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Plowing Olive Groves under Israeli Occupation

The day after the plowing near Jit, MPTers were called to be present at a plowing of an olive grove near the Howwara checkpoint and behind the Israeli army base in the village of ‘Awarta near the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar.

At 7:15 a.m. an Israeli woman rabbi, member of the Israeli Rabbis for Human Rights, drove the MPTers to ‘Awarta and then followed the tractor for about fifteen minutes to the land of the Palestinian owner who had hired two tractors for the day’s plowing. Upon arriving another tractor appeared and both tractors began work immediately. There was the possibility that plowing would not be permitted by the army, so the owner had all his property documents, dating before 1940, with him. The olive grove was about ¾ down the hill and only a couple outposts of the settlement could be seen at the top of the hill.

The olive grove was near the foot of the hill,
but was considered a desirable addition to the illegal hilltop Israeli settlement.

The tractors worked continuously.
Both tractors were hired for a day's work.

Soon Arik Ascherman, director of Rabbis for Human Rights, another Israeli, and a Swedish photojournalist arrived. The tractors had completed about 20 minutes of work, when an Israeli army jeep arrived with three soldiers. The Palestinian tractor drivers continued working. Two soldiers, Arik, and the Palestinian land owner with his land documents in hand conversed with the Israeli soldiers.

The Palestinian's papers were in order, but any pretense of
a possible dispute about them would cause hours of delay.

Arik called the Israeli Army District Coordinating Officer (Officer (DCO) giving them all the information from the land documents. [Reception for most cellphones was impossible here.]

MPTers and the Israeli woman rabbi waited for the DCO decision.

The property owner waited but the tractors continued.
First, the DCO asked for more documents, and then decided they needed more time to study the information from the present documents because they said ownership of the land was disputed. The tractors continued plowing.

The Swedish photojournalist who was working on a documentary about Israeli peace activists filmed what was happening. Arik was translating and explaining continuously. One of the soldiers recognized him because he had seen him filming in Hebron. It is probable that the army only allowed the photojournalist to continue because Arik was present.

It was now about 10:00 a.m., as everyone waited.

The owner was still hopeful.
The soldiers returned to their jeep and a settler came down to them; the soldiers reported to the group that settler claimed that he had bought the land. This day was Holocaust Remembrance Day and all Israeli were to keep a period of silence at 10:00 a.m. The woman rabbi with RHR noted that the settler did not observe this moment of silence.

Finally the Israeli soldiers returned to where the tractors were plowing (and where the Palestinian owner, the three Israelis, two MPTers, and the photojournalist were), to announce that there would be a delay of at least an hour while the DCO looked into the land dispute. There was no guarantee of an outcome favorable to the Palestinian owner or as to the exact time of the decision.

The Israeli soldiers announced a delay of undetermined time, maybe an hour, maybe the rest of the day. This is a common method of harassment.

While the Palestinians decided what to do, the older Israeli man, a retired economist and an Israeli military veteran, talked to one of the soldiers. Later the Israeli man told MPTers that the soldier questioned why he was there supporting Arab terrorists. The Israeli asked the soldier if he thought the tractor drivers were terrorists. The soldier said all Arabs (Palestinians) could be terrorists. He ranted against the Palestinians. The woman rabbi told us the officer corrected the soldier for speaking the way he did to the people in the group or speaking to them at all.

The Israeli man in white attempted to converse with the Israeli soldier. The soldier ranted about Arab [Palestinian] terrorists.
The Israeli accompaniers and the MPTers noted the youth of the soldiers. MPTers would want no youth anywhere to serve in the military forces, particularly as an occupying power.
In a short time the Palestinians decided it would be a waste of their time and money to continue in the olive grove and to pay the tractors to wait, when no favorable decision was in sight soon. An MPTer spoke to the Palestinian land owner, a Palestinian teacher, who was angry, frustrated and sad. He had to pay the tractor drivers for work that could not be completed and he had lost a day of teaching since he had taken the day off for the plowing. His right to plow his fields, for which he had legal documents, had been violated. Not even half of the olive grove had been plowed. He was forced to submit to the illegal and illogical decision of the Israeli army.

The Palestinian farmer/teacher accepts his fate, but not without resentment. He has lost time and money for no good reason.

The Israeli army jeep stopped both tractors from plowing the Palestinian's land. A "land dispute" was the reason given by the Israeli army, but harassment was the name of the game.

