Category Archives: Agriculture

White Man’s Burden – the Israeli Occupation’s “Civil Administration” Version

Dear Friends,

By a miracle of sorts, we had a mostly peaceful day in South Hebron today; such an event is so rare that I thought it might be worth mentioning to you. In lieu of a more substantial report, let me just say that Abu Sharif and Fadil plowed three fields, with an iron plow and a donkey, on one end of the wadi at Umm al-’Amad, just under the settlement of Otniel– lands they were denied access to for some 15 years– and there was a slightly higher-tech plowing, with an old tractor, at the other end of the wadi as well. The settlers and the soldiers kept their distance. The goats grazed freely. The sun was sweet. If the rains come, there will be crops of barley in these newly regained fields.

ShulmanPlow

David Shulman gives traditional farming a hand under the guidance of a Palestinian resident, November 2013

At Umm al-Ara’is, on the other hand, the standard ritual played itself out; the ‘Awad owners were driven off their land, along with our activists, by the soldiers, as happens week after week.

Lest anyone be tempted to think that things are better, I should mention that the committee of the “Civil Administration” that [according to Israel] still has the authority to approve Palestinian development plans in West Bank “Area C”, has rejected the village development plan submitted by residents of Palestinian Susya.

This means that if the final appeal to the High Court [which had heard this case for years - then punted it back to the "Civil Administration" a few months ago] goes against the residents, the entire village, housing some 300 to 400 people, will be demolished and its inhabitants expelled

(the demolition orders have been hanging over them for years, and the “Civil Administration” [see here for a chronology of its torment of area residents in 2008-2011] is talking about issuing final orders to destroy all the tents and shacks and infrastructure).

The “committee” offered the following rationalization of its decision:

“This plan offers no hope that the population can be advanced beyond the state of poverty and ignorance to which its representatives have condemned it….

The city, as the meeting place of diverse populations, serves as a source of cultural, economic, and educational enrichment. On the other side of the scale, the village dwellings are fragmented and scattered, founded upon tribal and clan identities which suffocate the citizen, the individual, and which offer no means for social development or opportunities for making a living, for cultural or educational experience…

The urban structure lets people meet one another, multiplies opportunities, enriches the horizons of each and every one in the family or tribe as in the wider society. Thus, in our view, the present plan is but another attempt to prevent this impoverished population from making progress…

It also prevents the Palestinian woman from liberating herself from the cycle of poverty and closes off opportunities for work and education. Similarly it keeps the Palestinian child away from the opportunities open to everyone else and condemns him to life in a small, degenerate village.”

If anyone had any doubt as to whether the Occupation of the West Bank is a colonial enterprise through and through, this passage should settle the question.

[It must also be noted that the fabled "enriching urban environment" towards which the Occupation wants to cleanse Susya residents, is none other than Yatta - a down-and-out town of ~50,000 residents suffering from inadequate infrastructure, economic suffocation - 75% of residents are day-laborers for Israeli bosses (pdf link), and - at least according to Israeli media - rampant crime]

Military Vehicle keeping a watch upon Palestinians plowing their lands, November 2013

Military Vehicle keeping a watch upon Palestinians plowing their lands, November 2013

The sheer cynicism is astonishing: you can guess who has kept the Palestinians of Susya in poverty, and who now intends to expel them from their ancestral homes and lands. The West Bank must be the last site in the world where this kind of language, reminiscent of French Algeria or apartheid South Africa or colonial Kenya or Tanganyika [or, indeed, the self-righteous precedent providing the post's title], can still be used without shame.

David Shulman

Editor’s notes:

[Comments in square brackets] are mine. As the links in the post show, this struggle has been going on – and covered by us – for quite a while. Click on those links to learn more.

I insist upon placing “Civil Administration” in quotations. It is a faux government body with a fraudulent name – designed specifically (by Ariel Sharon in 1982) to create an impression of “law and order” when there is none.

As this latest gem from the “Administration” shows, the only guiding principle of that impostor body (which – contrary to its misleading name – is actually a branch of the Israeli military, and whose legal authority is questionable to nonexistent) is: quash the Palestinians and take their lands, and find as many lands as possible to give to Jewish settlers.

