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Settler Attack in Asira al Qibliya

In the late afternoon of Tuesday, October 27th, three MPTers and another international went to Asira al Qibliya after receiving a call that a Palestinian home was being attacked by Israeli settlers from Yitzhar. Asira al Qibliya is a village 9 miles southwest of Nablus, and half a mile from Yitzhar, one of the most ideologically-oriented illegal Israel settlements in the area.

An Israeli soldier across the street from the family's home, the settlement of Yitzhar in the distance.

When the internationals arrived, the settlers were gone but two Israeli Occupation Army jeeps remained along with about six soldiers. Interestingly, the internationals were told that the soldiers arrived half an hour before the settlers, and that the same thing happened in the last settler attack. The MPTers were puzzled by this and mentioned it to a Palestinian acquaintance, who said that such “attacks” are planned between the army and the settlers to make it appear that the soldiers are defending the Palestinians. MPTers attempted to engage the soldiers in conversation but the commanding officer ordered the soldiers not to speak. As MPTers took photographs, one soldier came over and offered to pose for a photo of himself shaking hands with a Palestinian man, but his efforts were rebuffed.

Israeli soldiers and jeeps in front of the family's home.
The home is on the edge of Asira al Qibliya and the target of settler invasions over the past four years. Villagers often watch for the attacks and come to their aid. This particular day the husband was away and the wife was alone with her four children. She said that settlers had been attacking the house every Friday, but lately now “only” once or twice a month. Approximately a year ago, settlers spraypainted stars of David on the house. The family painted them over, and settlers repainted several of the stars.

The mother shows the MPTers some of the damage previously caused by settlers, while three of the children pose.

During one attack when the soldiers fired tear gas at the family home, the mother asked a soldier, “Why do you fire tear gas at us and do nothing to the settlers, when the settlers attack us?” The soldier responded, “I don’t know. I’ve only been here a week.” The other international told MPTers that a year ago 100 settlers attacked the village, shooting, smashing windows, and throwing stones. A video of the invasion had been surreptitiously taken by an international and was shown on Israeli TV. The Israeli Prime Minister described the incident as a “settler pogrom.” (See http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1020914.html for Israeli press coverage of the incident.)

Solar panels on the roof, one damaged previously by settlers.

MPTers and the other international visited another family who also had been subjected to attacks. The homeowner said his and two other hilltop houses are frequently attacked. He has lived in his home since 1994 but for the past four years he has not been able to visit or tend his land for fear of the settlers. He said the Oslo Accords made conditions worse. Before Oslo, he said, people in his community could go to their land without fear. Now settlers have confiscated his father’s land; burned wheat that the villagers had planted, and destroyed 60 olive trees. In addition, the villagers can no longer access the village well which had supplied the community with much of its water needs. He said the settlers’ only purpose in coming down to the village is to harass and intimidate the people, with the purpose of getting them to move so settlers can take over the entire area. He was the first Palestinian these MPTers encountered who wagged his finger at them when they identified themselves as from the United States. Palestinians are aware of the complicity of the United States in the financing of the Israeli military occupation of Palestine.


Jit Accompaniment - Part II

The settlers' vineyards abut the Palestinians' olive groves. Note the illegal Israeli settlement on the mountaintop.

Once again MPT received a request to accompany a Palestinian farmer in Jit, who was experiencing problems with the Israeli Occupation Forces and settlers from the illegal Israeli settlement of Qedumim, established in 1975. (See the October 19th posting describing the MPT accompaniment of October 14 and 15 in Jit.) The Palestinian requesting accompaniment owns hundreds of olive trees on land adjoining the settlement and estimates it would take his men a solid two weeks to harvest them all. However, the Israeli Occupation Army has been banning him from picking, or restricting him to picking only two or three hours a day; at that rate, the harvesting would take weeks and the olives will have dried on the trees. The landowner has also experienced harassment and intimidation by the settlers.

