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Remote Desert Life in the "Wild West"

Above right (colored plastic jugs): birdhouses created from old water containers.

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 spring has brought water and green pastures for the sheep and goats, which are the source of income for the Bedouin families.

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.

From our vantage point during school partol: about twenty local children walk across the rugged desert to meet the military jeep that has been mandated to escorting them to school each day—a very necessary protection from outlaw settlers.

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:



Israeli Treatment of Orphans

Israeli Treatment of Palestinian Orphans:
1. Confiscation of Orphanage Supplies and Buildings
2. Displacement of Orphans with no Alternative Shelter
3. Lack of any Compensation to the Palestinians

On April 24, 2008, the Michigan Peace Team in Palestine, along with YMCA-Hebron and Library on Wheels-Hebron, co-sponsored a press conference coordinated by the Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron at the Al-Shari’yah Girls Orphanage. The objective was to bring attention to the illegal confiscation and destruction of Palestinian property by the Israeli government. On March 6, 2008, the Israeli government, under the cover of darkness, confiscated $300,000 in school, food, and clothing supplies. These supplies included donations from the World Food Bank, Catholic Relief Services, and UN Refugee Services. That same night, Israel welded the doors shut on a new $2.0 million Palestinian girls’ school and has since also raided/destroyed two bakeries that supplied the schools. The boys’ school had a new administration building constructed two years ago, and it was immediately locked by the Israeli government with no one allowed use since.

Eric at the Boys School

New Administration Building Closed by Israeli Army

Orphanage Residents Protesting Israeli Seizure of Food and Supplies

Bakery Destroyed by Israelis During the Night

New Girls School - Doors Welded Shut by Israelis During Night

The Israeli government has given the Islamic Charitable Society (ICS) an order it intends to confiscate three schools serving 1,705 students, two orphanages serving 240 children, and related facilities. The society also serves 4,000 additional students and 5,000 needy families through these facilities with a staff of 700 teachers, counselors, and support staff. The Islamic Charitable Society has been in existence since 1962. It operates many services in support of children and the poor and receives aid from many worldwide relief agencies. Its employees include the broad spectrum of Palestinians with many different political leanings, but no one political group controls it. The Palestinian Authority (PA) curriculum is adheared to in its schools and orphanages.

The Israeli government attempts to claim Hamas influence, but the military have not documented it as ordered by the Israeli High Court. However, the Israeli army is not deterred by its lack of evidence and has historically claimed the existence of secret evidence that cannot be released for security reasons. This makes it impossible for the ICS to defend itself. ICS records and operations are open for review, including financial records audited by the PA, and the Israeli government should be able to publicly document any violations.

Once the Israeli government confiscates these buildings and supplies, they revert to Israeli ownership, becoming an asset of the Israeli government to do with as they wish.
Under International Law (Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, of which the US is a party), it is a war crime for an occupying nation to not provide for the welfare, education, health, or essential services to the occupied population. Forcible displacement of people, including orphans, could fit the war crime criteria. When considered in the context of the broader historical pattern –of Israeli arrest and detention of Palestinian children for undocumented offenses, the displacement of Palestinians from their land without compensation, the absence of the right to confront one’s accuser, and restriction of Palestinian travel (through the use of a network of checkpoints or individuals confined to certain areas) – the motivations of the Israeli government becomes more suspect in the context of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

April 25, 2008 Al-Khadr Demonstration

Al-Khadr is a Palestinian village taken by the Israeli government for military use in 1967, later for conversion into an Israeli settlement called Efrat, and finally to build a road for the exclusive use of Israelis. Nineteen homes were originally built in the 1920’s, and the Palestinians still have the legal documents showing ownership. There is a legality issue within the Israeli courts over military confiscation of these lands. Despite this, the homes were taken in 1967 by the Israeli army and were used by the military for seven years. Two military bases and six watchtowers were built by Israel and used to shell Bethlehem during the Second Intifada. After 1967, the Palestinians continued farming and herding the land. However, during the Second Intifada, Palestinians could not harvest their crops, and with the completion of the construction of the Israeli Apartheid Wall, 4,000 acres will be cut-off from farming. When the Wall and the exclusive Israeli highway are completed, farmers will be allowed only 2 hours per day to cross the highway for access to the lands that are still available, one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening.

