Tag Archives: Empowerment

Report on Summer Camps at Susya and Umm-Al-Kheir

The summer camps at Susya and Umm-Al-Kheir have just ended. Both camps are organized locally, and funded with the help of outside donors. Villages Group activists help arrange these funds, work with organizers to help meet their needs, and – most rewardingly – visit the camps to interact with the kids.


At Palestinian Susya, this has been the third consecutive year for the camp. As mentioned above, this has been a homegrown local initiative from the start. This year has seen an impressive increase in the number of participating children: more than 100 children took part each and every day for two weeks. They were divided into several groups, all led by local counselors. Many other Susya residents pitched in to help when needed, and contributed much to the camp’s success.

From our perspective, having accompanied the camp for three years, we at the Villages Group are especially impressed and encouraged this year by the widespread local mobilization, by the range of activities, by the strong organizational skills and by the spirit of participation and enjoyment prevailing among both children and grownups during the camp.

It was a time of pleasant respite for the residents of Susya, who face daily struggles with the Israeli Occupation forces, and especially with the settlers of Israel-established Sussya – who are doing all they can to embitter the lives of their Palestinian neighbors and drive them off their ancestral lands.

Funding for the camp was obtained from many individual donors, most of them Israelis, whose soul has been attached – from anear and afar – to the fate of Palestinian Susya.

Ehud Krinis on behalf of the Villages Group


In mid-July, for the first time, a two-week-long summer camp was launched for children at Umm al Kheir, a Bedouin hamlet in the South Hebron Hills. The camp is organized and directed by the younger adults of this community.

Several families at Umm al Kheir have suffered extreme hardships due to their proximity to the settlement Carmel that was built on their lands thirty years ago. Heavily subsidized by the Israeli government, Carmel has continued to expand in recent years, including its chicken coops and new neighborhoods (one already constructed and populated, the other in its planning stages). The settlement has been closing in on the Bedouin families from all sides, threatening to strangle them – a process backed up by intense house demolition actions carried out by the Civil Administration and the Israeli Occupation authorities.

In view of these aggressive dispossession processes, the young educated generation at Umm al Kheir, supported by groups, organizations and individuals from the outside, has been taking measures such as founding a community center and organizing this summer camp. They hope to give the local residents, especially the children, a sense of creativity and vivaciousness facing the brutal pressures constantly exerted upon them by the Occupation apparatus.

The activities of the Umm al Kheir community center in general and the summer camp in particular are supported by the
British-Jewish fund ‘British Shalom-Salaam Trust.’

Here are a few photos from the closing day of this new summer camp. The potential here is great. Indeed, the five-women team of Umm al-Kheir’s summer-camp: Naama, Sara, Ikhlas, Thaghrid and Dalal, did their best and proved once again that by working together they are capable of doing many wonderful things for their community. We hope that the next years will show that Umm al-Kheir’s summer camp will grow to become as successful and enduring as the one at Susiya.


Ehud Krinis, Erella Dunayevsky (on the right in the last image) and Efrat Nakash (who took all the pictures featured here)
Villages Group

Songs by Ikhlas (“Yasmin”) Jebara from Salem – Part I

Our friend Ikhlas Jebara from Salem near Nablus, had been mentioned here before under her nickname “Yasmin”. Her father Sa’el was murdered in 2004 by a settler as he was performing his daily work as a van driver (the settler was convicted but escaped justice).

Ever since then, we have been in touch with Muna, the widow, and her children. Ikhlas, the second of six Jebara children, is blind from birth and has last year graduated college with an English literature major. She also writes poetry in English.

Following is a first sampling of her poems; a second group will be posted later. Feel free to contact Ikhlas directly at ikhlas_soh@hotmail.com.


To say or not to say

I wonder whether to say or not to say
To be enthusiastic
to revolve
or to obey
For God or for people to pray
Or like a refugee without home to stay
Or like a child in the streets to play
Or to pass through a narrow or wide way
Or our hopes for future to delay
Or to sit under the red x-ray
Here we are my friend
with no decision
Whether to be or not to be
we do not know
Whether to say or not to say

In our narrow street

In our calm narrow street
I followed the traces of his feet
I heard the echo of hope
when she said you should meet
you should meet
Darkness bitterness of days you should defeat

My tongue had also said no blame no blame
Forget the past and live for your dream
For hope in your eyes would gleam

No one but echo answered me
No he is not free
With him we can not be
Until the masters of the fates agree

In a dark cloudy atmosphere
Moon, sun, stars seem to be very clear
Safety… bravery… oh grasped fear
In the eyes of the sky there is no tear
Just the glimmer of hope that is so near
From them you can not flee

I bitterly answered ‘what do you claim?’
She laughed and said I will achieve my aim
Until the end of my game
I trust myself and I do not feel shame

Hope -she is so strong and stout
And she is able my fears to wipe out
She laughed with her echo-voice so loud
One day in the hands of you will be found