Friday, October 23, 2009
About 7 a.m. three MPTers arrived at the family’s land, less than 100 yards from the settlement’s vineyards. At 8 a.m. the Palestinians and MPTers noted the arrival of an Israeli Occupation Army jeep on the settlement road, and two Israeli soldiers watching the picking. After an interval, the soldiers weaved their way through the vineyard and called to the Palestinian landowner, informing him that picking was restricted to two hours, until 10 a.m.

Israeli soldiers, at the fence, calling out the olive picking restrictions to the Palestinian landowner.

About this time a contingent of volunteers with Rabbis for Human Rights arrived, and the leader immediately went to the fence to talk with the soldiers. After a prolonged discussion, the leader informed the group of six volunteers that they had to leave: Israelis were barred from the area. The volunteers moved a short distance away to observe, and possibly to pick out of sight of the soldiers.

A volunteer with Rabbis for Human Rights speaking to soldiers of the Israeli Occupation Forces.

MPTers wondered when they would receive their orders from the Israeli military. They didn’t have long to wait, as the soldiers motioned them to the fence and told them they had to leave. The MPTers responded that they were Americans and didn’t have to leave. The soldiers called their superior who came and informed the MPTers that they could stay and pick with the Palestinians but everyone had to leave at noon. Surprised at being able to pick until noon, rather than the previously stated 10 a.m., the MPTers repeated the hour, “Noon,” to make sure there was no misunderstanding. The soldier nodded, “Noon.” The next few hours were a flurry of harvesting. Two volunteers from Rabbis for Human Rights returned to assist as they were not Israelis.

Israeli soldiers attempting to tell the MPTers they must leave.

Shortly after noon, a soldier appeared at the fence, announced that everyone had to be gone in five minutes, and left. The Palestinian landowner told the MPTers and the internationals that he and the other Palestinians would not stop as there were so many trees to be picked. MPTers decided they would remain with the Palestinians to provide accompaniment and help pick. Harvesting continued until 4 p.m. without any incident or appearance of soldiers or settlers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009
Three MPT members returned to help the family in case of further military or settler interference, arriving in the groves at 6:30am. The men had been at work since 5:30, intent on putting in as much time as possible before the soldiers arrived. Shortly after 7 a.m., six Israeli soldiers appeared in the olive grove. After checking the Palestinians’ IDs, the soldiers announced that there would be no picking of olives -- no work -- on the Jewish Sabbath. The inherent contradiction of the soldiers, who are Jewish, working on the Jewish Sabbath didn’t faze them.

Israeli soldiers on Palestinian land, in essence telling the Palestinians they must observe the Jewish Sabbath.

The MPTers argued with the soldiers that their dictum was ridiculous, and that their continual changing of the rules each day constituted harassment and intent to prevent harvesting. Every day brings a different story and order, in addition to the threat of settler violence.

The MPTers had been joined by two volunteers from Rabbis for Human Rights -- young, very attractive European women who spoke Arabic. The soldiers seemed quite taken with the young women who were able to speak to the Palestinians, interpret for the MTPers, and hold their ground with the soldiers.

Internationals argue the Palestinian cause with Israeli soldiers.

The European women and MPTers prolonged the discussion with the soldiers until the area Palestinian representative of Rabbis for Human Rights arrived. With official map in hand, he forcefully made the point that the land belonged to the Palestinians and they had permission to harvest their crop. Following an animated discussion and phone calls made by the soldier in command, resolution was reached: no one could pick in the immediate area because it was the Sabbath, but the Palestinians, with the help of internationals, could pick their olives on trees farther away from the settlement. The soldiers also stated that there would be no restrictions on picking olives the next day.

The Palestinian representative of Rabbis for Human Rights advocates for the Palestinian landowner.

