Category Archives: Mass Media

Demolition in Mufaqra

Dear friends,
Perhaps you have read in recent days about the decision of the Israeli government to build more houses in settlements throughout the West Bank as a response to the Palestinian appeal to the UN. But most probably you have not heard (and probably will not hear in the media) about the actions of the occupation authorities that early today demolished a mosque in the cave-dwellers village of Mufaqra. The police, representatives of the civil administration and soldiers of the IDF (read: Israeli Demolition Forces) arrived at the village at sunrise, closed down the area surrounding the mosque and used two bulldozers to demolish the building. It is worthwhile mentioning that the mosque that was demolished today was built on the ruins of a former mosque that was destroyed roughly a year ago.
As soon as the information reached us we called Fadel, a friend from Mufaqra who described the fear among the people of the village and especially among the kids that were on their way to school when the demolition occurred. Fadel told us that he asked one of the army officers why do they demolish the mosque and the response was: “today we demolish the mosque but as soon as we get the court order we will demolish your house as well.”
Below is a picture of the mosque that we took a few weeks ago and photos that were taken today by activists from Operation Dove during the demolition.
We will visit the people of Mufaqra later this week and hope to communicate to you more information and impressions from the field.
On behalf of the other members of the Villages Group,
Ophir Münz-Manor

תמונה מוטבעת 7

תמונה מוטבעת 5
תמונה מוטבעת 6
תמונה מוטבעת 3

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.

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.

Update about Sausan and Amal, 2 Palestinian Girls Arrested as their Home was Demolished

Our last Villages Group post reported the demolition of structures, including homes and a mosque, in the Palestinian village of Al-Mufaqara (also known as Umm-Faqra) in southern West Bank.

The destruction was perpetrated on November 24 by Israeli civilian contractors (see here for a brief report in Ha’aretz). They were hired by the deceptively named “Civil Administration” – an arm of Israel’s military Occupation apparatus which poses as a legitimate governing body. The name “Civil Administration” was invented deliberately in the 1980′s by then-defense minister Ariel Sharon, in order to confuse and confound people about this body’s true nature. Its main business these days seems to be to harass, refuse permits, and eventually destroy property belonging to Palestinians, in order to “clear” them out of West Bank areas that Israel wants to eventually annex.

The civilian contractors and deceptively-named “Civil Administration” thugs were accompanied by ordinary IDF soldiers. As can be seen in the video below, throughout the demolition neither contractors, nor CA thugs, nor IDF soldiers, acted or looked like people under any form of threat or duress.

That did not stop them from arresting and carting off two female Palestinian youth: 21-year-old Sausan Hamamdeh and her 17-year-old cousin Amal. Some of the events around and immediately after their arrest are in the video, around minutes 1:30-3:00. The video was filmed by Guy Batavia, activist with Ta’ayush and Rabbis for Human Rights.

Amal and Rasha (Sausan’s sister) gave us a detailed account of the arrest: during the demolition Sausan was stressed, realizing her home was about to be demolished without the women of the family having a chance to remove its contents. According to the present Israeli procedure of house demolitions, the removal of the house contents is carried out only by a contractor’s firm hired for this purpose. Sausan’s attempt to force her way into her home to clear out belongings led to her being pepper-sprayed in the eyes by one of the soldiers, and to her arrest.

Amal was arrested as she tried to provide Sausan a water bottle to relieve the stinging in her eyes. Water from the bottle squirted out and wet the soldier who was preventing Amal from giving Sausan the bottle, and that was the reason for Amal’s arrest.

Sausan (image on right) and Amal were then taken by army jeep to the police station at Kiryat Arba settlement. During the ride one of the soldiers in the jeep tried to sexually harass Amal and also kicked her in the belly.

After the interrogation at the Kiryat Arba police station, Sausan and Amal were driven to Jerusalem where they were placed in detention at the infamous “Russian Compound” detention center. Conditions at the facility (which they shared with another inmate) were very severe – it was a very cold week in Jerusalem and the room had an air conditioner that was cooling rather than heating the place.

