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Huwwara: Soldiers in the Village

Israeli soldiers are well armed and wear heavy gear and helmets.

Huwwara is located just south of Nablus and the Huwwara checkpoint. The checkpoint is now a drive-through rather than the previously infamous caged-in walk-through checkpoint. Huwwara is also located just south of the Huwwara Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) Base and near the Yitzar and Barcha settlements. The main highway through Huwwara is used by the IOF, Israeli settlers and Palestinians. Transportation speeds through the village because no traffic controls are permitted by the Israeli military.

Thus frequently it is possible to see military jeeps passing through Huwwara.

However, it is also frequent that military jeeps are seen passing through the streets of Huwwara and soldiers talking to children or taking a rest in a shaded area at the back of a recently constructed home. In the past year, a turn out road was made in Huwwara to pull over passing cars for whatever reason. At times one or two cars are pulled over.

In March 2010, some youth threw stones on the highway and may have injured someone, possibly a settler. Following this there was a middle of the night raid on the village in which 7 youth were taken from their homes and sent to prison. That same night the MPT house was raided by the IOF, but no one was in the house.

In the past week, twice MPTers noticed 4 Israeli soldiers walking single file through the entire village, one time along the highway and another time on a street inside the village. After seeing soldiers walking out of the village, MPTers assumed they had left and on their way home from a visit nearly walked into a parked army jeep on the highway. The MPTers were stopped by 4 Israeli border police, who are identifiable by their blue-green uniforms with a tower on the sleeve. MPTers were questioned as where they were from, where they were going, where they were staying, and what they were doing here. The soldiers told MPT that Huwwara was a dangerous village, that children threw stones.

The question is why are four Israeli soldiers walking single file through the entire village. In the last three weeks, in two villages within fifteen minutes of Huwwara, twelve young men were captured during middle of the night house invasions. Both villages had experienced encounters with the Israeli military in the village or at the entrance.

What is the Israeli military plan? Harassment? Future home invasions and capturing of young men? Show of power? Although villagers are “accustomed” to seeing armed soldiers and jeeps in their streets, tensions must rise when military patterns change.

Iraq Burin: Smoke on Stolen Lands

For more than a year the villagers of Iraq Burin have been protesting the annexing of their land by the illegal Israel settlement of Bracha and invasions of settlers and the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) into their villages during the day and at night. Settlers for a time were invading and causing havoc in the village on Saturday.

Illegal Israeli settlement Bracha on the distant hill.

It was a pleasant May Saturday afternoon for the demonstration in Iraq Burin. Present for the demonstration were Palestinians from the village, Palestinian journalists and internationals from Romania, Canada, Australia, Spain and the United States, including the MPTers. Before demonstrators started to climb toward the opposite hilltop ridge soldiers from the Israeli Occupation Forces appeared at the top and spread out.

Israeli soldiers on the opposite hill,
look like sticks from a distance.

The demonstrators, chanting and announcing their protests through a megaphone, moved across the hill below the ridge where the twenty six soldiers were standing. The large number of soldiers seemed foreboding because the week before there had only been ten. There was no action for some time, then a youth who was a level below the soldiers tossed a stone.

Almost immediately the Israeli soldiers launched tear gas toward the marchers. The tear gas canisters which are extremely hot started fires in the dry vegetation, but village demonstrators also started small fires in the dry brush. The wind blew the smoke from the fires up the hill toward the soldiers. Before long the hilltop was covered with smoke. A few more tear gas canisters were launched.

A journalist was injured from a tear gas canister and was able to walk although in pain down the hill to a stretcher. MPT was told he was hit in the shoulder or thigh.

With this, the majority of the demonstrators moved down the hill toward the village ending the demonstration; however a small group of youth stayed in the area just below the olive grove and put out the fires creeping toward the olive grove. The Israeli soldiers stayed on top of the hill watching until the fires stopped and the youth descended to the village.