Sunday, October 25, 2009
Three MPTers arrived at the olive grove at 6:30am to make sure that indeed the Palestinians would face no restrictions on their olive picking that day. They joined the men in the harvesting of trees a significant distance from the settlement. Around 8:30am, 10 volunteers from Rabbis for Human Rights arrived. They had secured permission from the Israeli Occupation Forces to help with the picking. Everyone then moved to the area closer to the settlement from which they had been evicted on the Jewish Sabbath. It was opportune to harvest that sensitive area when there was a significant presence and permission for picking had been granted to the Israeli volunteers. The picking continued all day without incident.
The joy of olive harvesting . . . absent intimidation, harassment and violence.


Awarta: Senseless Death of a Young Man

On Thursday, October 22, 2009, MPTers heard that an Awarta man, Mohamed Qawaru, age 29, had been killed on the road between Awarta and Al Agraba. Soldiers of the Israeli Occupation Forces appeared to be responsible. On Friday, October 23, internationals spoke with family in the Nablus hospital where the dead Awarta man had been taken. Later, an MPTer and other internationals interviewed a couple people in Awarta village about the circumstances of the death.

According to information gathered, it appears that about 4pm on Thursday , Mohamed Qawaru was driving his car on a narrow rural road, most probably a dirt road, to his olive grove in order to pick up his family who had gone there earlier to check on the olive harvest. This grove is in a rather isolated area near the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar. There may or may not have been a flying checkpoint set up by the military. An Israeli military jeep ordered him to stop and when he did not, they pursued him for about two-thirds of a mile.

According to witnesses, after the Israeli military fired several shots at his car, the military jeep rammed his car, causing it to overturn and throwing him out of the car. The Israeli soldiers then kicked him, yelling at him to wake up. Palestinian farmers picking olives nearby and witnessing this were not allowed to give Qawaru any assistance nor were their pleas for humane treatment heeded.

After about an hour a military ambulance from a nearby military base arrived and tried to rescitate Qawaru, but he was too near death. When military ambulance personnel asked who had been driving the jeep, the Israeli officer replied that that’s not a question to be asked Soon after a Palestinian ambulance from Nablus arrived , but they too were unable to render any assistance to the dying man.

Mohamed Qawaru leaves a 21-year-old wife and two children, ages 2 and 2 months. He had either an Israel work permit or a commercial permit [to buy Israeli goods for resale] which is not common for men under 35 years of age. It is difficult to know why he did not stop for the military; perhaps he was fearful of losing his permit or perhaps it was difficult to stop quickly on a narrow, rocky dirt road. He was driving near his own village area near his own land, but in an occupied country that is of no consequence.

Mohamed Qawaru was buried on October 23, 2009 from an Awarta mosque with most of the village men present. (No pictures were taken by MPTers because it seemed inappropriate at the funeral.)

The internationals and MPT contacted Yesh Din, an Israeli legal organization that works on cases of the violation of Palestinian human rights , and B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights groups. Both have Palestinian personnel. Hopefully justice can be done.

Burin: Olive Harvesting under Occupation

Burin is a village on hillslopes.
(Click picture to enlarge)
Burin, a village of nearly 3,000 people, lies five miles southwest of Nablus. The illegal Israeli settlements of Yitzar and Har Bracha, established in the early 1980s, border Burin in the northeast and south. This village has suffered numerous Israeli settler attacks from these illegal settlements and outposts in the last few years. In the first half of 2008 there were more than 500 incidents of Israeli settler or army attacks.

MPTers were present in Burin in late September after Yitzar settlers cut more than 95 young olive trees in one grove. http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/10/burin-tree-massacre.html MPTers returned again in early October to pick olives from a family grove near Yitzar.

This past Tuesday, October 20, 2009, MPTers walked with several men of a Burin family up to their olive groves at the edge of the outpost/settlement, Har Bracha. One of the men expressed fear of both Israeli settlers and soldiers and apprehension about going to his land. MPTers received the clear impression that he would not have gone without accompaniment.

Soon four soldiers from the Israeli Occupation Forces appeared on the edge of the mountain above the MPTers and family members. The soldiers stayed all morning during the picking, leaving only when the group left for the village. During this week Israeli soldiers had declared some olive groves closed military zones, so that internationals could not help Palestinians pick their olives in areas close to settlements. The soldiers watched, but did not stop the Palestinians or internationals from picking this day.

