A Report

7.6.2022

Twice saw God that “it was good” on the third day of Creation. Tuesday is the day I usually visit my friends in the South Hebron Hills. Today is Tuesday, so I’m here, with Ehud, Yair and Danny. At noon we visited friends at Mufaqara, a village where settlers from the nearby settlements held a pogrom last September, at the end of Tabernacles (on the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth). The village is located inside Masafer Yatta and therefore, inside ‘firing zone 918’.

We proceed from one family home to another on foot, while Ehud brings our vehicle around. Suddenly a car passes him, that familiar vehicle of the Civil Administration, driven by Ilan. If this man’s heart was not shut, his mind not wrinkled and his spirit not power-driven, his face might have been handsome.

Ilan says to Ehud: “Are you a resident? Do you have the army’s permission to be here? If I see your car again, I’ll confiscate it. This is a firing zone and you are not allowed to be here.” 

We had planned to visit Fakhit, in the heart of the firing zone. We gave up the idea. This man, representing the occupation forces, who enable the settlers to walk freely in this firing zone and evict its Palestinian residents, chase us away as well – Israelis no less kosher than any settler. I felt my heart break with this familiar seething pain of helplessness. I face the embodiment of despicable evil, and all I can do is succumb to it?

We did not go to Fakhit. We were afraid that our Subaru would be confiscated and we could no longer visit the area. As if from now on, we can only visit places that have not been declared a military zone. We did not go to Masafer Yatta in order not to be prevented from visiting Masafer Yatta. How surreal!

That’s what today was like. This encounter with Ilan of the Civil Administration took us by surprise and we responded accordingly. We did not go down to Masafer Yatta, to the part that is located in the heart of ‘firing zone 918’. We went to Susya. I asked to be alone.

I sit in Susya, by myself, in the shaded area by the home of Azam and Wadha, our good friends who are away at the moment. I write these words in order to temper the pain a bit, so it won’t turn into helpless rage. 

Next week, I will go to Masafer Yatta. To Fakhit, to Jinba, to Markiz, to Khalat A-Dab’a. If the car is confiscated, so be it. We shall release it for several thousand shekels which would probably be paid back to us because we are Jewish Israelis. And perhaps we won’t be able to get to the villages for a few weeks. 

I do not want to allow them to rob me of my freedom. I have no interest in collaborating with the stranglehold of the Israeli occupation that is tightening around the necks of my Palestinian friends, and thus around our necks as well. An ancient knowledge, clear and simple as when it was born, permeates throughout every cell of my body: there is no way to rob me of my freedom.

No blood today. No one was killed. Nor wounded. No beatings. No arm-twisting. Just an attempt –wretchedly powerful – to control the human spirit. 

Sorry, Ilan – this I cannot grant you.

Erella

(On behalf of the Villages Group)

An Appeal on Behalf of Jaber – A Cave Dweller from Masafer Yatta

June 21, 2022 (Summer solstice, the longest day of the year)

To our dear friends all,

On May 4, 2022, the State of Israel’s Supreme Court decided to publicize its ruling, to dispossess the inhabitants of Masafer Yatta of their homes and land. It was the eve of the Jewish State’s seventy-fourth Independence Day. 

I have friends in Masafer Yatta, some of them close friends. Dababsa is one of them. Jaber lives with his wife and three sons (9, 7 and 2-years old) in Khalat A-Dab’a, one of the eight villages now destined for dispossession.  Jaber lives in a cave, like many others in this area. As the family grew, Jaber built them a small dwelling with his own golden hands. It was demolished. This happened in 2019. He built it again. I told him they would demolish it again, and he said he would rebuild. Thus – five times. Five times the occupation forces demolished Jaber’s home. When I visited him after the second demolition, I write the following:

The Za’atar

Even last Wednesday, October 16, 2019, Jaber welcomed us with his winning smile. A smile that has something open and mysterious and bittersweet, all at once. My heart noted some silent longing to hold a hidden scarlet thread and follow him into the depths of his mind, reflected in his smile.
Three weeks earlier his home was demolished. We visited him the next day, and he smiled. When we visited him yesterday, again his special smile was there.
It was an autumn day. The sky above was gray and a drizzle had begun. Jaber opened the wings of a tiny tent he erected after the demolition in order to sit with his guests (the family lives in the cave for the time being), and invited us in.
For a long while Jaber spoke of his feelings, his wonder, his painful thoughts about the home that had been demolished and the destruction of the trees he had planted.
We began to walk towards our car, parked on the main dirt road, making our way among the dirt rubble of the demolition. With such compassion his hands had caressed the pomegranates that had been uprooted from mother earth, and wilted. Suddenly he stopped, bent down, pointed to a tiny green shoot that had made its way among the rubble, smiled and said: “This sprout is za’atar, insisting on living”. I looked into his eyes and asked his permission to ask something. “Go ahead”, he said. “What holds you inside, what keeps you from getting angry, hateful?”
“I tell myself that this is what occupation is like”, he answered, and smiled his special smile in the humility saved for those who know…

This is Jaber. He refuses to play the dangerous game of perpetrator and victim. In this game, as he has no control of the perpetrator, he knows how not to be a victim.