One of the Palestinian tractor drivers asked the Israeli rabbi and the MPTers to accompany him to finish plowing a field in an area a short distance away. This work was finished about 2:00. MPTers left for the day at that point, while Arik Ascherman and others continued working to secure the rights of the owner at the first location to finish the plowing on his fields.

Plowing Olive Groves under threat from settlers

MPTers were called to be present at two plowings in olive groves, this past week. The first was near Jit, but the Palestinian owner was from Kafr Qaddum. This grove of olive trees near the illegal Israel settlement of Qedumin had not been cared for for some time because of its proximity to this large settlement and the threat of danger from settlers. Israeli settlers have beaten, shot, and badly injured Palestinians who are working on Palestinian land near settlements.

About 8:30 a.m., the owner and MPTers walked up the verdant hillside to the olive grove where they were met by two Palestinian tree trimmers who cut branches with a chain saw and then stacked the wood.

The owner watches as his trees are trimmed. They are not in good condition
since he has been unable to care for them for sometime.

Soon a tractor with a Palestinian driver arrived to begin work and then a bit later two Palestinians with another tractor and wagon for hauling the wood came.

Spring rains, although sparse this year, have made the hills green and beautiful.

Only the larger logs are taken.

The tractor plowing the fields was followed by several white birds which have the appearance of small herons; they followed the tractor like ducks in a row, in order to eat the bugs plowed up from the soil.

Birds following the plow

As the plowing and trimming was being done, all were alert for the possible appearance of settlers. At one point the sheik came and with his long beard the MPTers at first mistook him for a settler.

The sheik gave advice about the trimming.

At about 11:30, the first one teenage settler appeared on the top of the hill to the east and soon there were 7 teenage boys watching from a distance.

A foreboding sign.

Increasing numbers of Isreali settler youth can cause much apprehension. There were 8 Palestinian men working below which may have deterred the youth. Settler youth can be more violent than settler adults since they are more immune from punishment.

When the work was completed, the owner drove the MPTers to Howwara where he brought them falafel sandwiches and juice at the Quicke Restaurant. The hospitality and graciousness of Palestinians is ever present even in the situation of occupation.

This restaurant is on the main street of the village of Huwwara.


Morning Curfew in Haris

Israeli army jeeps in the village of Haris announcing a curfew at 7:00 a.m.

Everyday the Palestinians experience in harsh and dangerous ways the oppression of the occupation. They daily face soldiers from the Israeli Occupation Force on the streets, near the entrances of the villages, on the roads and at the checkpoints. the humiliation and heaviness of their presence is always with the people and with us.

The morning of April 15 at 7:00 a.m., an Israeli army jeep drove through the streets of Haris where we are staying, announcing a curfew on their loud speaker. Two of us, one IWPS and one MPT went to the street to check with a person in the village and to walk near the school to check on any children who might be in danger. One MPTer stayed home to call the Israeli District Coordinating Office (DCO).

As we walked up the hill to the empty main street through town, the army jeep was talking to a young man on the street. We have been told that the army tries to get young men to spy on one another and collaborate with their harassment by giving information. A little money or a promise of no arrest could be tempting.

The army asked what we were doing and we said we were walking out and they told us to go out. Since it was the direction we intended to go, we continued on to talk to the family who told us the little they knew.

We then walked back toward the school, but were stopped again by the Israeli soldiers in the jeep who ask us to leave. We explained that we were concerned about the children coming to school. Since all the children were in their homes looking out from upstairs windows and rooftops, we decided to return slowly to the house. There was no school in Haris this day.

The MPTer who called the DCO was told that there was a curfew in the village until 10:00 a.m. because children had been throwing stones at the entrance of the village the day before. We are told that the army often uses this pretense.

The village of Haris had nightly army incursions for about a week the end of March. Four homes were badly ransacked, destroying everything inside, many young men, including minors, were arrested and three are still in jail. There is a dirt and cement roadblock on the main street leading into the village. Recently another road entrance was made into the village, which gives the military easy access into Haris, and villages nearby.

Piles of dirt, rocks and pieces of cement block the main entrance to Haris.

Villagers are often have IDs checked by the soldiers on the nearby highway and than proceed to cross the barrier on foot.

When we meet with Palestinians they often say, "We want to have peace, but the Israelis do not."


Bil'in Protest Last Friday

This gas mask and telephoto camera belong to an associated press journalist hit by a tear gas canister, at last Friday's demonstration against the separation Wall (Bil'in, Palestine). He suffered only minor injury, as did a man from the village who was hit in the leg only moments later by one of the next canisters. He is Palestinian-American and reports in both Israel and Palestine.