Four Israeli soldiers observed the group from a distance all morning long.

Because of the Occupation and continual harassment by Israeli settlers and soldiers, this olive grove near the settlement has received little attention from the farmer. Good harvests occur every other year. This year was a scant harvest year and, coupled with the drought Palestine has been experiencing, contributed to significantly fewer olives. Because the fields of this Palestinian farmer had not been plowed and his trees not pruned for a considerable time, most trees in his grove bore very few olives.

Trees which are not trimmed produce few olives, but many branches.

Indeed, one tree had a total of only 20 olives. In a grove with well tended olive trees, one small branch alone could have 20 or more olives. Family members did not prune the trees as they picked. It seemed that all they wanted to do was harvest as many olives as possible and get away from the area as quickly as possible. The livelihood of Palestine farmers is greatly affected by the Occupation in so many ways.

For a good harvest fields must be plowed regularly.
This tree had a total of 20 olives.

MPTers picking olives with a Burin family.
While picking in this olive grove an MPTer found a small rocket casing. Rockets have been used by settlers and soldiers against the Palestinian farmers.
A rocket casing found in the field.
As the group walked down the hill toward the village, the soldiers moved to the opposite side of the narrow valley and halfway down the slope. In the village, MPTers walked with the family up a steep incline toward their home, almost directly across from where the soldiers had moved. Near the family home the MPTers were shown the grave site and memorial dedicated to two sons (ages 21 and 28) who were killed by a rocket fired by Israeli soldiers positioned on the nearby hill. The brothers had been picnicking with tea, falafel and oranges.

Soldiers moved down the hill opposite the group as they walked to the village.

The memorial to the two brothers killed by a rocket shot
by soldiers from the opposite hill.

Will this child be another generation to grow up under occupation?


Reclaiming Land in Iraq Burin

Carrying the trees toward the field for planting.

On Sunday, Oct. 18, four MPTers traveled to the village of Iraq Burin to take part in olive tree planting. The tree planting was both a protest and a celebration, as the 45 trees were planted on land that had been returned to the village from the illegal settlement of Har Bracha.

Twenty-five acres had been confiscated from Iraq Burin to build the settlement, and Iraq Burin has been holding weekly protests against the confiscation since the summer of 2009, with a break for Ramadan. (For more details on Iraq Burin and the Har Bracha settlement, see an earlier MPT blog, August 22, 2009 http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2009-08-28T05%3A33%3A00%2B03%3A00&max-results=10) Land was returned to the community with a request that there be no more protests.

The MPTers marched up a hill in Iraq Burin with farmers from Iraq Burin, Palestinian activists from nearby communities and about 30 internationals, including a contingent of 17 Norwegians working with Stop the Wall. The group planted the trees, chanted, and danced within view of the fence surrounding the settlement. Several soldiers arrived in two vehicles as the event was wrapping up, and watched from behind the fence around the settlement. Although there has been violence from soldiers at previous demonstrations in Iraq Burin (see MPT blog of 9/26/2009 http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/09/return-to-iraq-burin.html), there was none on this day. As of Thursday, 10/22, the newly planted trees were still standing in Iraq Burin.

Digging a hole.

Planting a tree.

Soldiers observe the end of the demonstration.

On the way home, the MPTers stopped in a bookstore and heard the owner’s story of his son’s imprisonment. His son is serving three life sentences for killing three Israeli soldiers. According to the father, his son committed this act after a friend was killed by Israeli Occupation Forces, and after he heard a news story about a little girl being killed by Israeli Forces. According to the bookstore owner, every two weeks he takes his family to see his son. They leave their home around 3 a.m. and return about 9 p.m. The 18-hour trip includes several bus transfers, long waits and repetitive security checks, only to be able to see their loved one for about 45 minutes. Because the prison food is so bad, the father brings money so his son can purchase food from the prison store. He also brings clothes as the prison is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. He said his son and the prisoners whose families have some resources share food and clothes with prisoners from poor families.
A poster of the bookstore owner's imprisoned son.


