Category Archives: Settler Harassment

Word and Picture Diary: South Hebron Hills Weekly Visit, April 5 2012

As we do every week, last Thursday April 5 2012 we went to visit several Palestinian localities in the South Hebron Hills, with whom we have been in contact for some years now. Two members of our little group – Hamed and Erella – just got back that day from a Britain tour as representatives of the Villages Group. So this week’s small visitor team consisted of Ehud and Danny.

We began with a short visit to the preschool (nursery school) in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir. This preschool, opened nearly a year ago, is located in an old building with several rooms renovated with the aid of UNRWA, close to the Saraya of Umm al-Kheir (a term that during the Ottoman Empire days designated a government structure). Two local teachers run the preschool with about twenty children, and receive their salary through the Villages Group. The preschool has undergone a significant change lately – one teacher is now in charge of the younger children (two-three year olds) in the room used as the ‘bustan’ (pre-preschool), while her colleague is in charge of the older children (four-six years old), in the other room that serves as ‘rauda’, preschool.

From the hill where the Umm al Kheir preschool is located, the young children can see the present and future prospects arranged for them by the Israeli Occupation regime. Heavy equipment is busy developing and expanding the new neighborhood at the nearby Jewish settlement Karmel (Carmel) – a development doubtlessly paid for by the Israeli and American taxpayer. Together with an additional neighborhood planned to emerge soon, the settlement will eventually surround the dwellings in this part of Umm al Kheir from three directions (north, west and south).

This stranglehold is an integral part of the Occupation’s policy. The “Civil Administration”, that regime’s arm supposedly entrusted with providing services to Palestinians, has issued demolition orders on nearly all structures belonging to the Bedouin families living in this part of Umm Al Kheir – including outhouses, sheds etc. Many of these orders have already been carried out. We have written extensively here, both about Umm Al Kheir’s demolitions and about the vicious, discriminatory and fraudulent nature of the “Civil Administration” itself. Well-known literary translator and humanist Ilana Hammerman wrote a feature article about Umm Al Kheir and Karmel, with interviews of both Bedouin and settlers. The article was published a few months ago in Ha’aretz.

From the relatively new preschool at Umm al Kheir, we drove down the road and dirt track winding into the Judean desert for a short visit to the oldest operating preschool in the area. This preschool opened its doors about six years ago, at the Bedouin locality of Hashem al Daraj.

About 30 children crowd into the rickety one-room structure of this preschool together with their teacher, Huda, a native of Umm al Kheir who lives at Hasham al Daraj. Huda has been devotedly running the preschool since its founding, determined to overcome its harsh physical conditions. We first became acquainted with this preschool over two years ago . Since that first visit we took it upon ourselves to raise funds that would ensure Huda of a regular, decent salary, compared to the irregularly-paid pittance she had earned until then. We also connected Huda and her preschool with volunteers from the MachsomWatch organization. They have been coming to the preschool ever since. Jointly with Huda and the artist Eid from Umm al Kheir, The MachsomWatch volunteers hold an arts and creativity workshop for the preschool children every two weeks. Danny’s gesture in the picture show our reluctance to leave Huda’s place where we were so warmly greeted by the children – as we needed to fit visits to other localities into our tight schedule.

In the picture above, the children of Huda’s preschool look out towards the new and much larger building that UNRWA has been erecting for them nearby. Although it is already in an advanced stage of construction, completion is delayed. It is unlikely that the children and their teacher would move in before the end of the summer vacation, when the next school year opens. Much of the credit for the recent progress in constructing pre-school facilities at the region’s Bedouin localities goes to Hamed.

After visiting Huda’s preschool at Hasham Al Daraj, we left the Bedouin part of the South Hebron Hills (the eastern-most part of the region), and headed towards the small cave-dweller hamlet of Tuba. Jewish settlements Maon and Havat Maon had disconnected Tuba years ago from the road to nearby Yatta town. Nowadays access to Tuba is only possible via a much longer roundabout dirt track that leaves the Bedouin area and winds its way over the rocky hills. As we climbed this track in Danny’s jeep, the magnificent sight of the cave-dwelling hamlet area, locally called ‘massafer Yatta’/ ‘massfarat Yatta’ (Yatta’s hinterland) came into view.

