Tag Archives: Military Occupation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Winter at Salem: Music Center Annual Concert – and Military Raid on Center Director’s Home

The first part of this post, an account of Salem’s music center 2011 end-of-year concert held recently in the village municipality building, was written by Ikhlas (Yasmin) Gebara, the young poet from Salem (a village just outside of Nablus). Ikhlas is sitting to the left of Erella and Ehud in the picture below.

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Music is a gift for our minds and our hearts. It is a jewel that we lost and we feel happy when we find. It is the motivation that encourages us to live. It is a tool by means of which our minds and spirits operate.

By the effort of the Villages Group and members of the village, the idea of the music center materialized, converted from imagination to reality. Despite the short period since it was established, it has achieved great success and has become one of the popular centers in the village. The idea of the center started from the point of teaching children in village how to strengthen their role in society through music. In fact, the center aimed at providing a sense of pleasure since children felt that there is something they lack. So from the founders’ point of view, this lack is filled by music.

The center has been working for two years, and it was able to achieve popularity in the children’s as well as their parents’ minds. So the parents started to send their children to the center to learn how to use various musical instruments. During the last two years two groups of children graduated, and the center ended its second activity year with a concert. A big number of people attended and saw how children became creative in using musical instruments.

The event started with the coordinator of the center greeting the attendants and thanking the funders as well as the founders. Then the Palestinian national anthem was presented by the children. Then followed a series of songs which were played and sung by the pupils of the center. At the end of the concert there was a big ceremony in which the children were given certificates and the founders (who are really peace makers) were given thank-you gifts by a representative of the village council, the head of the center and a representative from the Villages Group.

Eventually, although the center is still modest it seeks for more development in order to increase the number of children and to have a crucial role in developing the village as well as empowering its children. Among our aspirations, we would like to have an independent house for the music center, so the center can grow.

Ikhlas Gebara, Salem

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We would have loved to end the Villages Group update from Salem here. Unfortunately, on the night between January 1 and 2 – a couple of days after the concert – the Israeli Occupation’s military forces raided the house of the Center’s founder and director, Jubeir Ishtayya.

The pretext was a search for weapons. As you can see in the pictures, the soldiers caused much damage to the new home, and deeply upset Jubeir and his wife and terrified his three little children. On the following Friday, Villages Group activists paid a solidarity visit to the Ishtayya family.

South Hebron Hills Update

Dear friends and supporters,

About one month ago we reported to you on the state of the local schoolhouse in Palestinian Susiya as its second school year opened. Visiting the school on Thursday November 2nd, 2011, we witnessed an impressive development in the construction of the school’s permanent building. These works are undertaken as a joint initiative of the NGO Action Against Hunger/ ACF International, and the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees.


For our modest part, we brought the school a laptop computer that will serve the teachers from now on (we would be grateful to receive and bring the teaching staff additional laptops). We hope that soon we shall be able to meet the teachers’ request to receive Hebrew language lessons – Erella, of our group, is considering taking this task upon herself and we hope that within a few weeks we can report to you that a weekly Hebrew course for the school teachers is already under way.

A little while before arriving at the Susiya school, we learned of yet another act of destruction inflicted by the Israeli Military Occupation’s “Civil Administration” arm. A bulldozer destroyed the power pylons that have lately been installed between the village of Al-Tuwani and the cave hamlet of Umm Faqara, as part of the infrastructure that was to connect Umm Faqara with the regional power grid. This act of destruction by the “Civil Administration” is perfectly consistent with the long-term policy exerted by the Israeli Occupation authorities, in order to prevent the connection of the cave hamlets in the South Hebron Hills to infrastructure such as water and power. The motivation underlying this policy is to deny the legitimacy of these Palestinian communities and to eventually eliminate their existence.