The Israeli settlement Efrat is where the settler Egal Amir, the assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, had lived. Egal Amir was fanatically bitter about Rabin negotiating with the Palestinians.

Palestinians again held a peaceful protest on Friday, April 25. There were some military present on the hills surrounding the demonstration. Michigan Peace Team in Palestine and about 75 others attended the protest in which an Imam said some prayers. After the prayers, the group peacefully left.

MPT in Palestine attempted to get some pictures of the entry point to the nearby Israeli exclusive road, an Israeli watchtower, and the vacated houses and land of Al Khadr. The military apparently became annoyed by the team’s presence, as Martha, Eric, and Walt were detained by six soldiers for about half an hour. The soldiers accused the team members of taking pictures of military installations. The installation was a small tower that has been unmanned for more than a year. Finally, the blue uniformed Israeli police arrived, giving the team a warning to return to Jerusalem and not to Bethlehem because there was trouble there. According to Israeli law, it is legal to take pictures of Israeli soldiers and jeeps but not official military installations.
April 24, 2008 Arrested Teenagers Update

There was some good news about the two brothers (13 and 14 year old) in Hebron that were arrested, blindfolded, and handcuffed by the Israeli government for over six hours last week (see previous MPT report: http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2008/04/hebron-city-divided.html). The community raised the 1,500 shekels ($430) to pay the Israeli government, though no charges were ever filed, continuing the attempt to run out families through economic means.

Passover Tourists in Hebron

April 21, 2008 Since this was the Jewish Passover week, there were many Jewish tourists in Hebron. This resulted in increased security and more frequent searches of Palestinians, such as those seen on their way to school in these photos.

Eric and Walt had an opportunity to tag behind a Jewish tour group of about 70 people as they proceeded slowly through the Palestinian marketplace in the Old City of Hebron. The group was surrounded by 18 Israeli soldiers, with others standing guard on nearby rooftops. The tour guide would stand in the doorways and steps of the businesses while he gave his speeches. Since the streets in the Old City are very narrow, many of the Palestinian merchants were not happy because the tour completely stopped the flow of potential customers to their shops. The Israeli soldiers generally kept us about five feet from the Jewish tourists, and behind us was a queue of Palestinian shoppers, students, and others waiting to get through.

Israeli Soldiers in the Palestinian Marketplace

At one point, an American member of the tour group expressed displeasure about us following the group and was defensive about the Jewish presence in Palestine. Even though we had witnessed some of the settler children’s anti-social behavior, this Jewish tourist found it to be inconceivable. In addition, we engaged one of the soldiers in a discussion about how the Israeli government allows illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine, but has a practice of creating barriers to issuance of building permits to Palestinians. Standing beside him was his commanding officer who was purported to have been involved in several Palestinian home evictions in Hebron.

Passover Tourists in the Palestinian Marketplace

Passover Tourists in Palestinian Marketplace

Passover Tourists with Israeli Soldiers

While thousands of illegal Israeli settler houses are being constructed in Palestine, hundreds of Palestinian houses are being demolished by the Israeli military through the fa├žade of declaring areas to be military zones, later to become settler locations. The soldier was adamant in his defense of Israel’s right to build the settlements while there is only an occasional permit for a Palestinian. From all appearances, this settlement construction of is a violation of Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and is considered a war crime under that article.


