Category Archives: General

Summer Camps in South-Hebron/Massafer-Yatta, Against the Background of Military Oppression

A few days after the three youngsters from Umm al-Kheir returned from their detention (of which I told you about in my former letter, dated June 10), there started in Umm al-Kheir a summer camp for all the children of the place (3 to 13 years old). The summer camp consisted of two groups (a group of the small children and a group of the older children). The guides were four women from Umm al-Kheir itself: Na’ama, Sara, Ikhlas and Taghrid. We went to visit on Thursday, as we always do. It was the fifth day of the summer camp. Looking at the sights and hearing the voices – our hearts expanded . A small summer camp in the middle of the desert, in two tents that serve as a local community center (established with such effort and constantly under the threat of demolition). Yet the children are happy and the guides’ faces are beaming.

SummerCamp3

We stood there for a good two hours – Ophir, Limor and me – watching. Fun games seasoned occasionally by music activity (a delightful implementation of what the guides learned in a music workshop held in a nearby village in April and facilitated by Fabianne), relaxing breathing exercises, a tasty falafel in the break and plenty of joy.

At the end of the camp there was a trip. “Without a trip, the summer camp is not really worth it,” say the children, for whom going out of the constricting boundaries of the village was a formative event.

SummerTrip1
At the end of the ninth day of the camp the children return to their homes and meet there the security guard of Karmel (the nearby settlement), escorted by the army, the police and Civil Administration officials. For what went on there, see here.

We were glad we could at least enable the kids a summer camp (with the generous support of our friends from England).

A few days later started the summer camp in Susiya.

On our weekly visit we arrived on a cheerful camp day, guided by Yihya and Fatme, who were assisted by three local girls. One of the activities was a play the children prepared.
A local Palestinian family sits down to have its meal, when a young man bursts into their home and asks for refuge from soldiers who are chasing him and trying to catch him. The family quickly hides the young man but a collaborating neighbor informs on him and the soldiers enter the house, grab the young man, bit him, tie him and take him away with them.

SummerCamp4
A piece of reality. The children bring it into the play with all its complexity. The topic was chosen by them, without any guidance from the grownups. In a completely natural, though maybe not really conscious way, the children process their traumas, and the summer camp is a space that enables that.

The very next day, Civil Administration officers, accompanied by soldiers, arrived and delivered stop-work orders (precursors of demolition orders) to almost every family in Susiya (Limor wrote about it in her last report).

Since then events succeeded one another (as always, and a bit more). My writing pace falls behind the pace of the events we would like to share with you. I started writing this report at the end of June, when the summer camps ended. And here we are, past the middle of August, and every passing day increases the important “debt” – to tell their stories.

Sometimes the two camps – the going-to-the-field one and the writing-about-the-field one – clash within me. Usually the first one wins …

Many thanks to each and every one who contributed, in funds or spirit, so these summer camps could have taken place, and successfully so.

We are thankful and our friends are thankful, through us. And the children? The photos will tell their happiness …

Yours, with much love,

Erella (in the name of the members of the Villages Group)

Military & Settler Vandalism Escalates as Court Battle over South Hebron Hills Heats Up

We continue to follow, report and support the struggle of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank’s southernmost region, to continue living on their ancestral lands which they legally own.

One would think that in an enlightened society such a simple request would be guaranteed beyond doubt. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. For an entire generation, the Occupation regime, aided and egged on by the settlers that regime has introduced into the region, has been trying to uproot a few thousand indigenous residents. The mechanisms have ranged from military edicts, bad-faith legalistic arguments in court, pressure on the ground, and naked violence and vandalism.

On the court front, residents have last week achieved what seems like a minor victory. The Occupation regime now insists that “only” 8 Massafer-Yatta villages be evacuated and destroyed, instead of the 12 that the original 1999 edict declared to be part of an IDF “firing range”. According to lawyers who represent the residents, during the court battle the regime offered this reduction from 12 to 8 in exchange for stopping the struggle. Now the regime has been (apparently) forced to do so in exchange for nothing. The regime probably sees now that its flimsy – no, outrageous – arguments that it can declare a “firing range” over an entire stretch of populated land and pretend the people there have never existed, has very little chance of winning the day, even in the skewed playing field of Israel’s own courts. Therefore, it perhaps tries to appear more “rational” and “reasonable” by excluding 4 villages from the count. The High Court has responded by erasing the original 12-village petition, and inviting plaintiffs to resubmit an adjusted one for the 8 villages within several months, without any impact on their petition rights.

That victory noted, the IDF still controls the region very tightly, and has continued to try and inflict misery and intimidation upon residents, in the hope that they leave of their own accord. This summer’s campaign has started, as reported here, with sweeping evacuation and demolition decrees, in apparent violation of the pending court case. Now, during the first week of August the IDF raided two of the 4 villages removed from its evacuation edict! Then, on August 7 it raided Jinba village, which is among the 8 still included in the court case. Images of this “heroic” use of military might and resources against defenseless civilians, are below.

The pictures were taken in Jinba by Btselem activists, and transmitted to us by Guy Butavia. The raids were implemented using helicopters, which landed and took off in the village 6 times.

The cave dwellers’ hamlet of Jinba is one of the largest and oldest of this type of locality in the cave region of the South Hebron Hills\Massafer Yatta region. This being summer, many children who normally stay in Yatta during the school year (because no adequate secondary school exists in the cave-dwelling region) were in the village. The residents’ sheep, as usual, were also around, receiving the military’s attention as well:

Intimidation alone was not enough for the brave soldiers, so they also tossed out the contents of some closets, and spilled large jugs of milk and cream.

Amira Hass reported this raid on Haaretz, but apparently that newspaper’s English mirror is now attempting again to charge a premium for reading the only somewhat-independent mainstream Israeli source for news on the Occupation.

Then, on August 16, the region’s settlers once again pitched in. As Operation Dove reports:

In the afternoon of August 16th some Palestinians discovered that an olive grove situated in Humra valley had been recently destroyed during the night, according to a Palestinian. Thirty olive trees were broken or severely damaged. The olive grove belongs to a Palestinian family that lives in Yatta, a Palestinian town close to At-Tuwani. The area in which the olives trees were cut is located in front of Havat Ma’on, an illegal outpost.

The amount of Palestinian trees tore down and damaged [in the region] since January 2012 rises to 97: a largest number is located in Humra valley. The olive grove’s destruction represents several problems of subsistence for Palestinians. Operation Dove has maintained an international presence in At-Tuwani and South Hebron Hills since 2004.

Once again, the settlers and the military Occupation prove in action that they are two arms of the same beast: the beast of nationalist supremacy, dispossession and violence. In addition, over the past few days the military has confiscated private Palestinian vehicles in the region, under the pretext of “unauthorized driving inside a firing range.” The Occupation makes a joke of the concept “issue pending court decision”, and uses its power on the ground to intimidate and forcibly drive people off their land.

So far, the residents, aided by concerned citizens of Israel and around the world, have remained determined to stand up for their rights.

More images from the two vandalism incidents can be found below (credit for both sets goes to Guy Butavia).

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

My Home is Everything: the People of Susiya Speak to the World, and other updates

Dear Friends and supporters,

The latest news from Qamar, the lawyer from Rabbis for Human Rights representing Palestinian Susiya: the occupation’s “Civil Administration” agreed to extend the period for the submission of the juridical objections to the demolition orders issued for most structures in Susiya (Susya) last week, until the beginning of next month (1.7).

We take the opportunity to thank the many of you who contacted us during the last few days, expressing your solidarity with the people of Susiya, and informing us about various actions taken by them in protest against the demolition orders threatening the existence of Palestinian Susiya. A new website named “Susiya Forever” has been launched. It is dedicated to the people of Palestinian Susya and their ongoing struggle to continue living on their lands.

Meanwhile, after hearing about Susiya residents in the third person, now we finally have a chance to hear from the people of Susiya themselves.

Ibrahim Nawaja, a young local leader of the Susiya community and a student for documentary films in a colleague in Bethlehem, asked five women and four men in Susiya to share their feelings and fears about living under constant threats of demolitions and deportation waged against them by the Israeli occupation. The result is a unique short documentary that brings the simple message of the persecuted people of Susiya directly to you. The wonderful still photos embedded in the video have been taken by members of the families of the people interviewed in it.

Please watch and distribute widely, this is a crucial document for Susiya’s survival!

For many more videos from Susiya, check out http://susiyaforever.wordpress.com/movies/

Ehud Krinis on behlf of the Villages Group

“Civil Administration” and Settlers Join Forces to Destroy Palestinian Susya. Did the Court Wink and Nod?