Repeated requests by the women to turn it off were refused by their jailers. Amal’s stay in this room lasted five days, whereas Sausan spent a whole week there (she said it felt like a year).

On November 28th the two youngsters appeared at the Occupation’s kangaroo military court in the Ofer base. We have a full account of the proceedings, thanks to a Machsom Watch volunteer being present. Here are a few excerpts:

…the charge [for both girls] is: attacking a soldier. While the representatives of the Civil Administration, together with soldiers and Border Police came to demolish her house, Sausan picked up a stone [later described as a ‘rock’] and hit a BP officer on the hand. Sausan was arrested. Then Amal came on the scene and poured water on the officer.

This is the prosecution’s version. A CPT observer who was on the scene issued quite a different report (.doc file):

The second family’s [whose home was destroyed] 21-year-old daughter confronted the Israeli soldiers when they marched into their home and began throwing the bedding outside. When she asked what they were doing, one soldier said, “Get out of my sight.” The daughter refused; in response, the soldier threatened, “If you don’t move, we will do even more,” and sprayed her in the face with tear gas. The other solders began kicking her as she fell to the ground.

…The 21-year-old’s cousin, who is 17, tried to bring her water to soothe her eyes. The soldiers arrested them both…

The Machsom Watch account continues:

The prosecution agreed to Amal’s release that day (perhaps because she is a minor, or because squirting a soldier with water is not such a serious violation) in return for a 4000 shekel deposit. The defense explained that Amal cannot afford to pay such a sum: she is the daughter of a destitute shepherd, and besides, her house has been destroyed.

The judge’s decision: He’s willing to consider reduced bail, plus third person Israeli guarantor (me) to insure that the defendant shows up for a hearing, should one take place on 21.12.11. …The judge also ordered the Prison Authorities to provide Sausan with a coat, after seeing the girls shiver, since they were wearing the same clothes they were arrested in 4 days earlier.

I wondered how the released underage girl was going to get home that day, with no money and no proper clothes. My concern proved well founded: She was released from the Russian Compound detention center in the evening. An Israeli friend of the family who inquired where he could pick her up was told to wait for her at Qalandiya Checkpoint [north of Jerusalem]. The man waited for 5 hours only to learn later that the girl had been released at Bethlehem Checkpoint [south of Jerusalem]. Amal reached home at 10 PM.

In the end, Sausan was released on Thursday evening [Dec. 1]. This time two activists waited for her at Bethlehem Checkpoint to drive her home. But they waited in vain, because she was released at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem (thus turning her into an “Illegal infiltrator” into Israel). A taxi driver took her home.

Today, Monday December 19, Sausan’s case reached a verdict. As usual in the Occupation’s kangaroo-court system, it is based on a plea bargain, whose terms are negotiated based on whatever confessions or negative testimonies the interrogators managed to get out of the defendant, vs. the level of success by the defense to demonstrate how ridiculous the original charges were (Occupation charge-sheets are invariably inflated). In Sausan’s case, the overall balance yielded a relatively mild outcome. Ehud just emailed me the verdict (pdf file, Hebrew).

I sentence the defendant to:

A. 8 days arrest, as many as she had already spent imprisoned.
B. One month arrest in the event she repeats the offense within two years.
C. A monetary fine of NIS 3,000, to be taken out of the bail posted on behalf of the defendant…

So Sausan is back home. A proper court would have thrown out the case, based on abuse in custody, lack of access to legal counsel when a (partially retracted) confession was elicited from the defendant, conflicting testimonies of the event, and several other reasons. The heavy-handedness in treating Sausan and Amal stands in glaring contradiction to the numerous assaults on soldiers by the Israeli settlers whose interests these soldiers serve – assaults that usually go unpunished. We should also call out the routine dirty trick of over-arresting and over-charging Palestinians, which then helps the judges of these kangaroo courts appear enlightened when they encourage more lenient plea bargains – when in fact, the judges have not lifted a finger towards carrying out their duties of overseeing true justice and guiding a search for the truth about events.