“I shall not fall into their trap. They want me to be miserable enough not to care anymore, and hate and seek revenge. I will not give them this gift.” This is what he said to me on one of my latest visits. Three days later a settler broke his nose with brass knuckles while he was held down to the ground by two soldiers of the ‘most moral army in the world’.  Jaber’s wife carried a child in her womb until just before this last Independence Day eve, the days when there was still the crack of a chance that justice, in the Higher Court of Justice, would rule in favor of Masafer Yatta. After three sons, they were hoping for a daughter. Ten days ago, she bore Jaber twins – sons. I visited again, asking what I could bring as a present. I wished to bring something that would be useful, necessary. Jaber with his gentle smile answered that what he really needs I cannot bring him as a gift. I insisted on knowing. “A place”, he said. I invited myself to the cave in which they live. It is my first visit to their dwelling cave.
In a small living space, and another such small space that serves as a kitchen and a shower (in a small tub) live five persons. Another few days, when the mother with her twin-babies will return from the hospital after her Cesarean section, seven persons will be living there.
Jaber will not rebuild now that the dispossession sword threatens his head, but he has begun to dig an additional cave near the existing one. He worked by himself, but the Congo digging machine must be rented as well as fuel for it, and he has been paying from the pittance he managed to save from occasional work. And the money is now gone. I asked him how much money he thinks he will need in order to conclude the digging. Jaber said it is not a sum that I and our small group could raise. I begged him to tell him. I told him that when many people give a little, one can even reach a serious sum.
20,000 shekels, he estimated carefully, accompanying this with his special smile. “Thank you,” I said. “I will try to involve friends”, I added. So here I am, involving you… Whoever is willing and able to support this. And I thank you, even for just reading this letter.

Erella
On behalf of the Villages Group

For donations:

https://www.nonviolenceinternational.net/donate_hirn (for the USA)

https://app.donorfy.com/form/M1ZI3YVCZ8/HIRN (for the UK)

Other Countries: 

Account Name: Hibuk Olam (registered NGO:580564995)
Bank Name: Bank Leumi

Bank Identification Code: LUMIILITXXX

Routing Code: IL010806

Account Number: 0630619648

Bank Address: 50 Dizengoff St.  Tel-Aviv, Israel 6433222

IBAN Number: IL 05010806-00000-30619648

Few Weeks in the Life of Nidal – a Palestinian from Susya 

Until recently, Nidal Nawaj’a of Susya village in the South Hebron Hills worked in Israel, decently feeding his family – five daughters, a son, and one still unborn – and had never had trouble with the army.  

It’s not simple, for the settlers from the nearby Susya produce new provocations every day. The settlement was founded on lands from which the original Susya villagers owned, but this does not suffice the settlers. In recent years they have erected a whole series of illegal outposts, malignant outgrowths aiming to make their neighbors’ lives miserable and prevent them from grazing their flocks. Lately they have even invaded the scrawny playground of the Palestinian Susya children.

But Nidal has the patience and persistence characterizing the South Hebron Hills villagers and managed to refrain from confrontations.

Until Thursday, February 17. That day, on his way back from work he saw a plume of black smoke rising near his own home. He ran there and saw a gang of settlers burning tires in his field, where barley had just begun to sprout after the rains. He knows them well – they are the ones throwing stones at the children on their way to school, and one of the settlers had pepper-sprayed his brother a month ago. He ran towards them and told them to leave his land. ‘Why are you spoiling the field?’ he yelled, in broken Hebrew.

This is a place where, following previous invasions by settlers and their flocks of Nidal’s field, an official ordinance has been issued forbidding their entering the area. This was a clear case of trespassing, but the invaders refused to leave. They threw stones at Nidal and one of them threatened him with a big stick. Nidal pushed the gang leader who fell on the ground, and only then they left. Nidal and his neighbors put out the fire and returned home.

The settlers did not summon police as they always do, knowing they had been inside an area where they were not supposed to be. Instead, they came to the Kiryat Arba police station the next day, and lodged a complaint for assault. He claimed that Nidal ‘caught his side-curl and hit him in the head 3 times with a large stone.’ As proof, he attached a photo in which a small lesion is seen in his head – caused perhaps by the fall, or perhaps in fact an old photo – and the report by the nurse at Kiryat Arba (a settler, of course) referring to great swelling. The photo does not show it.

In addition, the settlers presented a video of some seconds showing the push. The previous occurrence and the ‘stone hitting the head’ are not shown in the video. The settler claimed he was allowed to be there for ‘Palestinian children had thrown stones at them’ and that they (the settlers) were just ‘having an innocent campfire’. In his questioning he refused to name and give data of the settlers who were with him.  

On Saturday police investigators reached Nidal and questioned him, and on Sunday night he was arrested. While an Israeli must be brought in front of a judge within 24 hours, the Palestinians have a 96-hour wait. 

Three days later Nidal saw a judge, and the prosecution asked for a 7-day custody to ‘complete investigation’. After Attorney Riham Nasra who helps Susya villagers showed the judge the video taken by Nidal’s daughter in which the burning of tires and stone throwing, as well as the official ordnance forbidding the colonists’ presence there were all seen, the judge ruled this a provocation and the release of Nidal at a 3,000 NIS bail.

The police asked for 72 hours to appeal, the judge acquiesced and Nidal was taken back into custody. The time and freedom of Palestinians are worthless, as we know. On Sunday the prosecutor announced that he has no intention to appeal, that what he said at the previous session was a lie, and instead presented a prosecutor’s declaration and asked for additional days in order to present a request for taking into custody until the end of proceedings. The judge was upset at such abuse of procedure and ordered Nidal’s release.