Palestinians and Israeli's carried this sign together condemning the separation Wall. Upon reaching the site of the portion of the Wall in Bil'in, Palestinians and Israeli's together carried the sign directly in front of the soldiers in an act of solidarity and resistance.

In the photo above, soldiers prepare to launch tear gas canisters and sound grenades, aimed directly at the protesters with the sign on the 'front line.' According to associated press journalists present, this is contrary to at least one standing military orders which prohibit firing these projectiles directly at people. The military response to this nonviolent protest was about 15 soldiers and at least two army jeeps at any given time during the afternoon. There were about 50 protesters total this week, Palestinians, Israelis and internationals.

At least two tear gas canisters hit protesters during the demonstration, and other canisters and 'sound grenades' landed within feet--sometimes inches--of the protesters holding the sign.

The two photos above show the results of two of the canisters that landed on or close to the protesters. You can just barely see the three 'front line' protesters in these photos, behind the clouds of tear gas.

It was heartening that Bil'in remains steadfast in it's resolve to oppose the Wall.


Work with the United Nations

On April 8, 2009, MPT, International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS), Ecumenical Accompaniment (EAPPI - World Council of Churches), Medicine du Monde (an international organization similar to Doctors Without Borders), local representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Save the Children UK, and others met at the OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs – Occupied Palestinian Territories) office in Nablus. OCHA examines the humanitarian – socio-economic, psychological - impact on Palestinians from the ongoing settlements in the West Bank and other Israeli infrastructure, such as the apartheid wall and the roads and checkpoints that accompany it.

The purpose of these bi-monthly meetings with OCHA is to give and receive updates on the situation in the Nablus, Qalqillya and Jordan Valley areas. Briefly, the IWPS Haris area report was that nighttime Israeli army incursions continue with the arrest and detention of minors. Three of whom are still in prison. A young diabetic was allowed insulin, but not food; international observers were assured by officials that this young man was receiving regular medical care and attention, but when he was released he reported that he was never seen my any medic or doctor while he was held. Four homes were completely ransacked with the interiors destroyed. The media and ambulance were called, but not allowed in. Curfews are arbitrary. Human rights agencies and Israeli and Palestinians authorities are notified, but incursions and blockades continue.

The report of the Jayyus area by EAPPI was similar to that of Haris. Israeli soldiers sleep in homes, arrest people, order curfews, do not allow olive trees to be planted and dole out collective punishment. Jayyus has had very powerful demonstrations. (MPT was present in the fall for three of these.) However, the town is really feeling the weight of the heavy oppression and continues to reflect on how they must respond.

Children’s Rights Program reported on the situation of children in the Jordan Valley with the displacement of many Bedouin families. (MPT had been in the Jordan Valley doing protective presence/accompaniment in 2007 and 2008.)

OCHA distributed lists and information on communities at risk of displacement. Many of these are in Area C [Oslo Accord: under complete Israeli military and political control]. Some have had or have orders for home demolitions/evictions. Of the 18 listed, only one had legal assistance. There are more than two thousand children and adults who will be homeless if all the demolition orders monitored by OCHA in the area are completed; in addition, many other communities face threats of eviction or notices of demolition that are not on this list for various reasons.

Of concern to all, put particularly to the people of Yanun is the explosive devices left by the army, which children could pick up. A study of this problem in the general area will be made, probably by UNICEF.

A Norwegian woman from the Norwegian Refugee Council presented a plan for a northern West Bank legal project. This organization will work with Palestine, Israeli, and international groups.

The Norwegian Refugee Council Legal Project has three objectives:

l. capacity to train peace activists and NGOs to do para-legal work

2. limited legal assistance regarding housing, land, property, legal identity (but not detentions)

3. legal strategy and advocacy

MPT will assist on the work for the OCHA surveys of the communities in our area. These are posted on the OCHA website. These surveys are an important tool in working in the communities in the future. MPT will add a question on the need for accompaniment in the olive harvest in the fall.