The fine, and the lawyer’s fees, are a very steep sum for the Hamamdeh family to pay. But at least Sausan is home and facing a relatively benign fine. Moreover, the charges against her 17-year old Amal are now almost certain to be dropped.

Finally: this story has struck a chord among people in Israel’s social-justice activism community, shinining a light upon the woeful injustice in Occupation in general and South Hebron Hills in particular, and inspiring solidarity action among female activists. Last week, after reading Ehud’s account of Sausan and Amal’s arrest on the Rabbis for Human Rights website, several organizers of this summer’s mass rallies in Israel for social justice visited the region with Villages Group activists. They filmed an interview with Sausan, and decided to take further action.

These activists are organizing a fundraising concert on Sausan’s behalf, on December 28 2011 at Beit Ha’am, 8:30 PM, in Rotschild Avenue Tel Aviv – the epicenter of the summer’s protests and the resulting movement. Top-notch Israeli Singer-songwriter Rona Keinan, a consistently brave and outspoken voice for justice and human rights in Israel-Palestine, has already pledged to appear. Emerging musician Ruth Dolores-Weiss will also appear. We will post an update about the event within a few days.

“Law Enforcement” Destroys Prayer House, Homes, School – Just Because They’re for Arabs

Last Thursday, November 24, employees of the Israeli company “E.T. Legal Services”, hired by the deceptively named “Civil Administration” arm of Israel’s military Occupation regime in the West Bank, demolished a mosque. Among other things.

To add insult to injury, Occupation forces arrested two young women for passive nonviolent resistance (see the video below). This is not your vanilla American “Occupy” arrest-and-release, get lawyer-and-defendant-rights arrest. The girls were entered into a sealed military vehicle and carted off to an unknown location (which eventually turned out to be an Israeli jail some 3 hours drive away), without any means – or rights – to defend their obvious innocence.

On that very auspicious day, the Occupation goons also handed out demolition orders to an impoverished village’s schoolhouse. Yes, that is the very same, one-year-old school whose pictures we brought to you in the last Villages Group blog post.

Now look.

Many people are unnerved, confused, even offended, hearing the terms “apartheid” or “ethnic cleansing” with regards to Israel, or even only with regards to the Occupation dictatorship Israel insists to continue running in its backyard.

I understand.

But I also know that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. This is beyond disgusting. This is beyond apartheid and ethnic cleansing and squabbling over terminology.

In its actions, especially in “Area C” that comprises 60% of the West Bank, Israel’s government is trying to murder the soul of a people and wipe it out as a nation – leaving only “human dust” that can be blown hither and thither and molded into whatever shape its rulers feel like.

And you know what I, personally as an Israeli, find MOST insulting? Two things.

1. That all this outrage is carried out mainly in order to safeguard the petty thievery of some scraps of land and property belonging to people far poorer and less privileged than ourselves. While we have more than enough to live on, and enough places to live. A “luxury robbery”, if you will. And
2. That all the while, two generations and counting, mainstream Israel pretends that this kind of stuff is not happening on a daily basis, brushes it off, explains it away, lies about it with a straight face – and continues to maintain the ridiculous charade of cultural and moral “superiority” over the Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular.

If you are Jewish, and/or hold Israel dear, and/or don’t like reading this, WAKE UP. This is not about a specific politician, and certainly not about me or my choice of words. The actions described below are those of a fine-tuned machinery in operation for decades. It is ruthless, it is reckless, it is remorseless and it is soulless – and unless it is stopped, it will eventually leave nothing worth saving in Israel-Palestine, on all sides of whatever lines you choose to draw on that suffering land. So if you read this, you can say many things – but don’t say you haven’t been warned. Multiple times.

We will try and engage larger organizations for action on these matters. Meanwhile, you can start protesting this outrage with an email to 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). Besides the demolitions that already took place, don’t forget to mention the school that was just served with a demolition order.