Two Days in Salim

On Friday, Oct. 16, four MPTers and other internationals traveled to the village of Salim. Many villagers have olive trees on the hillside above the village in an area blocked by a gate/checkpoint on the Israeli settler-only road. Crossing the road is not allowed on most days. Villagers were told crossing the Israeli road was permitted on this day, but before MPTers and other internationals had arrived they had all been turned back by the Israeli Occupation Forces. The MPTers and internationals then joined the villagers to travel to another olive grove on the opposite side of the village. This trip also required crossing the Israeli-only road. Crossing this road at any point was forbidden, but this area was not guarded so we had no difficulty. MPTers were welcomed and fed two delicious meals for a day’s work of harvesting for a very sociable family.

Lunch in the field - Palestinian Style

On Saturday, Oct. 17, MPTers and internationals returned to Salim arriving shortly after 6 a.m. to accompany the villagers up the hillside to the olive groves where villagers had been refused crossing the day before. They walked uphill to the gate/checkpoint where hundreds of villagers had already gathered to gain access to their fields. The gate was still locked. The long dusty rocky steep road was full of cars, trucks and tractors. Soldiers would not let anyone cross. Salim Village Council members conversed with the Israeli soldiers. As internationals approached the soldiers, they were asked to order the villagers to get organized, to line up one by one. One international responded that the Palestinians had been organized for olive picking for thousands of years and needed no advice on organizing. At about 8:00 AM Palestinians on foot were allowed to cross.

The gate is still closed for vehicles; foot traffic begins to cross.

Palestinians cross while soldiers, internationals, and the media watch.
Later the soldiers said, “Only tractors may cross – no cars or trucks.” One tractor crossed; the others were trapped in gridlock on the narrow road.

Vehicular Gridlock
Finally, all vehicles and Palestinians were allowed to cross. All internationals were denied access as the area was declared “a closed military zone.” A total of ten internationals moved through the village with some villagers crossing the restricted road at a different location. We picked without incident. Later in the day one villager, who teaches school in Nablus, reported that he and his brother were able to get to their olive trees on the hillside above the gate/control, but Israeli soldiers arrived shortly after and forced them to leave. After a short conversation, the soldiers allowed them five minutes to look at their trees. The teacher said, “We are allowed 2-3 days to plow and tend our trees earlier in the season and then a few days to harvest. We are not allowed any other access to our groves.” MPTers had heard that those with trees close to the settlement would not be allowed to pick. An MPTer asked, “Were your trees near the settlement?” He replied, “No, they are about 1.5 kilometers away on a hillside across a wadi (valley) facing the settlement.” An MPTer asked, “Why then?” He replied, “There is one settler who has a place near us. That must be the reason.” (This probably refers to an outpost.) And then he added, “They said I can pick tomorrow but I must teach school tomorrow. Maybe my sister can pick.”


Accompaniment in Jit

The Palestinian family makes their case
to the Israeli Occupation Force.

Two MPTers traveled to Jit to provide accompaniment to a family who wished to harvest olives from their land, which adjoins the illegal Israeli settlement of Qedumim. Several years ago, a large section of their land was confiscated and 20-30 olive trees destroyed, to build a radar tower and a road to the settlement. Palestinian farmers are routinely evicted from lands close to illegal Israeli settlements, a process which not only denies farmers their livelihoods, but also facilitates the annexation of additional Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers. The family told MPT that about seven years ago the settlers had cut and poisoned their olive trees, so that 50-year-old trees are stunted and look more like 10-year-old trees.

Upon arrival at their olive grove, the family was dismayed to find there were hardly any olives on the trees. They concluded that settlers had picked them. In addition, the path among a section of the trees was strewn with the skull and bones of what must once have been a horse.