After several drought years, the current winter has been relatively wet and the short spring that is about to end has yielded especially beautiful wild-flower expanses and a healthy growth of crops in the small fields scattered along the central track of the cave region. See previous posts describing the general conditions in this region and its hardships.

Tuba is a typical cave-dwellers’ hamlet – in its small population that hardly exceeds a few dozen, the affiliation of its families to larger clans whose life-center is Yatta, the main town of the South Hebron Hills, and in the ongoing, perpetual threat of the Israeli Occupation rule and its agents – soldiers and settlers – over the inhabitants’ lifestyle. Talk of the day in Tuba was the wandering tank that startled the residents out of their night sleep as it lost its way among the wadis of the region, designated by the Occupation authorities as military maneuver zone.

Life in the cave-dwellers area has many typical characteristics. Here we describe two of them: First, the custom of parents and brothers to build toys for the little children by recycling various objects. On our current visit, our camera caught the toy that Ali Awad of Tuba built for his young son, Ism’ail.

Residents of the cave dwelling region, Tuba among them, had lived without electricity or any refrigeration until recently. The local goat-milk cheese is known for its high salinity, a means of preservation for a lengthy period of time without refrigeration. On our visit, we saw blocks of this traditional salty cheese placed to dry near the solar plates installed in Tuba two years ago by the Israeli-Palestinian team of COMET-ME.

COMET-ME is our sister organization. In 2008, renewable-energy experts among Villages Group activists started installing stand-alone solar and wind electricity generators in South Hebron hills communities. A year later, the initiative began to operate independently as COMET-ME, and quickly attained worldwide recognition and support.

Among other benefits, the renewable power units installed by COMET-ME enable residents to increase production and improve the preservation of their dairy products. Unfortunately, the “Civil Administration” has recently threatened to demolish many renewable power installations placed by COMET-ME. About the international struggle now taking place against this travesty, see the organization’s website.

At the end of our Tuba visit, we returned from the caves dwellers area to the Bedouin part and to Umm al Kheir. Unlike the local rural population that has evolved its cave-dwelling lifestyle for centuries, the Bedouins of the region are originally tent-dwellers and do not live in caves. In view of the consistent house demolition policy applied in the part of Umm al Kheir nearest to the Jewish settlement Karmel, a large number of the local residents are forced to continue living in tents. Among others, we visited the tent of the family elder, Hajj Shueib (photographed alongside his youngest daughter Rana and Ehud).

Later we also visited widow Miyaser, whose straw and stones house has been recently demolished by official thugs of our time. Some of you, especially those who support the Villages Group in Durham, Britain, have already had the opportunity to help Miyaser and her seven children by purchasing her embroidery work (in the photograph, Khulud, Miyaser’s daughter, displays her mother’s new embroidery).

Additional pictures from our visit can be viewed by clicking on the thumbnails below.

Settler Front-Group Presses Government to Accelerate Demolition Frenzy, Tripping Itself Up in the Process

We previously reported here on the worrisome escalation in demolition of Palestinian structures in South Hebron Hills. The body issuing the demolition orders is the deceptively-named “Civil Administration”. Contrary to its name (invented in the 1980’s by Ariel Sharon to mislead the outside world), this “Administration” is in fact a military body (its former name was simply “military government”), and its head is a general serving full-time in the Israeli military. It claims authority to run Palestinian civilian life in the less-densely populated West Bank “Area C”, which accounts for some 60% of the territory and about 150,000 Palestinian residents.

We will continue to shine a light upon the ways in which this “Administration” misgoverns Palestinian life. A future post will discuss the demolition orders on solar-wind energy systems installed at rural Palestinian communities by our friends, the Israeli NGO COMET-ME; systems funded with the help of donors and governments across the world.

Meanwhile, enter another player, stage right. In late February, an Israeli NGO called “Regavim” submitted a High Court appeal, together with the Sussya settlement, against the military – claiming that it should demolish more Palestinian homes in the region, and faster! We kid you not. Here is the original appeal (Hebrew, pdf).

The mysterious-sounding Regavim NGO presents itself in the appeal as “an a-political movement… to prevent illegal takeover of national lands by certain bodies”. However, its own publicized record reveals that its main business is 1. To force the government’s hand to destroy Palestinian structures, whether in the West Bank or in Israel itself, 2. To identify and suggest to the government new opportunities for such demolitions, and 3. To try and stop demolitions and evictions of unauthorized Israeli-settler structures in the West Bank. “A-political”, indeed. To cap the irony, Regavim’s head Rabbi Yehuda Eliyahu himself lives in an unauthorized settlement-outpost in northern West Bank. Their main field worker, Ovadia Arad named as a co-plaintiff, is a settler as well.