In March, we reported here about an unusual Israel High Court petition by Israeli settler-run groups, demanding that the (fraudulently named) “Civil Administration” carry out demolition orders in Palestinian Susya (also transliterated “Susiya”). Settler pressure upon the government to make Palestinian life more difficult, and to drive Palestinians out of their homes, is nothing new. The two main innovations in that petition spearheaded by the NGO “Regavim”, were 1. Turning the reality and the human-rights terminology on its head, calling the Palestinian residents, whose presence predates the Israeli arrival in 1967, “illegal outpost settlers” and casting the settlers themselves as the indigenous, oppressed and discriminated party – and all that in a formal legal document!
and 2. For some reason that I still cannot understand, the settler plaintiffs had dug up a wealth of “Civil Administration” documents, and proved beyond reasonable doubt that its demolition policy in Palestinian villages has nothing to do with security.

Since the “Civil Administration” is a military body, unaccountable to the Palestinian residents and for all practical purposes inaccessible to them, and since “Security” is the only pretext under which such a pretense at governance can justify itself – one can only wonder why the settlers thought that exposing the fraud of the “Security” charade hiding the oppression, outright robbery and destruction meted out by the “Civil Administration” would help their case and not the Palestinians’. Regardless, in view of the very harsh words against the “Civil Administration” in that settler petition, one might think that settlers and “Administration” are bitter rivals.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and the extremely worrisome events of the past two weeks suggest that the entire court petition itself is being used as a charade, in order to provide the “Civil Administration” with a pretext to destroy Palestinian villages such as Susya, once and for all.

It should be emphasized, that Susya’s immediate neighbors, the Israeli residents of its namesake settlement Sussya built on Susya’s lands, are not passive bystanders by any means. The “Sussya Co-operative Association” is co-plaintiff in the Regavim appeal, and ostensibly it is the settlers themselves who called Regavim in, to help them clear their surroundings of those pesky Arabs for good. More details about this settler “lawfare” action, are in the first post.

According to recent events, Israel’s High Court of Justice has been cast in the role of an (unwitting?) accomplice. Here is how and why.

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On June 7, the Court issued an injunction (Hebrew original, pdf) on “Regavim”s frivolous, anti-Palestinian petition. Rather than be laughed out of court for filing a petition full of distortions, racist statements, guilt-by-association accusations and outright lies, “Regavim” has been treated as a respectable plaintiff. However, the injunction in itself sould not necessarily spell doom for the Palestinian residents. Here are the main excerpts from the court’s interim decision:

2. From the material and the discussion, it turns out that there are other petitions pending at this same Court, by [Palestinian] people who have built structures around Susya, petitions that among other things attack the demolition orders. In other words, petitions diametrically opposite to this one. …This matter should be discussed as a single one, with the participation of all sides [to the various cases]. We expect a joint statement [presumably by Palestinian plaintiffs]….within 45 days…

Another statement should be submitted by respondents 1-3 ["Civil Administration", minister of security and IDF central-command general], with an update regarding treatment of [Palestinian] permit requests, approval of development plans, and so forth.

3. Another matter…. we accept the plaintiffs’ request. We hereby grant an injunction, forbidding respondents 4-34 [Palestinian residents] to carry out any construction without permit in the two areas discussed in the appeal. The injunction will stand until our verdict.”

At face value, despite (again) the disheartening respect with which a mendacious assortment of lies and incitement has been treated by Israel’s highest legal authority, there is nothing particularly alarming in this interim decision; arguably the opposite.

The Court did not ask the “Civil Administration” to go ahead and destroy Palestinian property. On the contrary, it mentions “permit requests” and “development plans” – hinting the justices know full well, that these are categorically denied from Palestinians by the fraudulent “Administration”. Even the stop-work injunction itself is a moot point. The “Administration” which scarcely hides its view of South Hebron hills Palestinian residents as illegitimate squatting pests, takes care to issue a demolition order on practically every two stones put together by a Palestinian in the region. By definition, any action by local Palestinians, except leaving the area for good, is deemed “illegal” by the “Civil Administration”.

In other words, in view of the injunction and the Court’s declared intention to shine a light and put some order into the sordid business of Susya’s construction permits or lack thereof, perhaps the “Civil Administration” might start to want to clean up its act, before it is publicly shamed?

Well, of course, the opposite has happened. The “Administration” is now in an all-out a rush to destroy as many Palestinian structures as possible before the Court weighs in – possibly, all of Palestinian Susya. These intentions were hand-delivered to residents a few days ago, together with high-resolution photographs delineating the areas in which all structures are to be destroyed. Residents were given only a few days (first 3 days, then 14, and now back down to 7) to submit an appeal.

Below is some more background from Rabbis for Human Rights, who together with many other groups are organizing a demonstration at Susya this Friday, June 22. The “Administration”, meanwhile, seems determined to start the destruction even before that. Will Israel’s High Court of Justice intervene to remind the “Civil Administration”, that cases pending in court should not be pre-empted by violence on the ground – or will the honorable justices sit on their hands and become part and parcel of the ongoing land-robbery charade? Please stay tuned.

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Following “Regavim”s petition, which requires the state to destroy the village of Susya, yesterday the “civil administration” issued six immediate demolition orders. These are based on old orders from the 90s and from 2001. Orders that Israel chose not to implement so far. Although original orders applied to individual structures, these new orders are applied to continuous, thousands of square meters, includes dozens of buildings in some of them. The orders apply to most of the village of Susya. Among the expected to be demolished, kindergarten, clinic and renewable solar systems, the only electricity source in the village.

In those six compounds live about 200 persons and hundreds of animals. They are expected to become homeless.

While Palestinians residents worry about the coming of bulldozers to destroy their lives, a few hundred meters away in Sussya – the namesake Israeli settlement built and funded by the government — bulldozers continue to prepare and build (image below).

Some background on the village of Susya and “Regavim” petition:

The Palestinian village of Susya has existed for centuries, long before the modern Jewish settlement of Sussya was built in 1983. In 1986 the Israeli authorities expropriated part of the village’s residential land in order to establish an “archeological site”. Several villagers from Susya were evicted from their land and homes and suffered incalculable anguish.
Immediately after the eviction, having no alternative, the villagers moved to nearby agricultural areas that they owned in an attempt to rehabilitate their lives.

However, in 2001 several families from the village (the Nawaja’a, Halis, Sharitach, Abu Sabha, and other families) became the victims of a second eviction. This time it was exceptionally violent: tents, caves, and cisterns were destroyed and blocked. Agricultural fields were dug up and farm animals put to death.
At the same time, the settlers established their own outposts. In 2001 the “Dahlia Farm” was set up and in 2002 an outpost was put up in the “Sussya Archeological Site” where the Palestinians had been evicted on the pretext that the land was intended for public use.
On September 26, 2001 the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the structures torn down and the land returned to the villagers. Despite this, the army and settlers continued to attack the Palestinian villagers and prevent them from reclaiming the 3000 dunam (750 acres) around the Jewish Sussya settlement.

The prevention of this reclamation was the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court (5825/10) in 2010. The aim of the appeal was two-fold: to allow the villagers to reclaim their land and to stop the settlers from attacking the villagers.
In October 2011 the military commander announced that large tracts of the appellants’ land were “off-limits to Israelis”, hoping in this way to end the flagrant trespassing and the takeover of the land.

A few months after this appeal was submitted, the settlers submitted a counter-appeal in return.
The upshot of the counter-appeal was a third eviction of the Nawaja’a family that had managed to return to its own land in 2001.
Susya today: At least 42 orders to halt work and 36 requests for building permits have been submitted. At least 19 cases are still in the courts.
The “Regavim” plea was submitted against anyone who joined the Supreme Court appeal on Susya, and in revenge for that appeal. Evidence of this is that the plea was submitted automatically without examination, it was aimed at anyone who cooperated with the Palestinian appeal (land owners) even though only a few of them live in the village and/or have buildings in the village.
In this appeal, the settler appellants are trying to paint a false picture of symmetry between homes in the Palestinian village of Susya and the Jewish outposts. The transfer of a civilian population, the settlers, to the occupied territories runs counter to international law. The Palestinian villagers did not “take over” their land. This has been their private land for generations.

In the appeal, the charge was raised regarding the villagers as a “security risk.” Reality challenges the logic of this claim.
The Sussya settlement purposely doesn’t have a fence. Closing the area to Israelis illustrates the Palestinians’ need for protection from the settlers. Within the framework of the original Susya appeal, 93 events were presented as cases of violence perpetrated by the settlers, some of them as masked vigilantes. Since then many more incidents have occurred.