The “Civil Administration” hacks will find or invent any legalistic, bureaucratic pretext to cover up this naked racism and thievery. In the current case, apparently, they are stupid enough as to be unaware of the historical context of their charade.

Here are some addresses and numbers you might try, in order to protest these policies:

Israel’s defense minister, sar@mod.gov.il or pniot@mod.gov.il, Phone: +972 3 6975349 Fax: +972 3 6976218 /691 6940 / 696 2757 / 691 7915 / 697 6711 (they are said to hate faxes),

or the ministry’s US outlet (info@goimod.com, fax 212-551-0264).

And of course… feel free to share and cross-post this widely.

Thanks, Assaf

Two Stories from the Month of October

Dear Friends,

We visit villages in South Mt. Hebron once a week. (During the other days of the week they “visit” us, in our thoughts and actions, in our phone talks with them, and among us about them.) And since there is never a dull moment (in life in general and in the occupied land in particular), if we were to share with you the constant current of our experiences, spending all the time at the computer wouldn’t be enough to describe even a little bit. But something we must tell. So I chose a few “gems”, to make it possible, after all, to smile from time to time:

At the beginning of the month (on Sunday, October 6, 2013), settlers from Havat Ma’on, reinforced by residents from other settlements in the area, tried, again, to enter the Palestinian village of A-Tuwani. (For Operation Dove’s report on the event see here; for a report on another event in A-Tuwani from the recent days see here).

After the event we visited, as we always do, our friend Mus’ab and his family. Mus’ab described in details what happened. I choose to bring the following detail, in his words: “When the soldiers entered the village homes and the mosque, I asked one of them: Why do you allow settlers to go into the village and do as they please. The soldier answered me: you are the settlers, not they.”

But that was a long time ago, at the beginning of the month. Now we are nearing its end.

Again in South Mt. Hebron. We are a special company today – a veterinarian joined us. He saw the documentary “The Human Turbine”, took the trouble to find my phone number, called me and said he wanted to come with us and maybe contribute, from his profession, as a veterinarian.

A soft autumn morning accompanies our ride from Shoval to Wadi Jheish, where we began our visit.

There, Gabi, the veterinarian, meets Ibrahim. We enter Ibrahim’s pen. He has a big herd of sheep and goats. A professional talk, fascinating and efficient, takes place between the two, with Ibrahim asking and Gabi consulting. Danny and I are there with them, enjoying the simple ability to be a bridge, to bring together, to translate occasionally, when needed, to do life things. The unbearable lightness of being brings a smile of joy to our faces, for a moment. The next moment I get a phone call. Just like that, among sheep and goats, the phone rings. On the screen I see it is a lawyer with Rabbis for Human Rights. The last time I talked with her on the phone was at the beginning of the summer, on the eve of the Supreme Court’s hearing regarding the legal struggle against the demolitions of Susiya and other villages (for background see here).

A moment passes between seeing her name on the screen and pressing the key, to enable the talk. I notice how my heart, refusing to give up the smile and the relief brought by the autumn lingers. That was in the summer, and now it’s autumn, and the smile, and the moment of contentment. I notice how my heart is about to lose a beat. I press the key.

“Erella,” I hear lawyer’s mellow voice on the other side of the line. “hello,” I answer with joy that does not hide the suspense. “How are you?” she asks and I answer: “Ok, and how are you?”, “Ok,” she answers and continues: “Listen, I wanted to let you know that a message has arrived from the High Planning Council of the Civil Administration, that it rejected the master plan of Palestinian Susiya. They have 60 days to appeal to the High Court of Justice.” “What does it mean?” I ask. “Look, we’re going to take a few more legal actions, but this whole legal struggle has almost exhausted itself. They [in the Planning Council] didn’t send me the rejection’s details yet. This will arrive in few days time. It seems that the reasons for the rejection are political, but I am interested in the legal explanation they will come up with.  I will send it to you as soon as it arrives.” So said lawyer, and I am in Ibrahim’s sheep pen at the very moment when Gabi is showing him how to set a broken leg of one of the sheep properly. “If you set the place of the fracture properly, the fracture will heal after two weeks,” says Gabi to Ibrahim. “Let her go with the herd, it will heal while she walks,” he adds.