Hebron: A city divided

Hebron, a city of about 150,000 in the south of the West Bank, is a city unlike all others in Palestine; it is the only city where illegal Israeli settlements are actually located in the city itself. About 20% of the city is designated as “H2,” which means it is under the control of the Israeli Army. The rest is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians cannot drive cars in H2, but Israelis can, and certain roads are closed even for walking to all but Israelis. Settlers have been in Hebron for 40 years, and they have created a particularly hostile environment, especially for Palestinians living near the settlements.

Settlement placed directly in Palestinian community of Tel Rumedia.

Until recently, settler violence and incidents were particularly violent and vicious. Former MPT team members, as recently as November 2007, report being called names and spit on by settlers. However, B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, has distributed video cameras to some Palestinian families (visit: http://www.btselem.org/english/Video/Shooting_Back_Index.asp), and after some incidents caught on tape appeared on Israeli TV and sparked much conversation and controversy, settlers seem to have become more wary of how they act when internationals and/or video cameras are present.. Even so, just last Wednesday, members of the German parliament were threatened and attacked by settlers while touring Hebron. Locals say they saw large stones being thrown at the caravan, though MPT could find no reports of this in the media (see http://www.thelocal.de/11369/20080417/ and http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/976056.html).

Wire barriers hung up to protect Palestinian merchants and shoppers
hold debris thrown by settlers living above the market.

On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights, Eric and Walt slept in Qurtuba School, a school for about 120 girls located directly across the street from a settlement apartment building and school. In August 2007, the school was burned by a large mob of settlers during a holiday celebration, but the building was refurbished and reopened in November. In March of this year, during another holiday, another group of settlers came to the school looking to damage or burn it, but internationals staying there were able to call police who came and dispersed the gathering before any damage was done. The principal was hesitant to add taller walls and make the building feel more “like a prison,” but taller walls were added after the continued threats. Also, because of the school’s proximity to the settlement, Internationals daily monitor the children going to and from school to prevent attacks by settler children. Even so, according to the principal, 8 girls from the school were attacked last week alone. The principal voiced her concern about the girls ability to concentrate with this uncontrolled hostility from settler children.

Qurtuba School

MPT team members accompany children home from school.

There are many horrific stories that could be told about the situation in Hebron that the team has witnessed and heard during their stay:
-- a local Palestinian activist detained and searched for no reason by a group of soldiers, only to be released 20 minutes after MPT members arrived and began to observe and video the scene.
-- a settler child chasing Palestinian children walking past “The Occupied House,” a home owned by Palestinians that was being built when settlers illegally moved in one night and have been staying since.
-- Palestinian boys and men are often stopped at multiple random checkpoints, merely causing another hassle for their movement in the area.
Soldiers surround and detain Palestinian without cause.

Soldiers go through the bag of a boy on his way to school.

Sunday morning, after their first night in the school, Walt and Eric met with the principal in her office to check in. (Qurtuba school runs Sunday – Thursday. In Palestine, Friday is the day of rest, but this school recently decided to also take Saturday off because of attacks by settler children. Settler children do not attend school on Saturdays, and so they are free to take up other pursuits.) A girl of maybe 8 came to the office and shared a story in Arabic with the principal and then began to cry. The principal explained to MPT team members that the girl wanted to go home to be with her mother because the girl’s 13- and 14-year-old brothers had been taken away by police the night before after some settler girls had told soldiers the boys had been throwing stones at them.

Later that night, Walt, Eric, seven other Internationals, and three Palestinian organizers were invited to the family’s house to talk with them and the two boys, who had since returned. Their story, as told by the younger boy, was that the boys were collecting wood for a fire when the settler girls came up. The boys ran away and soon were detained by soldiers and then taken from one checkpoint to a second checkpoint where they were detained for an hour until the police arrived.