Regavim is emblematic of a trend in Israeli far-right circles. Since they recognize the power and appeal of basic human rights and justice, they have been setting up phony and mendacious imitations of respected human-rights organizations working on Palestinian human rights issues. These imitations turn the human-rights terminology on its head, in order to leverage the moral authority associated with it, while confusing and misleading the general public.

In the appeal, Regavim and the Sussya settlers refer to themselves as “residents of the area” and “farmers”. That is, they – who settled in the 1980’s as part of a heavily-subsidized takeover of Palestinian lands – pretend to be the indigenous, original residents. The A-Nawwajeh family of Palestinian Susiya (named as defendants 4 through 34), having lived in the area for generations, suddenly become – in Regavim’s upside-down terminology – the squatters who had set up “illegal outposts” arround the “poor settlers”; trouble-makers who should be evicted to the town of Yatta.

Of course, this is a bald-faced lie, one of dozens of distortions and outright lies in this frivolous Regavim appeal. Even the Israeli authorities have already conceded that the A-Nawwajeh, like other Palestinian South Hebron Hills residents, are the legal owners of their land. Unlike the settlers of Sussya, they have to live on the land with no government assistance, and against the continued restrictions from the military and physical harassment from the settlers. Here are a couple of pictures from our recent visit to the A-Nawwajeh hamlet.

Apparently, truth or justice are not a goal of Regavim, or of the Sussya settlers who have unfortunately joined this appeal, and possibly even pushed Regavim to submit it. As far as these ideological settlers are concerned, all of life in Israel-Palestine is a negative-sum game, in which the overarching goal is to retain exclusive control of the entire country, while squeezing more and more Palestinians into smaller and smaller enclaves – and if possible push them out of the country altogether. It is a sad and immoral world-view, but unfortunately its holders are very close to the corridors of power nowadays.

At other places and times, many settlers at Sussya and elsewhere have extolled their “good neighborly relations” with local Palestinians, and complained that only the media, or human-rights activists, are seeing and brewing trouble where there isn’t any. Many settlers also repeatedly claim that they only wish to live peacefully on these sacred hills, not to lord over others.

However, this court appeal on which the entire settlement of Sussya is signed as a co-plaintiff, reveals a very different perspective. The plaintiffs view their neighbors who have lived in the area long before them, as illegitimate and criminal. They accuse their neighbors of guilt-by-association, in completely unrelated terror attacks that took place at other parts of the West Bank 20-30 km away from Susiya (clause 10), and in thefts of livestock from Sussya settlement, even though these were admittedly carried out by persons from Yatta (clause 11: “…it can be assumed that the thefts were aided and abetted by accurate information… collected by the A-Nawajeh, living in illegal structures and making observations into the settlement”).

What is more disturbing to us, is that the Sussya settlement leadership has no qualms about exploiting the settlers’ structurally privileged citizenship status and the Palestinians’ discriminated status as subjects of a military regime. In this appeal, the settlers explicitly attempt to leverage that regime to punish and evict their neighbors in ways that would have been impossible, had the two population groups enjoyed equal legal and political status.

The future vision of settlers and Palestinians living together as equals, is plausible in principle both for us and for many Palestinians. Unfortunately, the Sussya settlers in submitting this appeal, and in this appeal’s foul language, reject this vision outright.

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Frivolous lawsuits like this one can actually help the “Civil Administration”. The differences between the “Administration” and ideological-settler bodies like Regavim are only of style and nuance. Both the settlers and the “Administration” are determined to reduce and, if possible, eradicate Palestinian life in “Area C”, in the apparent hope of making permanent the Israeli control of this vast region. Unlike settlers, the “Administration” is bound by the need to maintain a facade of respectability and legalistic pretexts. Thus, the Regavim appeal can present the “Civil Administration” in the public mind as even-handed or pro-Palestinian, and exaggerate its disagreement with ideological settlers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But amazingly, the court appeal itself presents concrete evidence that exposes this charade for what it is.

Clauses 40-49 deal with Regavim’s attempts to obtain information about Palestinian structures already destroyed by the “Civil Administration” for “security reasons.” The “Administration” refused to release detailed data, saying laconically that “all demolitions are due to security reasons”. Data were obtained by Regavim indirectly via other government arms. Here’s what they found (translation, emphasis and comments by Assaf):

44. In parallel, the plaintiff has obtained via a separate FOIA request the GIS layer containing all illegal-construction cases in the Palestinian sector. Combining the two sources brings to light the reality of “structures” destroyed by the Civil Administration in 2008-2011, allegedly for being a “security risk.”

[45. Data table ]

….46. These data show, that while the defendants claim all structures destroyed in the Palestinian sector in 2008-2011 were destroyed for being a security risk – out of 195 such structures, only 28 were actual buildings, while 51 “security risk structures” were cisterns, 68 “security risk structures” were sheds, chicken coops and livestock pens, and 12 “security risk structures” were improved agricultural fields.

47. This clearly indicates, that despite clear instructions from the government to focus on security-related demolitions, the Civil Administration avoids destroying such structures, and instead focuses on destroying cisterns, sheds, chicken coops, livestock pens and agricultural fields – in order to present a statistical balance with destruction in the Jewish [settler] sector.

48. It should be noted that from a separate FOIA request by the plaintiff about construction permits awarded in the Palestinian sector it turned out that in 2008, 74 such permits were issued, in 2009 six permits, and in 2010 only 7 permits were approved for the entire Palestinian sector of “Area C”. It is well-known that every year, thousands of structures are built in that sector… the message internalized by the Palestinian public is that there is no need to apply for permits…

It is rare to see far-right settlers, in an open legal document, confirm word-for-word what Palestinians and the human-right community have been arguing for years:

– That “security” is usually a ruse by Occupation authorities, used to mask the true motives,
– That recently Palestinians have been virtually blocked from obtaining building permits,
– and that these policies undermine any remaining semblance of legitimacy that the “Civil Administration” might have had a right to claim.

One might wonder how Regavim still thinks that this is somehow evidence for discrimination against what they call “the Jewish sector” – the state-funded, state-built settlements whose residents wield immense power and occupy several seats in the Israeli cabinet. One might also wonder, whether Regavim thinks that 150,000 Palestinians should be allowed to construct buildings to live in at all (the answer seems to be “no”) – or whether Regavim feels fine with the “Civil Administration” refusing to issue any permits to Palestinians whatsoever (the answer seems to be “yes, as long as they also make sure to destroy all those thousands of unapproved Palestinian structures”). The permit numbers in the appeal also confirm the escalation in anti-Palestinian “Area C” policies since the establishment of Netanyahu’s current government in early 2009. We have reported and analyzed this escalation from the start.

The Regavim appeal is a clumsy attempt to shift the debate towards how stringent or lax “Civil Administration” policies should be. However, the information presented, and the reality of unequal treatment as known to anyone with even a basic knowledge, turn their appeal into valuable supporting evidence for the following conclusions:

1. This outdated Israeli military body, the so-called “Civil Administration”, should not be allowed to run Palestinian life anymore, and

2. The situation of fully-privileged citizens living side-by-side with rightless subjects of military rule, is unacceptable and must stop.

We welcome the sudden interest of settler groups in fairness and government accountability. They should be forewarned, though, that the quest for the truth, fairness, transparency and good governance – if carried out properly to its logical conclusion – will most likely lead to outcomes diametrically opposed to their political goals.

Assaf Oron and Ehud Krinis

Israeli Occupation Builds Villas for Carmel Settlers, Destroys the Hut of their Widow Neighbor. YOU Can Do Something about it.

Miyaser Al-Hatheleen is a 45-year-old woman living in Umm al-Kheir, South Hebron Hills. Her house was first demolished by the Israeli Occupation authorities in October 2008, together with other dwellings belonging to her relatives (see our original 2008 report about these demolitions). In July 2009, Miyaser’s husband Salem passed away, leaving behind him his widowed wife and their seven children: Manal (now age 18), Tareq (17), Husam (15), Ahmad (13), Khulood (11), Maysoon (8) and Gamila (6).

No, this is not the home the Occupation authorities is building for Miyaser in compensation for the 2008 demolitions. These are villas being built only a few minutes walk away, expanding the Carmel (Karmel) settlement, on land confiscated and/or denied from the local Bedouins and Palestinians. This construction is underway with heavy subsidies from the Israeli government, whose political pretext for the expansion is “natural growth of the settlements.”

After the 2008 demolitions, Miyaser’s extended family at Umm al-Kheir built for her and her children a small house – or rather, a hut – made of mud and stones:

Yet, even this extremely poor dwelling place was too much in the eyes of the Occupation regime. Last week, on January 25 2012, while the heavy machinery keeps swallowing the hill near Carmel settlement in order to make room for the building of spacious new houses for Umm al-Kheir’s Israeli neighbors, a “fellow bulldozer” made its way to the indigenous village – not for construction, but for demolition work that left once again Miyaser’s home in ruins. It should be noted that the past few weeks in Israel-Palestine have been very cold and wet. Umm-Al-Kheir sits some 800m above sea level, with nightly temperature near freezing.

Over the last weekend, the Hatheleen family of Umm al-Kheir and activists of the Taayush movement erected together a small tin home for Miyaser and her children.

A different, yet effective way of helping Miyaser, even by those of you who live far way, is suggested by us here: Miyaser is a skillful embroider. She is willing to sell her embroidery art, such as table maps and runners.

During the last year we have been able to sell several of Miyaser’s embroidery pieces here in Israel, and also in Durham, United Kingdom (by the help of our friends there, Shlomit and Alison). Anyone who wants to help Miyaser and her family by buying her embroidery works (or in another creative way), is invited to contact us at our Villages Group’s address: villagesgroup1@gmail.com. We will ship Miyaser’s art to you. If you live in the UK, Villages Group activists are due to visit Shlomit and Alison soon and bring them a new collection of Miyaser’s embroidery.

Ehud Krinis on behalf of the Villages Group (with additions from Assaf)

PS: this recent demolition is part of a broader pattern, that has been continuing for years but escalating recently. For more background about the current wave of Occupation vandalism in South Hebron Hills, and in West Bank Area C in general, see this post from November, and this one from 2009.

Susya Creative and Learning Center: 1st Anniversary Celebration

On Saturday, May 28th, 2011, a celebration was held at the Palestinian village of Susya to mark the frist anniversary of the Susya Creative and Learning Center’s activity. Four hundred guests took part in the festivities – half of them Palestinians from Susya and the area, and the others – Israelis and internationals who reached Susya from various places in Israel and the world.

The Susya Creative and Learning Center, a joint initiative of local residents and the Villages Group has held a wide variety of activities this past year, among them classes in Arabic and Hebrew, Dabkah dancing, art workshops etc. These activities have made a significant contribution to the process of consolidating the community of families living at Susya.

One part of the celebration took place in the area of the Creative and Learning Center tent where the central assembly was held as well as kite-flying and Dabkah performances of local youth and children’s dance groups. In the nearby tent a sequence of short films was being projected about Susya and its people and about the Creative and Learning Center and its activities. Another part of the event took place at family dwelling tents. Each presented to its guests a display of photographs taken by the women of the family.

A samba players’ group and the Clown-Army group from Israel performed both at the central celebration area and in the family dwellings.

Several settlers from the Israeli settlement of Sussya tried to come in and spoil the fun. In this case, unlike others, army forces present kept charge of the order around Palestinian Susya and prevented the settlers from actually reaching the celebration centers and disrupt the events.

Among the organizations whose support made this celebration possible are The Villages Group, ActiveStills, COMET-ME, Breaking the Silence, Taayush and the Alternative Information Center.

Among the many volunteers who helped make this festivity a success, special thanks go to Ibrahim, Abd al-Rahman and Ahmad of the Susya Creative and Learning Center Committee, Mahmud and Ala from Yatta, David of the Villages Group, Keren and Mareike from ActiveStills, Dolev, Neriya and Tehila of Taayush, and the international volunteers Kate, Fiona and Victoria.

Ehud Krinis, The Villages Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Umm-Al-Kheir, Fighting Demolitions with Art

In November 2009, we reported to you about demolition orders, issued by Israel’s Civilian Administration of the Occupied Territories, against eleven structures in Umm-Al-Kheir (including stone and tin residential structures, lavatory structures, tents, and a tin storage structure). The structures are located in two residential clusters in Umm al-Kheir that are home to five extended families (over 100 children and adults). Thirty years ago, these families have had the misfortune of the Israeli settlement Carmel settling right on top of their lands and living quarters. The continued expansion of Carmel means continued demolitions and evictions for Umm-Al-Kheir.

Following the demolition orders of 2009, the families of Umm al-Kheir began a judicial fight to have the orders annulled. The two lawyers conducting the fight on the locals behalf have succeeded in postponing demolition in the northern-most cluster, that is, the cluster whose residents had been recognized by Israeli courts in the early 1980s as the legal owners of their lands. As for the southern-most cluster, where the courts did not recognize the residents’ ownership of the lands (notwithstanding their legal purchase of the lands under Jordanian rule), all judicial objections have now been overruled, and the court has upheld the demolition orders.

The last chance left of overturning or postponing the demolition of our homes is the appeal submitted recently by the lawyer representing us to Israel’s High Court of Justice. The residents of the southern cluster in Umm Al-Kheir appealed to for help in financing the appeal to the Supreme Court. Israeli individuals with the mediation of the Villages Group contributed most of the money needed to cover the cost of the application (approximately $800).

Among the structures facing demolition is the home of Eid Hathelin, a local artist. You can see Eid, his family and his work in the final extended version of David Massey’s unique video “Eid”.

Eid’s wife, Na’ama, gave birth last week to their second daughter Lin (sister to Sadin).

In the meanwhile, young people from both at-risk clusters erected (with the help of Israeli and international volunteers) a new tent which they designate to become a center for many educational, artistic and other activities. This is indeed a very special initiative that comes from within, one that can bring new light of hope for one of the most persecuted communities in the West-Bank.

If you are willing to help the people of Umm al-Kheir in this new endeavor, or would like additional details, please contact Ehud Krinis at ksehud”at”gmail.

Please Help Rebuild 13 Water Cisterns Destroyed by the Israeli Army

Dear Friends and Supporters,

We relay and fully endorse this message, from Ta’ayush activists with whom we have been working hand-in-hand for years to protect the right of South Hebron Hill (Massafar Yatta) indigenous residents. Please support their rebuilding effort.

Thanks, The Villages Group.

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The situation of the Palestinian cave-dwellers in South Hebron Hills continues to be difficult. They suffer from permanent harassment carried out by the military and settlers. This year, however, has been even more difficult, due to a severe drought.

As if it wanted to capitalize on the harsh conditions, on December 16th, the Israeli military destroyed 13 water cisterns belonging to Palestinian families in South Hebron hills.
(direct link to video here; Ha’aretz news story here)

The military claims that these water cisterns (or reservoirs) were built illegally and therefore must be destroyed. Some were built in recent years with international assistance, and some were built before 1967 during the Jordanian rule, but still (according to martial law) need Israeli re-authorization. Since the military regime’s “Zone C Planning Committees” are dominated by settlers, there is no chance to obtain such a permit. The cisterns are located on West Bank lands that the Israel has designated for the IDF as “firing zones” – areas the military uses as training sites for live ammunition.

The destruction or the water cisterns leaves the Palestinian shepherds without water sources, and forces them to limit their grazing areas. This is exactly what the Israeli authorities intend to achieve. It makes the life of this population, already probably the poorest in the whole West Bank, all but impossible.

In order to help the Palestinians keep their lands and strengthen the Sumoud (steadfastness) of South Hebron area residents, Taáyush activists have started helping reconstruct the cisterns.

We need $4,200 for each cistern. We have set out to reconstruct ten cisterns, please help us accomplish this goal.

Donation can be made to Taáyush:
Via Bank Deposit

Bank Hapoalim
Branch 574 (‘Hapalmach’)
Account no. 160213
Swift code ‘poalilit’
IBAN: IL61-0125-7400-0000-0160-213

Via Paypal

http://tinyurl.com/taayush-jlm
Please mail Anat566@gmail.com with the donation details.
Thank you in advance,

The south Hebron committee of Taáyush Jerusalem

Update Regarding The Fire in Hajja Sara’s Kitchen

Dear Friends,

Our report on the fire that consumed the kitchen of Hajja Sara on Tuesday,December 28, was based on what the Hajja told us when we visited the place, a few hours after the fire. The Hajja’s claim that the fire was set by settlers seemed conceivable to us, due to various incidents of nightly arson taking place during the last years in Susya, in Hajja Sara’s as well as in other families’ living sites, and due to further incidents of attacks by Susiya settlers against people and property, both during the day and at night.

On the day of the fire, while we were in Hajja Sara’s living site, a General Security Service (Shin Bet) investigator arrived at the place, accompanied by several soldiers. The investigator, together with Hajja Sara and one of her sons went down to the site of the fire and looked at the kitchen tent. Since we were present at the place during this investigation and could appreciate its less than serious nature (to put it mildly), we didn’t assign any significance to the rumor spread by the GSS that the fire’s cause was a kerosene stove left burning inside the kitchen. As is well known, the GSS is a secretive body, operating by squeezing confessions and by spreading rumors, and not by openly distributing information in a way that enables verification or criticism.

Recently, we received (indirectly) from the fire department in Yatta more significant information regarding the possible source of the fire in Hajja Sara’s kitchen. As we wrote in an earlier report, a fire truck of the Yatta fire department was called but was detained by soldiers who blocked its way. It reached the location of the fire very late; after the fire was extinguished by the local residents. According to information that reached some of Susya’s residents few days after, the conclusion reached by the fire department staff from Yatta, based on their visit to the site, is that the source of the fire in Hajja Sara’s kitchen is not deliberate arson but fire that spread from the Taboun (traditional earthen oven) installed behind the kitchen. This conclusion seems to us more probable then the one delivered by the GSS investigator, mostly because it was reached by professionals whose profession is to extinguish fires and investigate their reasons and sources. We also know that a request submitted by “Btselem” (Israeli Human Rights NGO) to the Yatta fire department, to receive a formal report on this matter, was not granted until now.

The violence used by settlers from the Susya area against the Palestinian residents there is a well known and persistent matter. The last striking example is the incident on December 13 in which a large number of settlers attacked, in broad daylight, the living site of two families living in the southern part of Susya, damaging property and inflicting severe physical injuries on two elderly men living there – one of them Hajja Sara’s brother. This violent incidence, like many before it, was not appropriately treated or genuinely investigated by the legal authorities of the army and the police.

As opposed to these clear cases of settlers’ violence in Susya, met with deliberate inaction by the law enforcing authorities, in the case of the fire in Hajja Sara’s kitchen on December 28, it is still not possible for us at the moment to reach a definite conclusion. The version given to us by the Hajja is now contrasted by what was informally conveyed by the Yatta fire department to a few of Susya’s residents (including some members of the Hajja’s family ) – that the source of the fire is not arson but an accident caused, among other things, by the proximity of the Taboun tent to the kitchen tents.

When we tell the world about the events taking place in South Mount Hebron and in other occupied places we personally know, we try to be as exact and reliable as possible. But reality is often much more complex than our first conception of it. We live in a space fraught with uncertainties, some stemming from the very nature of reality, others politically manufactured. Things are sometimes crystal clear, and sometimes wrapped with uncertainly that might never be resolved. If we will have any new information on the incident of the fire in Hajja Sara’s kitchen, rest assured that we will deliver it without bias. We thank you, the readers of our reports, for trusting us.

Sincerely,

Ehud and Erella, in the name of The Villages Group

Family, Friends and Volunteers Renovate Hajja Sara’s Kitchen Tent

The image below was taken during our visit to Hajja Sara of Palestinian Susiya on Thursday January 6. Her tent kitchen was torched before dawn on December 28, apparently by neighboring settlers – part of a wave of escalation in the area.

Following news of the incident, family and friends in Palestine and Israel, as well as Israeli and international groups, have enlisted to help in donation and work on the ground. Hajja Sara’s kitchen now stands again. We too have received donations in money and in kind (cooking equipment), and will deliver them shortly to Hajja Sara and her family.

Hajja Sara (seated front left), with family and friends, celebrating the rebuilt kitchen tent

The warm and rapid response has uplifted the spirits of the aging Hajja. However, with all the satisfaction we must not forget that Palestinian Susiya remains under the continuing danger of destruction and expulsion, not just by settlers but by the official forces of the State of Israel. The Occupation authorities, dominated by settler interests, see any act of construction and renovation as illegal.