Ehud Krinis

David Shulman: A Shepherd’s day in South Mt. Hebron

World-renowned scholar and Taayush activist David Shulman in one of his finest reports.
Nothing dramatic, just a few hours in the life of one shepherd in south Mt. Hebron- the routine of the occupation in this area, accompanied with much insight to the feelings and thoughts of the non-violent activists of Taayush. It’s a bit of a long reading, but a most rewarding one.
Ehud Krinis
Villages Group
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January 30, 2010   Al-Tal’a, Um Zaituna
“The most desperate fights are often the most hopeful,” Istvan says to me as we stand on the hill looking down at the shepherds and their sheep. You can always rely on Istvan for the surprising Hungarian perspective on things—not usually an optimistic one, but humane and morally acute in a dark, perhaps ironic way. This is his fourth trip with us to South Hebron. He likes the Ta’ayush mode, which he thinks exemplifies the central Gandhian principle: what is inside shapes what is outside; if you can overcome your own weaknesses and fear, you will have an incalculable effect on the most recalcitrant situation. Besides, there’s another consideration of a totally non-instrumental nature. He cites an extreme example. Those Germans and Poles and others who saved the lives of Jews during the Nazi period didn’t do it to defeat Nazism; they did it because it was right, a moral act in need of no justification or corroboration outside itself.
This comes as a timely reminder, because yesterday afternoon I was harangued at some length by a former colleague, a Russian humanist of the old school, by now thoroughly disillusioned:  in a struggle, he said, between those with principles, driven by moral concerns, and what he calls the “Hottentot” rule—”If I take your wife, that is good; if you take my wife, that is bad”—in such a struggle, the Hottentots will always win. [I hope my Hottentot readers will forgive him, and me.] Moral scruples, in short, always weaken you; it’s the thugs who come out on top. So here we are in the living laboratory of South Hebron, where we can perform an experiment, in real time, to test these two opposed hypotheses.
We’ve come to accompany the Palestinian shepherds, who have been harassed in recent days even more than usual by Israeli settlers. The settlers, backed up by the army and the police, are constantly driving the shepherds at gunpoint off their historic grazing grounds; sometimes they beat them or throw rocks at them or even shoot at them for good measure. We divide up into three groups, each one responsible for one large herd; I am entrusted with the Al-Tal’a/ Um Zaituna contingent. I find Jamil, together with some 80 or 90 sheep and four of his young sons and other boys, on the rocky slope just under the cow-barn of the Maon settlement. He gives me a radiant welcome, his face alight with pleasure; Jamil is a true bon vivant, odd as the term might sound in the harsh desert setting of South Hebron. (You can see him in the attached picture.)

Jamil and his son

He’s also monolingual in Arabic, a great advantage for me. He tells me that this morning settlers have already pointed their guns at him and his sons and told him to go away—or they would shoot. I think the sheep and the children are still a little too close to the settlement, and together we decide they’ll move some ways down the hill.
So far so good. The sheep are also happy—these slopes, normally inaccessible to Palestinian shepherds, are thick with fresh green undergrowth and the delicious thorny leaves the sheep adore. It’s rained a bit this winter; the soil is reviving under wind and winter cloud, a ravishing pastiche of green and grey. Here the name of the game, as we know well, is somehow to gain time—an hour, two, three, long enough for the herd to graze to its fill before the soldiers and the settlers turn up, as they always do. I have instructions from Amiel to avoid confrontation this time: if we see them approaching, we are to get the shepherds out of danger as quickly as we can. No arrests, if possible, today.
We talk, we laugh, we play. Jamil wants me to mount his donkey, Humara. How is it? he asks after I’ve clambered up on top. Much better than driving a car, I say. The children, as always, want their picture taken; they solemnly introduce themselves and, one by one, come to shake our hands. “Are you afraid of the soldiers?” little Ibrahim asks me, and I say, “No, not afraid, but I don’t want any trouble for you.” An hour goes by, wind whipping at our faces. I dismount from Humara. There is dust in the air, a sign of coming storm.
First we see the police cars driving up to Maon, blue lights flashing. They sit there, waiting. I’m hoping they just came by to have a look and won’t come at us, especially since we’ve now opened up a substantial gap between the herd and the outer perimeter of the settlement. But of course the hope is quickly dashed. A large posse of soldiers and cops is soon marching toward us over the rocks. They reach Zvi and the other Um Zaituna flock first. Even at a distance, I can see them performing the remorseless stages of their beloved ritual:  there is a piece of paper being waved at Zvi and the shepherds, clearly the signed order declaring this little patch of desert a Closed Military Zone; the order is examined, photographed, there are the always Quixotic protests, followed by threats from the soldiers and, after a few minutes, a gradual withdrawal of our people eastwards, deeper into the desert. Maybe, I say to myself, the soldiers won’t bother Jamil and his Ta’ayush protectors. No such luck. Having heroically driven the Um Zaituna flock down toward the wadi, the soldiers and policemen pick their way over the rocks toward us.
“You are now in a Closed Military Zone. You have fifteen minutes to get out of here.”
“And just where are we supposed to go?”
“Down into the wadi, past that curve in the hills.” The soldier points vaguely in an easterly direction. He’s also unrolled the map for our benefit, with a poorly defined area outlined in yellow marker.
“And why are you doing this?”
“I work for the Brigade Commander, ask him.”
“I’ll be glad to ask him, but he doesn’t want to talk to me.”
“You now have 14 minutes.”

Some of the soldiers who enforced a flagrantly illegal order that day in South Hebron Hills.

“You know what you are doing is illegal,” we say, “the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that the Army cannot declare a Closed Military Zone arbitrarily, and it is expressly forbidden to do so if this means denying Palestinian shepherds and farmers access to their lands.”
“Doesn’t interest me.”
“And you know that the Army’s own legal adviser in the Territories backed up the Supreme Court’s ruling with a directive issued to all soldiers serving here.”
“Twelve minutes.”
“So why are you here? Taking orders, as usual, from the settlers?” Zvi has joined us, and he’s wonderfully eloquent at such moments.
The lieutenant in charge has had enough words. He stands, features locked, impassive, eyes unseeing. But then why would one want eyes if all they could see was the one thing he doesn’t want to see?
“Or maybe it’s just that you happen to enjoy lording it over those who are weak and helpless, as you enjoy tormenting them?”  I don’t remember who said this—one of the women, I think.
No answer. Glassy stare. Arms folded on his chest. He looks mean to me. Then I start to wonder if, after all, something akin to thought might not be happening in some recess of his mind. Maybe he’s even capable of feeling inner conflict. That would be a distinct improvement. “Whoever the Brigade Commander is,” I say, “I hope someday you will look at the world and begin to think for yourself.”  But I know it’s all a useless gesture, and I, too, am going through my usual paces in a game whose rules have been determined by others. I hate the fact that I continue to play by their rules. We are going to have to think up some better way.
Maybe we should just stop arguing, refuse to move, and get arrested, as we have many times in the past. Does that do any good? It will mean Jamil will also probably be arrested, and then there’s the devil to pay. Believe it or not, he’s never spent a night in prison— which makes him a rather rare species in South Hebron. I’m not about to shatter his luck today.
So I nod to Jamil and we slowly start to move off. The policemen follow us down the hill. We cross over the bed of the wadi and begin to ascend the next slope in line. Here the police, I am happy to see, turn around and go away.
But this isn’t good enough. The dour lieutenant and one of his men have stayed behind to watch us, and soon they decide we haven’t yet reached the particular curve in the hills they had in mind, so they come marching rapidly toward us, and they kick at the sheep and throw a few stones at them, and they threaten us again and we protest again, and we film them and record the whole sordid scene, and so it goes, on and on, until after nearly an hour they have driven us into a distant part of the wadi—past three or four or five curves in the path—and then they finally turn away. We end up, as Istvan observes, in a dry, barren stretch of sandy soil, overgrazed, grazed to death, utterly devoid of the juicy green thorns that the sheep had been enjoying higher up. I ask Jamil:  “Did they at least manage to eat a little?” “Not enough,” he says. “They’re far from full.”
And he breaks into a tirade, utterly familiar in its tenor:  every day the soldiers come and drive us away, the settlers call them and they come, they won’t let us live, it’s not just, it’s not fair, these are our own lands, they’ve taken everything, they leave us nothing, we can’t survive like this, we don’t have the power to resist them, even you couldn’t stop them, tomorrow it will happen again, we are defenseless….I listen, I know it is true, I am appalled that we couldn’t prevent this crime. We failed as we have before and certainly will again.
So who, dear reader, is right, Gandhi/Istvan or my Russian colleague? You can decide for yourself. Here’s what I can say by way of background—nothing new, I’m afraid. The ramified system in place in South Hebron, like everywhere else in the Occupied Territories, exists for one and only one purpose—to steal land and to make the owners of this land disappear. Everything, and everybody, on the Israeli side is fully mortgaged to this single aim. How this monstrous thing developed, how it gradually took over the central institutions of the state and bent them to its will—these are questions for some future historian.
So far, surprisingly, the system has not managed to rid itself of the unwanted population of shepherds and small-scale farmers—a few thousand impoverished innocents—who have been eeking out an existence here for the last many centuries. These shepherds and farmers have proven to be astonishingly resilient; their needs are rather minimal, they are tenacious and brave, and maybe we, too, have had some small part to play in their survival. But, as Amiel says, the only thing that successfully grows in South Hebron is sheep and goats, and if the settlers and the government manage to starve the herds by chasing them off their grazing grounds, in the end our friends will be forced to leave. Every soldier who does what we saw the soldiers do today, and worse, blindly following orders, is complicit in a great human evil that cannot be justified or rationalized in any intelligible human terms. This highly specific, irreducible wickedness has nothing to do with the big questions about making peace, or not, about negotiations with this one or that one or no one (the government’s preferred option), about Realpolitik and the Jews’ endless anxieties and the self-righteousness that may be the surface expression of those anxieties, about anti-Semitism and the bad memories we love to carry around with us, indulging our passion for self-pity. Or second thought, maybe it does have something to do with this last item. Self-pity is pregnant with its own malignant variety of aggression. In any case, wickedness, like goodness, really shouldn’t be explained away—indeed, at bottom, if you look closely, it cannot be explained away. It just is.
Jamil says they’re going home; there’s no chance of grazing again today. He thanks us, takes my hand, and the bedrock bonhomie of his nature flares up once more. They have a long walk ahead, over the hills, to al-Tal’a. There are more goodbyes to be said; I am leaving on sabbatical for the next four months. Sad, a bit overwhelmed, I tell Amiel that I’ll miss this place. “Don’t worry,” he says, “when you come back it will be just like this, or maybe a little worse.” The more desperate things get, the more bemused he seems to be, and the brighter his flashes of wit. As we approach the roadblock at al-Khadr at the outskirts of Jerusalem, the young Border Policewoman gestures our minibus to stop for inspection. Amiel calls out to her: “We’re all circumcised Jews—oh yes, a few circumcised Jewesses, too.” That, apparently, is what she wanted to hear; she waves us on.

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.

Just another Thursday in our Yamim Nora’im and their Ramadan

We visit Salem and Deir El Hattab near Nablus with the regularity one visits a close friend. Over the past six years, we have found various ways to make it into these villages, which are controlled and at times besieged by our military. According to the current procedure, we first stop by the military’s Nablus Regiment HQ, and sign a release form affirming that the army has no responsibility to our fate. The female soldiers staffing HQ know us and receive us with grace; the Operations Officers, who change every few months, know us personally as well. From HQ, information about our arrival is tranmitted to the area battalion, and from there to the soldiers manning Beit Furiq Checkpoint. But since the drive from HQ to the checkpoint takes only 3 minutes, we usually get there ahead of this formal announcement. Therefore, we usually wait there until we are officially allowed to cross the checkpoint, into “Enemy Territory” as the sign there says.

However, there is no pain without some gain. The waiting time is often filled by chats with the soldiers. It almost always begins by one of them asking: But what are you doing there? The askers change from visit to visit, and the question’s tone varies as well – and, naturally, the type of conversation that follows varies as well.

Today, Thursday September 18th, a young soldier asked again:  But what are you doing there? The tone was not welcoming, to put it mildly. More like, taunting. But I decided to reply in earnest. “We are visiting friends”.

“Friends ??????!!!!!!!” Repeats the young soldier in a tone somewhere between shock and anger.  “Friends”, I calmly confirm, and continue: “you must have friends you visit, too. Everyone has.”

“But they are A-L-L shit”, says this young friend with loud confidence. “How do you know?” I ask (still patiently). “It’s because of them that I have to be here”, answers the soldier.

I really listen to him, an attitude which somewhat softens the stress and hostility in his face. I use this small gap and reply: “I think it is really hard for you to be here, but it is not because of ‘Them’ but because of the Occupation.” (I breathe, make a pause, and continue:) “When you finish your military service and won’t be here anymore, you will be able to tell yourself that there are many fish in the sea. Not all of ‘Them’ are shit, and we, too, are not all made of the same material.”

He didn’t answer. For a moment, there was a fertile silence of someone processing what he’s heard. I respect this silence and look at him patiently, when another soldier says: “you may pass!” I don’t haste to leave. He doesn’t either. And then he says with the definiteness of someone who has thought deeply and reached the only possible conclusion: “I will never think differently. They are A-L-L shit. Until the end of my life this will not change.”

He made his verdict, turned his back and withdrew from this surreal dialogue.

I left, too. Our close friend, Eiman of Deir El Hattab, already waited for us on the other side. This time we visited four of our friends in these villages. Meet, and make practical arrangements. With the first, we check who will be the contact person between the olive harvesters and the military arm in charge of protecting them from settler violence. With the second – how can we promote the release on parole of the family father, who is in the Israeli jail and has served the allotted two-thirds of his sentence? With the third – how to help obtain medical advice in Israel for their child who suffers from a rare illness. And so on.

Around 1 o’clock we make it to our good friend Abu Zaki of Salem. Last visit for today. It is Ramadan. Our hosts insists on giving us something to drink, at least, and we relent (they still fast). The kids are already back to school, and their presence mellows the atmosphere even more. Ehud fools around with the energetic Ziad, and I try my Arabic with the family’s beautiful daughters. A bit later, Amid enters. He is Abu Zaki’s nephew. He returned from school and passed by his uncle on the way home. Amid sat with us, too, and around 3:20 bade us farewell and went home.

About five minutes later, Abu Zaki drove us back to the checkpoint. When we got back home to Shoval an hour and a half later, Abu Zaki calls us and tells us in a pained voice that the military arrested Amid and he is at the checkpoint, bound and blindfolded. Abu Zaki got the notice just as he got back from driving us. Amid was already detained there. This means that he was arrested barely five minutes after leaving us.

We immediately understood that Amid will be in jail for at least 96 hours before being brought to court. This is how it is, when you are an Occupied Palestinian. Israelis can be arrested only for 24 hours without trial. If you are Palestinian just before the weekend, and you have not been interrogated yet, they will extend your arrest by yet another 96 hours, because you are Palestinian and the Occupation law allows them to hold you for 8 whole days without any interrogation or arrest.

We acted swiftly. We got a lawyer and tried to use contacts we have in the military and the Ariel police. No luck. When our requests are related to arrested Palestinians, the friendly niceness changes immediately to an operational businesslike manner of people “who know things we don’t” – and we are left helpless.

We did what we could. Our hands are tied too. From now on, only a lawyer could help – preferably an Israeli lawyer. So we found one. At a late hour, very tired, I lay to sleep but the pain does not let up. The military says Amid threw stones and tried to torch the watchtower. I don’t know whether they are right or wrong. Three days have passed now, and they did not even make a preliminary interrogation – not to mention a court hearing. But I do know that I saw Amid five minutes before soldiers fired at him, and that he was heading home, and that his family is peaceful. And I know from his uncle that Amid cried to him: “I didn’t do it, Uncle!”, when Abu Zaki brought him the fast-breaking meal at the Checkpoint (which he was allowed after our intervention with HQ). And I know that one of the soldiers said Amid threw a Molotov cocktail, but the police officer said he threw rocks – and today’s latest military version is that he tried to torch the watchtower.

And I know that on that damned day’s morning a soldier at the checkpoint told me, “But they are A-L-L shit. I will never think otherwise in my life.”

Erella. (Ehud was partner to the visit)

—————- Sep. 28 Update from Ehud:

At last there was a hearing, but the military judge didn’t pay any attention to Erella’s testimony brought to him by Amid’s lawyer. He scheduled Amid’s trial to 18th November, so he can rest during the holidays and long after, while Amid will rest in jail. We may need your help in raising money for Amid’s lawyer.

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