Please see the following links for more information on the organizations mentioned and their work in Nablus governorate:

OCHA- Survey of Surveys (Community Profile Information)

Medicine du Monde- Palestine (French only)

ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross- Palestine)

Ecumenical Accompaniment (EAPPI)

Please check these excellent reports from International Women’s Peace Service, Palestine:

IWPS Reports

Visits to Refugee Camps


On April 8, 2009, MPT visited the most heavily populated Palestinian refugee camp, Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus. The refugees of this camp, which now resembles a small very crowded city (as buildings have expanded and been built one on top of another, ‘streets’ have become so narrow you have to turn sideways to squeeze through!), suffered the same indignities as other internal refugees in Palestine—years, generations even, living in tents with little access to water, sewage disposal, and other basic needs. Israeli army incursions, arrests, and an armed revolt in the Second Intifada (resulting in deaths and jailing of many young people in the camp) added to the pain of the people living here. Now, two or three (or more) generations live in very crowded housing with little space for children to play, a lack of social services and infrastructure, and serious problems with prejudice, lack of acceptance, and fear from people in the local town.

Narrow passages between buildings crowded with people.

The young man who showed us around was gregarious, but gave us little history. [We were aware of some history because MPT presence in the camp in previous years.] Our guide rather expressed his strong frustration with the USA involvement in the Iraq War and its support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. He also faulted the European countries for supporting the US position. This is difficult to listen but is a frustration growing among young Palestinians.


On April 12, MPT visited an internal refugee camp in Jenin where sixteen thousand people live. In 12 days in 2002 during the Second Intifada, Israeli soldiers put down an armed resistance, destroying 400 houses, arresting 1000 people and killing 65. [Jenin has been occupied by Israel since 1967.] In 2005, the camp was rebuilt with money from the United Arab Emirates.

Crowded conditions

Our guide stated that this crushing of the people in 2002 was a turning point for many of the refugees. They witnessed the devastation to children who had experienced the horrors of the death and destruction in the camp. He felt the young people in the Second Intifada had died for nothing because nothing has changed, and that their lives were snuffed out when they had so much talent that would never be developed. Our guide expressed that Palestine has no military power, but is up against an extremely modern and powerful Israeli army. This young man is choosing nonviolence in response to the oppressive occupation, and believes it will be more effective. He said that he and many others involved in this work look forward to the next uprising, which they believe will be a Cultural Intifada. This third intifada will express to the world resistance in art, drama and dance. He has an unshakable belief that this will come and that it will be effective in countering the occupation, and will result in increased awareness around the world—and ultimately Israel will find itself shunned by the international community.

In 1988, Arna Mer-Khamis, an Israeli socialist activist woman who had been married to a Palestinian from Nazareth, established a theatre center. Arna received an alternative Nobel Prize and is the subject of a documentary film, Arna’s Children. [http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article2255.shtml] Arna’s theatre was successful, but all of this destroyed with the Second Intifada and the death and arrest of so many young people with whom Arna had worked.

In 2005, Arna was ill with terminal cancer, but her son Juliano Mer-Khamis, who had grown up with the Jenin theatre alongside his mother and had become an Israeli actor, return to Jenin and built Freedom Theatre. A theatre group has developed the only theatre and film school in Palestine with university degrees. Our guide said the aim of the Freedom Theatre group is to respond to the oppression with preserving the culture and with nonviolence resistance through theatre. Professionals and nonprofessionals work with young people from the camp who learn to express themselves through therapeutic drama.

Our guide proudly posses

Outside the theatre building

Inside the theatre

The theatre group recently performed Animal Farm, which was rewritten by an Israeli to have a decidedly Palestinian twist. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7968812.stm] ] The Freedom Theatre building with 250 people capacity has had visiting circus and mime groups. All people – Palestinian, Israeli, international are accepted as part of the theatre as long as they hold to its principles (nonviolent action/expression—although the position of the organization is that they respect those who choose armed resistance—and rejecting normalization of the occupation/non-acceptance of the occupation.) Our guide teaches young people filming and directs film workshops. He showed us several superb short clips. Our guide presented a film in Bulgaria and soon a group will go to France, Germany and Austria. They have also presented in Bethlehem. They have hopes to build a new $1.5 million building.

Our guide's film office

Young people practice filming

The theatre is not always well accepted by the camp who are very conservative culturally and very protective of the young women. When our guide tried to make a film about girls being able to ride bikes in the camp, authorities forbid it.

Between the town and the refugee camp, [the physical boundaries are indistinguishable] there has been suspicion and discrimination. Refugees are labeled as uneducated and criminal and town people are labeled as rich and uncaring. Town children do not participate in the theatre. However, there are efforts to bring down the barriers between town and camp.

We watched a short part of the children’s new production, The Magic Flute and we were very impressed with the acting skills of the children

A splendid performance by the youth.