The two boys were then taken to the police station (which is located in a local settlement) where they were handcuffed and blindfolded from midnight until 6AM, at which time they were transferred to a jail in the northern part of the West Bank. In the morning, the father went to the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), trying to get his sons released. In the afternoon, a call was made to return the boys to Hebron where the family then had to sign a paper promising to pay 1500 Israeli Shekels (about $430 US Dollars, or a month’s wage for the boys’ father) for their release. The boys had to return to the police station the next morning for questioning even though no formal charges or a complaint had been filed. According to locals, the large fee is assessed in an attempt to drive families out of the area (even to the point of bankrupting them), thus making way for settler expansion.

Boys detained without charges (with parents).
Even amidst all the horrors, on Friday night Walt and Eric were able to witness 6 Palestinian boys playing soccer on a street corner near a checkpoint, in sight of a settlement, where a soldier stood by and kicked the ball back to the boys if it came his way. One must take solace in the small things that make one believe that peace, even amidst the current situation, is still possible.


A Picture Story of the Weekly Bil'in Demonstration

An Israeli activist demonstrates his "position:" Against the Wall.

While Walt and Eric remained in an area of high tension in the south, team members Nicole and Martha headed north to Bil'in on Friday (4-18-08), where locals and activists gather for a weekly nonviolent demonstration against the segregation wall.

Bil'in has gained a place in history due to the dedication and persitence of Palestinian-led efforts to oppose the Wall (and the annexation of sixty percent of their land) by nonviolent means--usually marches, "sit downs," etc., at the site where the wall crosses this relatively small village. According to a local organizer being interviewed by international press, there have been over 1,000 people injured at Bil'in since the start of protests here; some individuals have been injured more than ten times. According to the same source, there have been more than 60 arrests in connection with this weekly demonstration. Friday was Prinsoner's Day in Palestine, a day declared by the Palestinian Authority to commorate those Palestinians who are, or were, in prison.

The movie Bil'in Habibati was filmed about the situation here, and we were able to meet several people from the film this week. Locals, Israelis, and internationals are still out there every week demonstrating against the wall, years--and several court decisisions--later. This week there were at least a dozen journalists, more than 30 internationals and Israelis, and many more local people. There were international activists from Europe, Australia, Japan, Seattle, Chicago, and many other places. For more in depth information and background on this village and the non-violent resistance here, see previous MPT reports:





And, visit the website of local Bil'in organizers: http://www.ffj-bilin.org/strona/index.php.

Here's our brief photo story of this week's ("fairly calm") Friday demonstration in Bil'in...

Activists gather under the direction of Palestinian leaders after the mid-day prayer, and walk down the village's main street to the Wall.

Everyone gathers in a rocky field at the site of the wall and the Israeli-only road alongside it.

A few bold activists have moved the barbed wire and, rather symbolically, opened the gate to the road. They are unable to move through the gate, however; soldiers opened fire with rubber-coated steel bullets soon after this photo was taken.

MPT team member Martha takes up a yellow flag, as a Palestinian cameraman stands on a boulder, wearing a high visibility vest. At this point, the rubber bullets were coming at regular intervals from the soldiers you can see towards the middle of the photo above--small figures in the distance, in front the camera man in neon yellow. There were at least four soldiers located behind cement blast walls and four soldiers further down the barbed wire who also shot at people.

Another bold local man stands with a Palestinian flag at the forefront of the activists, while soldiers reload with more "rubber" bullets in the background. Luckily, it doesn't seem like they were aiming at anyone in the front, though shot after shot hit a tree further back, where young men gathered during the demonstration; broken branches and leaves rained down on the people under the tree.

Everyone "hits the deck" in response to another round.

A child brought us this rubber-coated steel bullet from under an olive tree (the symbol for peace) as the demonstration broke up.

Soon after the rubber bullets, more than 15 tear gas canisters were launched at the nonviolent demonstrators. One started a small fire in the scrubby, arid field. Activists covered their mouth and nose with scarves or strong-smelling onion, and rushed into the clouds of tear gas to put the fire out before it spread.

An empty tear-gas cannister.