Both the Nablus fire truck and a Red Crescent ambulance came to the village to assist. The injured journalist was taken to a Nablus hospital.

One MPTer had stayed on the village side of the demonstration observing the hill where the demonstration took place. There was a group of villagers nearby who also observed the demonstration. One of them had a megaphone for communication with the demonstrators on the opposite hill. This strategy with megaphones is very effective because one is announcing to the soldiers that the demonstrators are present and moving and the one in the village is observing the positions of the Israeli soldiers on the opposite hill and can inform the demonstrators.

Deir Istya: a special village

Deir Istya is a village of approximately 4,000 inhabitants, located in the Salfit district approximately 15 kilometers east of the Green Line.
Deir Istya has the largest land area in the Halfit Governorate and the second largest in the West Bank after Tubas.In total, Deir Istya’s land is about 34,000 dunums. Since the beginning of the occupation Deir Istya has lost about 20,000 dunums.
The oldest settlement around Deir Istya is Karnei Shomron, which was built on a former Jordanian military camp. Subsequently Immanuel, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank, and Yakir, Ma’ale Shomron, Ginot Shomron, Novim and Neveh Menachem were built. Another settlement, Revava, built on the land of Hares village, has expanded onto Deir Istya land. Land was expropriated by fraud , for example, asking landowners to sign papers that they thought were for travel permits, but which in reality were contracts giving away their land. After 1967, many people started to work in Israel, because it was more remunerative and for some years they did not use their land. In these cases, the Israeli authorities expropriated land under the pretext of Ottoman law relating to uncultivated land, or land designated by the British as nature reserves.

In this uncertain situation – when nobody knows how the village border will look like - it is very hard to think about development. The village is part of a newly created Joint Services Council, made up of five surrounding villages and hoping to achieve some infrastructural developments in the near future.
The village council maintains a very good relationship with EAPPI (World Council of Churches project), the Peace Now Movement (Israeli), Physicians for Human Rights (Israeli) and the International Women`s Peace Service (IWPS). IWPS is located in this village and has an excellent relationship with the village. Despite the seemingly improved living conditions of the villagers, Mr.Nathmi Salman, the Mayor of the village, stated clearly that every Palestinian is affected by the occupation, and the population does not have other choice than popular resistance.
According to Mr. Salman, the situation in the village is not as tense anymore, like it was in the past. There are fewer conflicts between the settlers, villagers and the IOF, although approximately two weeks ago five youths were taken from their homes, accused by the army of throwing rocks at the soldiers. The village has a long history in dealing with the Israeli occupation and its consequences. IWPS has worked with the village to document all kinds of human rights abuses and violations, like; shootings; farmers harassed while farming their land; army incursions; curfews; arrests; property damages; collective punishments.
IWPS and MPT work together at various times. This village is exceptional in many ways.
(the source of the information can be found in IWPS “village profiles” and from a personal interview with Mr. Nathmi Salman, Mayor of Deir Istya)


Huwwara: Team Visits

In Huwwara village many homes have orange trees

and olive trees in their yards.

A street in Huwwara.

Most homes have a wall around the yard.

The Huwwara village where MPT is located is on a major north-south 2-lane highway. This narrow asphalt road is used by Palestinians, Israeli settlers and Israeli Occupation Forces [IOF]. Huge trucks and buses pass with record speed through Huwwara. Israel allows no traffic control on this highway. This village of 5,500 people, has two very close neighbor villages. [The highway is Area C – full Israeli control, but most of the village is Area B Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control, but some is Area C..]

Since MPT arrived in the village of Huwwara it has been a major goal of teams to get to know the people of the village. Visiting the villagers has several objectives:
* * *** Learn to know one other in order to build mutual trust and understanding.
* * *** Educate people on the mission and work of MPT.
* * *** Encourage villagers to contact MPT when there is a problem with soldiers or settlers: home invasions, checkpoint problems, harassment of student nurses from the national nursing college in Huwwara or boys high school.
* * *** Learn the traditions of the village.
* * *** Celebrate with the village at weddings and other festive occasions.
* * *** Be a peaceful presence and show moral support and encouragement in this difficult and illegal situation.