We also, continue to go. From Ibrahim to Yusuf in Susiya. He has a big herd and he, too, has questions. And from him to Jihad in Susiya (see the photos attached).

We also continue to go with a fracture. But somehow, this fracture doesn’t heal in two weeks. And not in one year. This fracture has loads of fracture years. Someone takes care to set it so it will always remain fractured. We try to mend. The veterinarian can do it in two weeks. We cannot.

Just two stories from the month of October.

We will continue to go there, and in there, also during the month of November. We will continue to do what needs to be done in order to mend.

With much love,

Erella (on behalf of the Villages Group)

Gabi with Yusuf

Gabi with Yusuf

Gabi with Ibrahim

Gabi with Ibrahim

Gabi at Jihad's place

Gabi at Jihad’s place

 

A New Bio-Gas System in Palestinian Susya

in May 2010, the Bio-Gas project was launched to install systems for producing gas from sheep and goat dung for the domestic energy needs of the Palestinian hamlet of Susya (Susiya). This project was the initiative of Yair Teller, together with The Villages Group and Arava Institute. The first sytem was installed in the dwelling compound of the Hajj Ismail Nawaj’ah family, in Susya. Subsequently, two similar systems were installed in the dwelling compounds of another two families of the same clan in Susya. These are small systems of 4 cubic meters, each providing one family’s cooking needs.

In the two years since, Yair Teller continued developing his expertise in bio-gas. He joined three partners – Erez Lantzer, Oshik Efrati and Danny Dunayevsky, who together formed the Ecogas company. Ecogas and the Arava Institute are now pursuing the development of additional bio-gas systems in Palestinian Susya. Currently, together with the villagers, they are working to install a new 16-cubic-meter system in the area of the Hasan Shinran family in the western part of Susya.

The eastern part of Susya is inhabited mostly by families of the Nawaj’ah clan and is in Area C (in which permission for construction has been temporarily left in the hands of the Israeli Occupation authorities according to the Oslo Accords).

Last month, the Occupation regime’s “civil administration” issued demolition orders for most of the dwellings in that part of Susya. The residents, with the help of the Village Group and many other Paletinian, Israeli and international partners, are fighting these unjust orders in court and in the public sphere.

The western part, inhabited mostly by families of the Shinran clan is in Area B (where construction is authorized mostly by the Palestinian Authority). The new bio-gas system is constructed in this part of Susya, and is relatively safe. Unlike its predecessors, this system is meant to supply not only gas for family needs, but also for winter heating of the local schoolhouse – is also under threat of demolition by the “civil administration”, who claims it lies about 150 meters inside Area C.

According to plan, as soon as the bio-gas system itself will be completed, the second phase will begin, whereby two green-houses will be created at this site: one for educational purposes, in the area of the school. The schoolchildren of Susya will cultivate this greehouse under guidance from Arava Institute instructors. Thus they will learn to apply ecological principles in farming. The second green-house will be built in the Hasan Shinran compound, and to grow vegetables for both local consumption and marketing. Crops of both planned green-houses will be fertilized by compost produced from the surplus production processes of the gas system.

In conclusion, to the best of our understanding, when the heart listens, other hearts are heard, and fertile cooperation ensues. Even if the demolishing hand carries out its threats, the hearts will go on beating. Hearts are not to be demolished.

Ehud and Erella, on behalf of The Villages Group

Another Settler Arson of Salem’s Olive Trees

Uri Pinkerfeld, Villages Group coordinator for Salem and Deir El Hattab, reports:

On Sunday November 14 2010, around 12 noon, smoke was seen rising from the olive orchards on the slopes of Jabal Kabeer above Salem. Several farmers went to locate the fire’s location, north of the settler bypass road, not far from the cistern. Two local teenagers who were shepherding nearby hurried to the location as well, and tried to put out the fire. They reported having seen two settlers run off towards the “Skali Farm” settler outpost. The farmers immediaterly called firefighters from Nablus and the officers of the District Coordination Office. The military allowed the fire truck to get to the orchards, but the road was too steep. Farmers eventually managed to put out the fire manually.

