Team members Martha and Nicole spent Monday and Tuesday (April 21-22, 2008) in a remote desert area in the South Hebron Hills called Tuba. This area has been called the Wild West of Palestine because settlers move in and set up illegal homesteads, which they can use as a base in order to take control of even more land. They often live outside Israeli law as vigilantes equipped with weapons, and Palestinians fear them. The way these illegal Israeli settlers push indigenous Palestinian Bedouins off their land could be compared to the confiscation of land from Native Americans that occurred in the United States. In the absence of aggressive Israeli intervention to control the illegal settlers, there quite often is the appearance of Israeli government support for the settlers.
The team met with local leaders and international activists, hiked through beautiful, but unforgiving, desert terrain to spend the night in the hills with two local Bedouin families, and helped monitor the safety of approximately 20 local children on their dangerous daily walk to school. The children are victims of land incursions by illegal Jewish settlers who have migrated here from Israel and other countries and who claim that this land is their land by divine right. The Bedouins have been under great pressure not only from the Israeli settlers for the possession of their traditional grazing land but also from the Israeli government to become urbanized.
The nearest village to the Tuba hills is Al-Tawani, where Christian Peacemaker Teams has a long-term international presence. (For a good overview of the situation in the village of Al-Tawani and the Tuba area, you can find a July 2007 MPT report at http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org/LTT_July17_2007.htm.)
We were warmly welcomed by the family of Omar (the large Bedouin family that lives in a traditional cave dwelling), as well as their tent-dwelling neighbors. It seemed like everyone welcomed the chance to host guests, even just for tea, though resources are scarce here. It was a happy reunion at Beit Omar, especially for Martha, having not seen them for more than three months.
Four “kids” at Beit Omar (the home of Omar) in Tuba.
Spring brought new baby sheep, goats, puppies, chickens, and doves—and a renewed supply of milk and cheese. Along with their own homegrown eggs, buttermilk, butter, yogurt, cottage cheeses, and vegetables grown elsewhere and purchased by the families, we noticed more food and a richer diet in spring than during past winter visits. The young Bedouin women were excited to teach Nicole how to milk sheep and goats!
Nicole – maybe put the picture with the green valleys here.???
For more about life in Tuba and past team experiences staying in the cave with Omar’s family view a past MPT Palestine Team Report (August 6th, 2007).
Omar’s children shared videos they had taken of Israeli settlers from the illegal settlement nearby who were harassing them as they herded their animals. The video cameras provided by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, have helped produce documentaries that have very effectively educated the Israeli public on the abuses of the settlers. These documentaries may have helped to decrease some of the settler violence. You can view videos taken by Palestinians all over the country on B’tselem’s website (www.btselem.org), or on our own video bar on the right hand side of our blog >>>>.
In a tent outside the cave where they live, older sister helping 8 of her brothers and sisters get ready for school
One of the main “jobs” for MPT and other activists in this area is “school patrol.” Because of the high level of danger from settlers, and the historically high incidence of harassment and even serious bodily injury, peace activists daily monitor the only “law enforcement” around, i.e. Israeli military. Activists make sure the military arrives to escort the children and that all goes well as the children make their half hour daily walk to school. [The Israeli governmental organization for the protection of children mandated the military protection.] Peace activists take turns so that there is a monitor at each point of the school trip, morning and afternoon.
Martha scans the scene with binoculars; later, we do encounter a band of settlers with intimidating sheep dogs.
In addition to watching the school run, binoculars were helpful for both finding our way across a strange landscape and for watching for settlers. Last year our team donated a pair of binoculars to Omar’s family so they could keep watch for bands of “raiders” or settlers who get drunk on the high holidays and set out for remote Bedouin camps to cause serious damage and injuries. Examples of damage include poisened wells, damaged generators, rat poison scattered where the sheep graze, and threats of injury to the Bedouins/
On our walk back from Tuba to the village of At Tawani, we did encounter a few settlers grazing goats and sheep. It was a tense moment as we tried to walk past at a distance without incident. The settlers yelled at us and their dogs came to check out the situation. Thank goodness the dogs didn’t seem particularly aggressive that day—maybe it was the heat! It seems that settlers view anyone passing in proximity as due “provocation” to violence.
At the end of March, five settlers using pepper spray attached two Palestinians in this area. The Israeli police were called who then arrested one of the Palestinians, detaining him for a week saying he had attached a settler security man. The Palestinian went to the Israeli court where he was fined nearly $900 to be released.
After spending the night with the Bedouins, doing school partol in the morning, hiking back to the village, and encountering several settlers on the way (fortuitously, this was filmed from the higher ridge by CPT), we spent the rest of this visit in the South talking to Hafez. Hafez is the community organizer for the region, living in the village of At-Tawani. On the morning we were there, locals were just starting to rebuild a house demolished four years earlier. It’s a risky business—they’re building on a plot a few yards away so as not to build the new house in the same “condemned” spot as the old—because the military could come and demolish the new building any day… with or without a court order.
Palestinians are required to obtain a permit from the Israelis before constructing houses, but most are not approved, while Israeli settlements on Palestinian land continue to be approved without restraint. In this way, the Israeli military claims to “legally” demolish Palestinian homes. It appears to be an Israeli strategy to assure continued pressure on the Palestinian population.
For more about the village of Al-Tawani, and resistance there (as well as a brief description of another past overnight with Omar’s family in Tuba), follow this link: