Category Archives: Background and Assessment

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.

Please Help the Enrichment Learning Program at the Cave Dwellers Village Umm-Fakra

Dear Friends,

We are appealing to you to ask your assistance in operating a learning enrichment program for the children of the cave-dwellers’ community of Umm-Fakra.

For the last two years we have assisted in conducting an enrichment programs for children in the Bedouin communities of Umm El-Kheir, bordering on the settlement of Carmel.

In light of the positive experience with such programs, and in response to a local initiative – we would like to assist in opening yet another center of learning enrichment programs for children in South Mount Hebron, this time in the locality Umm-Fakra. The annual cost for the first pilot year is estimated at only $4,000 or 3,000 Euro. The Villages Group is able to offer tax-deductible donation via partners in the US and UK (see our donation link for details).

We would be most grateful if you could take the time to read the attached plan (a text-only version follows below), and contact us if you are interested in contributing in any way to its advancement.

This appeal refers to both the new program in Umm-Fakra and to the general initiative of enrichment programs in South Mount Hebron.

Sincerely,

Erella and Ehud,

The Villages Group

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Enrichment Learning Program for Children Aged 6-14 in Umm-Fakra, South Hebron Hills (Massafar Yatta),      Occupied West Bank

The Villages Group, December 2010

Goals:

  1. To establish an educational framework for strengthening and enriching students in primary school to help them cope with learning difficulties and prevent dropout.
  2. To empower an Umm-Fakra resident who is the village’s first university graduate, by employing him to establish and implement the learning & enrichment classes.
  3. The overall goal here—as elsewhere in the South Hebron Mountain—is to empower the residents of Umm-Fakra and support them in their efforts to strengthen and empower their communities. The internal strength of these communities will enable them to withstand the many difficulties they face, and to continue living on their lands.

Background:

The South Hebron Hills (Massafar Yatta) is a mountainous region located in the southern part of the West Bank. Many of its residents are cave dwellers, living in traditional villages. During the years of Israeli occupation, some of these cave villages were destroyed by the army, while others have been deserted by their inhabitants under pressure from Israeli settlers. Those still in existence were saved from eviction by the Israeli authorities through a cooperative effort of local residents and Israeli and international human right organizations.

The surviving villages are not recognized by the Israeli occupation authorities, which have disregarded international law requiring that an occupying force take responsibility for the welfare of residents living in occupied areas. The policy of non-recognition means that the villagers still residing in the area are denied basic services, such as water, electricity, and building permits. It should be noted that the Oslo Accords placed the South Hebron Mountain in Area C, that is, in the areas for which Israel has full responsibility.

Umm-Fakra (Fig. 1) is one of the villages that have survived in spite of the harsh conditions. To its south lies the Arad valley, and to the north – Tuwani, the only recognized Palestinian village in the region. On its eastern perimeter it is flanked by the settlement Ma’on and the violent outpost Chavat Ma’on, while the settlement Avigail sits on Umm-Fakra’s lands to the west. The presence of these settlements severely curtails the access of Umm-Fakra’s residents to the agricultural lands and grazing grounds they legally own, and which provide most of their livelihood.

Of the approximately 120 souls in Umm-Fakra, 30 are children ages 6 through 14 (1st through 8th grades). Today, they attend the primary school in Tuwani, a half-hour walk from their homes. Although Tuwani is a recognized village, the school operates only four hours a day, because Israel’s occupation authorities governing the area do not provide support for the educational system, and the resources provided instead by the Palestinian Authority are minimal.

Rationale

Umm-Fakra’s residents live under harsh conditions: mountainous topography, desert climate, limited sources of livelihood, constant threat of eviction by the occupation authorities, and a de facto creeping eviction by the neighboring settlements.

The harsh conditions, as well as the limited support from an undermined educational system for both struggling students and the most talented ones, are causing learning difficulties: some students fail to acquire the basic skills of reading, writing, and math, while those who master the skills often fail to keep up with their studies at later stages. Many students end up dropping out to help their families out with livelihood and house chores.

