Tag Archives: Occupation

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

Dear Friends,

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

ShulmanPlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Shulman

Editor’s notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Assaf

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

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

SummerCamp3

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

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

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

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

A few days later started the summer camp in Susiya.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours, with much love,

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

Detention on Saturday Morning

To our dear friends,

Between our weekly visits to South Mt. Hebron things happen, things that happen during a week, quite ordinary things.

People wake up in the morning to a new day – they wash, pray, eat, discover that settlers cut down 62 trees in their olive grove, as a “price tag” action; or they go to sleep and wake up to the violent presence of 20 soldiers and one policeman in their living room, a visit that was not pre-coordinated with and approved by the house owners; or they go to shepherd their goats, get detained for two days and released with a court summon, after paying bail they will never get back.

These and other are the happenings between one weekly visit to the next, in an ordinary week, one among many in which a daily routine like this takes place. Mere footnotes, maybe similar in their importance, as Ophir says, to getting a parking ticket in Tel Aviv. Even Gideon Levi will not write about it in his newspaper column.

And so, 20 years old Ammar and Odeh, and 16 years old Akram, from Umm al-Kheir, who went out with the goats in the morning of the 1st of June 2013, as they do each Saturday, to the grazing areas close to their home, and were detained – they too will surely fold their pain, store it in the storeroom for unprocessed pains, and continue their life, their daily routine, as if such a pain is an ordinary matter, like breakfast, like brushing your teeth or going to the toilette.

We, on the other hand, when we came to visit 3 days after they returned from their detention – chose to talk with them, in order not to let it happen.

Ammar told: “We were with the goats not far away from a place where a metal railing was built; Police came, they handcuffed us; we asked why, they said we stole iron. When they handcuffed us and answered our question, they also beat us.

I kept quiet. I was afraid that if I open my mouth they would beat me more. Akram said the same.

They took us to the police station in Kiryat Arba [the biggest settlement near Hebron]. Three hours they left us without water, and 13 hours without food. From 9 o’clock in the morning, when they detained us, until 10 o’clock at night when they moved us from Kiryat Arba to Gush Etzion (cluster of settlements near Bethlehem). In Kiryat Arba they handed me a document and told me to sign it.

The document was in Hebrew and I asked what is says. For this they beat me again. Still, I did not sign.

We slept in the detention station in Gush Etzion with other detainees.

In the morning they transferred Akram, who is considered a minor, to Ofer detention facility.

We slept another night in Gush Etzion. In the morning, Khalil [Amar's cousin, Oda and Akram's brother] came with a car and 4,500 NIS bail (1,500 NIS for each of us).

At that time, Aziz picked up his brother Akram from Ofer camp.

In September each of us will have a trial.

Before they confiscated our mobile phones, Odeh managed to call home and notify that we are detained.”

From that moment on, efforts to release them took place: the family called Buma Inbar (Israeli humanitarian activist) and Rabbis for Human Rights, and Avital, RHR’s lawyer, managed to release them on bail until the trial.

I asked Amar and Akram how they feel now, after 3 days at home:

Amar was angry for being beaten up without a reason and for being left without food. But that is already over. Now he is angry about the 1,500 NIS and about the trial. But the hardest thing for him is that they took away for 3 years the special permit that allowed him to work in settlements. His father is paralyzed; his eldest brother is in jail, so in recent time, by working in a settlement’s supermarket, Ammar was the main provider for his mother, father and ten brothers and sisters.

Akram said that he remains angry about everything and scared too.

Akram missed an end-of-year exam that was held in his school on Sunday, when he was detained.

The headmaster allowed him to skip it because Akram is an exceptionally good pupil.

When we left them, to continue our day, we thanked them for sharing their story with us. They thanked us so much for wanting to see them and to hear their story – the story of what happened, and its emotional soundtrack.

As we distanced from them I knew we allowed their pain to be conveyed, to be contained – by us and maybe also by them – and in this way to air a bit the storerooms of pains that do not get attention and might turn into stiff and violent rage, damaging to its possessor and to the entire surroundings.

On grounds of protecting the reader, I do not continue and describe our visit in Salem, the following day; I am leaving it to my next letter.

Yours, Erella (in the name of my friends in the Villages Group)

Image

Ammar, Khalil, Ophir, Odeh, Limor and Erella (Akram is not in the picture)

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

Dear Friends and supporters,

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

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

Ehud Krinis, Villages Group

———————————-

The Story of Yasmin’s Harp,

Sunita Staneslow, 28th April 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunita Staneslow

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

Yasmin

Erella Dunayevsky (translated by Tal Haran)

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

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

Mid-morning. August. Hot.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday. Mid-morning. Hot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, early summer 2006. It’s hot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————————————–

January 2010. Cold. Rainy.

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

In honor of the occasion, Yasmin writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer 2010. Hot. Humid.

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

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

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

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

Summer. August. Hot. Humid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Machsom Watch account continues:

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

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

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

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

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

I sentence the defendant to:

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

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

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

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

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

Another Round of Israeli Military Vandalism at Umm-Al-Kheir

Yesterday morning, Thursday September 8 2011, around 7 AM, the IDF military regime’s “Civil Administration” officials arrived at Umm-Al-Kheir, accompanied by a bulldozer and military forces, to destroy homes.

The residents of Umm-Al-Kheir – situated in the West Bank, roughly 8km north of its southernmost border – are Bedouins, originally living on land that became part of Israel. They were driven out following the 1948 war (see more details here), and in the 1950s purchased the land on which they live, which was then under Jordanian rule.

the 1980s the nearby Karmel settlement was established and subsidized by the Israeli government. Like all settlements, Karmel continues to expand and encroach on more and more Umm-Al-Kheir lands. The “Civil Administration” – which, on land matters, is little more than the executive arm of the settler movement despite being formally part of the IDF – always does the settlers’ bidding. Controlling the vast “Area C”, about half of the West Bank, it issues virtually no building permits to any Palestinian. And for Umm-Al-Kheir, like in other places, this “Administration” has done nothing except to inflict repeated rounds of destruction – in 2007, in 2008, and a demolition order the residents have been fighting since 2009 – which is apparently the legalistic pretext for the current destruction.

The damage done this time around: an outhouse

(see the linked story, for a poignant description of what happens after Karmel settlers succeed in depriving their neighbors of their sanitation infrastructure)

A family’s living tent (note the Karmel settlement’s houses in the background)

And a tin shack that was home to ten souls.

The state-employed vandals notified residents that they will be back in two weeks to destroy some more. Following yesterday’s demolition, the same crew attempted to destroy a nearby power line installed by a Palestinian company. In the process, one of the vandals fell off the electric pole and he is now fighting for his life at the Beersheva hospital.

Please write to the Israeli Ministry of Defense – either directly (pniot@mod.gov.il, fax +972 3 6976711) or to its Mission office in the US (info@goimod.com, fax 212-551-0264).

Ask them to stop these criminal, indefensible demolitions, and to compensate the victims.

Thank you.

More from the Salem Music Center: Q&A with the Kids

The Villages Group continues to work closely with Salem’s Music Center, leading to ever-expanding relationships between the Center and the music-education community in Israel.

Below (in reverse chronological order) are descriptions of two visits from Tel Aviv to Salem that took place over the past few weeks. The opposite type of visit is far harder to arrange, although we did manage to pull one such visit off earlier this year.

The June 24 visit (scroll down to the 2nd part of the post) was especially illuminating, since at the suggestion of a Center teacher the visitors asked the students about their feelings and opinions regarding their music lessons and the broader context of childhood under Occupation.

——————– July 7:

Dear All,

On Wednesday, 7 July was a beautiful day to visit the new friends of the center: Ms Nellie who specializes in music and the conflict, Ehud and And Teacher Ruti. We talked about many topics related to the Center at Jubier’s house.

After that we went to the place of training and Ruti has worked to give a great music lesson for kids. We gained a lot of information from the lesson.

These are some pictures of the visit:

With warm regards,

Fadi Eshtayeh

Coordinator of Salem Music Centre.
fadi.ishteh@gmail.com

——————– June 24:

On Friday June 24 we paid another visit to the Salem Music Center. The visit was initiated by music teachers Dr. Ruti Katz of Tel Aviv Municipal Arts High School A, and Dr. Dochy Lichtenstein of Levinsky College of Education, joined by Ram – the high school’s principal, Galit and Orit – lecturers at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Tamar and her son Daniel, Mali and her son Noam, Itamar, and Tal (teacher at the School of Visual Theater, Jerusalem), Erella, Danny, and Ehud of Kibbutz Shoval (members of the Villages Group). Itamar, Noam and Daniel are about to start 10th grade. Itamar and Noam study music at the Arts High School.

The encounter began as Amid (a teacher at the Music Center) led a fun warm-up for all present – pupils and guests. Later, all the music students played a song together – “Katyushka” – chosen by the Salem teachers. Then the song “Kol Dodi” was taught.

Both were performed instrumentally.

After the children of the Music Center played some of their own repertoire, we sat in a large circle and a conversation ensued. Amid suggested that we ask questions, and then Salem children would have their turn.

Here are some of the questions and answers that were heard:

Ruti: How do you feel about our visits?

A student responded that they feel better with the present visit. Other children agreed, nodding.

Ruti: Why did you decide to study music?

  • Because I love music.
  • Because I can express myself through music.
  • I love music but also, beside the Music Center there are no activities for us in the village.
  • At the Music Center we can meet other people.
  • I heard the kids playing instruments so I wanted to as well.
  • Because of the company of other kids.
  • Because it fills up my free time.

Ruti: I understand that some of you study music because it’s the only option. Imagine you could also have theater classes. What would you choose?

Various children answer simultaneously – we would still choose music.

Question: What about sports? Do you have any sports activity?

  • There’s nowhere to practice.
  • No playgrounds.
  • We play on the roads.

Question: And if you could play sports?

Unanimous answer – We would still come to the Music Center.

Question: How many of you have ever been to the beach?

Most of the children never have.

Question: Would you like to visit Israel?

Unanimous answer – yes.

Dochy promised to take steps to organize a trip for them that would include attending an “East West” concert of the Philharmonic and Ensemble “Shesh Besh”, a visit to the beach and a tour of Tel Aviv.

Ruti: How many times a week do you come to the Music Center?

Three times a week.

Ruti: Isn’t it too much? Doesn’t it affect your homework?

  • It’s really not difficult.
  • I like coming here.
  • When you do something you like, it’s fun.
  • It doesn’t affect homework at all.

Ruti: Do you practice your instruments at home?

Yes.

Amid (the teacher): Just this past week, the second year students began to take their instruments home.

Ruti: Do you feel changed at all because of your music studies?

  • I feel smarter.
  • I meet more people.
  • Music studies bring order and system into our lives.

Ruti: Would you like us to come again and that our students would also come and join your studies?

  • Yes.
  • We would like you to teach us, too.
  • We would like to study other types of music, too.

Amid asks: Are you happy in the village?

Nearly a unanimous “yes”, except for a girl who murmured quietly, smiling:

“I’m not”…

Fadi arrives with lunch. The conversation draws to an end, Tal sings Saul Tchernichowsky’s “Credo” in Arabic and Hebrew, and Amid plays two songs.

Recorded by Dr. Ruti Katz

Restrooms and Sanitation at Umm-Al-Kheir (a story for Shavuot)

Mohammed Salem is about 30 years old. He lives in Umm-Al-Kheir, in a home inherited from his late father right next to the fence of the Carmel settlement (sometimes spelled “Karmel”; see picture on right).

In 2005, when Carmel built an expansion neighborhood, Mohammed was beaten by settlers involved in the construction. Since this assault, he has suffered from post-traumatic stress (PTSD). He has stopped functioning, fears and runs away from any stranger, and even from some family members.

Mohammed’s home, one of the few still standing in that part of Umm-Al-Kheir – a village suffering continual destruction from the Occupation authorities – does not have a restroom. Therefore, residents must perform their bodily functions outdoors. On Wednesday, May 25 2011, while Mohammed was outside for that reason, he was harrangued by settlers yelling, cursing and making threats. These new, government-backed residents living in fully-connected homes have had enough with this ongoing sanitation problem placed not far from their doorstep.

This story crosses paths with another story: about two years ago, Ta’ayush activist Ezra Nawi initiated a campaign to build outhouses at Umm-Al-Kheir. Shortly after work commenced, Carmel settlers complained to the Occupation’s “Civil Administration” about the travesty of restrooms being built for their neighbors. The “Administration” quickly geared into action, its men arriving on site, confiscating materials and posting work-stoppage order signs on those structures already standing. This government action has caused a European organization that provided most of the funding, to pull out of the project. In particular, Mohammed’s outhouse had never been completed; the floor was laid out, but the walls and ceiling are still missing (see pictures).

In these days, in view of the plight of Mohammed and his family, we intend to resume Ezra’s initiative, completing that one outhouse and building a second one in the same part of Umm-Al-Kheir. Cost is estimated at NIS 4,000. For details, feel free to contact Ehud Krinis: ksehud “at” gmail.

We hope that this time around, the good citizens of Carmel will allow the residents of Umm-Al-Kheir to complete the construction, and thus resolve the sanitary problem that is so irritating to them.

[ A note from Assaf
Ehud sent me this story with the title mentioning Shavuot, a Jewish holiday taking place right now, from Tuesday night through Thursday. He did not explain why the reference, but here is one possible explanation:

On Shavuot, we read the Biblical Book of Ruth. Ruth was a foreigner - a Moabite widow who arrived to Bethlehem, Judea, with her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi's family had lived in Moab for ten years, and then all men in the family had died. Naomi, about to return home, offered her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab with their families. Ruth refused and accompanied Naomi to Bethlehem, where she - a young foreign widow living in a man-less household and having no male offspring - would find herself on the lowest rung of the social ladder.

They lived in poverty subsisting on aid. Then, the wealthy landowner Boaz got to know her, fell in love and they lived happily ever after. King David is said to be descended from them.

The settlers of Carmel, observant Jews sitting in Judea, no doubt read the story today. They also spend - as is the custom - all night in Tikkun studying and discussing the ancient scriptures and their moral lessons.

All the while, they are willfully blind to the plain fact that they are playing a lead role in a twisted parody on the story of Ruth. Like Ruth, Mohammed and his fellow villagers are Gaerim - non-Jews in a territory controlled by Jews. Unlike Ruth, the villagers have lived there long before the Jews came. Like Boaz, the settlers are wealthy. However, unlike him their wealth has no legitimacy save in their own blinded eyes. The government robbed the land from the locals, handed it over to them - and they, supposedly moral and observant, couldn't care less. They believe in a different law for Jews and for non-Jews, rather than in treating Gaerim with justice.

Finally, unlike Boaz who opened his heart to the foreign woman and went through all the legalistic moves, some of them unpleasant, in order to make her his lawful wife rather than exploit her as a mistress - the Carmel settlers manipulate and control a "law" enforcement apparatus, the "Civil Administration", whose chief purpose is to keep non-Jews discriminated, humiliated and robbed of their rights and property. In short, the Book of Ruth is about individuals doing the right thing under difficult circumstances imposed on them. The settlers and the Israeli government, by contrast, impose themselves on the locals, and insist on continuing to do the wrong thing at every turn, as long as they can get away with it.

The settlers assauge their doubtlessly unclean conscience, by occasional acts of charity - all the while complaining about their neighbors' unsanitary ways and low morals.

Happy Shavuot. Please help end this disgrace to Judaism and to Jews everywhere, before our lifetime is over.]

Israeli Army demolishes Water Cisterns in Khashem Ad-Daraj (Video)

This harrowing video from Operation Dove documents the demolition of three water cisterns and two old wells in the bedouin villages of Khashem Ad-Daraj-Hathaleen, in South Hebron Hills, on December 14, 2010. Most of the destroyed structures predate the Israeli Occupation by decades if not more.

We are quite familiar with these villages. Earlier this year, the Villages Group has established contact with Huda, the preschool teacher at Hashem Ad-Daraj, and we have since helped the preschool with supplies.

The recent destruction of water sources in this hilly desert region is clearly part of the ongoing atrocious government campaign to suffocate Palestinian existence in “Area C”, comprising 60% of the West Bank – in order to eventually annex these regions to Israel.

See also Operation Dove’s press release on the destruction.

Songs by Ikhlas-Yasmin Jebara from Salem: Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Believe me we can not dare

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

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If you tried to turn your face

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

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

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

Dying words on their tomb door
saying war is every where

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

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

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Do you know

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

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

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

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

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