Settler and Military Violence Escalates in South Hebron Hills

A few days ago we reported of the December 14 demolition of old and precious water cisterns by the Israeli military in the desert southeast of Hebron. These actions take place with a clear context; local Palestinian residents do not face only the military ruling their lives, but rather a military-settler conglomerate that is becoming increasingly violent, aggressive and arrogant.

For example, the cistern demolitions were carried out under the pretense that the cisterns (most of which were built before Israel controlled the region) are “unauthorized”. Who “authorizes” constructions in this remote West Bank region? South Hebron hills are part of “Area C” – the 60% of the West Bank which was kept under complete Israeli control in the Oslo accords. The intent of this arrangement was temporary, but since the accords collapsed, Israel has been treating “Area C” as part of its own territory – except, that is, for according any rights to its Palestinian inhabitants. Construction permits in “Area C” are granted by a “Civil Administration” committee manned mostly by ideological settlers. So a key component of the supposed formal authority of the military rule, is in fact directly controlled and manipulated by settler interests.

On December 13 – one day before the above demolitions – 15 settlers attacked the Wadi Ghesh hamlet south of Susya, severely beating Haj Khalil and Ibrahim (who subsequently needed to be hospitalized in Yatta) and causing considerable damage to their tents (see attached photos) – when we called the commander of the military forces in the area “Colonel Guy”, we were not surprised to hear from his manner of reply that he sees the settlers’ attack against the people of Wadi Ghesh as an understandable outburst. A settler outpost had some sheep missing, allegedly stolen by local Palestinians. Therefore, according to the ruling military-settler justice, it is perfectly understandable that settlers – whether the same ones or others sympathizing with them – take revenge upon some arbitrarily chosen Palestinian families, and we should just move on, “no harm done”.

Settlers, apparently feeling omnipotent on the ground but fearing geopolitical developments that will eventually curb their power, seem to be rushing to gobble up more Palestinian-owned farm and grazing lands, and lashing out in violence against vulnerable communities. The military, supposedly apolitical and formally in complete charge of law and order – but in fact completely dominated by settler interests in “Area C” – collaborates willingly.

And so the settler impunity invites more settler violence. Yesterday, Tuesday December 28, at 3 AM, Hajja Sara woke up to the sound of her dogs barking. Coming out of her living tent she saw her two adjacent kitchen tents going up in flames (pictures above). Then she noticed, on the dirt road, a vehicle starting up and driving towards the nearby Israeli Sussya settlement. Her son Ahmed woke up and managed to get the gas tanks out of the kitchen before they exploded.

Friends and neighbors began arriving to help. A firefighting vehicle sent from Yatta was held up by soldiers at a checkpoint, and arrived only after the residents had put out the fire themselves. They used a cistern dug last year, which we at the Villages Group had helped dig. When it was all over it turns out that Hajja Sara’s entire immaculate kitchen had burnt to the ground. The taboun earthen oven located in a nearby tin shack was burnt as well.

Hajja Sara is the sister of Haj Khalil who was beaten by settlers two weeks ago. She is especially vulnerable, living near the road connecting the settlement with the Israeli-run antique site and the notorious Dalia Har Sinai outpost, an outpost which sees its presence in the area as the continuation of a decade-long feud. This, by the way, is the same outpost whose settlers claimed the theft of sheep as a pretext to December 13’s attacks. A year ago Hajja Sara’s family succeeded in preventing a similar arson attempt, but they are the ongoing target for harassment and provocation such as young settlers speed-driving with ATV’s by their tents (two of the family’s dogs were run over during the past month).

The military and police authorities are, of course, well aware of the identity of the natural suspects for both attacks. Unfortunately, given the track record showing the settlers and military as two arms of the same effort to uproot the local population, and the total impunity accorded to the settlers by the military, there is little hope that any serious investigation will take place.

Instead, we ask you to contact Israeli embassies and consulates to alert them of this escalating wave of government-backed, government-sponsored criminal activity. Perhaps they will be more cognizant of how this makes Israel look.

Not less important, we continue to support our friends in the region in at this difficult time. If you would like to help us rebuild Hajja Sara’s kitchen, please contact Ehud at ksehud@gmail.com. Thank you.

Update, January 12: we received some indirect and yet unconfirmed information, that Yatta’s fire department thinks this might be an accident rather than arson, caused by a fire starting in the taboun behind the kitchen tent. Please see a fuller description here. We will continue updating this post as we know more.