Post-elementary education is even harder to obtain. The nearest high school is more than an hour’s walk away, placing students at the mercy of hostile settlers. To reach the universities located in the towns of Yatta and Hebron students must use limited and expensive transportation.

Responsibility for the Program:

Responsibility for establishing and running the proposed program will be taken by Mr. Ali Hmamdeh (Fig. 2). Ali was born and raised in Umm-Fakra. With tenacity and resourcefulness, he has been able to overcome numerous difficulties and successfully graduate from the program in Arabic and Education at the Open University in Yatta (July 2009). He is the first Umm-Fakra resident to hold an academic degree. However, like many degree holding Palestinians, he remains unemployed – victim of a paralyzed occupation economy, and of the Palestinian Authority’s failure to remedy the situation.

Ali has the ability and the desire to contribute to others. Umm-Fakra needs his services. It was Ali who first proposed the idea for an enrichment program for students in his community. Moreover, the members of the Villages’ Group, who have helped fund Ali’s academic studies, support his proposal and are doing what they can to bring it to life.

Program details:

  • Status: Pilot plan for one year (school year and summer vacation).
  • Target population: Umm-Fakra children enrolled in elementary school, 1st through 8th grades (about 30 in all).
  • Place: Existing tent, located over Ali Hmamdeh’s family cave (Fig. 3).
  • Program running times: Weekends (Thursday, Friday, Saturday), 16:00 to 19:00.
  • Educational framework: Two age groups: 6-9 and 10-14; each group will meet for 1.5 hours on each of the three days.
  • Areas of study:
    • Reading and writing skills;
    • Math for beginning grades;
    • Arabic, History, Geography, Quran and tradition.

Additional areas of study will require hiring a second teacher and are proposed for a later phase of the program, based on the success of the initial pilot. These would include: English, Sciences, Art.

Budget:

Teacher’s salary:         NIS 12,000  (calculated at NIS 1,000 per month for 12 months)

Furnishing:                  NIS 1,000 for desks and seats

Teaching materials:   NIS 200 for blackboard;

NIS 500 for chalks, pens, pencils, notebooks, etc.

Reserve:                      NIS 1,000

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Total:                          NIS 14,700  

[approximately US $4,000 or 3,000 Euro at December 2010 rates]

Note: estimated cost is for the first pilot year.

Contact

Erella Dunayevsky   erelladun@gmail.com

Ehud Krinis              ksehud@gmail.com

David Shulman: A (relatively) Good Day in Samu’a

Guest post by David Shulman

Another good day, as good days go in south Hebron. This means two relatively hopeful reports in a row; my readers may begin to lose interest, or to suspect my judgment has somehow become impaired. Certainly, the objective situation, including much violence and terror on the ground in south Hebron, is worse than ever, given this settlers’ government that is contemptuous of Palestinians, blind to the catastrophe that it itself is creating, and utterly unwilling to make even the slightest move toward peace. Then there’s the virulently anti-democratic right, well represented in the government by the Foreign Minister and others of his ilk from the Israel Beitenu party; they, together with other members of the Knesset from the far and not-so-far right, have initiated an unprecedented wave of racist and chauvinist legislation (you can find the whole list in Neve Gordon’s recent essay on “Thought Crimes” in the London Review of Books). If you want to know what it feels like to see the country you live in slide, day by day, toward a rabid, ruthless authoritarianism, or worse—invidious comparisons are ready at hand– all you have to do is read the Israeli newspapers. Nearly every day we wake to another new and terrible surprise.

Actually, it’s much worse than what I’ve just described. Some of the racist bills before the Knesset may not pass; some may be referred to the Supreme Court, which, hopefully, will pronounce them in contravention of the Basic Laws (though the Knesset can then still overrule the court); some—especially those penetrating into the conscience of the individual and attempting to force it to conform—may not be enforceable. It’s important to keep in mind that the men and women who have proposed these laws have a visceral hatred for humane and democratic values and that they are now all too close to the centers of power, their voices heard in cabinet meetings and, with disgusting regularity, in the media. These are people who cheerfully use the democratic framework in order to subvert it. But the truly demoralizing experience is watching the minds of your neighbors and other ordinary people become infected, as if by a virus, with the mean and brutal vision of the far right and its paranoid delights, above all its loathing of Palestinians and failure to recognize them as fully human. A sinister sickness stalks the streets of Israel. The settlers were the first to cultivate it, but it is the amorphous, volatile, and at the same time strangely supine center where it has now taken root.

It is early November, and so far there has been no rain to speak of. Ezra says this is punishment for our sins—and this time he means not just the endless evils of the occupation but the cumulating sins against the planet and its forms of life by human beings everywhere. We are picking stones from the baked soil of a field just under the “illegal outpost” of Asahel, with its row of ugly pre-fab buildings and its watch-tower and its fence. The field belongs to farmers from Samu’a who have had no access to it until today; they cannot approach their own lands bordering on the settlement without Israeli activists beside them. Khalid shows us what this means: high on the slope, and relatively removed from the outpost, is a field recently hoed and plowed, ready now for the rain, if it ever comes, and the sowing of seeds. The soil looks dark and perhaps—if you stretch your imagination to the limit– even potentially fertile. But “our” field is a washed-out, dessicated, caked and crumbly brown, with nothing but thorns and bristles and half-buried rocks to hold the eye. It has been untouched for a long time, except perhaps by the settlers’ goats. In a wild, utopian burst of faith, we have come to clean it and heal it and coax it back to life, though we know that the chances its Palestinian owners will actually be able to plant and reap here are close to nil.

We expect the settlers to descend on us at any moment, but very surprisingly on this hot Shabbat morning the few inhabitants of Asahel appear to be asleep. We work peacefully for an hour, and the field begins to look a little better. It is full of hidden life: a preying mantis sunning herself on a rock; a hibernating yellow scorpion discovered under another rock; several tough white partridge eggs; fresh droppings from the wild deer and antelopes we see from time to time in south Hebron. There is no dearth of stones, but eventually we move on over the hill to another field, immediately abutting the outpost. Now we are no longer alone: a corpulent, bearded settler dressed in Shabbat white, with a huge, pious skull-cap on his head, emerges above us, screaming profanities, his wife and one or two others close behind him. I remember him all too well.

It’s just over a year since I last came here, with our Palestinian friends from Samu’a, to clear away the stones. Now I’m wondering if some kind of bad karma is rooted in this field. Looking at the unimaginable proliferation of stones before us, I do a quick mental calculation. Last time we managed to work for half an hour or so before the soldiers arrived. Today there are more stones than ever. Let’s say we manage to clear at least one of the ruined terraces, assuming we get a respite of an hour or so before we’re either arrested or driven away. At this rate—say, optimistically, four or five hundred stones removed from the ground, three or four times each year—it will take us some 50 years to clear the whole field. And anyway what good will it do? The settler, oozing smugness and derision, is shouting: “How good of you idiots to clear the field for me! You know I’m the one who is going to use it. You know your Palestinian friends all belong to the Hamas, which means you, too, are serving the Hamas. But please do go on working.” He may well, of course, be quite right about the fact that he, and no one else, will successfully claim this field. Khalil—erect, manly, unafraid– cannot bear it, and he shouts back uphill, in Hebrew, at the settler: “God knows that this land is mine. God knows.”

Do stones grow naturally in this soil, like thorns, like the hardness that petrifies the human heart? No, the problem is that since the terraces have all been destroyed, the rains, when they finally come, wash away the topsoil, exposing the infinite store of rocks underneath. We are working well now, it is hot, my hands are scratched and aching, there are not enough hoes and shovels, and it is all borrowed time, since the settler, breaking the Shabbat rules, of course, has already summoned the army on his cellphone. Soon the soldiers begin to filter down the hill, and then the police arrive, too. Yehuda and I consult: how far do we want to go in confronting them? Last time we were arrested here together and spent the day in the Kiryat Arba’ station; for once we had time to talk at leisure. Since then he has written a first novel, about to be published, and he has a good plot sketched out for his next one. I’d welcome the opportunity for another long talk, but today we have about ten guests from abroad with us, and we don’t want to get them into trouble. We decide we’ll wait to see the inevitable order declaring this field a Closed Military Zone—closed, that is, to Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, not to settlers—and then follow Khalid’s lead as best we can. If they arrest any of the Palestinians, of course, we will insist on being arrested with them.

Strangely, miraculously, the soldiers have arrived without the signed order. Of course they can phone back to headquarters and have one delivered. But for the moment, they adopt the superficial tones of reason (is it possible that even they are fed up with the settlers?). “What are you doing here? What’s going on?” We’re working, we answer, in the fields that belong to these people. “What do you mean by ‘belong’?” asks the officer in charge, a lean, young, rather soft-spoken man. It’s a good question; that something might actually “belong” to Palestinians is, perhaps, a novel idea in the south Hebron hills. Yes, I say, they own this field, and they have the kushans—the Ottoman land-registry documents—to prove it. The officer has never heard of a kushan, and we have to explain. He is not overtly hostile. He calls the Palestinian owners together and tells them, in Arabic: You say you have documents. Bring them tomorrow morning to such-and-such an office, and we’ll check into it. In the meantime, stop the work. He says it over and over, ten, twelve times. The Palestinians repeat their claim. Minutes pass, and an incongruous, unhappy intimacy seems to develop between the two parties thrown together on this rugged hill, the soldiers who serve the occupation—and the settlers—and these men from Samu’a who are trying desperately to survive with dignity and, against all odds, to reclaim their land.

Still no written order. Maybe, we joke among ourselves, the Mahat, the senior commander in the area, doesn’t want to defile the Shabbat by signing it. Maybe, Yehuda says, they’ve devised a new system, the “Sacrament of the Closed Military Zone”—the Mahat has only to pass his hand over the printed form and, with God’s help, it signs itself. In any case, the Palestinians are reluctant to leave without that formal piece of paper driving them away. It is humiliating to them, and besides, they are farmers who have touched again their ravished soil; they go back to the shovels, they scrape away more thorns, pry more boulders from the ground, and we work beside them in the sun, thirsty, waiting for some resolution. Time goes by. Finally, they tear themselves away, and we follow them uphill toward the road. I guess the karma of this field isn’t bad after all. For once, you could almost say, we won. In a reality recalcitrant as rock, today we cut loose a few small stones.

Of course, in the end they, and we, must lose, as Khalid bitterly says: Every time it’s like this, they say bring us the papers so we can examine them, then it drags on for months and we have no access to the field, and the rains come and go without sowing, and eventually we lose our claim. Israeli law cruelly says that a field that is not worked for three consecutive years reverts to state ownership. It also says that a field that is more than 50% rocks belongs to the state. There are, I assure you, still plenty of rocks on that hillside, though we made a dent.

Yet even minor victories count in the ongoing micro-struggle of south Hebron, where every well and plot of land and olive tree has to be fought for, held on to with all our might in the face of the settlers’ insatiable greed and the predatory system that nourishes and protects that greed. So it was a good enough morning, and for once no one got hurt or arrested, and they didn’t even manage to drive us away with their guns and bureaucratic forms. The fat white settler, perhaps slightly disgruntled, screams at our backs as we move away from Asahel. “You scum, you fools, you idiots, you whores, you wicked sinners, you will be going straight to Hell.” This is too much for me, so, against my usual rule, I turn back toward him and I shout: “It is you, and those like you, who have turned this place into a living hell.” He sputters and fumes. Zviya — a relatively new recruit to our ranks, a retired head-mistress with the decisiveness and authority and open heart that go with that role — says, walking beside me, “Don’t you have to die to go to hell?” Two weeks ago she saved a Palestinian sheep that soldiers tried to steal; she embraced the sheep, which was bleating in terror, and held on hard even when the soldiers hit her and tried to pry it out of her arms, until in the end they gave up and the sheep ran back to its herd. She’s made for Ta’ayush, anyone can see it. “You know,” I say to her, watching the dizzy hills offering themselves to the flames of the midday sun and the distant blue horizon dipping toward infinity, “I think that when we die we don’t actually go anywhere. I think we simply are not. Or maybe we become a clod of baked earth in some field like this one, and that’s just fine with me.” She laughs. “I want to be cremated when I die,” she says, “and I used to want my ashes to be spread over some of the many places I have loved in this world, but recently I’ve changed my mind. I want them to spread my ashes over the hills of south Hebron.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Shulman: Another Well and Another Goat

Another incisive and insightful on-the-ground report from Prof. David Shulman.
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Al-Tawamin, July 24, 2010

Here is the unlikely battlefield. You have a mountain slope, baked dry, thousands of sun-bleached rocks, millions of thorns. It issues into an even drier wadi, on the other side of which another slope of rocks and thorns rises up only to descend into the next wadi, and so it goes from ridge to ridge and wadi to wadi until pure desert takes over and rolls on as far as the horizon. On the slope in question, there is a functional well, its mouth encased in stone. The well belongs to the Palestinian shepherds of south Hebron, specifically to the Al-Murgh family, which has been chased off its lands here, in the tiny point called Al-Tawamin, by Israeli settlers and soldiers. Settlers from nearby Havat Yair or Sussya covet these lands and this well, as settlers covet every arid centimeter in south Hebron. We’re here, among other reasons, to see that this slope, this well, don’t fall victim to their greed.

Actually, we have a larger ambition, though it will take time to achieve it. We want the Al-Murgh family to come back, as some families have come back to Bi’r al-‘Id, with our help. It’s not the only spot we want to save. It’s a slow process, full of danger, and the forces arrayed against its happening are powerful.

But there were some good signs this week, as Amiel informs us on the minibus on the way down. Apparently as a result of continuous pressure by Ta’ayush activists on the ground, backed up by our lawyers, the army and the occupation bureaucrats have moved toward recognizing that Palestinian farmers and shepherds in south Hebron do have some rights—an almost unimaginable thought under the standard conditions of the occupation. The new Brigade Commander in the area is said to be reevaluating army policy in the area to ensure Palestinian access to fields and wells.

There was a flurry of phone calls and faxes between our people and the officer in charge of land rights and the custodian of what are called “state lands” (miri), that is, lands not registered in the name of private individuals or families (much of the land in south Hebron, including large areas traditionally owned and used by the villagers, falls in this category). The Brigade Commander is said to have acknowledged that the wells were dug long before there were Israeli settlers here and must therefore belong to Palestinians, who should, in that case, believe it or not, be allowed to use them. If this idea seems to you axiomatic and unproblematic, you don’t know the reality of south Hebron.

Everyday, normative violence by settlers is the heart of that reality, and it hasn’t changed in recent weeks. We hear the usual stories. Shepherds were out grazing their sheep when armed settlers arrived and stole a sheep, loading it onto their vehicle as soldiers stood by and watched. Other settlers attacked a herd and shot several of the sheep and beat the shepherds. Yaakov Talya, the notorious settler-rancher near Bi’r al-‘Id, tried to take possession of the well we cleaned of endless mud and stones just a few weeks ago. All this is standard, tedious, odious, and probably permanent.

But we’ve had some recent successes, and at 7:30 this morning, before the sun has warmed to its true strength, we watch with satisfaction as a tractor-driven water tanker fills up from an ancient well on the hilltop at Al-Tawamin. We expected soldiers to turn up to stop this, but it didn’t happen—at first. We had time to clamber down the hill to inspect the caves, once homes to whole families, which were deserted overnight under conditions of settler-driven terror in 2001. Large metal cooking pots, riddled with bullet holes, litter the floor of the caves; settlers come here for target practice and other relaxing social events. Can we clean the caves and entice the families back? Maybe. The Zionist dream, updated version 2010.

Mid-morning. A herd of sheep washes over the hilltop and heads for the well. These are settlers’ sheep, and they will have to be stopped. It seems incredible, I am always amazed, but the struggle, our struggle, takes place on the most micro of micro-levels, the level of the individual goat or sheep or well or footpath or thorny bush or olive tree. If we allow them to graze here, to water the sheep at this well, these lands, too, will be lost, absorbed into settler territory. So, though the sheep are thirsty, we send them back up the hill together with the shepherd—a somewhat befuddled employee of Dalia in Chavat Yair. He keeps asking us, in a peculiar blend of half-baked languages (Hebrew, English, traces of Slavic) who we are. Shortly a more authoritative figure arrives: Avidan, in Shabbat white, with beard and skullcap, of course, and an irresistible urge to show us the error of our ways.

“Why,” he asks rhetorically, self-possessed, cynical, arrogant, voluble, “don’t you look at the real truth?” In the space of half an hour or so of bitter haranguing, he invokes the “real truth” many dozens of times; it’s his favorite phrase. Some truths are more real than others, for example the ones he believes in.

“These people [the Palestinians] don’t own a single millimeter of this land. They have absolutely no right to it. God gave it to us. If they want a state of their own where they can live and develop their own culture, they can have it where they belong, on the other side of the Jordan River. Look at this well. Our grandmothers and grandfathers dug this well. Your grandmother and grandfather. You’re handing over your grandmother’s well to the enemies of the Jews.”

This is a rather unsettling thought, though, to be honest, my grandmother, a very gentle and gracious woman from Nikolayev in the Ukraine, never, to the best of my knowledge, ever dug a well; nor would she have approved of what Avidan and his settler friends are doing. But the point of the metaphor rapidly becomes clear; it is a vision of the end of days.

“If we give them this well,” says Avidan, “everything else will go, too—Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, everything. We’ll be back where we were under the Nazis. They will take your houses in Jerusalem, then they will kill us all, and it will be your fault. Besides, look at the old synagogue they found in Susya. It proves that Jews were here before.”

“I think I’d like to resign from Judaism,” says Amiel, who has been listening without reacting, bemused, detached. We’ve all heard it many times before. Amiel is cooler than I. Though long experience has taught us there’s no point whatsoever in engaging in such debates, I can’t help saying to Avidan,

“In my eyes, you’re no better than a common thief. You’ve stolen the lands that belong to these people, and you keep trying to steal more.”

Avidan is unruffled. He has a lot more to say. He’s not, incidentally, a bad man; there’s something straight, almost innocent, about him, unlike the more violent settlers we sometimes meet. He lives in a stark and simple world governed by a seamless mythology that, whatever else it might mean or do, has been conscripted to the single overriding goal of dispossessing the Palestinians who live here. He doesn’t seem to me to regard them as fully human, and anyway he thinks God, a rather literal-minded figure unskilled in hermeneutics and dealing largely in real estate, is on his side. He has no doubts, unlike me. Most striking of all is the ultimate threat implicit in every word and thought: the world is structured (by God? perhaps not) to kill Jews, that is its operative inner logic, and if you give way at any point—say this well, for example—the apocalypse will begin at once, right here, from the tiny, dry, prickly, inelegant piece of ground we are standing on. A piece of ground which we, too, by the way, are committed to defending from the likes of Avidan.

I have a moment of sheer surrealism. What are we doing here at the well, under the fiery sun and the watchful, uncomprehending eyes of some forty thirsty sheep? And why am I listening to this lunatic? Am I feeling sorry for him? There is a kind of sick romanticism about the man, you can see he loves to tell himself the whole crazy story of Jewish exile and return, with its sweet pathos; and he is infected, of course, with the self-righteousness that comes with the story. He loves the Jews, a twisted, tragic love. He invites us to Shabbat lunch. I feel bad that we didn’t let the sheep drink at the well.

Now the soldiers arrive, as always. There is the usual to-and-fro; the details don’t much matter. Negotiations transpire on the crest of the hill in a mirror-like space of infinite depth, with the soldiers filming all of us with their digital video cameras, no doubt for the state security archives, while we film them filming us filming them filming us….
In the end, we tell them we’re prepared to leave on condition that the settlers leave, too. That’s what happens. The pumping of water is anyway over by now. We walk over the rocks, down to Bi’r al-‘Id, and there we see what looks to me like a miracle: sweet, clear water from the tanker is gushing at full blast, under the fiery sun, into the well that we cleaned. It will keep them going for a while. Our friend Nasir from Susya is sitting there on a rock; he has come to say hello. Speaking of the Jews, Nasir is wearing a black tee-shirt with a long inscription in Arabic and English. “Likay la nansa, al-Quds. Jerusalem: We will never forget you.”

Strengthening Those Who Belong to the Land: Mahmud from Susya, the Organic Farmer

Mahmud from Susya got up one day from his depression, and built a very basic green house. With simple tools and techniques he succeeded to surprise us with excellent organic vegetables.
The vegetables are an essential addition to the family’s poor diet, based mainly on dairy products from the herd which is their main source of making a living. And while both herding and growing grains is restricted by the settlers/army, green-housing is a brilliant solution for growing food which does not require much land.
One day Mahmud discovered a vegetable disease on the leaves of his tomatoes. We could not help with the disease, but by suggested to finance for him an agricultural course. When he returned from his two months’ course at al-Arroub College north of Hebron, he also built a beehive.
Then, he turned out to be also a guide for Ahmad, from another family in Susiya. He taught him and helped him to build his own green house.
Meanwhile, since this area is a draught area, both by nature and by the Occupation (the regime prevents direct water supply), we supported 4 families in building 4 wells.
Recently we joined the building the first prototype home Bio-Gas system. The system was built by Yair Teller from the Arava Institute with our financial support. This system, the first one of its kind to operate in the Middle East, turns animals’ feces into gas for cooking needs. The previous success of the solar and wind based electricity systems which we, with COMET-ME, first built in Susiya two years ago, has motivated us to build this first prototype in Susiya as well.
All the above are actual examples of our way of supporting – strengthening the strengtheners of each community, both personally and communally.
We offer many aspects of support; even when financial, it is always a result of personal contacts and long standing relationships. In addition to Susya, we also maintain contacts with other communities in the region of south mount Hebron  such as Umm Fakara, Umm al-Kheir, al-Tuwani, Tuba and others.
The financial support for all the initiatives described above (in Susiya), was kindly provided by a family from London. We, members of the Villages Group and Susyans, thank them sincerely.

Report From A Massafer Yatta School – South Hebron Hills 7.3.2010

In a joint initiative of the Village Group and Machsom Watch, we went this Sunday (7.3) on a tour to Massafer Yatta – the heart of the cave dwellers area in South Hebron Hills.

Our guides were Hamed from Hebron and Ezra from Taayush. As you may remember from a previous report, the Massafer villages have been under heavy pressure from the Israeli military:

  • Pressure from a lot of dirt barriers along the main passageways between the Massafer villages;
  • likewise from the unceasing pursuit of military vehicles after Palestinian employment seekers who come from the Hebron area and who move along these paths in hope of finding work in the towns of south Israel.

During our tour, the military surprisingly showed no sign of their presence, seemingly honoring  the first appearance of women from MachsomWatch in the area. This fact was well exploited by the continuous movement of employment seekers’ Subaru cars – a phenomenon that is presently a burden for the permanent residents of Massafer.

The barriers themselves were open – a sign that  the struggle led by attorney Limor Yehuda from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel to keep them open is meanwhile yielding fruit. However, the dirt road used as a main passage way in this area is in rather a bad state and in some places (as can be seen in the attached photographs) is almost impassable even in a jeep.

During the tour we arrived at a primary school (grades 1-4, 42 students), that opened this year at the cave dwellers village of Fachit in the heart of the Masafer area. The photographs we took tell it all: Over and above the good intentions of the aid organizations that enabled the opening of this school (two major International organizations – Care International and the Red Cross, and a local one – Health Work Committees), the infrastructure they established: several tents, chairs and blackboards and toilets – are extremely  minimal and lacking. At the moment, about five months after the opening, weather conditions have made the place completely  unusable.

It is not an exaggeration to say that no other school in our region (i.e. the entire Middle East) operates under such difficult conditions.


And, nonetheless, students continue to arrive (although not when we were there) by means of the vehicle recently bought with donations we managed to get.

We thank Michal and Nurit from Machsom Watch South who came on the tour and hope that from now on the Massafer area will remain permanently on the map for the monitoring tours by this important organization.

