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Pruning Accompaniment

On November 18, 19 and 23, MPTers responded to requests for accompaniment for pruning olive trees. Farmers in Quarawat Bani Hassan and Kufr Qaddum felt the need to have internationals present when they went to their groves in case they encountered settlers from the nearby illegal settlements of Kiryat Natafim and Qadumim and/or soldiers of the Israeli Occupation Army.
Olive groves needing pruning and plowing

Both Palestinian villages, Quarawat Bani Hassan and Kufr Qaddum, have similar populations, approximately 3,000. Both villages have suffered from the establishment of the nearby illegal settlements of Qadumin, established in 1975, and Kuryat Natafim, established in 1983, respectively. Both settlements confiscated hundreds of acres of land from the villages and a further large percentage of land is used as a protective barrier area around the settlement and therefore is unusable by the villagers.

The villagers simply are unable to plow their land or graze their animals or harvest their olives in many areas because of the violence and intimidation of the armed settlers should the villagers come too close to what the settlers claim is their land -- even though it’s private Palestinian land. Indeed, many villagers are scared to venture out of their village for fear of settler violence. But the threat of violence also comes from soldiers who patrol the roads, driving in and out of the settlements, and who have a close working relationship with the settlers.

In addition to losing their land, thousands of olive trees were uprooted to make room for the settlements, imposing great economic hardship on the farmers whose income is largely dependent upon olive production. In addition, the villages have had their wells poisoned by settlers as well as their springs polluted by the sewage and industrial run-off from the settlements. Their sheep and goats have been killed or stolen and arson has destroyed their crops and olive trees.
As recently as mid-October, fire set by the settlers destroyed close to 7 acres of land in Bani Hassan. Fire brigades were denied direct access to the burning fields via a settlement road, thus necessitating their approaching from the other side of the village, causing a 3-4 hour delay in extinguishing the fire which, of course, resulted in more extensive scorching of earth and trees.
Burnt olive trees (reddish brown in picture) in Kafr Qaddum
A similar situation occurred about the same time in Kafr Qaddum: about 50 trees burned in a fire that lasted all night because the settlers would not allow any fire truck to enter the area
When MPTers accompanied the farmer in Qarawat Bani Hassan, the farmer asked that they not take photographs. It would be easy to identify the grove from the perspective of the settlements in the pictures and the farmer feared retaliation. For two days, MPTers stayed with the farmer, keeping watch for soldiers and settlers while helping with the simple pruning of his olive trees, while he and a hired man did the more extreme pruning. Both days passed without incident.

On the 23rd, because the MPTers arrived before the farmer at the olive grove they thought was his, they sat on a boulder beneath an olive tree. They had noticed a settler on the hill watching their hike to the area. Soon, three young male settlers approached them, asking who they were, what they were doing, and why they were on “their” land, although the grove was in a valley, next to the road away from the settlement, clearly not settler land. After the MPTers nonchalantly responded that it was a beautiful day for a hike, and surely there was no problem just sitting in the shade for a rest, the settlers left -- to get reinforcements, the MPTers were sure. Not wanting to endanger the possibility of the Palestinian farmer being able to plow his field, the MPTers slowly walked across the road to the grove they realized was their destination. Meanwhile, on the hill a significant number of settlers had gathered.

Settlers gathering on the hill to watch the MPTers

It was evident that this farmer had not pruned many of his trees for a couple of years. The proximity of the settlement makes his olives groves an easy target.

Settlement in close proximity to the olive grove
While some trees had minimal sucker growth, the majority had suckers of more than a year’s growth growing from the base of the trees, indicating perhaps that the farmer’s field work last year had been interrupted. Hatchets had to be wielded to cut the growth.

MPTer wielding a hatchet to cut the suckers from the base of the tree

Moreover, the trees had not been shaped and there were several dead almond trees that had to be cut down.
Palestinian farmer cutting down a dead almond tree
Again, MPTers, while keeping watch for settlers and soldiers, helped the farmer and his brother prune, using clippers and axes to cut the unwanted growth from the bases of the trees and along their trunks. They also helped load the wagon with the wood from the fruit trees the men cut down.
MPTer helps load wagon with wood from felled tree
Again, fortunately, the work progressed without incident.

The farmer returns home after a day of hard work and without harassment from either settlers or soldiers. (Note the burnt olive trees on the terraced hillside)


Ni'lin: 87% Land Loss

To protest the loss of 87% of their land, Ni'lin villagers hold weekly demonstrations. In response, the villagers and the earth receive huge amounts of tear gas and live bullets from the Israeli Occupation Forces.

Ni’lin is a village nestled in the hill country near the green line [border], not far from the village of Bil’in in the west of the Ramallah District. Until 1948, Ni’lin village was comprised of 14,500 acres; however 10,000 acres were annexed to Israel after the 1948 War leaving Ni’lin with only 4,500 acres. After the 1967 War, 2000 more acres were confiscated. Five illegal Israeli settlements, now with a total population of over 40,000, and a larger military base have been built on this land. In May of 2008, more than 600 acres were taken from the 2,500 acres left to the village after the 1967 confiscation. These confiscations included prime agricultural land with many productive olive trees. (For more detail see: http://www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/spip.php?article439)

After the May 2008 land confiscation there were almost daily demonstrations by a large number of villagers, and later there were twice weekly or weekly demonstrations. The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) began by reacting to the demonstrations with extreme violence, including firing massive amounts of tear gas using a new weapon mounted on a jeep that could fire 15 -20 tear gas canisters simultaneously. The IOF has continued to respond very violently to the Ni’lin demonstration, even using live ammunition. Five villagers have been killed including one ten –year- old. An American, Tristan Anderson, was hit by a tear gas canister in March 2009 and is now living in a vegetative state.

The Ni’lin villagers have responded creatively to the land confiscation and the apartheid wall to the south of their village. In one demonstration they banged empty pots and pans to demonstrate the hunger and poverty caused by the land confiscation and the wall. In November 9, 2009, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the villagers tore down a section of this illegal concrete wall. http://jfjfp.com/?p=7234

On Friday, November 20, 2009, 4 MPTers joined a demonstration of more than 200 people including Palestinians, Israeli peace activists and internationals who walked to the apartheid wall in Ni’lin. The previous week, a new addition the length of two city blocks had been added to the previous wall. The wall is constructed by connecting 3 story-high cement slabs. Canisters with billowing clouds of tear gas greeted the approaching demonstrators. Gun shots were heard and the conjecture of some people was that 22 caliber rifles were being used against the demonstrators. It is probable that tutu bullets were used. Tutu bullets are said to be a bit larger than BB pellets, which could cause the loss of an eye. Two Palestinians were injured – one had his leg grazed and the other, who was shot between the legs, was taken to the Ramallah hospital, but is now in good condition. (See: http://www.israel-palestinenews.org/2009/11/previously-banned-tutu-bullets-return.html)

MPTers spoke with one villager who told them that he had lost all of his 8 acres of land in the 2008 confiscation. Two of his children need olive oil for a skin condition , so now he must buy olive oil for them. The monthly cost is exorbitant. The MPTers also met a young man who lost his university scholarship after spending time in prison probably for resistance activity. He said his family had lost their land in Israel in the Nakba and now he has lost his UN scholarship, so what is there to do except wait to die.

The following pictures document the Friday, November 20th, demonstration.

Villagers and internationals wait for the demonstration to begin.

[Click pictures to enlarge.]

Village men pray before the demonstration.

Israeli Occupation Forces stand prepared behind the huge cement apartheid wall.

Constant volleys of tear gas send demonstrators running.

A huge volley of tear gas from 15 - 20 canisters shot simultaneously fills the area with tear gas.

The tear gas fills the valley and drifts towards the settlement

just to the south.

MPTers use onions to help ease breathing.

Villagers set tires afire to the west, near a fenced area, being prepared for the cement slabs of the wall. The wind carried this heavy smoke toward the Israeli soldiers.

Young Red Crescent [Red Cross] aides are alert to injuries.

They face the separation wall and the huge illegal Israeli settlement across the valley.

Some tear gas canisters collected from the area.

Two men are injured. One needs hospitalization.

The Palestinian flag is held aloft throughout the demonstration. Israeli soldiers observe from a jeep up the hill on the road.

A tear gas canister rests among the rocks.

What is the future of this land and its people?


More Burin Settler Violence

Burin, nestled in the valley

Responding to reports of settler violence in the picturesque valley village of Burin, two MPTers once again visited that beleaguered community to offer solidarity and accompaniment. In recent years the villagers have suffered an increase in harassment, intimidation and violence at the hands of the settlers from the illegal Israeli settlements of Yitzar and Bracha and the nearby outposts of those settlements.
Incidents have ranged from cars being set on fire, electrical wires cut and home windows smashed to houses being set on fire, fields burned and livestock killed. Villagers have been abducted and assaulted. Even mortar shells and a rocket have been fired at the village from the Yitzar and Bracha settlements (www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1001565.html), home to ultranationalist Israelis who believe all of the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea was promised to the Jews by God.
Senseless act of violence

In late September (see mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/10/burin-tree-massacre.html) settlers from the illegal settlement of Yitzar cut more than 95 trees in one grove of the village. This time, 81 trees had been cut in another grove. Besides causing economic privation to the landowner, such a cruel and senseless act is difficult to comprehend and to view without being reduced to tears. All the spiritual traditions teach respect for Mother Nature and to live in harmony with one’s environment. That the olive tree is the universal symbol of peace makes the violation ever more egregious. The landowner estimates it will take 5 to 10 years for the trees to recover;Italic many may not survive.

Devastation triggered by intolerance

Mother Nature weeps

The MPTers also visited the home of Palestinians who have been subjected to harassment, rock attacks and home invasion by settlers from Yitzar, just up the hill from them. One afternoon, a week ago, 25 settlers threw stones at the house and water tank, cut the plastic water pipe leading to the house, and harassed the family, leaving only when villagers came to the aid of the family. Soldiers of the Israeli Occupation Army and the District Commissioner’s Office arrived three hours later.

Solar panels destroyed by rock-throwing settlers
The family has owned their land since the Ottoman Empire and built the home they now live in 14 years ago. Their problems with settlers have exacerbated since 2000. They have had sheep stolen, their car set on fire, roof-top solar panels destroyed, windows broken, and gasoline poured under one of the doors to the house and set on fire.

The door under which gasoline was poured and set ablaze

Burned floor from the gasoline set on fire

Not long ago settlers ransacked the house, terrorizing the family. Most of the harassment occurs on the Jewish Sabbath, so that every Friday from sundown until Saturday sundown, the family lives in a state of agitation, the children unable to sleep, everyone anticipating settler violence.

One of the many metal window screens in the house damaged by the settlers

Addressing such violence, the Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, has asserted: "The increase in the incidents in which Israeli citizens harass Palestinians in the area of the village of Burin and the West Bank in general, recently highlights the lack of action on the part of the authorities to contain the basis of Jewish terrorism that has taken hold in those areas. The authorities must act assertively against the violators and bring them to justice." (Ha'aretz, August 15, 2008, Special feature / The land of unchecked settler harassment by Avi Issacharoff).


Cactus Watering Protest at At-Tuwani

A young villager watering a cactus pad
On Saturday, November 7, the Fall MPT Team went to At-Tuwani to participate in a symbolic protest of watering cactus. The cactus is an appropriate plant for a protest, as the Palestinian word for “cactus” derives from the same root as “patience”: sabra. Thus the cactus has come to represent the steadfastness and inner strength of the Palestinians, as resistance to the Israeli Occupation takes time and patience. Cacti are found all over Palestine, along highways, demarcating property boundaries, and marking the location of long-ago destroyed or abandoned villages.
Early homes of At-Tuwani
At-Tuwani is a 1,000-year-old village near Hebron in the south of Palestine. Its population of approximately 250 people consists mainly of four families. Its oldest homes are between 300-500 years old, and some of the caves are believed to date from Roman times. At-Tuwani has witnessed a “building boom” in the past year which has transformed the landscape of the village. Modern cement homes are replacing the old stone structures and caves.
New homes replacing the ancient
At-Tuwani is surrounded by the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma'on, established in 1982, and the illegal Israeli outposts of Havat Ma'on and Avi Gai. The settlement of Ma’on continues to expand, having flattened a nearby hillside, putting up 6 caravans (term for a pre-fab type trailer; this first step toward the establishment or expansion of a settlement is called an "outpost") and building new homes. Since its establishment, Ma’on has confiscated close to 400 acres of land from At-Tuwani villagers.
Caravans expanding the illegal settlement of Ma'on
In 2004, after 20 years of enduring violence and harassment from the settlers, At-Tuwani invited Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and the Italian peace group Operation Dove to serve as a permanent international presence in the village The internationals spend their days monitoring Palestinian children walking near the settlements to and from school, accompanying the village farmers and shepherds in their fields where they are subject to assault by extremist settlers, and being a presence as the villagers improve the infrastructure of their community.
Land to right of fence confiscated by settlement last year
(fence is to the left of the poles)
Last summer the settlers destroyed the village’s wheat crop (crops and farm machinery are regularly destroyed by the settlers) and erected a fence, confiscating one-fifth of the area. Instead of replanting wheat, the villagers planted cactus along the fence to occupy the land. Each week, as a form of protest, internationals join the women and children of the village in watering the cacti “pads,” using soda bottles filled with water carted down to the field in a wheelbarrow. Other internationals stand watch with cameras to document any military or settler interference. It’s a small action, designed for visibility, but bears testimony to the steadfastness of the Palestinians.

Carting the water in soda bottles to the field

The men do not join in the protest for fear of arrest. At a recent village protest against a demolition order for one of the village homes, soldiers randomly arrested one of the men who was fined 20,000 shekels, or $5,000, an astronomical amount for the impoverished villager. The man’s family pooled their resources, villagers contributed, and one neighbor even sold his sheep and some furniture to help his friend. In addition to the fine, the man was imprisoned until his court date, which kept being postponed for several months. Because of this villager’s experience, the men are cautious about being upfront in the protests.
A young lad resets the stones around a cactus pad
At-Tuwani has one diesel generator that provides electricity for the village for four hours every night. Earlier this year former British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised the villagers they would have electricity and the villagers started building pylons to string the wires, only to receive demolition orders from the Israeli Army which confiscated materials and tools, including a truck, mechanized lift, and large spool of electrical cable.

Homes in At-Tuwani do not have running water. There is one spring-fed well that provides water for drinking and cooking, but does not provide enough water for washing. Rainwater is collected in cisterns for washing and for the animals. Because of years of drought and settler actions against their water sources (in the recent past, settlers poisoned the well with dead chickens), villagers have to buy much of their water, at prohibitive cost, from tankers that come to the village.

There is a well on a small hill not far from the cactus planting. However, even though it is on Palestinian land, the water is only for use by the illegal settlement and outposts. When villagers ask if they can have some of the water, officials tell them there’s “too little water,” not enough water for the villagers although the settlement has planted large numbers of cherry trees and rose bushes, two water-intensive crops.
Fields of cherry trees consume precious water
In its October 2009 report, Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water (www.amnestyusa.org/pdf/mde150272009en.pdf) Amnesty International accuses Israel of denying Palestinians the right to access adequate water by maintaining total control over the shared water resources and pursuing discriminatory policies. The report states that on average Palestinian daily water consumption (for drinking, bathing, cleaning, farming and for animals) reaches 18 1/2 gallons a day, compared with 79 ¼ gallons for the Israelis, and that some Palestinians barely get 5 ¼ gallons a day - the minimum recommended even in humanitarian emergencies. Numbering about 450,000, the residents of illegal settlements use as much or more water than the Palestinian population of some 2.3 million.

Amnesty International’s report also states that Israel denies Palestinians the right to dig wells, and has even destroyed cisterns and confiscated water tankers. In contrast, Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank in violation of international law have intensive-irrigation farms, swimming pools, and lush gardens and lawns. Amnesty International also charges that Israel uses more than 80% of the water from the Mountain Aquifer - the main source of underground water in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Each precious drop of water carries life ...
for the cactus and the Palestinian.
Thus the cactus planting and watering represent a fitting metaphor for the patience and forbearance required to live under Occupation.

Standing Watch in Iraq Burin

Two MPTers went the nearby village of Iraq Burin on late-morning Saturday, November 14, 2009. This village has had many demonstrations against the confiscation of their land by an illegal Israeli settlement and Israeli Occupation Forces harassment. As the crow flies, one could be there in no time from Huwwara. Walking, though possible, would be long, over high hills, rough and through areas of potential risk. The most direct road has been blocked. So the trip involved two rides in vans (“services”) and significant time loss negotiating the city streets of Nablus. Such is life in the OPT – Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Iraq Burin appears to be typical small village. Sheep are herded through the streets.

This is quiet rural village is frequently harassed by the illegal Israeli settlement on hilltop in the distance. [Click picture to enlarge.]

This settlement is about one mile from Iraq Burin.

Settlers for this settlement attacked Iraq Burin on both of the last two Saturdays. On Friday, November 13, Israeli Occupation Forces entered the village during prayer time at the mosque. Boys responded with stones; Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas. Internationals arrived on Saturday to provide a protective presence and a possible deterrent.

Soldiers [10 men] on about midway up the hill, slightly to the left. The white object at the bottom is the village well.

Soldiers appeared on the hillside across a valley from the village at 11:30 and remained until after 4:00 p.m. Village youth, preteen and teen-age boys, and a few village men stayed in the village watching across the valley from the soldiers.

At first the settlers appeared like sticks on the horizon, but young men in white shirts (common settler dress) could be clearly seen with binoculars.

Settlers arrived later and seemed to disappear from the hilltop horizon about 3:30. Binoculars were needed to see clearly who was present in the distance.

At one point the soldiers approached the village well which is part way down the distant hill side. That movement was met with loud calls and shouts from the villagers. Villagers reported that settlers had bathed in the water at previous times. The soldiers backed off a bit. The villagers, internationals, soldiers, and settlers watched each other from across the valley for the entire afternoon. MPTers and the other internationals left at about 4 PM. Concern was expressed that the settlers might return after internationals left. It may have been that the presence of internationals was a deterrent for this Saturday, since there was no settler or soldier attacks that day.


