Wednesday Nov. 14, 2012
In the midst of sirens and bombs in our area as part of the recent war between Israel and Gaza, I received a telephone call from Hamed from Hebron asking if we are safe. Five minutes later we received a telephone call from Eid inviting us to come to Um el Khair in South Mount Hebron because it is safer there. “It is Thursday tomorrow” I told him, “and we come at any rate.”
Thursday Nov. 15, 2012
We go to South Mount Hebron. Dany and David from Tel Aviv, Ophir from Jerusalem, David Clinch from North Devon in Britain and myself from Shoval coming after a night without much sleep, trying to cope with the ugly music of the sirens. It is a bit surrealistic to go to South Mount Hebron in the West Bank and feel safer… I thought to myself. It was a short while thought since I knew already that it was not safe at all for the kids of Tuba two days ago while walking to school and being attacked by four masked settlers throwing stones at them.
We enter the cave of Omar’s family. Some of his kids are there. Inshirakh tells us how she, amongst a group of fifteen kids of all school ages, went to school the day before yesterday and how the settlers came from the trees and attacked them; and how the soldiers who accompany the kids by a jeep send the settlers away (without taking their names or arresting them.) She says she was afraid but continued to walk to school that day and the other days to come. They are used to be afraid, she says.
Does it matter to whom it is not safe? Since it is not safe to the kids it is not safe to me as well. And then it turns even more surrealistic. I am sitting in the cave in Tuba listening to Inshirakh’s story , calling Mustafa (my friend in Gaza) asking how is he, and calling my husband to ask him if Shoval has been bombed…
I remember a paragraph of a story I wrote some years ago after the Cast Lead war in 2009:
“…The First Intifada has ended. The Oslo Accords have evaporated. Israel has already sent in its army to occupy the Occupied West Bank and come out from this second Occupation into the first. The Second Intifada, too, has ended. The suicide bombings are over, for the time being. The First Lebanon War concluded the list of its buried. The Second as well. Rabin is already dead. Arafat is already dead. Sharon lives his own death. The elections in the Palestinian Authority brought the Hamas to power in Gaza. “Cast Lead” would take place in two years’ time, and when its wounds begin to heal, there will be “Cast Copper” or “Cast Silver” or any other appellation given in awe to the next war, the one that has not yet taken place but will surely come after “Cast Lead” that has not yet been cast, either, in 2007. We already know it was, however, because this story is being written now, in 2010. And the war that has not yet been will later be, and then will have been. In our region, for sheer wars for life, life is no longer sanctified. Only death.”
Hope for better days,
Yours with love, Erella (in the name of the other members of the Villages Group)
Inshirakh in her family’s cave
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).
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
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
Ehud Krinis on behlf of the Villages Group
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
In November we reported with joy about the new school structure at Susiya (Susya). (see also an earlier report here).
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.
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)
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, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, fax +972 3 6976711 (they are said to hate faxes), or the ministry’s US outlet (firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. 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.
Miyaser Al-Hatheleen is a 45-year-old woman living in Umm al-Kheir, South Hebron Hills. Her house was first demolished by the Israeli Occupation authorities in October 2008, together with other dwellings belonging to her relatives (see our original 2008 report about these demolitions). In July 2009, Miyaser’s husband Salem passed away, leaving behind him his widowed wife and their seven children: Manal (now age 18), Tareq (17), Husam (15), Ahmad (13), Khulood (11), Maysoon (8) and Gamila (6).
No, this is not the home the Occupation authorities is building for Miyaser in compensation for the 2008 demolitions. These are villas being built only a few minutes walk away, expanding the Carmel (Karmel) settlement, on land confiscated and/or denied from the local Bedouins and Palestinians. This construction is underway with heavy subsidies from the Israeli government, whose political pretext for the expansion is “natural growth of the settlements.”
After the 2008 demolitions, Miyaser’s extended family at Umm al-Kheir built for her and her children a small house – or rather, a hut – made of mud and stones:
Yet, even this extremely poor dwelling place was too much in the eyes of the Occupation regime. Last week, on January 25 2012, while the heavy machinery keeps swallowing the hill near Carmel settlement in order to make room for the building of spacious new houses for Umm al-Kheir’s Israeli neighbors, a “fellow bulldozer” made its way to the indigenous village – not for construction, but for demolition work that left once again Miyaser’s home in ruins. It should be noted that the past few weeks in Israel-Palestine have been very cold and wet. Umm-Al-Kheir sits some 800m above sea level, with nightly temperature near freezing.
Over the last weekend, the Hatheleen family of Umm al-Kheir and activists of the Taayush movement erected together a small tin home for Miyaser and her children.
A different, yet effective way of helping Miyaser, even by those of you who live far way, is suggested by us here: Miyaser is a skillful embroider. She is willing to sell her embroidery art, such as table maps and runners.
During the last year we have been able to sell several of Miyaser’s embroidery pieces here in Israel, and also in Durham, United Kingdom (by the help of our friends there, Shlomit and Alison). Anyone who wants to help Miyaser and her family by buying her embroidery works (or in another creative way), is invited to contact us at our Villages Group’s address: firstname.lastname@example.org. We will ship Miyaser’s art to you. If you live in the UK, Villages Group activists are due to visit Shlomit and Alison soon and bring them a new collection of Miyaser’s embroidery.
Ehud Krinis on behalf of the Villages Group (with additions from Assaf)
PS: this recent demolition is part of a broader pattern, that has been continuing for years but escalating recently. For more background about the current wave of Occupation vandalism in South Hebron Hills, and in West Bank Area C in general, see this post from November, and this one from 2009.