bedrooms.) Since 1980, when the settlement was established, the village has been targeted for removal—the settlers want to expand throughout the region. Israeli law allows the demolition of any structure which has been built without a permit and this community is excluded from the permitting process. This makes all the structures on their land, including the lavatory and communal oven, illegal. When soldiers come in with bulldozers to demolish their homes, the villagers rebuild immediately (often with aid from the European Union) only to have the new structures demolished as well.

          We had heard from the men about the harm to the community caused by its close proximity to the settlement (one of them, as a youth of 17, had been shot by settlers and is now brain damaged; he roams the village always looking for food, communicating with no one.) Uppermost on the women’s minds was the impact of the settlement and the demolition orders on the children. Sarah, who runs an informal school during the summer vacation, said that whenever she asks them to draw a picture, they all draw houses. Nina broke down when she described the effect of a demolition on her daughter.  She was at work when she got the call that the bulldozers had appeared; by the time she got home, the house was down and the 3 year old was crying and had wet herself. For the next six months, she told us, her little girl “shook.” She would not go outside, but either watched TV or slept. The other women talked about their children having nightmares and the one little boy who hides in the closet whenever he sees a car.

          “We are living in a big prison,” Sarah said, a sentiment that was echoed by a resident in the Hebron settlement of Tel Rumeida later in our trip. The Bedouins’ only hope of retaining their land is through the courts. They have the title to the property which is under demolition order and court battles have prevented its “transfer” to the Israeli government until now. But what of the future? How long can these people hold out against the tide of Israeli expansion? Nina told us that she and her husband are making plans to move—either to Canada or Germany—as soon as they can make the arrangements. “It will be hard,” she said, “but I have three girls. I want them to have a different life.” I looked at all four of these lovely, vibrant women. I wanted them, not just their children, to have a different life. With their intelligence and determination (Sarah taught herself excellent English by watching TV) they could do so much with the freedom that would come with an end to the occupation. I thought of another Palestinian we met, Hani Abu Hakel. Whenever you ask him, “How are things?” he replies, “It’s good,” meaning, whatever Allah allows to happen is good. These women have become strong having had to face so much adversity in their lives and their love for each other is palpable. But people need freedom to really flourish. I have a bone to pick with Allah.  

(The sisters would not allow their photo to be taken, so you will have to imagine for yourselves how beautiful they are.)

Um al Khair (from Linda)


Um al Khair  (from Linda)

     We stayed for two nights in (and plan to return another couple days to) a small Palestinian Bedouin community that has a settlement right on the other side of the fence. Our home there is this giant open tent overlooking the Jordan Valley with goats, sheep, chickens, cats, and children all wondering around during the day.  For dinner the first night, we ripped apart bite sized pieces of freshly made traditional flat bread and dipped them into an oil extracted from goat milk which looks a lot like olive oil but has a distinctive and still tasty flavor.  Our host, Hammad who Is a 24 year old University student studying English Teaching Strategies, told us that the children all have good teeth because goat milk is so good for our teeth.

After dinner, while sitting in the tent watching the waning full moon rise and listening to the Bedouin men speak of their lives and experiences, tears came into my eyes because I realized what an incredible opportunity this was.  When would I ever get to be living a few days of a Bedouin lifestyle otherwise?


      In 1948, when the UN Partition Plan and the end of the British Mandate led to Israel declaring independence and the Nakba, secret Zionist armies removed the Palestinians from their homes creating 700 thousand Palestinian refugees.  Hammad’s ancestors were given three choices: 1) to join the Zionist military forces, 2) to leave their land with no other consequences, or 3) to stay and be killed.  Many others accepted going into the military, but Hammad’s grandfather's tribe chose to leave their land with no fighting. Hammad’s grandfather sold 100 camels to buy this land and he put his original tent right here in the exact location of the tent which is our home now.  But in the early 80s the settlements began to establish themselves and life here has been a struggle ever since.

          The Oslo Accords, signed by Rabin (Israel) and Arafat (Palestine) in 1993 and 1995, created three types of areas in the West Bank.  Area A is under Palestinian administration and law enforcement, Area B is under Palestinian administration and Israeli law enforcement, and Area C is under Israeli administration and law enforcement even though it is in the Palestinian Territories.  Within 5 years all three areas were supposed to have become under Palestinian administration and law enforcement, but still Israel continues to use the Accords to maintain control over Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.  Only 5% or the land in Area C is zoned for Palestinian development, so anything not in that 5% gets rejected.  This Bedouin community is in Area C where lack of building permits is the justification behind the house demolitions.  Any changes made to any house can also lead to a demolition order.   