There is a basic failure by the authorities responsible for the planning in the region. This is especially obvious in Area C. The authorities are pursuing a policy whose goal is to transfer the Palestinian population to areas outside of Area C. This is apparent in the number of building permits, number of building demolition orders, and lack of planning for the protected population. At the same time, Jewish settlements and outposts are expanding, and more are on the way.
Since the 1970s there has been a drastic reduction in the number of building permits given to the Palestinians. In 1972, 97% of the 2134 requests submitted were approved. In 2005 only 6.9% were approved (13 out of the 189 requests submitted). The sharp reduction in permits parallels the dramatic decrease in the number of requests. In the same period 18,472 homes were built in the Jewish settlements!
This trend has continues and has even intensified. In 2009 only 6 permits were granted to Palestinians; and 7 in 2010.
In 2000-2007 one-third of the demolition orders in the Palestinian sector were eventually carried out, compared to 7% in the Jewish settlements. In recent years there has been a disturbing growth in the number of building demolitions. In 2008-2011 the Civil Administration pulled down 1101 buildings in the Palestinian sector and rejected every single building plan that the Palestinians submitted! The settlements have their plans approved and development made possible.

If the figures for building permits were reasonable and compatible with the population growth and natural growth rate of the village, as was done in the 1970s and 1980s, this would solve the lack of housing for Palestinians. In addition, it would eliminate the perpetual fear of expected demolitions.


The planning failure is also reflected in the lack of basic infrastructures for the Palestinian population, such as electricity, water, education, and health services. The settlers, on the other hand, are recipients of exemplary urban planning.
These facts show that this is not a case of legal constraints, but of intentional government policy. It is nothing short of the hushed-up transfer of Palestinians out of Area C.

As noted, these days, residents of Susya are fighting for their right to continue living on their lands. Please help them.

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The political elephant in the room in this case, is of course the “Ulpana Hill” affair rocking Israeli’s political and government circles. At the Uplana Hill expansion of the Bet El settlement, the developers built some of the homes in full knowledge that this is private land that had not even been bought from its Palestinian owners. The owners went to the High Court of Justice, winning decision after decision ordering the government to stop construction and hand back the land. The “Civil Administration”, whose headquarters sit at the same Bet El settlement, issued demolition orders, but apparently with no intention to carry them out. And so construction was completed, settlers populated the buildings, all the while with crystal-clear court decisions that the land is outright robbed. Finally in 2012 the Court found the government in contempt.

Now “creative” solutions are being debated: Prime Minister Netanyahu’s idea is to saw off the entire buildings, and transplant them whole into another location in the settlement, to the tune of some 100 million shekels. And he has publicly declared that “we will not allow the courts to be used as an axe to grind the settlement movement.”

The suspicion among Palestinian and Israeli activists, is that the High Court, feeling threatened, might want to score some easy political grace points with Israel’s government and the settlers, at the expense of Susya and other Palestinian towns and villages. With two new right-wing appointees sitting in the Court, including its chair who heads the Susya case, there are reasons to be suspicious.

Music and Friendship at Salem: Sunita, Yasmin and the Harp

Dear Friends and supporters,

Below is a story told by Sunita Staneslow on the new friendship and the start of musical cooperation between her, an Israeli harpist, and Yasmin (Ikhlas) Jebara, a young Palestinian poet and graduate student living under Occupation in the village of Salem near Nablus. In the shorter run, the connection between Sunita and Yasmin began at the Music Center in Salem, a center we have helped develop ever since the idea hatched in the mind of its founder (and current director) Jubeir Ishtayya a couple of years ago .

In the longer run, the story of Sunita and Yasmin is deeply connected with the story of our relationships with Yasmin and her family since the murder of her father almost eight years ago. This story and its dramatic twists of pain and hope, suffering and joy, despair and perseverance, and above all — friendship — is told below, after Sunita’s account, by Erella, as translated by our fellow activist Tal Haran.

Ehud Krinis, Villages Group

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The Story of Yasmin’s Harp,

Sunita Staneslow, 28th April 2012

I first met Yasmin last autumn when I visited the Salem Music Program with my harp to explore the possibility of a workshop with a visiting jazz harpist. Our guest harpist at the First Israeli Harp Festival, Park Stickney, wanted to work with Palestinian musicians during his trip. A seminar was organized for the Music Center several weeks later. It was then that Yasmin told me that she would like to learn to play the harp. She fell in love with the sound. “It sounds like water—like the sound of the sea!”

Harps can be expensive; there are no harps in Palestine (that I know of) and no teachers nearby. But, the seed was planted for Yasmin’s wish.

Park Stickney is one of the worlds’ most innovative harpists and he divides his time between New York City and Switzerland. Park is also brilliant at improvising and his workshop at the Salem Music Center started with a jam session between Park and the instructors. Park later told me that it was the best way for musicians to introduce themselves and find a common ‘language’. Yasmin was the primary translator for the class, and Park taught the kids to play a jazz tune. It was amazing to see the kids learn a classic American jazz tune using their voices, oud, violins, drums, and keyboards.

Park Stickney played on my large classical harp and we gave Yasmin a chance to sit behind the harp and glide her fingers up and down the strings. Yasmin reminded me that she would love to learn to play the harp. I told her that I would help her get a harp and teach her, not knowing how we would ever find the money to buy her a harp.

My husband, Fred Schlomka was certain that if we tapped into our mailing lists and sent out a request for contributions, we really could buy a harp for Yasmin. I am a professional harpist and tour in North America several times a year, and am part of the international harp community. Fred, through his company, Green Olive Tours, has contacts around the world of people interested in helping to bring peace and justice to the Middle East. We sent out a request with a beautiful photo of Yasmin at the harp. At first, money came in from harpists, friends and family in amounts of$15-100. The Colorado Harp Society pooled money and sent a check for $300. But, it was a couple from England who were so taken with Yasmin’s photo that they sent 11,000 shekels to buy the harp immediately. In total, over 40 people contributed towards Yasmin’s dream to learn the harp and welcomed Yasmin into the international harp family.

On Saturday, the 28th of April, I drove from Kfar Saba to meet with Ehud and other members of the Villages Group, and present Yasmin with her harp. The harp is made of wood, has 34 strings and is similar to the style of a Celtic folk harp. Several hundred years ago, there was a tradition in Ireland of blind harp players that travelled across Ireland on horseback to perform to the wealthy landlords. The most celebrated of these blind harp players was Turlough O’Carolan. Many of his beautiful melodies have become standards in the harp repertoire.

In the harp tradition, we have this connection between making beautiful music and being blind, although the modern harp is designed for those who can see the patterns made by the different colored strings. It isn’t like piano, where you feel the pattern of the notes between the different size and shape of the keys. So, for Yasmin, I glued beautiful stickers in the shape of jewels to mark the different colored strings.

There is another complication with the harp. Each string can be more than one tone, and there are levers that shorten the strings by half a step in order to change keys. Small bands were placed on the levers so Yasmin could feel the difference between them.

Our first lesson was spent learning how to make sense of how the harp is organized. Yasmin learned how to tune the harp, how to move the semi-tone levers and learn all the names of the strings. I was impressed with how quickly she understood. Her first assignment is to explore the harp and compose a short piece. She wants to play music that sounds like the sea in the key of C!

It takes me about an hour to drive from my home near Tel Aviv to Yasmin’s house in Salem. I cross through a checkpoint from Israel to the Palestinian Territories and drive alone on a road that most Israelis would never dream of driving on without an armored car. But, it would be impossible for Yasmin to get a permit from the Israeli army to take lessons in my home, so that is not an option. This is an exciting opportunity for me to ‘cross the veil’ into Palestine and develop a friendship with an amazing young woman.

I plan to teach Yasmin every other week. Together, we will work on melodies develop our own arrangements. I will teach Yasmin any melody she loves from my international repertoire, and she will teach me melodies from her tradition. This will be a musical journey that we will explore together and learn from each other. The harp is not a Middle Eastern instrument and the word for a harp in Arabic is either an adaptation of the English harp (harb) or Hebrew Nevel (nebel). Yasmin may be the first Palestinian to have a harp, and certainly the first one who is blind.

We spoke of dreams for the future when Yasmin can teach other Palestinian students to play the harp, perhaps even in the Barenboim Center in Ramallah. Someone asked her if she ever imagined that she would really get a harp. Yasmin gave us a big smile and said, “I am a very optimistic person.”

Yasmin is interested in connecting with blind harp players around the world. She may travel to the USA in September and I will try and arrange meetings for her with other harp players. Her musical journey has begun!

Sunita Staneslow

http://www.sunitaharp.com
Tel: +972-(0)54-212-5159
Fax: +972-(0)9-777-0020
USA fax: 800-809-7913

Yasmin

Erella Dunayevsky (translated by Tal Haran)

I have been sitting for hours staring at the empty computer screen.