This Red-Crescent ambulance arrived on the scene after the small fire started by the tear gas cannisters. It was unclear whether anyone was injured or whether anyone recieved medical attention from the medical personnel in the ambulance.

Cameramen and reporters from BBC-Arabic (along with several other journalists) were on the scene of the demonstration from the start this week. This could be one reason the response from the Israeli army involved less manpower, army jeeps, tear gas, sound grenades, and rubber bullets than MPT teams have experienced in the past.

Children and Conflict in Hebron

These Palestinians children may be left without educational possiblities should this school be closed by the Israeli army. [Classroom pictures courtesy of Christian Peacemaker Teams]

A week ago, Michigan Peace Team [MPT] was invited to go to the large southern West Bank Palestinian city of Hebron. We were invited in part to help prevent the Israeli Occupation Forces [IOF] from invading and closing down two local orphanages and three schools, thus forcing the expulsion of the children those institutions serve.

On February 25, 2008, the IOF raided all of the buildings and institutions funded by the Islamic Charitable Society [ICS] in Hebron. The IOF gave orphanages and boarding schools until April 1 to evacuate students. On March 6, the Israeli army again stormed storage buildings of ICS, confiscating food, children's clothing, and kitchen appliances used to prepare meals for the orphans. The value of property confiscated was estimated at $300,000. Almost 6,000 Palestinian children in Hebron are housed, fed, and educated in these centers.

The Israeli army has accused the Islamic Charitable Society as acting as a front for the militant Islamist organization Hamas by training youth based on jihad principles and other terrorists activities. The Islamic Charitable Society was created in 1962, long before Hamas, and has provided services over these many years to those desperately in need. In a press conference on March 7, Attorney Abd al-Karim Farah, a legal advisor to the Society, said everything was supervised by accountants, the Palestinian Authority’s welfare, and education ministries. Also, the curricula in the Society's educational institutions are identical to those of the PA, according to Farah, who emphasizes, "everything is legal." ICS appealed to the Israeli high court, but the appeal was rejected.

On March 7th, concerned Palestinian groups in Hebron, international human rights workers, journalists, and others held a press conference to announce the rejection of the Islamic Charitable Society’s appeal to the Israeli High Court, and the actions of the Israel military occupation forces [IOF]. All recognized the contributions of ICS in caring for orphans, the education of children, and providing aid to 5,000 needy families. Twenty per cent of the Islamic Charitable Society’s funding is local; most other funding is from abroad. All donations received through bank accounts are filtered and monitored by Palestinian and Israeli financial authorities. Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization, denounced the military actions against the Islamic Charitable Society as collective punishment and challenged the IOF to provide evidence for their claims.

On April 2, officials at the local school funded by the Society received word that the Israeli High Court mandated that within four days the Israeli military give the Court full justification for the closure and evacuation. As of April 16, 2008, the IOF has yet to provide any evidence or justification to the Israeli high court for these closures.

In the middle of the night on April 14, the Israeli army invaded a bakery that rents its building from the Islamic Charitable Society. The army confiscated the bakery’s refrigerators, equipment, and most of the inventory, leaving only a battered and destroyed oven. The bakery made, sold, and provided bread for the ICS orphanages.

In the past few weeks, various Palestinian groups and internationals, including Christian Peacemaker Teams, have slept overnight at the schools and orphanages. No further incidents have occurred. The day Michigan Peace Team [MPT] arrived, it was the local opinion that the schools had seemed safe for a few days; Palestinian leaders decided not to send people in at night. While the orders to close the schools still stand, it is unclear when or if this will occur. In the past, raids under military orders may happen immediately, in a few days, weeks, or a few months. The military has yet to document justification to the Israeli Court, but there have been instances in which the military has acted contrary to the High Court’s orders.

Where will these children go if their school is closed down?

MPT heard a report that one very reputable international Christian charitable group has recently lent public moral support for the Islamic Charities with the hope that soon other international groups will follow. This may prevent the continued harassment and destruction of the school properties.