The prosecutor once again asked to postpone this release and used the time to present an appeal to the appeals court, demanding prolonged custody. Attorney Nasra again claimed that this was illegal, and the judge acquiesced in part (a third judge of the same case, all a matter of a push!) and demanded that the police present an immediate indictment sheet. An additional session was set for Wednesday.

On Wednesday, a fourth judge (!) ruled that there was insufficient evidence for extending custody until the end of proceedings, for ‘investigation flaws were quite obvious’ – the video contradicting the plaintiff’s version, the settler who kept his right to silence under questioning, the police who did not both to question settlers present at the event and Palestinian eyewitnesses who saw it all. He ordered to free Nidal, but the police – not bothering to question the colonist and his pals – once again asked for a delay. Another session was set in which the prosecutor wished to bring a representative of the settler– a measure that has no legal basis. The judge agreed and prolonged custody until Sunday. 

On Sunday a fifth (!) judge ruled to free Nidal because of ‘serious difficulties with the evidence’ and wondered again why the police did not bother to gather testimonies from those present. Still, this judge raised the bail to 12,000 NIS – a fortune for a simple Palestinian farmer – and in addition, demanded a signed guarantee by a third party for 10,000 NIS. To all this one should add the attorney’s fees, who charges minimally but still had to attend no less than 6 sessions of the military court, all because of a slight push.

For a whole day, Nidal’s family ran around trying to gather the money for his release bail, since his wife was due to have a baby any day now. The next morning, they showed up at Ofer Base with the bail money and waited for hours outside the gate. Only in the afternoon did they find out he was transferred to another base, without their being notified. After more hardships, Nidal finally returned home at 1:30 a.m., after 16 days in custody.

When we met him the next day, he was celebrating the birthday of one of his daughters (thus the hats…), and hosting friends and relatives who used the sunny spring day and Women’s Day to visit their home village. His permit to work in Israel has been automatically rescinded, as is customary every time a settler lodges a complaint against a Palestinian, so he does not know how he will earn his family’s livelihood – and return the bail money which his friends had put up. Life under Israeli military occupation.

Yair Ron on behalf of the Villages Group 

Death of Hajj Suleiman

January 18, 2022

More than words, a silent moment is needed now. And still I write.

Rather than addressing these words to someone, I write them to myself. Perhaps they will help quieten my stormy spirit, my upsetedness, so that I can meet the pain without escaping it.

Hajj Suleiman died yesterday (Monday). Today he was buried in the earth on which he had lived and which gave him his bread. “We only want bread and peace”, he used to say when we visited Umm al-Khair, his village.

During our frequent visits at his home, he would lecture to us, down to the minutest details and in total control, about the political state of Israel, the region, the world. It was no mere political knowledge. It was Sliman’s howl against injustice, and his uncompromising search for a sliver of justice being trampled further by the occupation’s boots.

We have walked alongside Suleiman for many years. 

A while after meeting him, he told us he had worked for years as a hired hand for the JNF, and did not see a penny’s severance pay when he was fired. He asked us to help him receive what he deserved by law and logic. “I worked there with all my heart”, said Suleiman. “What naivete, expecting justice from the most racist organization in Israel”, I thought to myself.  

For years, Suleiman’s voice took on a special tone when he asked me, “Danny? Danny?” to inquire about my partner who had undergone numerous catheterizations.

“Rain? Rain?” he would ask, in a different tone, wanting to know whether we had seen rain during the long years of threatening drought both in the South Hebron Hills and in our Negev lands. Before our Passover holiday, he would ask us to bring him matzos. He loved them, and their Biblical story.

Last Ramadan was hard on Hajj Suleiman. I reminded him of the lighter conditions that Islamic law assured elderly people. Suleiman looked at me, astonished. How can one even suggest such a thing to a faithful, brave warrior? 

Umm al-Khair has seen many demolitions under the occupation. Hajj Suleiman would protest – speak, then shout, then scream at the destroyers. His words fell on deaf ears and blind hearts. How much inner strength does a man need to resist injustice without slipping into violence. Suleiman reached the edge of this capacity, never lifting a single stone. He never hit anyone. He, who preached and educated non-violent resistance, practiced what he preached. 

Suleiman did not die of old age, nor of sickness. 

It was the Israeli occupation that ran him over to death. 

The occupation servants would often beat him, arrest him, and threaten him when he protested.

But Suleiman, whose personality was made up of a combination of innocence and a burning aspiration for simple, basic human justice, could not have imagined that the servants of occupation could go so far as to kill him without batting an eyelash.

Dear Suleiman, you are now united with the earth you loved, your spirit finds its place in higher spheres, and in the spirits of those who knew you. 

Lines by Jacques Prevert suit you:

I met him 
At the stonemason’s
Where he was measured
For the future generation.

Erella

Harun Comes Home (Still an Interim Report)

To all our friends,


I turned off my computer as I finished watching the documentary Good Garbag, but no button can turn off my mind’s eye and scenes from the film are still projected onto my heart’s screen even now, will probably continue tomorrow, and perhaps never really be erased from the pile of scenes etched in me, as only the open space of my spirit wraps them and the pain they entail.
Harun was eleven when he joined all those boys, youths, young- and older men who get up before dawn and stream to the central garbage dump in the South Hebron Hills, to try and collect from it things that can be restored, improved, and sold, and bring home a few shekels for food and clothing. Ada Ushpiz and Shosh Shalem documented them and produced the film twelve years ago (check https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGkO8s49l00&t=5s).
My friends and I have been following Harun and his family since November 25, 2020, the day on which the occupation forces demolished their home in the hamlet of Khirbet Rakeez, and continue to accompany them ever since those forces also destroyed Harun’s life, on January 1, 2021.
Every time I look at him lying in bed, in the various hospitals where he has spent the past ten months, and now in the house accommodated for his needs in the town of Yatta, I try to imagine him as a child – how did he grow up? With whom did he play? What did he feel? What did he think about? How did his parents look after him?
I now have partial answers for questions that sought them. Torturing answers that only intensify the pain which has been grilling my soul even without them. A delicate and modest child looks out at me from the film that documented him twelve years ago, when he was eleven. Bigger children harassed him and he did not find his place at the garbage dump. He brought home a few shekels and a deep sadness. His loving mother Farsi tried to help, but the competitive – at times even violent – culture that developed at that garbage dump did not suit this delicate, sensitive and innocent boy.
The last scene in the film opens to the viewer’s vision the virginal hills of the South Hebron Hills with their vast spaces. Rasmi, Harun’s father, says to his small son there: ‘Don’t go to the garbage dump any more. It’s not for you. Please, go back to school. You’ll study there. It’s important to study.’
Harun never went back to his school studies, but he never returned to the garbage dump either. Harun went out to learn the language of the desert. He learned its curves, the open and invisible crannies of this earth which hosted him and his sheep and goats. Together they prayed for rain, together they were joyous when it came, and together they coped with the dry season.
For twelve years Harun and his family lived in their cave at Rakeez and in its fields, until the day when his body was vanquished by an evil gunshot from a soldier of the Israeli occupation forces.
Ten months and three weeks have passed since that day.
The first four-and-a-half months after he was shot, Haroun spent in the ICU at Al-Ahli hospital in Hebron. They saved his life, but there was a need to wean him from the ventilation machine to which he was connected. In all of the occupied West Bank not a single hospital was found specializing in respiratory rehabilitation, so we looked for an Israeli hospital specializing in this treatment, as well as institutional funding. In the meantime, Al-Ahli hospital, financed by the Palestinian Authority, cared for Harun as much as it could, for four-and-a-half months. Several health parameters, necessary for possible respiratory rehabilitation, were stabilized, but at the same time Harun’s body developed bedsores that worsened. The Palestinian hospital notified his family that it could no longer hold Harun after the end of May 2021. At the same time, Reuth, an Israeli hospital, with a ward dedicated to respiratory rehabilitation, agreed to receive Harun. But we had not yet found funding. The State of Israel is not willing to accept even humanitarian responsibility, and the Palestinian Authority is not willing to finance hospitalization in Israel. In our distress, we had no other choice but to try and appeal to people in this universe whose heart is still open to compassion, as Tikh Nhat Han’s poem reads – ‘Please call Me by my True Names’, whose last lines are as follows:
Please call me by my true names,So I can hear all my cries and laughterAt once,So I can see that my joy and pain are one.Please, call me by my true names,So I can wake up,So that the door of my heart could remain open -The door of compassion

The rest is history.
Harun was hospitalized in Reuth for five months, as a “medical tourist” ( more than 90,000 shekels a month), all funded by private persons in Israel and abroad, each donating as much as they could. We do not have the sufficient words to express our feelings of gratitude.
On October 24, 2021, Harun was released from the hospital and returned to a home reconstructed and fitting his special needs – not in his village of A-Rakeez, but in the nearby town of Yatta. No fields, no flock, no horse that he had wished to purchase, nor the wide-open desert. But no more hospitals. Now he is surrounded by his loving family.
Harun is now breathing independently but struggles with repetitive inflammations caused by his bedsores. The treatment that a hospital can offer him – at the cost of more than 90,000 shekels a month – can now be obtained for him at home, with a much lower cost.
Just before Harun was released, the chief nurse specializing in bedsores told us: “These sores [which in Harun’s case are in the most severe stage] will either heal, which may take years, or kill him.”
We continue to accompany Harun and his family. Again, we have been knocking on the doors of the Palestinian Authority (after all, he is now under its jurisdiction) and again we are refused, over and over again. However, in the meantime Harun needs medication and other equipment, and three male nurses that take care of him, and must be paid, after his mother has been taking care of him for more than a week, 24 hours a day, while her other children no longer remembered when she last functioned as their mother.
During the few weeks that have passed since Harun’s return to Yatta, a team of male nurses has been formed, under the capable hands of Muhammad Daoud, a senior and experienced male nurse coordinating Harun’s treatment, who has knowledge of and connections with medical institutions in the area. This team was recently joined by our friend from Umm al-Kheir, the physiotherapist Alaa Hathaleen. This team’s dedicated treatment is already bearing fruit in terms of Harun’s both physical and emotional condition. The ability to continue and cover the costs of this home-care team, currently estimated at about 10,000 ILS a month, is crucial for Harun’s survival and for his learning to come to terms and to cope with the severe handicaps his injury entails.
Reality does not allow us to feel embarrassed, ashamed, apologetic. We now stand before you, bare, and ask for your help yet again. And yet again we shall not even have enough words to thank you, nor do we have words for big promises. Harun is walking (metaphorically) a very thin line between life and death. And we still wish to do everything we can for him, for his life, as long as he is struggling to live.
Erella (on behalf of Yair, Ehud, Tamar, Hamed, Islam, Dani and Nadav)

For donations:
Hibuk Olam, Bank Leumi (10), Branch 806 (Dizengoff), Account 30619648
In USA: nonviolenceinternational.net In UK: cafdonate.cafonline.org
In using those channels, please specify that your donation is going to Harun’s home treatment

Erella’s Update on Harun’s Treatment in Re’ut Rehabilitation Hospital

Greetings to our friends who accompany Harun and help us support his rehabilitation,

For three weeks now, Harun has been hospitalized in Israel at the rehabilitation hospital “Re’ut”, in the ventilated patients’ section.

On Monday, a meeting was held of the hospital’s medical team, that included the head physician of the department, the physiotherapist, social worker, coordinator Evelyn, Harun’s mother, and Yair and myself of the Villages Group which has been accompanying Harun from the day of his injury.

The physician has reported that since Harun was hospitalized at Re’ut, his condition has improved. His body is getting stronger, the bedsores which endangered his life are gradually healing, and most important – he has begun a ‘weaning’ process from the ventilator. She believes that soon Harun will be able to breathe independently and speak again in his own voice.

The neck muscles that were not injured will enable Harun to learn to sit stable. However, he will probably remain unable to move his arms and legs. If he is able to move even a single finger, he could be mobile in an electric wheelchair. The medical team will do everything it can in order to rehabilitate whatever is possible. Time will tell, and the process is still in its beginning stages.

At the end of our meeting with the medical staff, I dared ask the physician whether she can estimate how long Harun needs to remain hospitalized. I apologized and explained that I ask such a difficult question because the financing of this rehabilitation is private, not institutional – we are raising these funds from donations and even a primary estimate will be of help. The doctor was very respectful and understanding, and said she thinks it might take two-three months.

We share this interim report with you, for without your help Harun would not have reached this present stage. His condition three weeks ago was precarious. Unless he had arrived at the rehabilitation hospital with your help, he would not have survived.

All our efforts to persuade the Palestinian Authority to finance it have been in vain. The only way we had left was to reach out for help. And you heard our call, each in their own way, and sent to us – each with their ability – that enabled Harun to begin the long road to rehabilitation.

We are now sending out more calls. Donations so far have sufficed to cover the first month and another 20 days of the second month. The hospital requires payment ahead of time – at the beginning of each month. The date on which the second payment is close at hand, and we still do not have enough to cover the full cost of the second month (28,000$\90,960 NIS), and nothing for the third month.

We search for the right word that would express what our hearts, and the hearts of Harun and his family feel for you, and cannot find anything worthier than heartfelt gratitude.

‘Grateful’ echoes the word ‘grace’, and that is very suitable here.

Erella
On behalf of the Villages Group and HIRN

Please transfer your donations as follows:

If you are in the UK: https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/7827#!/DonationDetails

If you are in the USA: https://www.nonviolenceinternational.net/donate_hirn

If you are elsewhere: 

Account Name: Hibuk Olam (registered NGO:580564995)
Bank Name: Bank Leumi

Bank Identification Code: LUMIILITXXX

Routing Code: IL010806

Account Number: 0630619648

Bank Address: 50 Dizengoff St.  Tel-Aviv, Israel 6433222

IBAN Number: IL 05010806-00000-30619648

A Report by Erella on Yesterday’s Demolitions in South Hebron Hills

2/3/2021

Dear friends all,

It’s evening. Just got back home from the South Hebron Hills, and am still reeling from room to room, like some plaything that has been wound up, in an attempt to calm down.

Now I stare at the computer screen trying to write something. I get up to make myself a cup of coffee. I pace again.

Sit down at the computer again, and can only write how I cannot write about what happened today.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened today. Several homes were demolished in the South Hebron Hills.

I was there again today.

At 9 a.m. we came to A-Rakeez. Farsi, whose home has already been demolished three times, whose son Harun was shot in the neck by a soldier 2 months ago, ran to us, pointing to the road.

We turned our heads and saw the familiar destroyer convoy – a bulldozer followed by the Civil Administration car and military vehicles.

Shortly they will be busy demolishing. We just don’t know where and whose home.

The locals say it will happen at Khalat A-Dhaba and at A-Rakeez.

Khalat A-Dhaba it was – for the fourth time, the home of Jaber and his brother Omar. The fourth time in a year and a half.

Then they proceeded to demolish the home of Khathem at A-Rakeez. Again, we see the bulldozer crushing a humble abode with one blow of its blade. Poof, and an entire life collapses into the rubble. We watch from a distance – the occupier does not like being disturbed in his work – and experience for the Nth time the pain of those who cannot hold out a hand to prevent the destruction.

We drove on to Jaber, to hold out a hand.

Two weeks ago, we sat with him on the porch of the home he had built after the November 2020 demolition. I asked him what happens if they demolish again, and he answered: “I’ll rebuild”. Now he faces the rubble and says: “I’ll rebuild”.

Ilan of the Civil Administration harasses him personally. When he came this time, Jaber asked him: “Have you come to shoot me as you shot Haroun?”