This little community has already experienced over 30 demolitions (some repeated in the same home site) over the years since 2007 and only two structures which were built prior to 1994 with no changes have no demolition orders at this point.  Most of the families now live in metal shacks on rebuilt on cement foundations which might still be demolished at any time.  House demolitions usually occur in the middle of the night and are very frightening especially to the children.  One mother choked up in tears as she described to Laurie and me the traumatic stress her 3-year old daughter developed when soldiers came to demolish their house.  She would not go out of the house for 6 mos.  She would only watch TV and when her mother turned off the TV, the daughter would just go to sleep.  She received counseling help and seems to be doing okay now but the mother is concerned what will happen if/when her daughter experiences another demolition.  Another of the mothers who works with the children during their summer vacation said that when she asked the children to draw what they want, they all drew houses. 

One reason our presence is helpful here is to witness in case there is a demolition, and also the settlers are often nastier and less predictable than the soldiers.  Their behavior changes when internationals are here.  So when the settlers on the other side of the fence see us here for a while even if/when we go away at some point, they can’t always tell whether we are here or not. 

Hammad said about the settlers: “We are not enemies, but they have made enemies of us.”  My impression is that the settlers just want to get rid of all Palestinians so they do whatever they can in order to harass them.  An offer has been made for the Bedouins to leave their land and move into one of four villages in the area where they would have the rights of Area A in exchange for giving up their land.  This extended family will not do that and I can see why - it would be giving up their complete lifestyle, and as one man said, “We are happy here,” and that’s despite all the losses and harassment from the settlers and soldiers.








7.05.2018


“This is Hebron” (Israeli policeman)

 Fridays in the very Muslim city of Hebron (or Al Khalil as the locals call it) is the holy day of the
week when most businesses are closed. The quiet time and space occasionally  provides a venue for boys to vent their frustration at the profound restrictions  on their lives. On July 29, we witnessed a 4 hour "clash" on the street we are living on, between heavily armed soldiers using percussion grenades and tear gas, and mostly very thin young men throwing stones. The youngest boys prepared themselves for a time by collecting and breaking rocks into stones, then lobbed a few at a rooftop near a particularly onerous checkpoint. They were immediately met by troops on the roof and soon in the streets where for hours they seem to play "King of the Hill " with each other over the space of a city block, with the soldiers chasing the boys, then retreating, allowing the boys to approach them once again. 


The soldiers could have hurt the boys and did not, but could have just as easily stayed out of sight behind their barricades and avoided the whole affair. The US Army veteran with us surmised that they were using the maneuvers for training. It was a near miracle that no one was hurt, since each grenade canister was heavy enough to produce a severe brain injury if it hit a head. They served no purpose we could see other than training for the soldiers, so I could not help thinking here is another waste of my tax dollars (part of that 3.8 billion per year in military aid we give Israel each year). The local population seems divided on whether such stone throwing is good or not. Folks we talked to through our language barrier seemed split - some calling it stupid and unproductive, while others seemed appreciative that someone was standing up to the soldiers whose job it is to make life very uncomfortable on a daily basis by restricting movement and stopping and searching people.  (from John.)


The Team got its first eye, nose, and mouth burning experience of tear gas when we misjudged a cloud that we thought would dissipate more quickly. The boys are experts at such judgement and routinely throw the canisters back up the street. 

In the evening (walking distance from the ISM house), settlers attending Friday night services at the synagogue pass through Palestinian area, so the army are posted all along the way for the settlers' "protection."  We went there to observe the interactions between the Israeli army and settlers and the Palestinians.  Again, this is often a time when other organizations have a presence, but we were the only organization present this evening.  All was quiet while settlers and Palestinians walked peacefully past each other with Venus and Jupiter emerging in the sky as it turned from the light blue of day to a beautiful a dark deep blue and then the black of night.  (from Linda.)

I, Linda, am glad these organizations provide this constant presence at both these weekly events.  While I was sitting there observing this evening, I was thinking about how important it is for internationals to continue to provide a presence here and how difficult it is for some to enter the country just for this reason.  The Palestinians are resilient people and they are taking a strong stand in the face of the long term and constant oppression with which they have been faced since 1949.  They refuse to leave their homeland despite the harassment they get and have gotten for many generations from the Israeli settlers and military.  We international activists from the US can provide two means of support: first by standing with the Palestinians providing this protective presence as we are doing now and second, by reporting back and reaching as many US Citizens as possible to try to change hearts and minds to refuse to allow our government to financially support the atrocities committed by Israel with our tax money.  Thus, please consider to whom else you might forward some of these messages, or post on Facebook since I am not on Facebook.












7.04.2018


Laila

          After monitoring the Settlers’ Tour of the Souk, the traditional marketplace in Hebron, we doubled back to meet one of the shopkeepers who had been identified as an ally of ISM (International Solidarity Movement) who have been our hosts in this divided city. Maria and Jules, the current staffers of the ISM House, had prepared us for our visit with Laila Hasan by identifying her as the head of the “Women of Hebron,” an organization of Palestinian women who make jewelry, handbags, tablecloths and other craft items to sell at the market. We weren’t prepared, however, for the expansiveness of this middle-aged woman whose traditional garb (only her face was uncovered) belied her firm grasp of the current realities of her people. It was Saturday morning, prime time for doing business with tourists in the Souk, but Laila set out five chairs for us, poured tea, and began sharing her opinions on a variety of topics.


          “Since the Second Intifada” (the violent uprising of 2000), she began, “Palestinians have been divided. During the First Intifada” (which started in 1987 and was nonviolent), we worked together.” I was startled to see how exactly her simple analysis matched that of the Islamic scholar Mohammed Abu-Nimmer, who claims that the Muslim concept of the Umma or community was one of the pillars of the First Intifada and greatly contributed to its success in creating parallel institutions to those of the administrative authority.  Right now, Laila told us, someone is circulating videos of young Palestinian men and women having sex. To Muslims, this is outrageous and brings shame on all of them. “What I keep asking myself,” she said, “ is why? Who is behind it?” She herself is an advocate for the community; on trips to the U.S. she has developed a network of friends of “Women of Hebron,” who order its hand-crafted goods from abroad. Mainly, however, she uses these trips as opportunities to “speak the truth” about the Palestinian situation. “That is what you must do,” she said.

          Our tea finished, Laila brought us something to eat—pieces of soft, warm cheese with a sweet coating. John asked what one thing she would recommend to improve the lives of Palestinians. “End the Occupation. There is no hope for two states; if the Israelis just leave us alone, that would be good.” She went on to say that she doesn’t hate the Israelis; when young Jews joined the Palestinians in protesting Operation Cast Lead (the bombardment of Gaza in 2009) she realized that not all Israelis are Zionists. “That freed my heart.” As for the future, she said, “it is up to Allah.” In the meantime, “we are not doing as poorly as the Syrians.” Mother of six, Laila also seems to be the mother figure of her end of the Souk. During our conversation, many people passing by called to her; a group of off-duty Palestinian policemen gave her a cheer. When it was time to go, she said that we were welcome to stay at her house that night—a friend from Norway and her boyfriend had just left.

          What would it mean to end the occupation, I asked myself, as we headed back to the ISM House. Withdrawing the soldiers, at the very least. The clash we had witnessed the day before, between al shebab (the Palestinian youth) and 12 members of the Israeli army had accomplished nothing except to trash one of the main intersections in Hebron. Are the soldiers really necessary?  Israeli hardliners defend their presence by invoking the settlers’ need for security, but would the Palestinians—who are in the majority—attack the settlers if the soldiers were gone? I don’t think so. Not all the Palestinians are like Laila, of course—so open and generous—but all of them, it seems, want to live freely—without checkpoints, without harassment, without their children going to jail for throwing stones. Isn’t it possible that if the soldiers left Jews and Arabs might once again co-exist peacefully? They did it for many years before 1948, before politics intervened. Politics has a way of creating artificial boundaries and turning erstwhile friends into sworn enemies. I think of Gandhi, lamenting the partition of India and the bloodbath between Hindus and Muslims which followed. Here in the West Bank, I know how Gandhi felt.