The pretext for demolishing the school (“without permit”, of course – see above and below for the non-permit regime in Area C), is that it is claimed to be some 100 meters, maybe less, inside Area C, bordering on Area B. In Area B, the deceptively named “Civil Administration” has zero formal jurisdiction (don’t worry, then the Occupation’s other arms can come and carry out “security” demolitions if push comes to shove). In Area C, Israel is carrying out its newest social experiment and innovative contribution to the region in its role as “The Only Democracy”(TM): full control with zero accountability, with a generous helping of taxation-and-demolition without representation to the local Arabs. And of course, forget about building permits in Area C. Those are for Jews only.

I end my personal rant, and here is the report from Ehud, followed by some more background information for those interested and/or those in deep-freeze denial, who for some indecipherable reason still bother themselves with reading this.

Some of the events of the day have been filmed and uploaded to Youtube by Israeli activist Guy Batavia. Please watch it. There are more segments on his Youtube channel.


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The demolitions that the Israeli Occupation forces carried out in the the same day in South Hebron Hills (Thursday, 24.11.11) show that the duration of the bureaucracy leading up to the demolition itself changes from case to case: in the instance of Muhammad Mussa Mu’ghanem from Susya it was over within a few weeks. Without legal defense , no more than two months passed from the date the orders were issued to stop the works until Thursday, 24.11 when the bulldozer, escorted by army and police forces, arrived and demolished the two temporary structures that had served the Mughanem family in the past months.

On the other hand, in the case of the cave-dweller hamlet of Umm Fakra (sometimes spelled “Umm Faghara”), the same bureaucratic process leading up to the demolition has lasted much longer: in spring 2000, the inhabitants returned to their hamlet from which they had been expelled in winter 1999. According to a High Court of Justice ruling enabling their return, they were prevented from any construction work until the final ruling in their case. The years went by and the final ruling was not given. The freeze preventing any possible development at Umm Fakra (including the forbidden connection to the power grid) became a permanent fact.

About 4 years ago, the inhabitants of Umm Fakra began to breach this freezing order and dared build a small stone mosque for their own use. At the same time, the village elder, Mahmoud Hamamde, put up a structure with two dwelling rooms on top of his cave, for the use of his growing family. The following years saw some more structures built in Umm Fakra.

The Occupation’s deceptively named “Civil Administration” has issued work cessation orders against all of these additions, shortly after their construction. The lawyers hired by the owners managed to delay the Occupation bureaucracy’s inevitable action for several years, until last Thursday (24.11.11): two bulldozers arrived at the hamlet, escorted by Occupation agents, soldiers and policemen, and completely demolished the village mosque and the living structure of the Hamamde family that served as a rabbit pen. Only one of the two rabbits at the time survived, the other died in the process. While demolishing at Umm Fakra, the Occupation forces arrested two young women of the hamlet – the mukhtar’s daughter, Sausan Hamamda, a 21-year old student, and her 17-year old relative, Amal Hamamda. The two were taken to Tel Mond prison inside Israel.

From the little information we have at this point, apparently the Israeli police intends to accuse these two young women (whose professional and academic studies we have been supporting) of serious offenses, as might cause their relatively long incarceration.

Ehud Krinis
The Villages Group

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International scholar and Taayush activist David Shulman also posted a piece earlier this month – not on these specific actions, but on the South Hebron Hills regime in general:

The senior commander from the [deceptively named] Civil Administration turned up to inspect us, together with thirteen bored, awkward soldiers. He’s the same guy I met at [Israeli outpost] Avigayil last month– easy-going, fluent in Arabic, all charm and good nature; the one who put an end to the Jibrin family’s plowing that day. He’s done it again this morning, when the Jibrin farmers attempted once more to plow near the ugly outpost.

In fact, this pattern is now well established. They manage to plow for a few minutes, the settlers come out, then the army arrives, and the cheerful man from the [deceptively named] Civil Administration plays his inevitable role. The courts have confirmed that the land belongs to the Jibrin, but they only manage to plow it bit by bit, stolen moments before the machine stirs, an ungainly beast, and drives them away.

…I suppose we should be grateful. You get used to the whole lunatic business. It even begins to seem normal, the normalcy of the Pax Israelica in the territories. That is: you become habituated to a world dominated by outright theft and all that derives from this single, organizing principle.