Bil'in: Fifth Anniversary Demonstration against the Illegal Wall

The demonstration against the wall begins
near the mosque in Bil'in.
On the fifth anniversary of the weekly Friday demonstrations in Bil'in against the encroaching illegal apartheid wall, the Fall MPT Team joined a large crowd of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals in another non-violent demonstration against this wall.

During his visit to Bil’in on Aug 27, 2009, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “Just as a simple man named Gandhi led the successful non-violent struggle in India ... simple people here in Bil’in are leading a non-violent struggle that will bring them their freedom. The South Africa experience proves that injustice can be dismantled."
On 23 June 2009, the Canadian court heard the preliminary arguments for a suit brought by Bil’in against two companies registered in Canada (Green Park International & Green Mount International). The village is seeking justice against the construction of settlements on its lands under the 2000 Canadian Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Statute.
Out of the 75 residents who were arrested in connection to demonstrations against the Wall, 27 have been were arrested after the beginning of a night raid campaign on 23 June 2009. (Notice that the court date and the night raid were on the same day.) Of those 27 arrested, 11 are under 18. Sixteen Bil’iners remain in Israeli detention, nine of whom are minors. Some of the arrestees have reported being questioned about Bil’in’s lawsuit in Canada during their interrogation.
MPTers were present on Sept. 15, 2009, during one such raid. That blog can be read at: http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/09/night-raid-in-bilin.html. Overwhelming support and outcry from the international community have contributed to what appears to be the end of the night raids (the last raid took place on Sept. 30, 2009). The aftermath of the raids has left Bil'in with large legal fees. In defiance of the pressure from Israeli authorities, the village continues to hold weekly demonstrations.
In addition to its grassroots movement, Bil'in turned to the courts in the fall of 2005. In September 2007, 2 years after they initiated legal proceedings, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that due to illegal construction in part of Modi'in Illit, unfinished housing could not be completed and that the route of the Wall be moved several hundred meters west, returning 25% of Bil’in’s lands to the village. To date, the High Court ruling has not been implemented and settlement construction continues.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Wall was contrary to international law, particularly International Humanitarian Law. The Court went on to rule that Israel's settlements are illegal under the same laws, noting that the Wall's route is intimately connected to the settlements adjacent to the Green Line, further annexing 12% of the West Bank to Israel. Despite the advisory opinion, early in 2005, Israel began constructing the separation Wall on Bil'in's land, cutting the village in half in order to place Modi'in Illit and its future growth on the "Israeli side" of the Wall.

In March 2005, Bil’in residents began to organize almost daily direct actions and demonstrations against the theft of their lands. Gaining the attention of the international community with their creativity and perseverance, Bil’in has become a symbol for popular resistance. Almost five years later, Bil’in continues to have weekly Friday protests. MPTers joined many internationals, Israelis, and Palestinians for the weekly demonstration on Friday, Nov. 13, 2009. Speakers from Palestine, Israel (including one member of the Israeli Parliament) and other countries spoke strong encouraging words.

The fifth anniversary march began with speeches by leading Palestinians.
Another speech of strong support for ending the occupation of Palestine was given by an Israeli peace activist.
Among the speakers was a member of the Israeli Knesset (in red shirt).
Palestinians led the demonstration.
Internationals and Israelis were part of the march.
The march approached the gate and the three rows of fences.
Israeli Occupation Forces stand beyond the gate
ready to volley the teargas canisters, which can be lethal.
To the upper right another row of Israeli soldiers were ready with weapons and tear gas canisters.
Tear gas was fired almost as soon as the protesters reached the wall (gate).
International and Palestinian press were present
to record the demonstration.
Huge clouds of tear gas filled the air near the fence and gradually blended into the dark rain clouds.
An international ran to escape the tear gas.

Over 300 people proceeded to the walk to the barrier fence area to demonstrate against the “wall” and stand in solidarity with the Palestinians.
One international suffered a head injury which required medical attention and stitches. A number of people suffered from tear gas inhalation. It is hoped the strong showing of international support was apparent to the Israeli officials. The presence of many internationals was visibly apparent and chanting in Hebrew and in English should have been audible to the soldiers.

Special bus stop.
This picture is an informal bus stop in the village of Bil’in. Notice the bent metal awning over the small bench. The awning is a section of a barrier gate that the villagers removed during an earlier demonstration. May all the barrier materials be recycled into positive uses some day soon.