Return Visit to Sheikh Jarrah

In October 2008, MPTers spent about two weeks at the home of the al-Kurd family in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. MPTers and other international peace activists slept in tents on the patios, while other internationals, Palestinians and sympathetic Israelis came daily as a protective presence to deter against the total occupation of the al-Kurd home by Israeli settlers. In early November, just before a court decision was to be made, Israeli soldiers drove the family out and settlers occupied the total house. At this same time, orders of eviction were given to other homes in the area.

Within a week of the eviction Mr. al-Kurd who had been ailing, died of a heart attack. His wife Umm Karmel and others set up a protest tent at the bottom of the hill from their home. Four other families in the area who expected immediate eviction also had people sleeping in the tent. Since November, Palestinians and international peace activists have spent days and nights in the tent and with the four families in their homes. There has been a constant flow of Palestinian, international and Israeli supporters to the tent and to the area.

When the MPT spring team came to Jerusalem the first week of April 2009, they briefly visited the tent site where Umm Karmel warmly welcomed them. A young Palestinian supporter seated outside the tent invited them to be seated and explained to them the painful history of the al-Kurd family and Sheikh Jarrah.

In July 2008, the US State Department issued an official complaint to the Israeli government over the eviction of the al_Kurd family, questioning the legality of the Israeli settler group claims of purchasing the land. [www.haaretz.co.il/hasen/spages/1005342.html]

With the aid of attorneys and the Turkish government, Ottoman Empire documents were obtained that proved that Jewish Sephardic Leadership never purchased the compound but only rented it. It also proved the document presented by the Israelis was not authentic. [Haaretz March 19, 2009 p.1. www.haaretz.com]

April 3, 2009 Secretary Hilary Clinton blasted Israeli plans to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem as a violation of its international obligations and “unhelpful” to Middle East peace efforts. Clinton said she planned to take up this issue with the incoming Israeli government. www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1068546.html

Despite the protest tent, support of internationals, Palestinians, and sympathetic Israelis, the international media, and the US State Department [through the US Consul General in Jerusalem and Clinton] this tent has been bulldozed four or five times. Today, April 5, 2009, the four families who are specifically threatened with eviction have not received protection through the Israeli courts and expect that they could be evicted at any time. Lawyers for the families are seeking a freeze on evictions from the Israeli High Court. The families and the coordinators of volunteer groups who stay with the families are seeking urgently needed volunteers, as a previous group is leaving tomorrow.


Spring '09 Team in the West Bank

We crossed successfully into the West Bank, and we have been very busy touching base with many of our friends, "co-workers" and contacts here!

We spent two days in Jerusalem, where we got in touch with a friend about further "training" for the spring and summer teams here in the WB. We look forward to touching base with this group in the next few weeks to get updated, and of course the summer team will learn much at this training.

We visited the neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah (see posts from last fall, including this report about MPT's presence at the Al-Kurd home). Sadly, much has happened since MPT was at the home last fall; Um Kamel Al-Kurd and her family were evicted from and are now living in a tent on a rocky slope of ground below their former neighborhood. In good news, their tent home is now a center for resistance to evictions in East Jerusalem, and volunteers from all over Palestine and internationals come there to coordinate efforts and share information. We will post a brief update with more information on Sheik Jarrah and the Al-Kurds family soon.

We also picked up an updated book from Passia (http://www.passia.org) for 2009 which has many contacts and organizations working on behalf of Palestinians here. We hope this will be a good resource for our team and future teams.

Then it was on to the United Nations OCHA post in Jerusalem (two trips, they were closed both times!) to pick up maps and other humanitarian information/updates. Luckily, someone took pity on us even though they were closed and we got the information we needed to take north.

After stopping at the site of our previous (much-loved) apartment and checking in with our friends in the village there, we have come north to Nablus province. We will be living in the area while we concentrate on finding a new apartment to rent here in the North. Then we'll work on getting it ready to live in, furnished, etc... the idea is to have it all set for the summer team. Or mostly, they may have to bring their own pillows and forks, depending on how much we can furnish the place in the meantime :) !


Spring 09 Team-- Arrived Safely in Middle East

Just a brief note to let everyone know both M and N arrived safely in the Middle East, and will proceed to their intended destination shortly!

I (N.) cannot sleep and am on crazy time schedule with jet lag, so I am at a great internet cafe/bar/bookstore! Thought I'd take the opportunity to make a brief post to let everyone know all is well. Off to buy an english-language book perhaps, then back to the hotel for a few hours sleep before we continue our journey tomorrow (a big day, wish us luck).