…One can dither about whether the term “apartheid” is appropriate for the reality of the Occupation… But can Palestinians get on an Israeli bus passing their homes in the West Bank? Can Palestinian drivers use the roads built for settlers and settlers only? Can Palestinians get a permit to add a room to their house if it’s in Area C, or even to put up a tent or an outhouse? Can they graze their sheep on their own lands without being driven off at gunpoint by settlers or soldiers or both? Can they put down a gravel road that traverses their fields without the [deceptively named] Civil Administration stopping the work and impounding their tractors? Do they enjoy even the most minimal of civil liberties? Do they have legal recourse in the not uncommon event that they are suddenly stripped of their land, their possessions, and their freedom?

Regarding Area C in general, earlier this year Amira Hass reported that in 2010, demolitions of Palestinian structures in this region had tripled.

The UN OCHA wrote about the Area C no-permit-for-Palestinians regime,

In area C, a building permit from the Israeli Civil Administration is required for all types of construction including rudimentary dwellings, pit-latrines and even fences. According to OCHA, Palestinian construction is effectively prohibited in 70% of area C, while in the remaining 30% there is a range of restrictions and administrative requisites that greatly reduce the possibility of obtaining a permit. Given the difficulties in obtaining construction permits, many Palestinians living in area C take the risk to build without a permit, therefore facing the threat of administrative demolition by the Israeli Authorities.

There’s a wealth of information all over the Web – for example, a recent Btselem report about disposession in the predominantly-Area-C Jordan Valley.

Keep in mind that Area C was conceived under Oslo as a temporary staging ground, to be rather quickly transfered to Palestinian control – pending final outline of borders on the ground (those famous elusive few-percent “land swaps”). As such, the jurisdiction of any Israeli body to tell any Palestinian what to build in Area C, where and how, is extremely questionable.

Instead, when the process faltered, Israel started behaving as if the area was its own to keep. Except, well, the democracy, basic decency and rule-of-law parts of governing. Among other things.

The thick irony is that the knee-jerk reaction in Israel to any story of such demolitions is “What do you want? The Law must be upheld!” This stupid response would have been funny, if the reality they help hide wasn’t so sad and revolting.

Please help us stop this ugly, corrupt-to-the-core madness. Thank you.

PS: In case this is the first time you read of such illegal demolitions by the deceptively named “Civil Administration”, or have a short memory –

then just here on the Villages Group, just with respect to South Hebron Hills, we reported about such vandalism (demolitions, road blockages, and other “contributions” to culture and society)
here (2008 road blockage) and
here (2008 demolition orders to the mosque that was eventually destroyed last week) and
here (home demolitions, 2008) and
here (blocking roads again, preventing water supply) and
here (building settler-only roads that blocks and damages wells and shepherding) and
here (soldier idly watch as settlers attack people and vandalizes property) and
here (another demolition order, Umm Al-Kheir 2009) and
here (Palestinians finally return under court-order to a village that was ethnically cleansed, to see the scale of destruction there) and
here (student from A-Tuwani arrested, tortured, released) and
here (play-by-play description from Prof. Shulman, of how soldiers issue an illegal “Closed Military Zone” order to drive sheperds off their legally-owned land) and
here (soldiers try to halt public work that did have a permit; fortunately Israeli activists were present and prevented the stoppage) and
here (another Shulman description of the military harrassment sheperds undergo, after a new illegal settler outpost had been set up on their land) and
here (2010 demolition of water cisterns, some of them ancient) and
here (home demolitions, Umm Al-Kheir, 2 months ago) and
here (destruction of line connecting village to Palestinian power grid, see pic).

These reports come only from a tiny sparsely-inhabited piece of land. There are many, many more such “cultural activities” carried by the Israel government, showering freedom, democracy and progress on the Palestinian residents under its total control, all across Area C.