The family told the MPTers, "You see how they [Israeli settlers] treat our land."
It wasn’t long before two settlers arrived on the scene, an armed young man and a woman, who demanded the IDs of the Palestinian landowner, his wife and his brother. When later asked why they would give settlers their IDs, a relative responded that they could be shot should they refuse. The MPTers insisted that the IDs be returned to the Palestinians, that the settlers had no right to them, and after a time they were returned. The settlers began making phone calls almost as soon as they arrived, and the MPTers called the branch of the Israeli Forces that addresses settler problems. The two settlers were soon replaced by an armed young man whom the MPTers believed to be a member of settler security, although he wore no uniform.

A jeep of young soldiers arrived, and almost immediately took the IDs of the Palestinians. Two more soldiers arrived and, after assessing the situation, left to pick up their captain. Other soldiers left and new ones arrived. Then the major drove up. (Interestingly, as each group of soldiers arrived, they greeted and shook hands with the settlement security guard.) Amid this flurry of coming and going, the soldiers were poring over orders and maps, making phone calls, talking among themselves, talking with the Palestinian landowner, pointing and gesturing around the landscape.
Israeli soldiers and the settler security guard pore over the map.
This activity lasted two and a half hours, with no relief from the hot sun. Several times an MPTer asked the soldiers if the family could work while the discussion continued, and was told no. The story kept changing. First, the Palestinians did not have permission to pick that day. Then the land wasn’t theirs. At one point the major approached the MPTers and said: “Two sentences. You have to leave. The Palestinians can stay and pick.” MPTers protested that they had been invited by the Palestinians, and that it was up to the Palestinians whether they would leave. The Palestinian landowner insisted that the MPTers were his guests and would stay. Finally, the Israeli officers declared they needed to get better maps and would meet with the Palestinian landowner in two hours.

Life under Occupation: the Palestinian waits to learn if he can tend his own land.
The MPTers had been very concerned about the safety of the Palestinian IDs, trying to keep track of who had them. The IDs passed hands as the soldiers came and went, and twice the IDs left the area with the soldiers who had them. When this concern was expressed to the major, he said not to worry, that the Palestinians could go back to their village and get them there. Knowing that the Palestinians could be arrested for not having their IDs with them, the MPTers told the major they would not leave the vicinity of the settlement until the IDs were returned to the Palestinians. The IDs were returned when the meeting disbanded.

The late afternoon meeting was postponed to 9am the following morning. The family, two MPTers, and two other internationals who had come to show support, met the military and two settlers on the family’s land. The Israeli soldier in command that day refused to allow any internationals to come anywhere near the discussion. He also banned the taking of any photographs, although several were surreptitiously taken. Again, maps were scrutinized and vigorous discussion ensued, accompanied by flailing of arms and gesticulations in various directions.

So many people to reach no decision.
After an hour it was determined that new aerial maps needed to be taken to determine what land, if any, belonged to the Palestinian family.
The family, however, was granted permission to continue picking what olives remained and to prune their trees, which they did. The MPTers and other internationals assisted and provided accompaniment. One family member explained that the trees had not been pruned in three or more years because of trouble with settlers. He also said that because of the international presence, the soldiers remained on the scene and consequently prevented any settler disturbances. When pressed, “Are you sure we made a difference?,” the Palestinian landowner replied, “I know it.”

20-30 olive trees were uprooted to build this road and radar tower. The family was not compensated. They are not allowed to tend the trees around the tower, as that is now a "security area."

Settler Threats to the Olive Harvest in Jamma'in

Olive groves cover the hills of this part of Palestine.
This pastoral scene is a site of contention
between Palestinians and illegal Israeli settlements.
(Click on picture to enlarge)
One MPTer and other internationals assisted with the olive harvest near the Jamma’in village, which has suffered harassment by Israeli settlers and frequent Israeli military invasions in the last couple of years. This village of over 6,000 is near two illegal Israeli settlements, Ariel, the largest settlement in Palestine and Kfar-Tappuah. Jamma’in is in Area B [Israeli military control and Palestinian civil control], so Palestinians are not allowed to build homes. The school cannot expand to meet growing population needs; thus often fifty children are taught in a very small classroom.