Several dozen olive trees were burnt. One youth who had inhaled a large amount of smoke, needed treatment at the Rafidiyyeh Hospital in Nablus.

Five years ago, in October 2005, a settler arson in the same region had burnt many hundreds of olive trees. The ID card of a settler from Elon More was found at one of the arson spots, but the Israeli police eventually closed the case without investigating.

David Shulman: A (relatively) Good Day in Samu’a

Guest post by David Shulman

Another good day, as good days go in south Hebron. This means two relatively hopeful reports in a row; my readers may begin to lose interest, or to suspect my judgment has somehow become impaired. Certainly, the objective situation, including much violence and terror on the ground in south Hebron, is worse than ever, given this settlers’ government that is contemptuous of Palestinians, blind to the catastrophe that it itself is creating, and utterly unwilling to make even the slightest move toward peace. Then there’s the virulently anti-democratic right, well represented in the government by the Foreign Minister and others of his ilk from the Israel Beitenu party; they, together with other members of the Knesset from the far and not-so-far right, have initiated an unprecedented wave of racist and chauvinist legislation (you can find the whole list in Neve Gordon’s recent essay on “Thought Crimes” in the London Review of Books). If you want to know what it feels like to see the country you live in slide, day by day, toward a rabid, ruthless authoritarianism, or worse—invidious comparisons are ready at hand– all you have to do is read the Israeli newspapers. Nearly every day we wake to another new and terrible surprise.

Actually, it’s much worse than what I’ve just described. Some of the racist bills before the Knesset may not pass; some may be referred to the Supreme Court, which, hopefully, will pronounce them in contravention of the Basic Laws (though the Knesset can then still overrule the court); some—especially those penetrating into the conscience of the individual and attempting to force it to conform—may not be enforceable. It’s important to keep in mind that the men and women who have proposed these laws have a visceral hatred for humane and democratic values and that they are now all too close to the centers of power, their voices heard in cabinet meetings and, with disgusting regularity, in the media. These are people who cheerfully use the democratic framework in order to subvert it. But the truly demoralizing experience is watching the minds of your neighbors and other ordinary people become infected, as if by a virus, with the mean and brutal vision of the far right and its paranoid delights, above all its loathing of Palestinians and failure to recognize them as fully human. A sinister sickness stalks the streets of Israel. The settlers were the first to cultivate it, but it is the amorphous, volatile, and at the same time strangely supine center where it has now taken root.

It is early November, and so far there has been no rain to speak of. Ezra says this is punishment for our sins—and this time he means not just the endless evils of the occupation but the cumulating sins against the planet and its forms of life by human beings everywhere. We are picking stones from the baked soil of a field just under the “illegal outpost” of Asahel, with its row of ugly pre-fab buildings and its watch-tower and its fence. The field belongs to farmers from Samu’a who have had no access to it until today; they cannot approach their own lands bordering on the settlement without Israeli activists beside them. Khalid shows us what this means: high on the slope, and relatively removed from the outpost, is a field recently hoed and plowed, ready now for the rain, if it ever comes, and the sowing of seeds. The soil looks dark and perhaps—if you stretch your imagination to the limit– even potentially fertile. But “our” field is a washed-out, dessicated, caked and crumbly brown, with nothing but thorns and bristles and half-buried rocks to hold the eye. It has been untouched for a long time, except perhaps by the settlers’ goats. In a wild, utopian burst of faith, we have come to clean it and heal it and coax it back to life, though we know that the chances its Palestinian owners will actually be able to plant and reap here are close to nil.

We expect the settlers to descend on us at any moment, but very surprisingly on this hot Shabbat morning the few inhabitants of Asahel appear to be asleep. We work peacefully for an hour, and the field begins to look a little better. It is full of hidden life: a preying mantis sunning herself on a rock; a hibernating yellow scorpion discovered under another rock; several tough white partridge eggs; fresh droppings from the wild deer and antelopes we see from time to time in south Hebron. There is no dearth of stones, but eventually we move on over the hill to another field, immediately abutting the outpost. Now we are no longer alone: a corpulent, bearded settler dressed in Shabbat white, with a huge, pious skull-cap on his head, emerges above us, screaming profanities, his wife and one or two others close behind him. I remember him all too well.

It’s just over a year since I last came here, with our Palestinian friends from Samu’a, to clear away the stones. Now I’m wondering if some kind of bad karma is rooted in this field. Looking at the unimaginable proliferation of stones before us, I do a quick mental calculation. Last time we managed to work for half an hour or so before the soldiers arrived. Today there are more stones than ever. Let’s say we manage to clear at least one of the ruined terraces, assuming we get a respite of an hour or so before we’re either arrested or driven away. At this rate—say, optimistically, four or five hundred stones removed from the ground, three or four times each year—it will take us some 50 years to clear the whole field. And anyway what good will it do? The settler, oozing smugness and derision, is shouting: “How good of you idiots to clear the field for me! You know I’m the one who is going to use it. You know your Palestinian friends all belong to the Hamas, which means you, too, are serving the Hamas. But please do go on working.” He may well, of course, be quite right about the fact that he, and no one else, will successfully claim this field. Khalil—erect, manly, unafraid– cannot bear it, and he shouts back uphill, in Hebrew, at the settler: “God knows that this land is mine. God knows.”

Do stones grow naturally in this soil, like thorns, like the hardness that petrifies the human heart? No, the problem is that since the terraces have all been destroyed, the rains, when they finally come, wash away the topsoil, exposing the infinite store of rocks underneath. We are working well now, it is hot, my hands are scratched and aching, there are not enough hoes and shovels, and it is all borrowed time, since the settler, breaking the Shabbat rules, of course, has already summoned the army on his cellphone. Soon the soldiers begin to filter down the hill, and then the police arrive, too. Yehuda and I consult: how far do we want to go in confronting them? Last time we were arrested here together and spent the day in the Kiryat Arba’ station; for once we had time to talk at leisure. Since then he has written a first novel, about to be published, and he has a good plot sketched out for his next one. I’d welcome the opportunity for another long talk, but today we have about ten guests from abroad with us, and we don’t want to get them into trouble. We decide we’ll wait to see the inevitable order declaring this field a Closed Military Zone—closed, that is, to Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, not to settlers—and then follow Khalid’s lead as best we can. If they arrest any of the Palestinians, of course, we will insist on being arrested with them.

Strangely, miraculously, the soldiers have arrived without the signed order. Of course they can phone back to headquarters and have one delivered. But for the moment, they adopt the superficial tones of reason (is it possible that even they are fed up with the settlers?). “What are you doing here? What’s going on?” We’re working, we answer, in the fields that belong to these people. “What do you mean by ‘belong’?” asks the officer in charge, a lean, young, rather soft-spoken man. It’s a good question; that something might actually “belong” to Palestinians is, perhaps, a novel idea in the south Hebron hills. Yes, I say, they own this field, and they have the kushans—the Ottoman land-registry documents—to prove it. The officer has never heard of a kushan, and we have to explain. He is not overtly hostile. He calls the Palestinian owners together and tells them, in Arabic: You say you have documents. Bring them tomorrow morning to such-and-such an office, and we’ll check into it. In the meantime, stop the work. He says it over and over, ten, twelve times. The Palestinians repeat their claim. Minutes pass, and an incongruous, unhappy intimacy seems to develop between the two parties thrown together on this rugged hill, the soldiers who serve the occupation—and the settlers—and these men from Samu’a who are trying desperately to survive with dignity and, against all odds, to reclaim their land.

Still no written order. Maybe, we joke among ourselves, the Mahat, the senior commander in the area, doesn’t want to defile the Shabbat by signing it. Maybe, Yehuda says, they’ve devised a new system, the “Sacrament of the Closed Military Zone”—the Mahat has only to pass his hand over the printed form and, with God’s help, it signs itself. In any case, the Palestinians are reluctant to leave without that formal piece of paper driving them away. It is humiliating to them, and besides, they are farmers who have touched again their ravished soil; they go back to the shovels, they scrape away more thorns, pry more boulders from the ground, and we work beside them in the sun, thirsty, waiting for some resolution. Time goes by. Finally, they tear themselves away, and we follow them uphill toward the road. I guess the karma of this field isn’t bad after all. For once, you could almost say, we won. In a reality recalcitrant as rock, today we cut loose a few small stones.