Since 1968, Hebron has had a large settlement of illegal Israeli settlers living inside the city. The settlement has brought many conflicts, including the shooting of 29 Muslim worshipers in the Ibrahimi mosque by a settler in 1994. The Israeli settlers remember the massacre of some Jewish residents in 1929 by Palestinians, which prompted the evacuation of the remaining Jews by the British. During the Second Intifada (a time of uprising of the Palestinian people, begun in 2000), twenty-two Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed by Palestinians. During this period, 91 Palestinians fighters and civilians were killed by Israeli soldiers and civilians. Thus, there is a history of violence in the city. There are also strong religious connections to Hebron by both Israelis and Palestinians because it is seen as the burial place of Abraham and his family, a central figure in the foundation of both religions.

Israeli settler boys building a bonfire at their picnic in a Palestinian olive tree grove.

While remaining available should any developments occur in relation to the school and orphanage, MPT has been working with local children. Each day we have done “school patrol,” monitoring the route through the Hebron neighborhood of Tel Rumeida where Palestinian children must walk to get to school. Israeli soldiers are stationed every few hundred yards along the route to guard the settlers and their children, who often harass the Palestinians. At times, the Palestinian children respond, but not often, because they have no defense if caught by the Israeli soldiers. Punishment (sometimes collective) by the IOF remains unlikely for settlers, but can be severe for Palestinians.Our first day, MPT went with other internationals to a Palestinian owned olive tree grove where Israeli settler school boys and girls [separated] were having a picnic. They were guarded by nine Israeli soldiers. How delightful it was to be in the spring sun on this lovely hilltop, seeing children making lemonade and frying potatoes and bread. (Delightful, that is, if you ignore the fact they were on private land without permission, and the children later become aggressive and abusive with both Palestinians and Internationals.)

Note the presence of the Israeli soldier, at the right, at the picnic guarding the settler children.

Israeli settler girls drinking lemonade out of the large container. Walt, MPT, upper left, is observing the activities going on with the settler children, Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.

What a contrast it was to see armed soldiers protecting settlers and turning a blind eye to the threatening behavior of the Israeli settler children. Palestinians who came to the area were prevented by the soldiers from crossing their own land to go to their home from school or to work—even though the settlers were on private land owned by a local Palestinian family.

This Palestinian school child was denied Israeli soldier's permission to pass to his home because he had to pass through the “picnic area.” He returned a couple hours later.

This Palestinian man, returning from work, was denied passage through the “picnic area” to return to his home. He waited a couple hours to return.

We stayed until after the soldiers left. At this point, the children became abusive, calling us names at the encouragement of their teacher. One child threw sticks at an MPT team member. We felt first hand some of the pain Palestinians must feel to have children being hateful bullies with little recourse to the Israeli authorities. Of course, the tragedy underlying this is the way children are brought up to learn hate and to view those around them as “other” and less than human—unworthy of sympathy or understanding and deserving of the worst possible abuse, even death. The scariest part is the adults such children grow up to be!

The good news is that in the last four months (since MPT was last in Hebron) abusive behavior by illegal Israeli settlers has lessened, mainly because of media attention and work by B’tselem, an Israeli human rights group. However, we witnessed and personally experienced some of this abuse that is still present. We are saddened that children must grow up fearful and unprotected in this society.


A Peaceful Prayer Confronted by Military Force

A peaceful demonstration occurred at Al Kadher on Friday, April 11 just west of Bethlehem. At about Noon, 80 Palestinians assembled in prayer in the road that approaches a checkpoint and an entrance to an exclusive Israeli highway. They were protesting the confiscation of a large part of the village of Al Kadher and the illegal Israeli apartheid-barrier wall. The Palestinians spent an hour in prayer led by an Imam. No traffic was impeded by the demonstrators. MPT’s Palestine Team was in attendance, along with others, and observed a group of peaceful demonstrators in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. (See pictures: -Demonstrators in prayer while a woman on a donkey passes by and men at prayer.)