Huwwara has many small shops, but most are struggling to survive. MPT has spoken with and given out MPT business cards to many of these shopkeepers. Many English-speaking shop owners have worked or visited many different states in the USA, including Hawaii. Those who worked in Kuwait before the First Gulf War also speak good English.

The Palestinian national nursing college has recently located in Huwwara.

MPT spoke with people who have advanced degrees and those who have much less education. MPTers have learned more of the village culture/traditions. This is a strict village which is not advantageous for women, but the amount of freedom women have depends also on the family norms and openness.

Villagers are very aware of events in the country and speak their minds about the occupation and their present government. Many just wish for the occupation to go away and some have a rather fine tuned analysis of the situation and are more action oriented. There are different levels of commitment to bringing change, as there are in any society.


Iraq Burin: Demo - Fire near the Olive Grove

Iraq Burin is well-known for its popular resistance against the land occupation policy of Israel. Since 2009, the residents of the small village from the West Bank gather every Saturday to defend their village against the violent attacks of the settlers from the neighboring Bracha settlement, and to raise their voice against the occupation of the village land, which they cannot access.

MPT, together with other internationals, participated in the demonstration Saturday, the 22nd of May. The demonstrators marched toward the top of the hill chanting and waving flags. The small number of demonstrators had to face more than a dozen members of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), who were lined up at the top of the hill.

For several minutes, perhaps ten or fifteen, nothing happened, only the encouraging voices of the supporters could be heard who were watching the events from the other hillside. A protester told MPT that the soldiers told the demonstrators that if they did not throw rocks, they, the soldiers, would not fire tear gas at them. No rocks were thrown for some time, but then suddenly some rocks were thrown by the protesters, but from too great a distance and uphill to cause any kind of injury to the army. The IOF did not wait long to shoot the tear gas canisters and what sounded like rubber-coated steel bullets at the demonstrators. One young boy was injured in his arm by a tear gas canister and was taken to the hospital with some of his peers.

The Israeli military continued to shoot several tear gas canisters at the demonstrators, forcing them to spread out across the hillside. The hot gas canisters caused a fire in the dry grass and protesting activists were forced to stop the demonstration to prevent the flames from spreading to the olive groves.
After the fire was stopped, the demonstration ended with the personal satisfaction of the demonstrators. It may seem that the IOF "behaved" better than usual in this demonstration, but the villagers never know how violent they may become and when.

[Please view recent blogs below on MPT in Iraq Burin]


Nakba in Iraq Burin May 15, 2010

Nakba Day is a day of remembrance of the “Catastrophe” in 1948, 62 years ago, when 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from what is now Israel, and the state of Israel was established.

The village of Iraq Burin decided to walk to the settlement “barrier land” to release 62 large black balloons with a Palestinian flag emblem as a remembrance of Nakba Day.

The villagers and internationals, including MPT, walked eastward on a path, down into a ravine and then westward up a rather steep, rocky hillside to the “barrier land” across from the village. The group ascended slowing, chanting and carrying the black balloons. Upon reaching the top, they released the balloons. A few Israeli soldiers from the Israeli Occupation Forces [IOF] were present who shot off several tear gas canisters. It was not the volley of the week before of tear gas and setting fire to the dry vegetation.


Suddenly the people and children who had stayed near the village center overlooking the opposite hillside started shouting at the demonstrators. It was very confusing, but soon everyone realized that many IOF soldiers were coming up the eastern ravine and would separate the demonstrators from the village and leave them exposed on the opposite hill.

Most demonstrators had moved to the east and rapidly scrambled down the hill, across the ravine and up the other hill to greater safety in the village. But, a few people including a few internationals and a Palestinian were still on the opposite slope not far from where the twenty or more soldiers were coming up the ravine. They were not able to escape to the opposite hill near the village.