This is how we stood for a long while, listening to Jaber give interviews to Palestinian media people who curried to the scene. If only this pain could be broadcast in the occupiers’ media, I thought.

When we visited 2 weeks ago, I brought Jaber a photo of a fledgling dove on its first flight. I told him: “Peace is not in our hands, but our freedom cannot be taken from us, and this fledgling dove symbolizes it.”

Today I asked him where the photo was, and he said: “In the rubble…” He fell silent, then added: “But they cannot destroy my freedom”.

Erella

On behalf of the Villages Group

The Shocking Story of Harun From a-Rakeez

4\1\2021

The way to al-Ahali hospital in Hebron passes blocked and chaotic streets somewhat reminiscent of southern Tel Aviv. Inside – a hospital like any in the world, long corridors and many people worried and waiting, waiting worried.

Harun’s father and uncle are waiting tool. They both have bright blue eyes like Harun’s, who is lying ventilated in an Intensive Care Unit since an Israeli soldier shot him in the neck without any reason, last Friday.

For fear of Covid-19 we were not allowed to approach him, and only watched him – connected to machines and tubes – from the doorway. He seemed asleep, until he suddenly opened a pair of huge eyes and stared for a long time at the ceiling. That’s the only place he can look at. The bullet severed his spinal cord between vertebrae C6 and C7. He cannot turn his head or look anywhere else. But his clear gaze told us he will live. And that he knows.

Before our visit, we sat with Harun’s family and neighbors and heard more details about the crime that took place there on January 1, a New Year’s present by the Jewish settler-colonists, the Israeli army and Civil Administration to the villagers of a-Rakeez. We heard about what happened prior to the shooting, and even more horrific – what happened afterwards.

Last Sunday, Ashraf – Harun’s neighbor on the opposite hill – heard that the Israeli court had declared a moratorium on the demolitions in the area. Ashraf thought this would be an opportunity to expand his sheep pen, brought along plates and metal pipes, and on Tuesday the sheep pen was standing.

Friday morning, settler-colonists of nearby Havat Ma’on came and photographed the sheep pen. Let us remember that Havat Ma’on itself – an illegal outpost like all of the outposts erected on every hilltop – is metastasizing like a violent cancer without any construction permits, but on the Planet of Occupation there are different laws for the superior race.

The Civil Administration and Israeli army acted immediately. At 2 p.m. an army jeep and pickup truck of the Civil Administration stopped by Ashraf’s house. The soldiers entered. What are you looking for? asked Ashraf. The soldiers had no warrant and did not even bother to explain to Ashraf what they were doing in his home. “Shut up”, the soldier said and pushed him. “Shut up and stand aside”.

As we know, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have no human right whatsoever: not to dignity, not to privacy, not to fair trial. Their home is not immune to nightly incursions and demolitions, their property exposed to arbitrary confiscation, their life and limb trampled by any soldier who happens to feel like it.

The soldiers did whatever they pleased in Ashraf’s home, in view of his wife and little son. They discovered an electric cable to which Ashraf had connected a disk-saw, followed it and found the generator, that generator made famous by the video, worth some hundreds of shekels. With no reason or explanation, they took it and placed it in the Civil Administration pickup truck. Why? Shut up!

Ashraf was not willing to take it. He tried to take the generator back and the soldiers beat him up. Rasmi, Harun’s father who works in Israel and came home for the weekend, saw the hubbub and came to help. The soldiers beat him up too. Harun saw his father being beaten up and ran to his help. They were joined by another boy or two, while Ashraf’s wife stood aside, shouting, and their 2-year old son. And that’s it.

The unnecessary fight breaking out between armed Israeli soldiers and 4-5 Palestinians was named by the Israeli army spokesperson “a violent riot of 150 Palestinians that included massive stone-throwing”. Yes. Seriously. On the Planet of Occupation, truth is not an option.

And then the shot rang out, and Harun fell, and the soldiers and Civil Administration representative ran to their secured vehicles, and Ashraf and Rasmi loaded bleeding Harun on to Ashraf’s jalopy and tried to take him to the hospital. But the army jeep blocked their way and would not let them through.

Ashraf drove off the road and tried to bypass the soldiers. And then they shot his tires. Yes. Israeli soldiers shot the tires of the car that was taking to hospital the young man they had shot in the neck not over a minute ago. Yes. What is there left to say.

Somehow, they managed to get to the neighboring village of a-Tuwani, and passed Harun onto the vehicle of Muohammad Rab’i. When they were on the main road again, the soldiers were waiting for them again. And stopped them again. And again Muhammad had to escape them with the bleeding Harun on the back seat. And shots rang out again in their direction. Yes. Yes.

In the next village, the ambulance was already waiting and they drove on to Yatta. The doctor says that another ten minutes delay and Harun would not be alive any longer. He stopped the bleeding and sent Harun to Hebron, where he received primary care and was sedated for two days until his condition stabilized. That’s where we saw him today.

We left the father and uncle with Harun and went back to a-Rakeez. We met his mother, Farsi, shaken between hope and unknowing, his brother Muhammad (16) and his sister Hanan (14) who are going berserk, and little Doha who does not yet understand. We also met Harun’s fiancée, Du’a. She seemed frozen and in shock, and wouldn’t say a word. They were supposed to be married two months from now.