Walking the paths of this story is like pursuing a single trail that splits into many, each splitting again, like blood vessels. I know I mustn’t venture into this maze because my reader might get lost inside, and I also know that if I don’t, the blood of this story will not reach the heart of its readers.

Mid-morning. August. Hot.

Uri and I walk along a bumpy road. Holes yawn at us in spots where the asphalt is worn out and are filled with gravel and dirt and glass shards of bottles that someone may have hurled in anger.
This, more or less, is how most roads look in Salem village, 2004.

We’ve been walking the roads of this village for two years now, visiting homes and getting to know a growing number of the villagers. Every week the number of our friends grows in direct proportion to the number of victims of the Occupation’s violent hand. Every week sees more villagers who have heard of us, and get used to our presence simply because we show up, again and again – every week, almost.

Mid-morning. Saturday. October 2nd, 2004. Hot.

Uri and I climb a bumpy road. We are on our way to pay a condolence visit to the Jbara family. Abed, native of this village, our old friend, accompanies us.
Sael Jbara was murdered five days ago. He was murdered while crossing a smooth road, free of potholes. It, too, is bumpy, though. A road that discriminates. An apartheid road, as local jargon would have it.
Sael drove a cab that hardly sustained his family at times of closures and barriers. (Salem drivers could deliver their passengers only up to the many checkpoints closing in on the village and preventing their passage even to Nablus and the neighboring villages, let alone other regions in the West Bank).
Five days earlier, Sael drove passengers to Beit Furiq checkpoint, hoping that perhaps this time they would be allowed through to Beit Hassan, a village sprawled south of Salem beyond the apartheid road. The soldiers at the checkpoint would not let him through. Sael was determined to bring his passengers home and put some bread on his own family table. Like all the indigenous inhabitants of this area who know the lay of the land as closely as they know their mother, Sael found a dirt track bypassing the checkpoint. Three meters of an asphalt road separated Sael and his passengers from the rest of this ancient dirt track leading to Dajjan Valley and Beit Hassan. The road has not only been paved upon the village farm lands, it is also a road that only ‘the lords of the land’ are allowed to use. Experience has taught Sael that if the soldiers catch him, they would force him back to the village (with or without getting beaten, depending on the soldier), or detain him for interrogation.
Sael took the risk and didn’t know that a settler from Itamar would take his life.
While crossing the road, Sael was shot in his heart, point blank.

The world of his wife and six children blacked out. The world of his two blind children was doubly darkened, for their daddy had promised to do everything to brighten their eyes and souls.

Saturday. Mid-morning. Hot.

Uri and I drag ourselves with Abed along the village’s bumpy road, the one with the torn asphalt, going to pay a condolence visit to the Jbara family.
Luckily my identity does not include nationality, religion, state and other characteristics normally expressing one’s identity. (One had better not confuse identity with its manifestations). I am thus exempt of guilt feelings and shame for one of my own nation having perpetrated this murder. My heart is free to meet the full power of pain over the loss of life, free to look directly at the poisonous fruit of blind souls who seek their remedy in ideologies of hatred and pettiness, free to feel the paralyzing pain of helplessness.
As I make room for this difficult encounter and pray that they themselves will not regard me as one who has come to apologize for her fellow nationals, we arrive at the bereaved home.
Vines shade the mourning area in the yard. A few people are now seated inside. None of them is familiar to us.
We are invited to sit down. We gingerly accept the invitation.
I sit in a chair next to Yasmin, Uri sits next to Mohammad.
The eyes of the seeing see the eyes of the blind.
Yasmin sits upright, her head slightly bowed. Her face is soft and lovely. And I, next to her, take a long look at her. I see that her blind eyes see a lot.
Some years later, I will be writing to her: “… Dear Yasmin, I know that your vision is deep and focused. Much more precise than many people whose eyes see but are in fact totally blind. The ability to see starts with the heart…”
But now we are in the mourning tent.

Mohammad, his body larger than his twelve-years of age would indicate, sits withdrawn. Uri speaks with him in Arabic.

“My name is Erella” I say to Yasmin, in Arabic as well.
“My name is Yasmin” she answers me in English.
“I am with you in your pain” I continue in English.
“I will not be able to go on living”, she answers. “Father was everything to me”. Silence.
“Hope, too”, she adds.
I place my hand on hers and say that this is how one feels at first. That it’s natural. It’s permitted. When my father died I was nine-years old and I thought life was over forever. Somehow I even wanted it to be so.
“When was that?” she asks, wishing to know me by touching my face.
“A long time ago”, I answer, directing her hand.
“How old are you?” she asks, sailing along my face somewhat hesitantly.
“Fifty-seven”.
“Your voice is young and your skin smooth, I thought you are twenty.”
“And you?” I asked.
“I’m seventeen. I have another year until I graduate high school. But now I don’t know what will happen.”
I hugged her. I whispered to her that after mourning, one can choose to live again. That life wants us to live it.

Nearly six years later, when we leaf back through the pages of this first meeting, Yasmin will remind me that I told her also that in order to live she should be independent and free, and that a higher education will be of great help to her. She will remind me that a week later we came to visit once more and I brought her a jasmine plant. I told her to plant it in her garden, so it would remind her of life.
She suggests I open my story as follows:
“Ten days after the mourning, a child of love was born named Yasmin. She was born of the Jasmine planted in her garden and blooming to this day”.

Since that condolence visit, the Jbara family entered our circle of friends.
Yasmin graduated high school and matriculated.
That year we helped her and Mohammad fulfill their father’s dream – bring them into Israel for a medical examination by a senior eye expert.
It was easy to set up the medical examination but hard to obtain their permits to enter Israel, for after their father was murdered, the children and their mother were black-listed, entry-prevented. This is the status assigned a Palestinian injured by a soldier or settler, and all of his family relations down to the tenth generation of descendants – even if the injury is lethal.
Anticipation was great, hearts trembled. On a rainy winter day Yasmin and Mohammad, escorted by Muna, their mother, made their way to Tel Hashomer Hospital. Uri and Edna drove them, supporting, escorting them.
The doctor examined them. Slowly, thoroughly. Finally, he gave his verdict, delicately, painfully: “They will never see”.
Heavy-hearted Mohammad and Yasmin were cheered a bit when Uri and Edna took them to the beach. It was their first time ever to see the sea. Or rather hear its roar, taste it, feel its water.
Salty sea drops blown by a strong winter wind dripped over the wounds of their heart and gave them a moment of respite.
They would return to this sea. At a more southerly beach, in the summer, in days that were not yet born.

In the meantime, another summer.
It’s hot.

Again we drag ourselves along the bumpy road to the Jbara home. This time we tell them the State has brought the murderer to trial. An exceptional event in the life of the nation. For a moment it seems justice might be done. David, present at the court sessions, learns all the details and updates the family.
Muna is taken up with her mourning and raising her children. She is grateful to David for what he is doing.
It is important for the family that the murderer be punished for what he had done. Not that any of them – neither old nor young – numb their pain with thoughts of vengeance. And still, the thought of such murderers behind bars could instill a measure of physical and emotional security. After all, the family knows that their occupier is a progressive democratic state run by law as other nations in this world, even enlightened occupiers.
In this summer of 2005 the verdict has been issued at the murderer’s trial: manslaughter. But the judge sent the defendant home until the sentence is issued. The State prosecutor poses no objection. The defendant does what he had been enabled to do – he runs away. No state institution – not a living soul – really takes the trouble to look for him. The seal is set.

Sael was murdered yet again. Once by Yehoshua Elitzur, a German convert to Judaism from Itamar settlement, and again by the justice system of the State of Israel.

The family mourns again. We stay with their pain, contain it, and together with them lick again the seething wounds of helplessness.
At this time, Yasmin is getting ready for her first year at university.
She spent her first ten years of school at a special school for the blind in Ramallah. Her last two years of high school have been successfully accomplished at the normal high school in her village.
But university is an altogether different matter.

In spite of her full fluency in Braille, in spite of her talent and the stable part of her personality that enables her to recover time and again, Yasmin is anxious before starting off her academic studies. A small tape recorder which we give her for the lectures she will be attending helps a bit to assuage her fears. But this does not begin to meet the needs for independent movement. This has not been taught at the special school for the blind.
For two long years Yasmin grapples with her need to be escorted on her daily journey from Salem to Nablus and back, and in the large university campus itself. She learns to transform the shackles of constant debt to her helpers into the liberating state of gratitude.
When Yasmin learns, at the beginning of her first semester, that most of the professors mail their lectures to the students electronically, we engage in finding a special computer for her with a particular program for the visually impaired.
As always, this time, too, we have gambled. The challenge is met by a Jewish Israeli citizen who donates money to buy the computer.

Saturday, early summer 2006. It’s hot.

After walking up the bumpy road, full of potholes, we gather at the Jbara home – Noa and her partner Ehud, who look to the professional aspect of the computer; Qassem, computer-store owner from Nablus, where the computer was purchased. He has never before been in Salem, four minutes ride from his shop; Fadi, the blind installment technician (Palestinian citizen of Israel from Sha’ab village in the Galilee); Yasmin and her family and ourselves, of course.
We all crowd into the small living room to celebrate another phase in Yasmin’s coping with her boundaries.
Silence fills the room. Some of the people deliver a few modest and celebratory words on this occasion. So does Yasmin. Then silence wraps us again.

A Palestinian from Nablus, Jews from Israel, a Palestinian from Israel (arriving on the bumpy road, without the potholes, receiving a special permit to enter through the military checkpoint), visit a Palestinian home in Salem. They all sit in one room from which the curtain has momentarily been lifted. For a borrowed moment they witness the order of Creation as nakedly self-evident as when it was eternally born – serving each other with the measure of love needed to heal pain. Love manifesting itself in various modes of one identity – a human at the shrine of the deity.
Muna serves heaps of stuffed vine leaves. We eat, laugh, weep, chat, take leave. Each of us goes home, having to cross the army checkpoint again on our way out (no other possibility when the order of things loses its obviousness).

Mohammad, who, until now, has attended a special school for the blind in Jenin, is transferred to a similar school in Bethlehem. Yasmin is finishing her sophomore year at Al Najah, and is moving to Nablus to live at a special hostel for blind students, going home on weekends. Muna cannot resist the pressures of her family and neighbors and the computer, waiting for Yasmin at home, becomes everyone’s business and is in a state of disrepair. Our attempts to convince Muna to move the computer to the hostel are resisted, We don’t understand the reason for this. Nor do we understand why Yasmin, who usually knows how to hold her ground, does not veto this. But we do realize there are things beyond our comprehension.
Perhaps these are social, family or neighborhood codes unfamiliar to us. Whenever I touch the thin line separating that which is in my hands from that which isn’t, I am deeply saddened. It’s an existential sadness that opens its arms to me, and I surrender to it until the pain eases.
It happens this time, too…

Muna is a woman of valour. A brave navigator in stormy seas. Sometimes in a tsunami. Only occasionally, here and there, are the skies are partly cloudy or clear.
As the family now has no breadwinner, Muna makes good use of her wisdom and the special knowledge that the impoverished use in order not to drown. With the meager funds that the Palestinian Authority allots bereaved families, and the meager help of her extended family, she somehow navigates the ship. Her nights unravel her worry. How will she ensure the future of her children – Suhad, the eldest, not yet done with her technology studies at Nablus’ Hajawi College; Yasmin still faces another three years, almost, until she completes her B.A. in English; Sharif, already seventeen, does not want to continue his schooling and has been looking for work – so far in vain; Mohammad has yet another three years until matriculation. Then he plans to go to the university in order to acquire a profession he can qualify for with his blindness; Beautiful Assala, just twelve, already knows she will be a lawyer when she grows up; Yahya, the youngest, is still a long way from maturity and independence.

In July 2007 the family wins its civil suit, pressed against the State by an attorney. The State of Israel pays them damages which can never be enough to hide the naked obscenity, but still provide Muna some relief.

The family breathes more freely now. It shows in Suhad’s shy smile, completing her studies; in the walls of the home, freshly painted by Sharif; in Mohammad’s daring to return home and begin, for the first time ever, a year of normal high school; in Asala, an outstanding student, and in Yahya who now enters adolescence.
In the meantime, without any emotional privileges, Yasmin ripens into young womanhood. Along with her ripen her poems.
A love crisis slashes her spirit in late summer 2009. Yasmin recites for us a poem born of this crisis. (As always, since childhood, writing, her openness and her ability to share help her rise all the stronger from the pitfalls on her way).

“In our silent, narrow street
I followed his footsteps…

In a dark and cloudy mood
Moon, sun, stars
Look so bright,
Confidence… courage… Oh fear
Not even a teardrop in heaven’s eyes
Only a spark of hope so close
That even escape will not defeat”…

——————————————–

January 2010. Cold. Rainy.

Danny, Ehud and I navigate the bumpy, potholed road, now muddy too, trying not to trip. We walk to Yasmin’s house, to give her a private party of our own, celebrating her graduation as a Bachelor of Arts in English.

In honor of the occasion, Yasmin writes:

“Have you ever felt
What it is like to be a person
Soon graduating,
Standing at the university gates,
Facing the threshold of one’s life?
People coming to congratulate me
Light within me a spark of hope.
Like a king who has won a kingdom
I am a woman loved by her fate…”

A few weeks later Yasmin calls us, profoundly depressed. No school. No Nablus. No hostel. No friends. Yasmin is home again. This secure nest no longer fits her size. Yasmin wants to break out, spread her wings and take off – away from the arms of her mother and little village. She wants independence, she wants to own herself. But she has no mobility skills and no job. Muna is resourceful and tries to use this time to enable Yasmin more independence in performing household chores – cooking, laundry, cleaning… Yasmin cooperates but, at the same time, sinks into a deep black pit.

Ehud suggests we mobilize our friends abroad, especially in England, to call her on the phone and keep her busy conversing and exercising her English, and especially to give her a sense of contact with the ‘world out there’.
Dear Nancy from faraway Edinburgh takes charge. With so much attention and empathy she keeps calling. At first because we asked her to. Then, because Yasmin’s personality fascinates her, invites her to love. What a gift Yasmin is. If only she could trust her strength, rely on the beauty of her garden.
“Jasmine blooms in winter”, I remind her in our frequent support calls and visits.
Nancy has managed to arouse the interest of her friends in Yasmin’s story. They have transformed their obvious empathy into donations for purchasing a new computer for Yasmin (laptop, this time), including a modern program for the blind. The computer that was out of order will now be repaired, and will serve Mohammad in his next year of studies, his matriculation time. (Our many attempts to revive the computer with Tel Avivian knowhow were futile. Recently the solution was found in Nablus. Masters of improvisation).

On a Thursday in February, 2010, as on every normal Thursday (if there is such a thing) we are in the South Hebron Hills. While our friends from Umm Al Kheir show us the ruined fence in their farmland (the tracks of its destroyer lead to Carmel, the nearby Jewish settlement), my cell phone rings. It is Nancy from Edinburgh calling. She joyously tells me Yasmin has been summoned for a work interview in Ramallah, by an NGO called “Stars of Hope”. My spirit cannot share her joy. One part of it is still caught in the broken fragment of that ruined fence, and the other part is twice-shocked – first, realizing that news of Yasmin reaches me via Edinburgh, and second – wondering how anyone in “Eastern Palestine” even knows of some Yasmin in Salem village looking for work. This is the “gamble” that has reached some haven and has been picked up.

The story of Yasmin, which we have made public by email several months earlier in an attempt to help her in her despair, has reached the Ramallah NGO through one of its workers whom Ehud met at one of the Jewish-Palestinian conferences we attend occasionally. At her request, Ehud added her address to the list of our contacts.

Between winter and spring, in March 2010, Yasmin begins her training in the Palestinian society for the advancement of disabled Palestinian women – “Stars of Hope”.

She goes to live in Ramallah, is nearly independent and is earning her own livelihood for the first time in her life. Yasmin’s joy soars and is blessedly gathered into the lap of a soft, embracing heaven. Then her rage crashes against a tight, parched ground in a painful emergency landing. She is fired after one month.

Her insult is as deep as the bleeding pain of her ripening understanding of the existence of elements that interfere with her fate, which she has no way of directing or affecting.
She is home again, restoring the debris of her life. The school for the blind in Ramallah has notified her that she will not be appointed teacher in the coming school year. Yasmin realizes she must expand her employment opportunities, and decides to proceed with her graduate studies in English, specializing in translation.
This will happen only in October, and in the meantime – a long and exhausting summer lies ahead.

Summer 2010. Hot. Humid.

I climb up the bumpy potholed road to the Jbara home.
Between tea and stuffed vine leaves (that Muna prepares, knowing I like them), Yasmin sows an idea as old as our acquaintance: “I would so much love to visit you at your home”, she says.

Typing her family data on my keyboard, a slight shadow creeps into my mind. I try to ignore it but it grows insistent until there is no escaping it. I feel it hammering in my head: “They will not be issued permits”, “they will not be struck off the black list”, “there’s no chance”, “Occupation never changes”. Then I hear my heart: “No doubt they’ve been taken off the black list”, “even brutality has its limits”, “it’s been six years”, “after all, perhaps the regime is building trust by making mobility lighter”. And again the hammers strike, again the heart speaks. Hammers… heart… The mail to Buma (our ‘permit’ friend) is on its way. Two weeks go by. Buma calls. The answer has arrived. No permits. All this family’s children are ‘prevented’ (denied entry into Israel-proper) by the Shabak secret police, formally known as the General Security Services.

No hammers, no heart-voice. Only the blunt ache of helplessness spreads throughout my body and what remains of my sane mind. Nothing has changed. Nothing changes. Six years are like the forty-three years of Occupation. My heart goes crazy, my mind leaps out of itself. I cry.
In my mind’s eye I already see myself arriving at Salem this weekend, on the bad road without the potholes, how I’ll climb on foot to their home on the bad road with the potholes, and tell them, face to face, that they have no permit to be free.
Buma suggests suspending the answer. He has filed an appeal, requesting permits once again for the family in spite of their being blacklisted. “You know how it is”, he says. “This whole business is arbitrary. Perhaps the second request will be treated with a different arbitrariness”. And indeed a different arbitrariness is applied.

“Thank you for the right to freedom that loses its freedom by being granted, let alone granted by the mean insolence of arbitrariness that leaves not the slightest doubt who is just and who evil…” my soul wants to cry out. I transform the outcry into a wish: “I wish for you, the blind, that one day,” I say in my heart, “your eyes will open to see”… my soul, tamed to transform, relents, tired but grateful for this wish that has transformed a raging fire into the light that enables me to tell what is in my hands from what isn’t. Freedom itself is embodied in this aching acknowledgement. Freedom that can neither be granted nor robbed, for freedom of the heart can never be dependent on anything. When I do the deeds that bring me in the way of blunted hearts and other damages of blindness,
I do them of my own free will. I use my fullest freedom when I choose to come in touch with the realms of suffering of the other one, and to be a true healer. After all, I could choose not to be present on such occasions.

Summer. August. Hot. Humid.

The Jbara family walks the narrow paths of Kibbutz Shoval. Danny, Ehud and I lead them to our home.
In a little while we’ll drive to the beach. Zikim beach. They will be sitting in the waves that lick the shore, abandon their bodies to the water’s warm caress, taste salt, laugh with their whole being as they’ve never done before, at the thrill of a first encounter.

Only Yasmin and Mohammad will remember that their first was five years ago, in winter after a medical examination. The rest will have no memory. The first time on the beach that is no further from their home than it is from mine. We will look at them lovingly. Our souls will laugh and cry, and so will theirs, when the sun will set into a hazy horizon, patient and soft, reminding us of the order of Creation, self-evident.

Erella Dunayevsky, Villages Group, May 2012. translated by Tal Haran.

Word and Picture Diary: South Hebron Hills Weekly Visit, April 5 2012

As we do every week, last Thursday April 5 2012 we went to visit several Palestinian localities in the South Hebron Hills, with whom we have been in contact for some years now. Two members of our little group – Hamed and Erella – just got back that day from a Britain tour as representatives of the Villages Group. So this week’s small visitor team consisted of Ehud and Danny.

We began with a short visit to the preschool (nursery school) in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir. This preschool, opened nearly a year ago, is located in an old building with several rooms renovated with the aid of UNRWA, close to the Saraya of Umm al-Kheir (a term that during the Ottoman Empire days designated a government structure). Two local teachers run the preschool with about twenty children, and receive their salary through the Villages Group. The preschool has undergone a significant change lately – one teacher is now in charge of the younger children (two-three year olds) in the room used as the ‘bustan’ (pre-preschool), while her colleague is in charge of the older children (four-six years old), in the other room that serves as ‘rauda’, preschool.

From the hill where the Umm al Kheir preschool is located, the young children can see the present and future prospects arranged for them by the Israeli Occupation regime. Heavy equipment is busy developing and expanding the new neighborhood at the nearby Jewish settlement Karmel (Carmel) – a development doubtlessly paid for by the Israeli and American taxpayer. Together with an additional neighborhood planned to emerge soon, the settlement will eventually surround the dwellings in this part of Umm al Kheir from three directions (north, west and south).

This stranglehold is an integral part of the Occupation’s policy. The “Civil Administration”, that regime’s arm supposedly entrusted with providing services to Palestinians, has issued demolition orders on nearly all structures belonging to the Bedouin families living in this part of Umm Al Kheir – including outhouses, sheds etc. Many of these orders have already been carried out. We have written extensively here, both about Umm Al Kheir’s demolitions and about the vicious, discriminatory and fraudulent nature of the “Civil Administration” itself. Well-known literary translator and humanist Ilana Hammerman wrote a feature article about Umm Al Kheir and Karmel, with interviews of both Bedouin and settlers. The article was published a few months ago in Ha’aretz.

From the relatively new preschool at Umm al Kheir, we drove down the road and dirt track winding into the Judean desert for a short visit to the oldest operating preschool in the area. This preschool opened its doors about six years ago, at the Bedouin locality of Hashem al Daraj.

About 30 children crowd into the rickety one-room structure of this preschool together with their teacher, Huda, a native of Umm al Kheir who lives at Hasham al Daraj. Huda has been devotedly running the preschool since its founding, determined to overcome its harsh physical conditions. We first became acquainted with this preschool over two years ago . Since that first visit we took it upon ourselves to raise funds that would ensure Huda of a regular, decent salary, compared to the irregularly-paid pittance she had earned until then. We also connected Huda and her preschool with volunteers from the MachsomWatch organization. They have been coming to the preschool ever since. Jointly with Huda and the artist Eid from Umm al Kheir, The MachsomWatch volunteers hold an arts and creativity workshop for the preschool children every two weeks. Danny’s gesture in the picture show our reluctance to leave Huda’s place where we were so warmly greeted by the children – as we needed to fit visits to other localities into our tight schedule.

In the picture above, the children of Huda’s preschool look out towards the new and much larger building that UNRWA has been erecting for them nearby. Although it is already in an advanced stage of construction, completion is delayed. It is unlikely that the children and their teacher would move in before the end of the summer vacation, when the next school year opens. Much of the credit for the recent progress in constructing pre-school facilities at the region’s Bedouin localities goes to Hamed.

After visiting Huda’s preschool at Hasham Al Daraj, we left the Bedouin part of the South Hebron Hills (the eastern-most part of the region), and headed towards the small cave-dweller hamlet of Tuba. Jewish settlements Maon and Havat Maon had disconnected Tuba years ago from the road to nearby Yatta town. Nowadays access to Tuba is only possible via a much longer roundabout dirt track that leaves the Bedouin area and winds its way over the rocky hills. As we climbed this track in Danny’s jeep, the magnificent sight of the cave-dwelling hamlet area, locally called ‘massafer Yatta’/ ‘massfarat Yatta’ (Yatta’s hinterland) came into view.

After several drought years, the current winter has been relatively wet and the short spring that is about to end has yielded especially beautiful wild-flower expanses and a healthy growth of crops in the small fields scattered along the central track of the cave region. See previous posts describing the general conditions in this region and its hardships.

Tuba is a typical cave-dwellers’ hamlet – in its small population that hardly exceeds a few dozen, the affiliation of its families to larger clans whose life-center is Yatta, the main town of the South Hebron Hills, and in the ongoing, perpetual threat of the Israeli Occupation rule and its agents – soldiers and settlers – over the inhabitants’ lifestyle. Talk of the day in Tuba was the wandering tank that startled the residents out of their night sleep as it lost its way among the wadis of the region, designated by the Occupation authorities as military maneuver zone.

Life in the cave-dwellers area has many typical characteristics. Here we describe two of them: First, the custom of parents and brothers to build toys for the little children by recycling various objects. On our current visit, our camera caught the toy that Ali Awad of Tuba built for his young son, Ism’ail.

Residents of the cave dwelling region, Tuba among them, had lived without electricity or any refrigeration until recently. The local goat-milk cheese is known for its high salinity, a means of preservation for a lengthy period of time without refrigeration. On our visit, we saw blocks of this traditional salty cheese placed to dry near the solar plates installed in Tuba two years ago by the Israeli-Palestinian team of COMET-ME.

COMET-ME is our sister organization. In 2008, renewable-energy experts among Villages Group activists started installing stand-alone solar and wind electricity generators in South Hebron hills communities. A year later, the initiative began to operate independently as COMET-ME, and quickly attained worldwide recognition and support.

Among other benefits, the renewable power units installed by COMET-ME enable residents to increase production and improve the preservation of their dairy products. Unfortunately, the “Civil Administration” has recently threatened to demolish many renewable power installations placed by COMET-ME. About the international struggle now taking place against this travesty, see the organization’s website.