The soldiers came up the ravine and shot tear gas up toward the demonstrators on the hillside near the village. The MPTer , who was not on the village side, was concerned about the Palestinian person nearby who had been jailed recently and a separated international who had stayed a bit behind. Phone calls were exchanged and the separated international said she was safely hidden.

The Israeli soldiers, shooting tear gas at the villagers on the village hillside, walked up the ravine and up the hillside very near where the internationals and Palestinian were. The soldiers continued firing tear gas on the demonstrators for several minutes and then walked back up to the top of the hillside toward the settlement. The presence nearby of three or four very hard-working journalists and photographers may have saved the internationals [including MPT] and the Palestinian from being detained by the soldiers. They helped make the situation a bit less tense.

After their ascent between 25 and 30 soldiers were counted on the hilltop, but there could have been more out of sight in jeeps.

When an MPTer related this event to a Palestinian who had not been present and did not live in this village, he said, “I do not understand why you as an international are afraid. They [the soldiers, Israelis] cannot hurt you.”

What he said it true. Internationals are privileged here. They can be roughly treated, interrogated and deported, but they do not face the long [6 -12 years] imprisonment or torture in Israeli prisons that Palestinians often face. Internationals are not usually direct targets of tear gas canisters, rubber bullets or live bullets. Internationals can go home and live safe and secure from this kind of danger.

[For background and description of other actions on this day see: http://www.salem-news.com/articles/may142010/nakba-israel-mqq.php]

Nakba and Balata Refugee Camp Part II

[This picture hangs on an office wall in Balata Refugee Camp.

Palestinian refugees lived for years in these tents.]

This same evening at Balata Refugee Camp, MPT interviewed two girls, 11 and 14. They said that even after 62 years of being displaced, they still call their village, Yazur, home. And as refugees they want to return. 

They remember the horrors of the Second Intifada when they had to stay indoors all the time because the Israeli army would not allow even the wounded to go to the hospital. Their brother was killed while he was praying in their home. 

The girls plan to be a teacher and a doctor, and return to their village, which they have never seen.

[Zudije Ahmad Salem]
The 4th person MPT interviewed from the Balata Refuge Camp was Zudije Ahmad Salem, a 71-year old refugee, from the village of Idzim near Haifa. She said she found it difficult to repeat her story, but felt she must do so. Her village was a happy one where her family could grow olives and beans and maintain themselves well.

In 1948, when Zudije was 11 years old, buses came to their village, loaded up the villagers, including her family of 8 children and her parents with only the clothes on their backs, and took them to Junin, a town north of Nablas. Many Palestinian refugees fled to Jordan, Iraq and Syria. Her family went to Salfit and later to Huwwara, near Nablus. 

Later when she married, she and her husband moved in 1960 to Balata Refugee Camp to claim their status as refugees hoping it might enable them to return to their own villages. Zudije visited her village for the last time in 1975. There she prayed in the mosque, ate pomegranates and took away a stone near her home.

During the Second Intifada, Zudije would try to intervene when soldiers tried to arrest people. The soldiers beat her and she was hospitalized for stomach problems after being hit by a rubber coated bullet.

Zudije has one son in prison with 13 years left of his 20-year sentence. She cried when she thought she might not see him freed before she dies and for the sadness of his wife and 4 children. His wife may not visit him, but Zudije last saw her son and sang to him, in March 2010.
She saw homes destroyed in the Second Intifada. In 2007 another son was shot in both legs, arrested by plain clothed police at 8:00 a.m. and imprisoned for 2 years.

She is sad that her children had to live as they have and that the world has not found a solution to this situation. She said, "The Jews do not have land here, what they have they took with guns and by violence. They are only tourists."