The mother was especially worried about Muhammad. He and Harun were so close, she said, always together, planning the new house they would build, speaking about the large wedding that Harun dreamt of. What will he do with all the anger, the pain, the helplessness, the sense of horrific injustice?

We sat with Ashraf. One could see how guilty he felt as if somehow everything had happened because of him. On the other hand, who would have thought that a person would be shot over a generator? He cannot get over the lies distributed by the army spokesperson, and repeated them again and again: 150 people? Why invent such a lie?

[At the village outskirts, on our way back, we met a camera crew of Al-Jazeera. The Israeli police stopped them at the entrance to the village and fined the car’s passengers 5000 shekels each for not wearing masks. Yes. Yes. It never ends.]

What now? In Israel Harun could get much better medical care, certainly when his rehabilitation begins. But since Trump declared annexation, the Palestinian Authority does not enable the transfer of patients to Israel nor finance the cost of their care and hospitalization in Israel. Annexation evaporated like a bad dream, but the decision still stands.

In a normal world, Israel would accept responsibility and care for Harun. But words such as “normal” or “responsibility” are not recognized by the occupation lexicon. We are trying to find a way to take Harun to an Israeli hospital. We shall update.

In the meantime, Harun lies there staring at the ceiling. Alone.

 Yair (and Erella) on behalf of the Villages Group

Last Week’s Demolitions in South Mt. Hebron – A Report by Erella

November 30, 2020

Dear friends,

For sixteen years I have walked at Nasser’s side. He was 20-years old when we first met. His youthful dream was to become a vet. Luckily that didn’t work out, otherwise – how could he have grown to become the one to document as a researcher of B’Tselem of the everyday injustices incurred in his area, and still manage to remain connected to himself?

Early last week we had our usual “how are you?” phone call. Nasser told me that he had had a week filled with demolitions at various locations within his charge. After a moment’s silence he said: “The most frightening thing about it is to become used to it”. We arrange to meet at his Susya home on Wednesday, at 9 a.m. (hoping there will be no demolitions then), in order to think together about experiencing ongoing injustice and not “getting used to it”.

7:50 a.m. – we’re on our way. A voice message from Nasser arrives: “There are 3 bulldozers near Umm Al-Kheir and I’m on my way there”. Now we already know there will be a demolition today, we just don’t know exactly where. Nerves are on edge – who will be the victim of this Russian Roulette today, the lords-of-the-land’s favorite game.  The memory of former demolitions is revived and the area’s villagers are going out of their minds.

The fatal choice fell on Khirbet A-Rakiz – a beautiful village of cave dwellers on a hillside, overlooking a fertile valley. The villagers labor there ever since the Israeli army cut the irrigation pipes that reached it from A-Tawani village.

We arrive. We are already really close. All I want is to run to the people, to the dazed women and children, and hug them. Tell them that we’re with them, that we won’t let anyone tear them away from their land… But two soldiers, covered from head to foot in all sorts of shields, do not allow Ehud, Yair and myself to approach.

I said something to the young soldier who ordered me to stop. Trying to control myself, I don’t remember the exact words but I do recall his answer: “It’s not my decision. I only follow orders.” These words sound familiar. When I hear them, the blood freezes in my veins. There are certain things that Jews are not allowed to utter.

At close range we see how the monstrous bulldozers – that have a driver who only follows orders, and commanders and subordinates in and out of uniform (Civil Administration) who only follow orders – shatter lives. I want to throw up, but there is no time for trivia.

The demolition ends rape-style – finish and leave. I run the slope to the people, the women and children who yelled and then cried, and then their hands dropped, and now they sit still and silent.

We are met by Muhammad Muhammad. We don’t know him. His blue eyes are blazing in anger and he says to us in Hebrew: “You are another peace organization that does nothing but talk. You don’t do anything. Can’t you influence your government?” We keep silent. Try not to take it personally. Muhammad keeps taking his anger out on us. So much pain comes out. When things quiet down a bit, I asked Muhammad if he can influence his government. He says they cannot, but that in our case things are different. “They’re no longer different” I said, and my breathing contracted a bit more.

Then he looked at us softly. He invited us to his home (a house not yet demolished) and showed us from where people had broken in, probably from one of the settler-colonist outposts nearby (Havat Ma’on, Avigail), into his home last Saturday, where they stole the generator and other pieces of equipment. Muhammad’s cousin, also named Muhammad, insisted on inviting us for coffee.

We sat at the entrance to the cave where he was born in 1967. The thieves broke in there too, and stole the battery of the solar panels. And now this demolition. I asked Muhammad Muhammad what he does with all that pain. “I cannot afford to bring up my children on hatred. So I swallow it all and get sick.”

The whole while the demolition forces kept on demolishing more houses in nearby Khirbet Sarura, then on to Khalat A-Dhaba where they demolished Jaber’s home again. They demolish and he rebuilds, and again they demolish and he rebuilds. What does he do with the pain?

We couldn’t approach so we continued to Fakhit on the main Massafer Yatta road. The demolition convoy gets close to us – 3 Civil Administration Toyotas, 2 army jeeps and 3 bulldozers. The first Toyota stops us. “This is a firing zone. Where do you think you’re going?” Ilan spits at us, head of the regional Civil Administration. Had his face not been so full of himself and of hatred, he could be considered handsome. “We’re on a trip to Arad” (an Israeli Negev town) Ehud answers, and we seem to have somehow gotten away with it. We were wrong. An hour later, on our way back from Fakhit on the same road, we meet the demolition convoy again.