The Israeli Army responded by deploying seven snipers on a cliff overlooking the demonstration and positioned a barricade of four military vehicles with several armed soldiers about 300 meters away. Although the demonstrators did not impede traffic, the Israeli Army did not hesitate to exercise force themselves by stopping traffic into the village. (See pictures - Snipers on the cliff and military vehicles.)

According to IMEMC, the International Middle East Media Center April 11, 2008:

The Israeli army prevented a number of Israeli peace activists from joining the Palestinian residents of Al-Khader, near Bethlehem, in their weekly nonviolent protest against the construction of the annexation wall on their land on Friday at noon.
Eyewitnesses told IMEMC that troops stopped the Israeli activists and took the keys of their cars at one of the entrances of the village. Later on, troops informed the activists that they will get their keys back unless they are going back to Jerusalem.
Coordinator of the Local Committee for Popular Resistance in Bethlehem, Samer Jaber, said “This is an attempt by Israel to prevent solidarity with the Palestinians in their just struggle to end the Israeli occupation.”
“Israel has prevented hundreds, if not thousands, of Internationals from coming to Palestine the moment the army finds out that those internationals are coming to join nonviolent activities with the Palestinians,” Jaber added.

After an hour the demonstrators dispersed quietly, having made their point through peaceful expression--while the Israeli Army made their point through the threat of violence and by interfering with other people joining the protest. The calm of the demonstrators in the face of the external Israeli military threat in occupied Palestine has to be admired. It reminds one of Selma, Alabama over 40 years ago when the police saw violence as a way of continuing the suppression of blacks in the American South.

On Saturday, April 12, the MPT in Palestine traveled to Al Walaja, a village near Bethlehem, to meet with a Palestinian family. Al-Walaja is a village being surrounded by the Israeli barrier wall and roads built exclusively for Israeli use. According to a map supplied by the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ), the proposed route of the wall will completely encircle the village (it is already very cut off). Palestinians are not allowed to travel on these Israeli-only roads through the West Bank. It is an illegal and crippling strategy by the Israeli government to further intrude into Palestinian territory, restrict the movement of Palestinians and provide favored treatment of Israeli settlers. Its purpose is to ultimately drive out the Palestinians.

When asked how the Palestinians might live encircled by the Wall, our host commented only that he hoped they wouldn’t have to find out, but they would face that issue if and when it occurred.
All the villagers have received evacuation notices and can receive demolition notices as little as 30 minutes before the Israeli military appears to demolish their homes. They receive no compensation for their homes and land. We saw the remains of two houses demolished by the Israeli army where the residents were forced to move into a UN refugee camp. These villagers are either refugees or their descendents when the Israelis drove them from their homes across the valley in 1948. They resettled and built new homes which are again being threatened. On the horizon across the valley is the large Israeli settlement, Gilo, expanding towards this Palestinian area. See picture – Israeli Gilo Settlement Overlooking

The Israelis appear to be driving out the small Palestinian family farms and homes in favor of constructing overreaching concrete apartment edifices that destroy the environment. It seems like Illegal confiscation of Palestinian land is an Israeli right under a legal system where just compensation may be repeatedly ignored by the Israeli government--when it comes to Palestinians. The Israeli army has the freedom to declare a security area and force the Palestinians off, only to later reclassify the area and let Israelis resettle the land. In addition, under international law, an occupying army is not allowed to colonize a conquered land with its own citizens, but Israel continues its expansionist policies of stealing Palestinian land.

The MPT in Palestine is seeing first hand the inequities in a land ruled by Israeli military might and rules where there is a favored status for Israelis coveting the Palestinian land. Our host in Al Walaja told us that this village had demonstrated the previous Friday, beginning with prayer, and that several internationals were present. It appears the peaceful people are the Palestinians as they suffer through peaceful demonstrations while confronted by Israeli military.