For a scholarly account of the Nakba see: The Palestinian Nakba: Zionism, ‘Transfer’ and the 1948 Exodus http://www.worlddialogue.org/content.php?id=236

Nakba and Balata Refugee Camp Part I

[Balata Refugee Camp in the 1950s. Tents were no protection from floods or cold.]

Nakba Day is the day after the anniversary of the establishment of Israel as a nation. Known by Palestinians as Nakba: “Day of the Catastrophe,” Palestinians remember on every May 15th the horror of their expulsion and flight from their villages and towns in what became Israel in 1948. Confronted by well-armed Jewish/Israelis troops, thousands of Palestinians became permanent refugees.

Balata Refugee Camp was established near Nablus in 1952 for those expelled in 1948. This extremely densely populated refugee camp is the largest camp in the Wet Bank. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians Refugees in the Near East [UNRWA] funds a school in the camp.

MPT interviewed Ali Basumi, a 70 year-old man, who is a refugee from Yanzur, a village of almost 5000 people in 1948, near Yaffa – Jaffa. His family owned 120 dunams, about 30 acres, which produced fruits and vegetables such as oranges, tomatoes. He said it was a wonderful place to live because the villagers loved one another and worked well together, “like one hand.”

About five percent of the village were Jewish, but even after the 1917 Balfour Declaration [British decision without consulting Palestinians, that Palestine would be the Jewish homeland] these Jewish people lived peacefully with their ne ighbors. [Ali Basumi referred to the Jewish people as Jews because they were not officially Israelis until Israeli declared itself a country. But even when describing Israelis after 1948, he and the others called them Jews rather than Israelis.]

Ali Basumi displayed the many documents for his land, dating back to the Ottoman Empire and British Mandate, however, he said his family lived in the area before the Ottoman Empire. In 1948, Jewish people asked to buy their family land for a very good price, but Ali’s father refused. Ali has the key to his house from which he was expelled in 1948.

Following the Holocaust, more and more Jews immigrated to Palestine. Beginning in 1946, armed Jews, including the formerly good neighbors, and British troops began nightly to terrorize the Yazur villagers. In 1948, after 4 people were killed including children and women, many villagers left the village temporarily for Al Led near Tel Aviv. In Al Led they slept in the mosque and on the streets and were attacked by Jewish soldiers. Ali’s father was arrested and spent 9 months in prison. The family kept in contact through the Red Cross. They moved to another village and then to Deir Asam near Ramallah. The trip lasted 8 days during which they slept in olive groves. They finally moved near Nablus to be further from Israel ‘48. Here they lived on the mountainside with no amenities, walking two kilometers for drinking water, for three years.

In 1952, family move into the UNRWAR Balata Refugee Camp #1 to live in tents. They had been in transit from Yanzur for four years. The tents provided no protection from the cold or flooding in the rainy season. For some time there were no health clinics and no water was provided. After 6 months UNWAR provided food, but the conditions continued to very crowded.

Ali has visited his family land about 400 times he said. The last time he saw his land was in 2000. He spoke to the Jewish people who reside in his home, showing them the key he still has, but they told him, “We left Europe and this is our land now.” Ali keeps his many documents and key hoping that some day he can return to his village.


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An Nabi Salih: A Spring in this Semi-desert lost to Settlers

Driving South to An Nabi Salih, a hilltop village a bit north of Ramallah, one passes illegal Israeli settlements, Barqan - a large Israeli industrial complex, and through a beautiful high hilly area of Palestinian villages. There are wadis (valleys) where a creek flows in the rainy season.

Coming into the village of An Nabi Salih, rows of bright red-roofed white homes of the illegal Israeli settlement (also named An Nabi Salih) are clearly visible on the opposite hill.

In this hilltop Palestinian village, one notices rows of tear gas canisters strung on fences and walls. Canisters are everywhere, on the village grounds, behind homes, and in fields where children play.