I am not sure I have words to describe what my eyes saw and my heart felt in those moments.

Now, as I write this, I recall the motto that the poet Rosario Castellanos, Mexico’s ambassador to Israel in the early 1970s, wrote in her book Balún-Canán: “We shall whisper the origin. We shall whisper the story and the tale… We have fulfilled our task, and our days are done. Think of us, blot us not from your memory, consign us not to oblivion”.

They had cut the water pipes with a handsaw. The bulldozer pulls the pipe to the middle of the track, and the cutters cut away. With their own hands, they cut the life pipes of hundreds of people living in Massafer Yatta in their miserable little villages. Cutting away, and the water pours down on the track’s hard ground and will reach no one, no person, no animal, no bit of soil.

The Palestinian activists of the area are already there. We wish to join them. There are Nasser and Tareq and ‘Eid, our dear friends. Ehud parks the car at some distance, and Yair and I walk over to them. I hug Tareq and Nasser. Nasser calms me and himself and whispers into my ear: “Don’t worry, we’ll appeal to the Supreme Court. We will win eventually.” That very moment, the officer is roaring into my other ear: “Whose is the red Subaru? (He knows, we’ve already met today). If you don’t scram immediately, I’m confiscating your vehicle”. My eyes stared at the jets of water streaming out of the cut pipes, at how they irrigate the tight dirt track in this arid desert area whose annual rainfall is minimal. The officer’s threats found no place in my heart.

For a long while the cutters persisted. I felt as though my own veins were being cut. I was going out of my mind. From the abyss I recalled that earlier this morning we were on out way to Nasser, to wonder together how to experience the crisis and not letting it break you. How one experiences time and again this helplessness, and does not get used to the sights. How one meets the jets of hatred and indifference and manages not to hate in return.

At evening time, I returned to my Negev home, which the regime’s officials do not demolish and where water pipes are not cut.

Separately I wrote to Tareq, to Nasser and to Eid:

Hi my very dear friend, it has been a difficult day. For you, for me. At A-Rakiz, and at Khalat A-Dhaba I felt as though my own home was being demolished, and when the water pipes were cut I felt as though my very veins were being severed. Your persistent presence amazes me every time anew, how you manage to keep your mental stability.
Love, Erella

Tareq answered me:

Good evening, Erella, thank you. Thank you very much. This is the hard part of our lives, the fact that it has become routine. What can we do? We shall go on struggling, videoing, documenting, distributing it all to the world at large, so that one day with support of people like you, who know what integrity is, we shall manage to live a life of peace and quiet. Thank you for your presence there, and for the words you wrote me. It strengthens me and protects me. Thank you.”

Next week we shall come again, as we do every week, to practice keeping stability in hellish conditions…

Erella

On behalf of The Villages Group

The Story of Fares from Th’ala Village

October 25, 2020

Dear friends,

It’s the end of October, I long for autumn which should have already been here with its consoling coolness, its soft breezes and intoxicating scents – but in the meantime it’s still hot and arid throughout our Negev desert, and our Palestinian friends in the South Hebron Hills have received not a single drop of consoling rain.

Even in the winter, when the hills don a green grass plumage, the sheep get to graze very sparingly in the areas that have remained open to them after their larger parts have been robbed by the area’s Jewish settler-colonists.

All the more so during this dry autumn season. When we were there last Thursday, we saw the flock consuming nothing, and their shepherds stand by helpless… The water holes too are now empty of last season’s rainwater, and the livestock has no water to drink.

And if all of this is not enough, the settler-colonists of Havat Maon have built a large sheep pen at the edge of the hill, distant from their colony, and none of them actually lives there – it overlooks the entire wadi and the hills around it, the grazing ground historically belonging to the Palestinian farmers of the neighboring villages.

A month ago, Fares of Th’ala village went out, as he is wont every morning, to graze his sheep. Carefully he ventured with his flock to a grazing ground close to his village. Soon enough, he noticed four settler-colonists rushing in his direction, and wounding his sheep with knives, as the frightened animals run in all directions.

Fares tries to collect his flock and take it back home. Then, as in a horror film, the settler-colonists free their dog at Fares. They well know that the ‘locals’ fear dogs. And indeed, Fares is afraid and rushes on, the dog following angrily, bearing its fangs. Fares throws a stone at the dog, trying to chase it away. This is the moment the planners have been waiting for. They film Fares throwing the stone as the Israeli army and Civil Administration are already on their way. They lodge a complaint and Fares is under arrest.

The fellow has been in custody for over a month now, accused of throwing stones at innocent settler-colonists out at pasture.

Last Thursday we visited his family at Th’ala village. Fares’ father gave us a warm welcome. From speaking with him, I understood that he trusts the lawyer handling the case. As we sit and inquire, I notice that the left side of his neck is very swollen. I dare ask him about it, and he answers that it is a malignant tumor, that he has already undergone surgery on the other side, and is now waiting for the left side. “Waiting for what?” I ask, and he answers that such surgery is very costly. I kept silent and thought that life under Israeli military occupation is burdened with the “extras”  of hardship, that even without occupation one has a hard time facing.

Now Fares’ father needs money to fund a lawyer in order to release his son, arrested at no fault of his own. The tumor will have to wait…

Erella

(On behalf of the Villages Group)