Of course, in the end they, and we, must lose, as Khalid bitterly says: Every time it’s like this, they say bring us the papers so we can examine them, then it drags on for months and we have no access to the field, and the rains come and go without sowing, and eventually we lose our claim. Israeli law cruelly says that a field that is not worked for three consecutive years reverts to state ownership. It also says that a field that is more than 50% rocks belongs to the state. There are, I assure you, still plenty of rocks on that hillside, though we made a dent.

Yet even minor victories count in the ongoing micro-struggle of south Hebron, where every well and plot of land and olive tree has to be fought for, held on to with all our might in the face of the settlers’ insatiable greed and the predatory system that nourishes and protects that greed. So it was a good enough morning, and for once no one got hurt or arrested, and they didn’t even manage to drive us away with their guns and bureaucratic forms. The fat white settler, perhaps slightly disgruntled, screams at our backs as we move away from Asahel. “You scum, you fools, you idiots, you whores, you wicked sinners, you will be going straight to Hell.” This is too much for me, so, against my usual rule, I turn back toward him and I shout: “It is you, and those like you, who have turned this place into a living hell.” He sputters and fumes. Zviya — a relatively new recruit to our ranks, a retired head-mistress with the decisiveness and authority and open heart that go with that role — says, walking beside me, “Don’t you have to die to go to hell?” Two weeks ago she saved a Palestinian sheep that soldiers tried to steal; she embraced the sheep, which was bleating in terror, and held on hard even when the soldiers hit her and tried to pry it out of her arms, until in the end they gave up and the sheep ran back to its herd. She’s made for Ta’ayush, anyone can see it. “You know,” I say to her, watching the dizzy hills offering themselves to the flames of the midday sun and the distant blue horizon dipping toward infinity, “I think that when we die we don’t actually go anywhere. I think we simply are not. Or maybe we become a clod of baked earth in some field like this one, and that’s just fine with me.” She laughs. “I want to be cremated when I die,” she says, “and I used to want my ashes to be spread over some of the many places I have loved in this world, but recently I’ve changed my mind. I want them to spread my ashes over the hills of south Hebron.”

David Shulman: Another Well and Another Goat

Another incisive and insightful on-the-ground report from Prof. David Shulman.
——————-
Al-Tawamin, July 24, 2010

Here is the unlikely battlefield. You have a mountain slope, baked dry, thousands of sun-bleached rocks, millions of thorns. It issues into an even drier wadi, on the other side of which another slope of rocks and thorns rises up only to descend into the next wadi, and so it goes from ridge to ridge and wadi to wadi until pure desert takes over and rolls on as far as the horizon. On the slope in question, there is a functional well, its mouth encased in stone. The well belongs to the Palestinian shepherds of south Hebron, specifically to the Al-Murgh family, which has been chased off its lands here, in the tiny point called Al-Tawamin, by Israeli settlers and soldiers. Settlers from nearby Havat Yair or Sussya covet these lands and this well, as settlers covet every arid centimeter in south Hebron. We’re here, among other reasons, to see that this slope, this well, don’t fall victim to their greed.

Actually, we have a larger ambition, though it will take time to achieve it. We want the Al-Murgh family to come back, as some families have come back to Bi’r al-’Id, with our help. It’s not the only spot we want to save. It’s a slow process, full of danger, and the forces arrayed against its happening are powerful.

But there were some good signs this week, as Amiel informs us on the minibus on the way down. Apparently as a result of continuous pressure by Ta’ayush activists on the ground, backed up by our lawyers, the army and the occupation bureaucrats have moved toward recognizing that Palestinian farmers and shepherds in south Hebron do have some rights—an almost unimaginable thought under the standard conditions of the occupation. The new Brigade Commander in the area is said to be reevaluating army policy in the area to ensure Palestinian access to fields and wells.