At the end of our Tuba visit, we returned from the caves dwellers area to the Bedouin part and to Umm al Kheir. Unlike the local rural population that has evolved its cave-dwelling lifestyle for centuries, the Bedouins of the region are originally tent-dwellers and do not live in caves. In view of the consistent house demolition policy applied in the part of Umm al Kheir nearest to the Jewish settlement Karmel, a large number of the local residents are forced to continue living in tents. Among others, we visited the tent of the family elder, Hajj Shueib (photographed alongside his youngest daughter Rana and Ehud).

Later we also visited widow Miyaser, whose straw and stones house has been recently demolished by official thugs of our time. Some of you, especially those who support the Villages Group in Durham, Britain, have already had the opportunity to help Miyaser and her seven children by purchasing her embroidery work (in the photograph, Khulud, Miyaser’s daughter, displays her mother’s new embroidery).

Additional pictures from our visit can be viewed by clicking on the thumbnails below.

Erella and Hamed, Villages Group Organizers, on a UK tour.

Hamed Qawasmeh (Palestinian) and Erella Dunayevsky (Israeli) are have just started a joint two-week tour of the UK. They will speak at the venues and on the dates below.

Erella and Hamed represent ” The Villages Group” – a group encouraging cooperation between Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Israelis, working jointly on local, small-scale programs and projects involving personal cooperation.

It is our hope that this kind of small steps form nuclei from which a new reality in Israel-Palestine will eventually grow. On the personal level, we are weaving a lasting net of friendship and cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli individuals. For more about the Group’s vision, see here.

Here is a list of talk dates, times and locations:

London: Tuesday 20 March, 7pm
Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, 235 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8EP (Hamed only)

Canterbury: Wednesday 21 March, 7.30pm
Dominican Priory, St Peters Lane, Canterbury, Kent CT2 8BD
Organised by the East Kent Justice for Palestinians Group (Hamed only)

London (South): Thursday 22 March, 7pm
The Community Hall, Peabody Estate, Strath Terrace, off St John’s Hill
Clapham SW11 1UZ (very close to Clapham Junction Station)

London (North): Friday 23 March, 7.30pm
Finfuture, 225-229 Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park, London N4.

Bath: Monday 26 March, 7.30pm
Bath Quaker Meeting House, York Street, Bath BA1 1NG

Barnstaple, North Devon: Tuesday 27 March, 7pm
The Castle Centre, 25 Castle street, Barnstaple, North Devon, EX31 1DR.

Dunbar, East Lothian: Thursday 29 March, 2.30pm, Stenton Bowling Club, Stenton, Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland, EH42 1TE. Organised by the Stenton Palestine Group

Edinburgh: Thursday 29 March, 7pm
Edinburgh Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh, EH1 2JL

Glasgow: Saturday, 31 March, 3.30pm
Renfield St. Stephens Church, 260 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 4JP

Hexham: Sunday, 1 April, 3:00 pm
Allendale Quaker Meeting, Wooley Burnfoot , Allendale, Hexham NE47 9NE

Durham: Monday, 2 April, 7.30 pm. For further information call Shlomit at 0191 3864320

We hope to meet all our of old friends as well as many new ones.

Erella and Hamed, Villages Group

Settler Front-Group Presses Government to Accelerate Demolition Frenzy, Tripping Itself Up in the Process

We previously reported here on the worrisome escalation in demolition of Palestinian structures in South Hebron Hills. The body issuing the demolition orders is the deceptively-named “Civil Administration”. Contrary to its name (invented in the 1980′s by Ariel Sharon to mislead the outside world), this “Administration” is in fact a military body (its former name was simply “military government”), and its head is a general serving full-time in the Israeli military. It claims authority to run Palestinian civilian life in the less-densely populated West Bank “Area C”, which accounts for some 60% of the territory and about 150,000 Palestinian residents.

We will continue to shine a light upon the ways in which this “Administration” misgoverns Palestinian life. A future post will discuss the demolition orders on solar-wind energy systems installed at rural Palestinian communities by our friends, the Israeli NGO COMET-ME; systems funded with the help of donors and governments across the world.

Meanwhile, enter another player, stage right. In late February, an Israeli NGO called “Regavim” submitted a High Court appeal, together with the Sussya settlement, against the military – claiming that it should demolish more Palestinian homes in the region, and faster! We kid you not. Here is the original appeal (Hebrew, pdf).

The mysterious-sounding Regavim NGO presents itself in the appeal as “an a-political movement… to prevent illegal takeover of national lands by certain bodies”. However, its own publicized record reveals that its main business is 1. To force the government’s hand to destroy Palestinian structures, whether in the West Bank or in Israel itself, 2. To identify and suggest to the government new opportunities for such demolitions, and 3. To try and stop demolitions and evictions of unauthorized Israeli-settler structures in the West Bank. “A-political”, indeed. To cap the irony, Regavim’s head Rabbi Yehuda Eliyahu himself lives in an unauthorized settlement-outpost in northern West Bank. Their main field worker, Ovadia Arad named as a co-plaintiff, is a settler as well.

Regavim is emblematic of a trend in Israeli far-right circles. Since they recognize the power and appeal of basic human rights and justice, they have been setting up phony and mendacious imitations of respected human-rights organizations working on Palestinian human rights issues. These imitations turn the human-rights terminology on its head, in order to leverage the moral authority associated with it, while confusing and misleading the general public.

In the appeal, Regavim and the Sussya settlers refer to themselves as “residents of the area” and “farmers”. That is, they – who settled in the 1980′s as part of a heavily-subsidized takeover of Palestinian lands – pretend to be the indigenous, original residents. The A-Nawwajeh family of Palestinian Susiya (named as defendants 4 through 34), having lived in the area for generations, suddenly become – in Regavim’s upside-down terminology – the squatters who had set up “illegal outposts” arround the “poor settlers”; trouble-makers who should be evicted to the town of Yatta.

Of course, this is a bald-faced lie, one of dozens of distortions and outright lies in this frivolous Regavim appeal. Even the Israeli authorities have already conceded that the A-Nawwajeh, like other Palestinian South Hebron Hills residents, are the legal owners of their land. Unlike the settlers of Sussya, they have to live on the land with no government assistance, and against the continued restrictions from the military and physical harassment from the settlers. Here are a couple of pictures from our recent visit to the A-Nawwajeh hamlet.

Apparently, truth or justice are not a goal of Regavim, or of the Sussya settlers who have unfortunately joined this appeal, and possibly even pushed Regavim to submit it. As far as these ideological settlers are concerned, all of life in Israel-Palestine is a negative-sum game, in which the overarching goal is to retain exclusive control of the entire country, while squeezing more and more Palestinians into smaller and smaller enclaves – and if possible push them out of the country altogether. It is a sad and immoral world-view, but unfortunately its holders are very close to the corridors of power nowadays.

At other places and times, many settlers at Sussya and elsewhere have extolled their “good neighborly relations” with local Palestinians, and complained that only the media, or human-rights activists, are seeing and brewing trouble where there isn’t any. Many settlers also repeatedly claim that they only wish to live peacefully on these sacred hills, not to lord over others.

However, this court appeal on which the entire settlement of Sussya is signed as a co-plaintiff, reveals a very different perspective. The plaintiffs view their neighbors who have lived in the area long before them, as illegitimate and criminal. They accuse their neighbors of guilt-by-association, in completely unrelated terror attacks that took place at other parts of the West Bank 20-30 km away from Susiya (clause 10), and in thefts of livestock from Sussya settlement, even though these were admittedly carried out by persons from Yatta (clause 11: “…it can be assumed that the thefts were aided and abetted by accurate information… collected by the A-Nawajeh, living in illegal structures and making observations into the settlement”).

What is more disturbing to us, is that the Sussya settlement leadership has no qualms about exploiting the settlers’ structurally privileged citizenship status and the Palestinians’ discriminated status as subjects of a military regime. In this appeal, the settlers explicitly attempt to leverage that regime to punish and evict their neighbors in ways that would have been impossible, had the two population groups enjoyed equal legal and political status.

The future vision of settlers and Palestinians living together as equals, is plausible in principle both for us and for many Palestinians. Unfortunately, the Sussya settlers in submitting this appeal, and in this appeal’s foul language, reject this vision outright.

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Frivolous lawsuits like this one can actually help the “Civil Administration”. The differences between the “Administration” and ideological-settler bodies like Regavim are only of style and nuance. Both the settlers and the “Administration” are determined to reduce and, if possible, eradicate Palestinian life in “Area C”, in the apparent hope of making permanent the Israeli control of this vast region. Unlike settlers, the “Administration” is bound by the need to maintain a facade of respectability and legalistic pretexts. Thus, the Regavim appeal can present the “Civil Administration” in the public mind as even-handed or pro-Palestinian, and exaggerate its disagreement with ideological settlers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But amazingly, the court appeal itself presents concrete evidence that exposes this charade for what it is.