Also, I found some more phone and fax numbers for the Ministry of Defense. Phone: +972 3 6975349 Fax: +972 3 6976218 /691 6940 / 696 2757 / 691 7915/

May 21, 2011: Music Teachers and Students from Tel-Aviv Visit Salem’s Music Center

Last Saturday, May 21st, 2011, the music center in Salem village near Nablus hosted teachers and pupils of Tel Aviv Municipal Arts High School A. This visit is a result of the ties that the school principal, Ram Cohen, and Dr. Ruthie Katz, the school’s music major coordinator, began to nurture with the Salem Music Center

Last summer. About two months ago, the staff of the music center visited the Tel Aviv Arts High School. They attended a demonstration class prepared for them by Mario Solan, musical expression teacher, and his students, Itamar Bellaiche and Noam Da Kalo. Last Saturday, Itamar and Noam arrived with their mothers Anna and Mali for their first visit at the Salem Music Center and joined a class that took place there, together with Mario and the center’s teachers Jubeir, Wasim and Amid.

Mario’s and Itamar’s clarinet performance enabled the pupils at the center to acquaint themselves with this wind instrument, that has been almost unfamiliar to them until now.

The class began with movement and expression exercises led by David Steinberg, coordinator of the Tel Aviv school’s drama major.

Visiting – beside these guests from the Tel Aviv school – were also Dr. Dochi Lichtenstein of the School for Music Education at Levinsky Teachers Seminar, and Noam Ben Ze’ev, music critic for Haaretz newspaper.

For us, members of the Villages Group who have been following the Salem Music Center program from its onset two years ago, yesterday’s visit was a pleasure and a milestone in the ties we have been tending with the people of this village for the past eight years. Cooperation with the Tel Aviv musicians augments the workshops given by Dr. Felicity Lawrence of Newcastle University at the Salem Center in November 2010 and April 2011. These activities open a window to different and varied musical worlds for the students and teachers in this village, among whose population of 6,000 there was only one single musician until a year ago.

As we updated you last month, the children at the Salem Music Center will be needing more musical instruments from this point on to further their studies and musical development, and enable a new class of students to join. The list of instruments includes 4 violins, 3 ouds, 2 tablas, 4 organs, 3 classical guitars, 1 bass guitar and 1 accordion.

Several donors have already helped us with the donations of one large organ, one accordion and a violin. We appeal to all those who might assist this, whether by donating instruments or making a financial contribution, to contact us as soon as possible. The children’s summer vacation, beginning in about three weeks, is activity-intensive at the center, and we would like to facilitate it with all the necessary instruments in time.

Please feel free to approach me for more information.

Sincerely,

Ehud Krinis (ksehud “at” gmail) for the Villages Group

Please Help Rebuild 13 Water Cisterns Destroyed by the Israeli Army

Dear Friends and Supporters,

We relay and fully endorse this message, from Ta’ayush activists with whom we have been working hand-in-hand for years to protect the right of South Hebron Hill (Massafar Yatta) indigenous residents. Please support their rebuilding effort.

Thanks, The Villages Group.

—————-
The situation of the Palestinian cave-dwellers in South Hebron Hills continues to be difficult. They suffer from permanent harassment carried out by the military and settlers. This year, however, has been even more difficult, due to a severe drought.

As if it wanted to capitalize on the harsh conditions, on December 16th, the Israeli military destroyed 13 water cisterns belonging to Palestinian families in South Hebron hills.
(direct link to video here; Ha’aretz news story here)

The military claims that these water cisterns (or reservoirs) were built illegally and therefore must be destroyed. Some were built in recent years with international assistance, and some were built before 1967 during the Jordanian rule, but still (according to martial law) need Israeli re-authorization. Since the military regime’s “Zone C Planning Committees” are dominated by settlers, there is no chance to obtain such a permit. The cisterns are located on West Bank lands that the Israel has designated for the IDF as “firing zones” – areas the military uses as training sites for live ammunition.

The destruction or the water cisterns leaves the Palestinian shepherds without water sources, and forces them to limit their grazing areas. This is exactly what the Israeli authorities intend to achieve. It makes the life of this population, already probably the poorest in the whole West Bank, all but impossible.