There was a flurry of phone calls and faxes between our people and the officer in charge of land rights and the custodian of what are called “state lands” (miri), that is, lands not registered in the name of private individuals or families (much of the land in south Hebron, including large areas traditionally owned and used by the villagers, falls in this category). The Brigade Commander is said to have acknowledged that the wells were dug long before there were Israeli settlers here and must therefore belong to Palestinians, who should, in that case, believe it or not, be allowed to use them. If this idea seems to you axiomatic and unproblematic, you don’t know the reality of south Hebron.

Everyday, normative violence by settlers is the heart of that reality, and it hasn’t changed in recent weeks. We hear the usual stories. Shepherds were out grazing their sheep when armed settlers arrived and stole a sheep, loading it onto their vehicle as soldiers stood by and watched. Other settlers attacked a herd and shot several of the sheep and beat the shepherds. Yaakov Talya, the notorious settler-rancher near Bi’r al-’Id, tried to take possession of the well we cleaned of endless mud and stones just a few weeks ago. All this is standard, tedious, odious, and probably permanent.

But we’ve had some recent successes, and at 7:30 this morning, before the sun has warmed to its true strength, we watch with satisfaction as a tractor-driven water tanker fills up from an ancient well on the hilltop at Al-Tawamin. We expected soldiers to turn up to stop this, but it didn’t happen—at first. We had time to clamber down the hill to inspect the caves, once homes to whole families, which were deserted overnight under conditions of settler-driven terror in 2001. Large metal cooking pots, riddled with bullet holes, litter the floor of the caves; settlers come here for target practice and other relaxing social events. Can we clean the caves and entice the families back? Maybe. The Zionist dream, updated version 2010.

Mid-morning. A herd of sheep washes over the hilltop and heads for the well. These are settlers’ sheep, and they will have to be stopped. It seems incredible, I am always amazed, but the struggle, our struggle, takes place on the most micro of micro-levels, the level of the individual goat or sheep or well or footpath or thorny bush or olive tree. If we allow them to graze here, to water the sheep at this well, these lands, too, will be lost, absorbed into settler territory. So, though the sheep are thirsty, we send them back up the hill together with the shepherd—a somewhat befuddled employee of Dalia in Chavat Yair. He keeps asking us, in a peculiar blend of half-baked languages (Hebrew, English, traces of Slavic) who we are. Shortly a more authoritative figure arrives: Avidan, in Shabbat white, with beard and skullcap, of course, and an irresistible urge to show us the error of our ways.

“Why,” he asks rhetorically, self-possessed, cynical, arrogant, voluble, “don’t you look at the real truth?” In the space of half an hour or so of bitter haranguing, he invokes the “real truth” many dozens of times; it’s his favorite phrase. Some truths are more real than others, for example the ones he believes in.

“These people [the Palestinians] don’t own a single millimeter of this land. They have absolutely no right to it. God gave it to us. If they want a state of their own where they can live and develop their own culture, they can have it where they belong, on the other side of the Jordan River. Look at this well. Our grandmothers and grandfathers dug this well. Your grandmother and grandfather. You’re handing over your grandmother’s well to the enemies of the Jews.”

This is a rather unsettling thought, though, to be honest, my grandmother, a very gentle and gracious woman from Nikolayev in the Ukraine, never, to the best of my knowledge, ever dug a well; nor would she have approved of what Avidan and his settler friends are doing. But the point of the metaphor rapidly becomes clear; it is a vision of the end of days.

“If we give them this well,” says Avidan, “everything else will go, too—Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, everything. We’ll be back where we were under the Nazis. They will take your houses in Jerusalem, then they will kill us all, and it will be your fault. Besides, look at the old synagogue they found in Susya. It proves that Jews were here before.”

“I think I’d like to resign from Judaism,” says Amiel, who has been listening without reacting, bemused, detached. We’ve all heard it many times before. Amiel is cooler than I. Though long experience has taught us there’s no point whatsoever in engaging in such debates, I can’t help saying to Avidan,

“In my eyes, you’re no better than a common thief. You’ve stolen the lands that belong to these people, and you keep trying to steal more.”