Friday, May 7, 2010, the villagers began their protest trying to walk to a spring at the edge of their land, close to the settlement. This spring is kept off limits by the Israeli army. The villagers were only able to walk a few blocks from the mosque where they had been praying when they were met by 5 Israeli jeeps with perhaps 30-40 Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) soldiers. The soldiers fired huge amounts of tear gas forcing the villagers to halt.

The protest lasted roughly from 1:00 to 5:00, when the IOF jeeps left. The shabah, village teenage boys, responded to the tear gas by throwing stones at the jeeps which seems not dented in anyway, and at soldiers. The stone throwers have to stay a distance from the soldiers to be safe from being hit or caught, so very few stones accurately reach near a soldier. The IOF responded to the stones with tear gas. The shabab kept moving to avoid the jeeps and soldiers.

It was an entire afternoon of Israeli military shooting tear gas canisters and sound grenades and young Palestinian men throwing rocks. MPT and IWPS moved up behind homes, and in and out or two homes with other internationals and Israeli activists, to avoid the tear gas.

At one point when some soldiers moved across the a hillside across the road, young Palestinian men above them were able to drive them down from their location. Villagers cheered when the soldiers were forced to move. Then army jeeps with ten soldiers drove up into area near where the young men had been. They encircled a couple of homes and looked into the windows, but did not enter. There were tense moments. A later report said they broke windows of an Israeli activist's car.

One of the villagers said that the Israeli soldiers entered the village nightly. It may be that they will look for the youth that forced them off the side of the hill, which may have wounded their pride enough for them to want revenge.

Blog readers may be very harsh on stone throwers, but. . .
- What if NO military aid (between $3-%5 billion annually) were given to Israel by the USA?
* Would Israel be able to continue the military occupation of Palestine?
* Would there be tear gas canisters and sound bombs in this village?
* Would there be young men throwing stones at soldiers on a beautiful spring day?
* Would a young child put on a tear gas mask?
* And would young Israelis be able to enjoy carefree days with no weapons?

For a clear video of the demonstration see:

[This is not an MPT production, but is what MPT saw at the demonstration.]

Iraq Burin: Faithful Resistance

At the weekly Iraq Burin protest, Saturday, May 8, 2010, villagers and internationals including MPT , remembered the two young men who were shot to death by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) a month ago in a village protest. (There was international media attention after the 2 youth were killed and a week later, 2 more youth were shot to death in the nearby village of Awarta.) Iraq Burin has frequent incursions of settlers, armed with rocks and sling shots and Israeli soldiers shooting tear gas canisters that shatter windows in home where young children are present.

[In the fall of 2009, MPT was present at several protests in this high hilltop village which lost 25 acres of land to the illegal Israeli settlement of Bracha.]

This Saturday, after midday prayers, villagers gathered in a central place and then walked across one hillside, through a ravine and up the other hillside into Palestinian land which has become part of the settlement "barrier/security land." This hillside "barrier/security land" has a large village drinking-water well, where settlers skinny dipped and a village grazing area which the IOF prohibits villagers from entering.

The villagers used a siren-like instrument to announce their assent to the hilltop. Once they neared the top, about 10 Israeli soldiers appeared and immediately shot several tear gas canisters at the villagers. Gas clouds filled the hilltop making it impossible to stay there. At 21-year old Palestinian man was hit in the foot with a low-shot canister and had to be helped across the ravine to an ambulance.

The other young Palestinians men moved westward away from the smoke, but the soldiers continued shooting tear gas canisters. Soon the top of the hillside was filled with smoke from the tear gas and then from smoke from the fires in the dry vegetation ignited by the hot tear gas canisters.
After about an hour the protest organizers called the youth to return to the village center. As villagers began to move down the hill, about 15 soldiers or settlers appeared on the top of the hill opposite the village, but there was no further confrontation this Saturday.
After the demonstration, MPT and other internationals went to the Nablus hospital to visit the youth wounded by the tear gas canister. He was hit above the left ankle, but sustained no broken bones and did not need stitches.