In order to help the Palestinians keep their lands and strengthen the Sumoud (steadfastness) of South Hebron area residents, Taáyush activists have started helping reconstruct the cisterns.

We need $4,200 for each cistern. We have set out to reconstruct ten cisterns, please help us accomplish this goal.

Donation can be made to Taáyush:
Via Bank Deposit

Bank Hapoalim
Branch 574 (‘Hapalmach’)
Account no. 160213
Swift code ‘poalilit’
IBAN: IL61-0125-7400-0000-0160-213

Via Paypal

http://tinyurl.com/taayush-jlm

Please mail Anat566@gmail.com with the donation details.
Thank you in advance,

The south Hebron committee of Taáyush Jerusalem

Premiere of a Film Documenting Relationships between Israelis and the People of Palestinian Susiya

Tuesday, September 28th, brought us great satisfaction. On that day, we and many of our friends in Susiya had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of the film “The Human Turbine” at the Haifa International Film Festival.

Over a period of two years from 2008 to 2010, a film crew headed by director Danny Verete and producer Yehuda Bitton documented the evolving ties between the people of Susiya and the Israelis who visit them regularly activists in the Villages Group and the Comet-ME NGOs. The resulting hour-long film follows the various projects made possible by the cooperation between the locals and the Israelis, projects that include the production of sun- and wind-generated electricity for the Susiya families, plans for aid to local students and for professional training for young women, school transportation for the Susiya children, help and consultation in expanding water wells, and more.

The film was well received and viewers described it as deeply moving. Particularly effective is the film’s close attention to personal aspects of the work being done in Susiya. The filmmakers understood that the success of the projects described above is tied inexorably to the personal relations that have developed over the past several years between local residents and the Israelis.

We were fortunate to be able to invite almost twenty of our Susiya friends to join us for the premiere in Haifa—in spite of a general closure which totally prevented Palestinians from crossing the checkpoints to Israel for 10 days during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This was made possible by an invitation from the filmmakers and by our friend Buma Inbar, who obtained the special crossing permits. Following a lunch at the Haifa beach, we took in the panoramic view from atop Mount Carmel, and then watched the film together with our family members, the filmmakers, and other friends and guests.

At the final event of the Haifa Film Festival, the film “The Human Turbines” received an award on behalf of the Other Israel Film Festival in New York. As the Jury of this competition stated: “The film provides a rare glimpse in a world where humanity, compassion and cooperation provide hope for a different life in the complicated reality of the Middle East.” The film “The Human Turbine” is expected to be shown soon on Israeli TV’s Channel 8 and in other venues. We will keep you informed regarding opportunities to view the film, and we also hope to be able to send copies of the film, especially to our friends abroad.

Ehud Krinis (on the left in the beach picture, top right)

UPDATE: The film will be screened at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Saturday night October 30, at 7:30 PM. Also, copies are available for purchase; please email cara@ruthfilms.com.

Songs by Ikhlas-Yasmin Jebara from Salem: Part II

This continues the previous post, showing for the first time songs by our friend Ikhlas.

The picture above was taken a few weeks ago, when Ikhlas visited the Mediterranean Sea for the second time in her life. The sea is only 47km from her home (measured via Google Maps), but the Occupation regime – especially its prisonlike nature during the past decade – prevents most West Bank Palestinians from visiting it. Both of Ikhlas’ beach visits were initiated by the Villages Group. On the first time, Ikhlas and her brother Mohammed were taken to Tel Aviv to meet an Israeli eye specialist, who unfortunately confirmed that their blindness is incurable.

The second time came about after repeated appeals to military authorities, to allow the Jebara family a visit to Israel in order to breath some fresh air of freedom. The family was automatically blacklisted by the Shin Bet after the father Sa’el was murdered by a settler in fall 2004.