Avidan is unruffled. He has a lot more to say. He’s not, incidentally, a bad man; there’s something straight, almost innocent, about him, unlike the more violent settlers we sometimes meet. He lives in a stark and simple world governed by a seamless mythology that, whatever else it might mean or do, has been conscripted to the single overriding goal of dispossessing the Palestinians who live here. He doesn’t seem to me to regard them as fully human, and anyway he thinks God, a rather literal-minded figure unskilled in hermeneutics and dealing largely in real estate, is on his side. He has no doubts, unlike me. Most striking of all is the ultimate threat implicit in every word and thought: the world is structured (by God? perhaps not) to kill Jews, that is its operative inner logic, and if you give way at any point—say this well, for example—the apocalypse will begin at once, right here, from the tiny, dry, prickly, inelegant piece of ground we are standing on. A piece of ground which we, too, by the way, are committed to defending from the likes of Avidan.

I have a moment of sheer surrealism. What are we doing here at the well, under the fiery sun and the watchful, uncomprehending eyes of some forty thirsty sheep? And why am I listening to this lunatic? Am I feeling sorry for him? There is a kind of sick romanticism about the man, you can see he loves to tell himself the whole crazy story of Jewish exile and return, with its sweet pathos; and he is infected, of course, with the self-righteousness that comes with the story. He loves the Jews, a twisted, tragic love. He invites us to Shabbat lunch. I feel bad that we didn’t let the sheep drink at the well.

Now the soldiers arrive, as always. There is the usual to-and-fro; the details don’t much matter. Negotiations transpire on the crest of the hill in a mirror-like space of infinite depth, with the soldiers filming all of us with their digital video cameras, no doubt for the state security archives, while we film them filming us filming them filming us….
In the end, we tell them we’re prepared to leave on condition that the settlers leave, too. That’s what happens. The pumping of water is anyway over by now. We walk over the rocks, down to Bi’r al-’Id, and there we see what looks to me like a miracle: sweet, clear water from the tanker is gushing at full blast, under the fiery sun, into the well that we cleaned. It will keep them going for a while. Our friend Nasir from Susya is sitting there on a rock; he has come to say hello. Speaking of the Jews, Nasir is wearing a black tee-shirt with a long inscription in Arabic and English. “Likay la nansa, al-Quds. Jerusalem: We will never forget you.”

Strengthening Those Who Belong to the Land: Mahmud from Susya, the Organic Farmer

Mahmud from Susya got up one day from his depression, and built a very basic green house. With simple tools and techniques he succeeded to surprise us with excellent organic vegetables.
The vegetables are an essential addition to the family’s poor diet, based mainly on dairy products from the herd which is their main source of making a living. And while both herding and growing grains is restricted by the settlers/army, green-housing is a brilliant solution for growing food which does not require much land.
One day Mahmud discovered a vegetable disease on the leaves of his tomatoes. We could not help with the disease, but by suggested to finance for him an agricultural course. When he returned from his two months’ course at al-Arroub College north of Hebron, he also built a beehive.
Then, he turned out to be also a guide for Ahmad, from another family in Susiya. He taught him and helped him to build his own green house.
Meanwhile, since this area is a draught area, both by nature and by the Occupation (the regime prevents direct water supply), we supported 4 families in building 4 wells.
Recently we joined the building the first prototype home Bio-Gas system. The system was built by Yair Teller from the Arava Institute with our financial support. This system, the first one of its kind to operate in the Middle East, turns animals’ feces into gas for cooking needs. The previous success of the solar and wind based electricity systems which we, with COMET-ME, first built in Susiya two years ago, has motivated us to build this first prototype in Susiya as well.
All the above are actual examples of our way of supporting – strengthening the strengtheners of each community, both personally and communally.
We offer many aspects of support; even when financial, it is always a result of personal contacts and long standing relationships. In addition to Susya, we also maintain contacts with other communities in the region of south mount Hebron  such as Umm Fakara, Umm al-Kheir, al-Tuwani, Tuba and others.
The financial support for all the initiatives described above (in Susiya), was kindly provided by a family from London. We, members of the Villages Group and Susyans, thank them sincerely.
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