Gift for those whose parents are lost

Here on that street my dad died
Death attacked him from an unknown side
What did his death for us hide ?
Grief and pain did for us decide
His death the hearts of our family did divide
Loss and departure were emphasized
While happiness at that moment seized

Here on that street my father drove
On the same street he was shot
By a settler who was provoked
From an innocent person his revenge he got

From an unknown origin he is derived
Responsible that in my family’s life

grief, pain and anger reside
But there are people of his religion who have tried
For us a new beginning to provide
They really appreciate the size of grief in our hearts

Monday in the afternoon was the opening of our wound
And it caused the broken hearts of our catastrophe to moan
At that moment the stagnant grief in our souls was grown
We lived in darkness with no fraction of dawn
A black tragedy for me was drawn
Like a nic in the neck… it is in the heart a wound

To be a graduate

Have you ever felt like a person who will graduate
Who is standing on the edge of the university and life’s gate
People are coming to say ‘we congratulate’
They within me a glimmer of hope create
I am like a king who won the state
I am a person who is loved by fate
For this day I am willing to wait

All love from my heart is sent
To my parents my sisters my brothers my doctors and friends

For you I say ‘happy new year’
I wish we will the dress of happiness wear
No matter how the last days were
The principles of a new life in this modest party we declare
The black papers of our last tragedies in our lives we will tear
The bitterness of days we no longer bear
We in the eyes of future stare
Happiness and hope we can see there

But we also notice some sort of fear
I hope that peace is near
for those whom to me are so dear
You are to me my jewels
In the siege of my heart you fell
I rang my tongue’s bell
good words for you to tell
Let us together say grief farewell
grief farewell grief farewell

Tai Chi for Peace at Umm Al-Kheir

(A Hebrew version follows the English)

A second report from Eyal Shani of The Southern Way about his Tai Chi activities in Umm al-Kheir. The importance of these Tai Chi lessons for the children and young people living in the two clusters of Umm al-Kheir that suffer the most from their closeness to Carmel settlement, cannot be overstated. Watch the Video attached.


January 27, 2010

Dear Friends,
Thanks for the support and their expressions in return mails – it certainly strengthens and encourages us to continue to work for peace when there are ones who supports you. I also apologize to those of you who wanted a more detailed report. I hope to improve the writing of reports, but unfortunately the bureaucratic action still foreign to me. I hope to learn it- but not at the expense of direct personal encounter with the people in the area.

Last week, thankfully, were exceptional floods in the desert but unfortunately they blocked the road near by my home, so I could not get at all to south of Mount Hebron.

But yesterday I went again, and mud all around told that there were heavy rains there too. In one day, the Rain amounts were the same as the annual average rain drops over the same area. It was nice to see that despite the damage, things got wet and destroyed the residents of Umm al Kheir, who most still live in tents could feel the blessing of the rain..

I was happy to continue working with children.  The groups have mostly children aged three to 12 and a few men dare to join.
Unfortunately women do not join now and I hope that soon a woman teacher would join to work with the women.

For those seeking information about the work. I currently work with Amit at the expense of contributing work time that we cleared – in the belief that such bridges could create future human contact and the base for true peace. The trip from my home to South Mount Hebron takes about an hour and a half and 125 km each way (Eyal lives in the middle of the Negev desert).

If any of you would like to support or know of entities / organizations or people who want to support us – to prevent from us the “excuse” to say that we need to stop the activity to make a living- we will be happy to if you will contact us.

Besides the pictures, I enclose the following video link where you can see us together in the “Tiger” of the five animals play, Chi Kung.
Until next time
Thanks, Eyal


חברים יקרים,

תודה על התמיכה שהבעתם במיילים החוזרים, זה בהחלט מחזק ומעודד להמשיך לפעול למען שלום כשיש מי שתומך בך. אני מתנצל בפני כל מי שביקש דוח מפורט יותר, אני מקווה להשתפר בכתיבת הדוחות אך לצערי החלק הבירוקרטי שבעשייה עדיין זר לי ואני מקווה ללמוד אותו אבל לא על חשבון המפגש האישי הישיר עם האנשים בשטח.

בשבוע שעבר היו שיטפונות יוצאים מן הכלל במדבר (לשמחתי) אשר חסמו את הדרכים כך שלא יכולתי להגיע בכלל לדרום הר חברון (לצערי).

אתמול נסעתי שוב, הבוץ הרב שנותר במקום סיפר שגם שם היו גשמים עזים. כמויות הגשם שירדו ביממה אחת היו בחלק מהאזורים במדבר, מעל לממוצע השנתי באותו האזור. היה יפה לראות שלמרות הנזקים, וההרס יכלו התושבים באום אל חייר אשר רובם גרים באוהלים למצוא את הברכה שבמים.

שמחתי לחזור ולהמשיך לעבוד עם הילדים. בקבוצות יש בעיקר ילדים בני שלוש עד 12 וכמה מבוגרים שמעיזים להצטרף. לצערי נשים לא מצטרפות כרגע ואני מקווה שבקרוב תצטרף אלי גם מדריכה, אישה שתוכל לעבוד עם הנשים.