Ehud Krinis

A Visit to Huda’s Preschool at Hashem Al-Daraj

This week we visited in Huda’s preschool at Hashem Al- Daraj (sometimes known as Umm Daraj). It is located in the Judean desert deep inside area C of the Oslo accord map.

[update: the report linked above to Hashem Al-Daraj’s name, a report authored by the Palestinian Authority, has many inaccuracies. Among other things, it says that Huda’s preschool had closed. As we testify here, it is still open! The PA has no real presence at Hashem Al-Daraj, like in most of area C, and its reports are based on indirect sources]

My three colleagues (all of them experts in education for early age) and myself, were the first foreigners ever to visit this preschool, so naturally the kids were afraid of us in the beginning.

Huda’s preschool opened some four years ago and it survived until now with almost no facilities and no budget. Huda works alone there with more than 20 children, and receives a monthly salary of $140 from an NGO in Hebron. In such conditions, all the other preschools that opened in this Bedouin peripheral area at the same time as Huda’s, had closed long ago.

Certainly, Huda is a local hero of the noblest kind.

Working in almost complete isolation, Huda was very much pleased from our visit, and thanks us for the toys we brought to the children, donated by some good Israelis. Still, it seems that what this preschool lacks the most is an annual budget which would enable Huda to purchase the most basic means – items needed for the operation of every preschool, such as blackboards, paper, pencils, etc.

If you send us donations designated for Huda’s preschool, we will use them entirely for that purpose.

Ehud Krinis

Villages Group

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

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

Jamil and his son

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

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

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

Opening Ceremony for a Playground in Salem – 9.1.2010

The opening of the playground in Salem is a landmark in a journey that began seven years ago (January 2003), when a small group of Israelis (who in time adopted the name:  the ‘Villages Group’) began regular visits to the blockaded village of Salem near Nablus.
The opening of the playground in Salem is a landmark in an ongoing journey in the prevailing reality of the years 2001-2005 in the fields of the village of  Salem, where the Israeli military prevents inhabitants from working their fields and olive orchards; where settlers from Elon Moreh and the nearby outpost settlement (‘Scally’s farm’) do as they please in the area, burning, cutting down and destroying the olive orchards of the people of Salem.
This reality made founding member of the ‘Village Group’, Uri Pinkerfeld , initiate a widespread ongoing operation under the banner: ‘rehabilitation of Salem Olive Orchards’. This operation has gone on for over two years, with the cooperation and coordination of Salem council and inhabitants and with the help of many Israeli volunteers and organizations, among them the Kibbutz Movement and ‘New Israel Fund’. As a result of their efforts, a large part of the village’s agricultural land has been restored to its owners and many plots that were badly damaged by neighboring settlers have been rehabilitated.
The opening of the playground in Salem began with a ceremony held in London two and a half years ago; a ceremony at which the British branch of the ‘New Israel Fund’  awarded Uri Pinkerfeld a prize for his initiative in rehabilitating the olive orchards of Kfar Salem. Uri decided to use the prize money to build a playground for the children of the village on a site known as the ‘little spring’.
The opening of the playground in Salem is the direct result of construction work on the site of the ‘little spring’ undertaken these past two years by a devoted team from the village, led by Ahmed Shatiya (Abu Zaki) with the ongoing support of Uri and his Israeli friends – Moti, Buma, Michal and others.
The opening ceremony of the playground on 9.1.2010 was attended by the head of the Salem Village Council, members of the village council, many inhabitants and children, and about 20 Israelis.
At the ceremony, Uri spoke the following words:
“This place is known as ‘Hadikat El-Ein – the ‘garden of the spring’ and the spring is known as ‘El-Ein El-Zarira’ – the ‘little spring’ and today it becomes a great spring. The spring garden is not only a playground it is also a symbol; a symbol of joint initiative and work and a symbol of joint resistance to the occupation. A joint struggle of Jews and Arabs in Palestine and Israel. Israel and Palestine is a common homeland for returning Jews and local Arabs . The joint struggle is very important. It is a struggle against evil and violence. A non-violent struggle of the people. May the future bring us a life of peace and goodwill together.