Since 2008, the Israeli Occupation Forces have maintained a roadblock which prevents vehicular traffic in and out of the village along the main road. [See www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsNm2WSUTio This video was taken by Machsum Watch, an Israeli checkpoint watch organization.]

On the third day MPT joined other internationals in accompanying the village farmers harvesting the olives in this area. One of the internationals who had been with the farmers for the previous two days, recounted her experience to MPT.

Israeli outpost east of grove.

Largest illegal Israeli settlement, Ariel, to the west of the grove.

The olive trees grow on terraces built
into a rugged rocky hillside.

The first day an Israeli settler with an automatic rifle walked into the grove, flexed his muscles and shouted that the land was his. The international said that the settler looked scared, but terrifying as he strutted toward the internationals and then through part of the grove near the farmers picking olives shouting that the land was Israeli. The second day several Israeli settlers armed with M-16s came to the olive grove, and Palestinians “armed” themselves with stones and sticks, but there was no occurrence of physical violence. The settlers said the Palestinians could stay, but demanded that the internationals leave. The settlers claimed that the land was theirs. The internationals called a contact who phoned the Israeli Occupation Forces who sent several soldiers in about 10-15 minutes who asked the settlers to leave, which they did.

The third day internationals, including an MPTer, took turns on a high spot to observe the outpost and settlements in the distance in order to warn of approaching settlers. No settlers came, much to the joy of everyone. The three internationals were joined by 3 Israelis with Rabbis for Human Rights, including a married couple who were helping Palestinians with the olive harvest for the first time.
The Israeli couple were first-timers working with Palestinians
in the olive harvest.

MPT picks olives in those groves where there is a threat of violence by settlers or the army. All were grateful that there had been no incident of violence this day.

Problems at the Qalandia Checkpoint

On October 8th, the two arriving MPT members met in Jerusalem for a late lunch with the two departing MPT members and the Team "anchor." A heightened military presence due to the Jewish feast of Sukkot/Tabernacles [harvest feast with tents/booths] in the city was noted. Many more Jewish people were walking in the Arab section of the Old City.

As the MPTers proceeded out of Jerusalem toward Ramallah, the bus came to a crawl about a mile from the Qalandia checkpoint and then to a stop about a quarter mile away. At that point, passengers began leaving the bus as the driver announced a problem at the checkpoint and a delay of a half-hour to two hours or longer.

Qalandia checkpoint is one of the largest Israeli military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. It governs traffic between the West Bank capital of Ramallah and the international city of Jerusalem. On a daily basis, Israeli soldiers check Palestinian identity cards, often causing pedestrians long delays as they pass through the checkpoint building and major traffic jams at the vehicle checkpoint.

MPTers learned that the Israeli military had closed Qalandia checkpoint because of the heightened tensions in Jerusalem. All vehicular traffic had reached gridlock as vehicles jostled to change lanes and directions, attempting to get to their destinations via other routes. Young Palestinian men were directing traffic and, amazingly, everyone was taking it in stride with minimal honking or aggressive maneuvers.

Total gridlock at Qalandia Checkpoint.

Passengers grabbed their bags and
searched for alternative transport.

Drivers searched for alternative routes
to their destinations.
Jews, celebrating the end of the Jewish festival of Sukkot, had gone to the Temple Mount, Jerusalem's Islamic religious sanctuary. Some 200 Muslim men were in the El-Aqsa Mosque, the primary place of Islamic worship in Jerusalem, to protect it. Tensions were running high. Palestinians from the West Bank are prohibited from entering Jerusalem and Israel has increasingly limited access to the mosques for Palestinians with Israeli IDs or special permission.
Moreover, many Palestinians, including the woman with whom MPTers spoke at the gridlock, fear that the archeological dig that Israel is undertaking at the Temple Mount is actually a tunneling to undermine the foundation of the Dome of the Rock so that it collapses.