The cruelty of the Occupation regime is perhaps most directly illustrated via this story. The settler, a German convert with troubled history, was nonetheless given – like most settlers – an M16 automatic assault rifle by the military for his “self defense”. He then used it to murder an innocent civilian, who happened to be Ikhlas’ dad, in broad daylight. The lengthy legal proceedings end with his conviction of manslaughter. But the judge inexplicably allows the murderer a home leave before his sentence is set. He disappears without a trace, and to this day no one has found him (has anyone even looked for him?). If you find this hard to believe, here’s an account from the Israeli mainstream news site Ynet.

Meanwhile, the victim’s family having lost its father and provider without recourse to justice, is automatically labeled as a “security threat” because now they have a reason to revenge! Therefore, they are placed under even tighter confinement than other Occupied Palestinians.

This year Villages Group activists petitioned the authorities, arguing that 6 years after the murder perhaps the victims should be allowed a one-time reprieve from their punishment, due to their good behavior, and be allowed to visit their friends in Israel. The plea was rejected. Knowing how mindless and arbitrary the Occupation system is, the activists did not give up and submitted the exact same petition again. This time it was accepted. The Jebara family was treated to a day of fun, visiting the homes of their Villages Group friends for the first time ever, and seeing the Mediterranean Sea – second time for Ikhlas and Mohammed, first time ever for their siblings.

This fall, Ikhlas will begin her M.A. studies in English literature at the Nablus University.

———————————

It is perhaps appropriate that unlike the personal tone of Ikhlas’ first offering of songs posted last week, the songs below carry a more political message.

Ikhlas will be happy to communicate with any of the readers. Being in touch with people from faraway places does a great deal to alleviate the depression and suffocation of living under the Occupation regime. Ikhlas’s email address is ikhlas_soh@hotmail.com.

—————————

Believe me we can not dare

Believe me we can not dare
to say that occupation is something that we can not bear
But even if we said it
they will our bodies like pieces of cloth tear
Not by human butchers
rather it has become the machine butcher’s career
Be silent my friend
and do not say whether it is cruel or fair
Because if you said this
you will be thrown in fire

—————————

If you tried to turn your face

If you tried to turn your face
In a moment you will be in the hospital as a critical case
Occupation is willing to chase
Every person who is from the Arabic race
And the steps of history trace
Occupation has no conscience

when it the bodies of Gazan children dismember
in the last December
I am torn by pain when I remember

the bodies of children trampled under the feet
of an unworthy Israeli soldier member

Dying words on their tomb door
saying war is every where

On the heads of the poor
Palestinian life will become sore
You will live in pain more and more
Let it be forever let it be forever

When will facts chant?
When will Justice on her feet stand?
When will we together
in the face of cruelty stand?
When will we our rights defend?
When will we like a bomb explode?
When will we our rights defend ?
Or shall we wait for someone to rescue us?

—————————

Do you know

Do you know what your life is like?
Your life is a play
if you wonder I will say
what role in this life I play

a good person I may be
as a fruitful tree
slave people I can free
if they appreciate they will agree

a source of evil I contribute to life
by carrying my sharp sword and knife
I can steal a husband from his wife
And deprive a person of his life

To me you can describe
What type you want your self to ascribe
No matter you are from this or that tribe
But what really matters is you are mature and ripe

COMET-ME Alternative-Energy Project is BBC/Newsweek World Challenge Finalist

COMET-ME, our sister project which has developed out of Villages Group activities, has won prestigious global recognition from the BBC/Newsweek World Challenge 2009 competition.

The judges have chosen COMET-ME as one of 12 finalists. The project, which empowers rural and semi-nomadic Palestinian residents (right now, mostly in South Hebron Hills) by helping them set up independent wind+solar electricity generation units, and training them in installation and maintenance, will be featured in an upcoming BBC story.

The Independent has recently devoted an article to the project, apparently in view of their World Challenge recognition. Here is an excerpt:

For the extended Shineran family, dependent for income on the butter they sell, the electric churn and the large energy-efficient refrigerator they now run off the new system, have together raised sales income from £850 per month to £1,450.

We congratulate COMET-ME, its founder Noam Dotan and all the project’s volunteers, for a well-deserved success. We hope that it continues to grow.
Link to COMET-ME Donation Page.

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