Clauses 40-49 deal with Regavim’s attempts to obtain information about Palestinian structures already destroyed by the “Civil Administration” for “security reasons.” The “Administration” refused to release detailed data, saying laconically that “all demolitions are due to security reasons”. Data were obtained by Regavim indirectly via other government arms. Here’s what they found (translation, emphasis and comments by Assaf):

44. In parallel, the plaintiff has obtained via a separate FOIA request the GIS layer containing all illegal-construction cases in the Palestinian sector. Combining the two sources brings to light the reality of “structures” destroyed by the Civil Administration in 2008-2011, allegedly for being a “security risk.”

[45. Data table ]

….46. These data show, that while the defendants claim all structures destroyed in the Palestinian sector in 2008-2011 were destroyed for being a security risk – out of 195 such structures, only 28 were actual buildings, while 51 “security risk structures” were cisterns, 68 “security risk structures” were sheds, chicken coops and livestock pens, and 12 “security risk structures” were improved agricultural fields.

47. This clearly indicates, that despite clear instructions from the government to focus on security-related demolitions, the Civil Administration avoids destroying such structures, and instead focuses on destroying cisterns, sheds, chicken coops, livestock pens and agricultural fields – in order to present a statistical balance with destruction in the Jewish [settler] sector.

48. It should be noted that from a separate FOIA request by the plaintiff about construction permits awarded in the Palestinian sector it turned out that in 2008, 74 such permits were issued, in 2009 six permits, and in 2010 only 7 permits were approved for the entire Palestinian sector of “Area C”. It is well-known that every year, thousands of structures are built in that sector… the message internalized by the Palestinian public is that there is no need to apply for permits…

It is rare to see far-right settlers, in an open legal document, confirm word-for-word what Palestinians and the human-right community have been arguing for years:

- That “security” is usually a ruse by Occupation authorities, used to mask the true motives,
- That recently Palestinians have been virtually blocked from obtaining building permits,
- and that these policies undermine any remaining semblance of legitimacy that the “Civil Administration” might have had a right to claim.

One might wonder how Regavim still thinks that this is somehow evidence for discrimination against what they call “the Jewish sector” – the state-funded, state-built settlements whose residents wield immense power and occupy several seats in the Israeli cabinet. One might also wonder, whether Regavim thinks that 150,000 Palestinians should be allowed to construct buildings to live in at all (the answer seems to be “no”) – or whether Regavim feels fine with the “Civil Administration” refusing to issue any permits to Palestinians whatsoever (the answer seems to be “yes, as long as they also make sure to destroy all those thousands of unapproved Palestinian structures”). The permit numbers in the appeal also confirm the escalation in anti-Palestinian “Area C” policies since the establishment of Netanyahu’s current government in early 2009. We have reported and analyzed this escalation from the start.

The Regavim appeal is a clumsy attempt to shift the debate towards how stringent or lax “Civil Administration” policies should be. However, the information presented, and the reality of unequal treatment as known to anyone with even a basic knowledge, turn their appeal into valuable supporting evidence for the following conclusions:

1. This outdated Israeli military body, the so-called “Civil Administration”, should not be allowed to run Palestinian life anymore, and

2. The situation of fully-privileged citizens living side-by-side with rightless subjects of military rule, is unacceptable and must stop.

We welcome the sudden interest of settler groups in fairness and government accountability. They should be forewarned, though, that the quest for the truth, fairness, transparency and good governance – if carried out properly to its logical conclusion – will most likely lead to outcomes diametrically opposed to their political goals.

Assaf Oron and Ehud Krinis

A Plea to the World from the Principal of a Palestinian School about to be Demolished

In November we reported with joy about the new school structure at Susiya (Susya). (see also an earlier report here).

Only a few weeks later, the Occupation regime’s fraudulently named “Civil Administration” handed down demolition orders to the school.

In a rare direct expression of an Occupied Palestinian voice in the Israeli printed press, the school’s prinicipal Muhammad A-Nawwajeh published an editorial in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper about the demolition order on his school. Unlike most of Haaretz op-eds, this article was apparently not translated to the newspaper’s English site. We provide the translation below.

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What Will You Tell My Students?

Muhammad Jaber Hamed A-Nawwajeh


Our elementary school at Susiya is small. It has two classrooms, in which a total of 35 pupils – girls and boys – study. The staff includes four teachers and the principal, who is also the English teacher. The school opened in late 2010. Before we established our school, local children had to walk 4 km each way, every day, to reach the nearest school. To avoid this, many had stayed with relatives during the school week, without seeing their parents, causing severe psychological problems. No doubt, it is far better for young children to live with their families and attend a school near home.

Our school has no electricity, no running water and no schoolyard. Still, students arrive each day with excitement. When they grow up, they want to be doctors, police officers, teachers. Even though the school is in an area under Israeli control, it is not the government of Israel that built it. We, the residents of Susiya, have built it ourselves, with the help of the Spanish organization ACF and the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

Our elementary school, whose area is 100 square meters, is the only structure of this size around Palestinian Susiya. All students live in caves. Before the school structure was erected, we had used five tents. We live in a hilly high-altitude region with cold winters. First water leaked into the tents, then a strong storm blew them away.

Our new school might be demolished at any moment now, without any justifiable cause. The “Civil Administration” has issued a demolition order against it. Among the pretexts for the demolition order, the “Administration” cites the presence of “portable bathrooms” and a cistern that we had dug with our own hands, so that the children will have water to drink.

If the Israeli government demolishes the school, it will deny education to our children. More than half the students will stay at home and not go to school anymore. All the world’s children are entitled to education. It is a basic right enshrined in the United Nation’s Human Rights Charter. I am trying to comprehend: what would Israel accomplish by demolishing our school? What is the position of Israel’s Education Minister? What do Israeli teachers think? How will they explain to their own students the destruction of our little school at Susiya?

Mr. A-Nawwajeh is the principal of Susiya’s elementary school.

(Translated from Hebrew by Assaf Oron)

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At the Villages Group, helping Massafar Yatta (South Hebron Hills) residents in their efforts to realize the right to education for their children has been one of our central missions over the years. Until 2010 when the Susiya school opened, we helped arrange student transportation from Susiya to Tuwani. In 2010 we brought a report about a tent school in a neighboring village, where teachers tried to educate under conditions much like the ones described above by Mr. Nawwajeh. Here are a few pictures from that visit, illustrating the learning conditions which we then described as “the worst in the Middle East”.

Please do not let the Occupation force these disgraceful conditions upon the children of Susiya. Please don’t let them rob these children of their dreams, and rob teachers, volunteers, and donors of the fruit of their hard labor.

The formal authority presiding over the deceptively-named “Civil Administration”, that pretends to be “the legal authority” in the area – is Israel’s Defense Ministry. Here are a few contact details:

Israel’s defense minister, sar@mod.gov.il or pniot@mod.gov.il, fax +972 3 6976711 (they are said to hate faxes), or the ministry’s US outlet (info@goimod.com, fax 212-551-0264).

Israel’s Education Minister whom Mr. Nawwajeh mentions in his article, is quite likely deny any responsibility. Personally, I (Assaf) think that the fraudulent “Civil Administration”, and all other arms of Israel’s government, should just keep out of West Bank Palestinian civil affairs, on which they have no genuine jurisdiction – only a fraudulent one.

But Mr. Nawwajeh has a point. Israel’s Education Ministry, after all, constructs and heavily subsidizes schools in the Jewish settlements all around Susiya, and pays for teacher salaries. The minister himself, a politician named Gideon Sa’ar, is a rather vocal proponent of the ideology that all of Israel-Palestine belongs to the Jews. Well, with ownership comes responsibility. Since the government behaves in the West Bank’s “Area C” (where Susiya is located) as if it is Israel’s to keep, it should provide the same level of education infrastructure to that area’s Palestinians, as it lavishes upon the Jewish settlers.

In short, here’s a link to the Education Ministry’s main contact. The Minister’s email addresses are sar@education.gov.il, dover@education.gov.il and info@education.gov.il. Phones – 072-2-5602330/856/584, 972-3-6935523/4/5. Faxes: 972-2-5602246, 972-3-6951769. And finally, here’s an online comment form.

Feel free to let Mr. Sa’ar know what you think about this blatant discrimination, and about the criminal neglect of, and the atrocious assault upon, right to education of children in what he calls “The Land of Israel”.

And please help spread Mr. A-Nawwajeh’s words far and wide.

Thank you.

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