When the Qalandia checkpoint was closed, Palestinian youth, knowing of the ongoing events around the Temple Mount, started to throw stones and the Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas. MPTers finally reached the MPT house, 5 hours after leaving Jerusalem. The trip usually takes 1 ½ to 2 hours. Arriving MPT members received an early orientation to the daily life of Palestinians under occupation.


Fall Team Complete

This week our fourth Fall Team Member arrived safely in the field for the second session of our Fall 2009 Team. Per the last post, the team is working on getting access to the internet, so watch for more Blog postings soon.


Keeping you all in the loop....

Our Team in the West Bank is doing amazing work, but their apartment has temporarily lost internet access. Look for updated reports and photos to be posted as soon as they can get back on line. We hope this "technical difficulty" will be resolved very soon. Thanks for following the Team's progress.
- Mary Hanna/Michigan Peace Team


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Two Fall Team Members Arrive Safely

Two additional Fall Team members joined our team anchor on the ground early this morning (Michigan time). The last Fall Team member will join them soon.

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Sarra - Settler Theft of Villager's Olives

This roadblock barring entrance from a main highway to Sarra village was constructed in 2002.
Formerly it barred both pedestrians and cars; now only cars are blocked.
(Click on pictures to enlarge them.)

Today MPTers and other internationals were invited to pick olives with a Sarra village family in a grove across from an illegal Israeli outpost of the Qedumim settlement. Sarra village, seven miles west of Nablus, has had its road leading to the main highway closed by huge cement blocks since 2002. The village has removed this road block at various demonstrations and then been punished for it by home invasions and harsh harassment by the Israeli occupation army

Sarra villagers are proud of their well-organized village with good internet access. Brothers in the inviting family have spent time in the USA; one attended an Ohio nursing school.

As MPTers walked the long distance to a small olive grove, a family member pointed out an area burned by settlers. The wind had blown the flames to a brush area in the east rather than to the east, thus saving a large olive grove.
A family uncle rides ahead of the MPTers to his large olive grove,
hoping that he and his family can salvage a few olives from his grove.

MPTers noticed that in the distance across the highway near the illegal Israeli outpost and a large olive grove about ten settler cars and a group of settlers. The owner of the olive grove, an uncle of the inviting family who rode on his donkey beside the MPTers, told them that the Israeli settlers had already picked most of his olives.

In the distance is the outpost. Israeli soldiers are there to "protect" the villagers from the settlers. Two settlers youth were turned back. Often both settlers and soldiers attack villagers.

The Israeli army was stationed at several points near the grove.
Here villagers negotiate with the army in order to pick any remaining olives.

Israeli army and army police jeeps were stationed at the west of the grove,
effectively controlling the entrance of any persons they deemed undesirable.

This day Sarra villagers had "permission" and "protection" from the Israeli army to pick olives on this land, their land. However, the settlers had already picked most of the olives and at least one family was turned back by the soldiers when the internationals were present.

When the international group [MPTers included] moved down to observe more closely, an Israeli military officer called the villager with them down to the highway. The villager was told by the officer that no internationals were allowed across the highway. According to a recent Israeli court decision Palestinians can invite whomever they wish to pick in their groves. The villager was given the "OK" by the Israeli officer to check out the grove belonging to his uncle. He reported when he returned that he has seen few olives left to pick. Internationals had not been invited by the family to pick in this area perhaps because they did not know the court decision or knew that the olives there were very few.

After finishing picking in the small grove on the side opposite the outpost, the family and internationals returned to the village for a delicious lunch. Internationals commented that Israeli settlers live outside the law and are protected by the Israeli occupation forces when they commited huge thefts that affect the livelihood of Palestinian villagers.

This group attempted to negotiate an entrance to their olive grove, but the soldiers sent them back to the village. Their entire olive crop has been lost.