לאלו שביקשו פרטים על העבודה – עמית ואני פועלים כרגע בתרומה מלאה על חשבון זמן עבודה שפינינו – מתוך אמונה שגשרים מסוג זה יוכלו ליצור קשר אנושי ובסיס לשלום אמיתי בעתיד. הנסיעה מביתי לדרום הר חברון לוקחת כשעה וחצי וכ 125 ק”מ לכל צד.

אם יש מי מכם שמעוניין לתמוך או מכיר גופים/ ארגונים או אנשים שירצו לתמוך בנו – כדי שלנו לא יהיה “תירוץ” להפסיק את הפעילות לטובת פרנסתנו נשמח אם תיצרו קשר.

אני מצרף גם את הקישור לסרטון הבא שבו רואים אותנו יחד ב”נמר” מתוך צ’י קונג משחק חמש החיות.

ועד לפעם הבאה



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.

Visit to Salem on Hanuka Eve

Friday. The day of the first candle of Hanukah Jewish feast. We are on the way to Salem village with Carin (an Australian young woman who helps us to develop the music project there). It is nice to go there on the day of the first candle. Visiting our friends and developing the next step of the children music center there, feels like lighting a candle.

It is just that on the way we’ve planned to visit another friend in Yasouf village, and buy some olive oil from him. Just before entering his village he called us on phone to tell us not to come because some settlers had “lit a Hanuka candle” their way by burning the Mosque of the village. Just two different ways to light a candle.

Not much of a joy accompanied us along the rest of the day. The only strength we’ve felt was the strength of the unconditional friendship between ourselves and with our Palestinian friends.

Here is a video about the music center, prepared by Natti Adler:

Here is Carin’s description of the visit as posted on her “Looking for Shalom” blog:

You know what? I am exhausted. It feels like I never stop. My journeys into the West Bank are long and tiring. But what can I say? I am addicted. And today was a particularly special day. I would not have missed it for the world. I went to a place where I personally feel part of the peace efforts, and where many of you are personally part of the peace efforts.

I went to Salem, a Palestinian village in the northern part of the West Bank, around 2km from the major city of Nablus. I joined two kibbutzniks, Erella and Ehud, from the Villages Group for their weekly family visits. The main reason we went to Salem was to visit Jubier Ishtayya, a local musician and teacher who is starting a music centre with your help.

Erella met Jubier a few years ago. They connected over a common dream to create peace through music. Well, peace is actually the word I chose. Erella and Jubier are more grounded than that. They do not have any grandiose ideas about peace. Instead, they believe in the transformative power of music. They believe that music is a tool for developing creative minds, rather than destructive ones. The music centre will be a place of learning, artistic expression and concerts; a centre for healing and hope.

I met Ehud, Erella and Jubier earlier this year and I was blown away. Not by the idea of the project, that was not new to me, but by the spirit, the energy and the relationship between these three people. Their idea was well thought out, realistic, and targeted at a particularly vulnerable group: boys and girls in their late teens, living in extreme conditions, with few employment opportunities, and nothing to do in the afternoons. The centre will start small, but they have big plans for the future.

And the dream was made possible because of support from many of you. So tonight, even YOU can put smiles on your faces. The music center will open in January, half the students will be girls and half boys. The head of the village has provided the space and political support for the project.

It is wonderful to feel part of a concrete project on the ground; particularly one that I so strongly believe in. This gives me hope. And I promise, before I finish this journey, I will provide you with plenty more ideas for how you can stay engaged.

20 days to go…
Images of the Salem Music Center can be found here.

Villages Group Representatives Tour Great Britain

Dear friends,
We, Erella Dunayevsky and Hamed Qawasme as representatives of the “Villages Group”, traveled across Britain for 15 days during the second half of November. The main aim was to visit people who visited Hebron and South Hebron hills and came to know us, as well as widening our connections’ web with new people. Another aim was to do some fund raising for specific needs which exist constantly in the area.
In London we met with people from Moshe House; Jews For Justice For Palestinians; and New Israel Fund and Mr. Harrison.
In Bristol – with the Easton Cowboys.
In Exeter with Mr. Tony Davis and friends.
In Cambridge – with Lawyers Without Borders, Amnesty International and students in Cambridge University.
In Leeds – with people from Together For Peace.
In Hexham – with the Quakers community.
In Edinburgh – with Scottish Palestinian Forum (S.P.F.) and the Quakers.
In Glasgow – with the West of Scotland Group of  S.P.F and Jews For Just Peace.
In Durham – with Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.
In Forfar – with the Quakers community.
The meetings were inspiring. We met with people who deeply and maturely care for human rights and human dignity. We gained a lot of strength from them all along the intensive journey.
The meetings started with an hour presentation made by both Erella and Hamed presenting the facts and numbers of the humanitarian dignity crises in the West Bank, and zooming into some of the stories which stand behind it.
Immediately after returning we’ve realized that the journey has not ended, that there is something in the encounter point with the people which is still echoing within our hearts and invites us to develop some structure which will enable it to continue – supporting the spirit as well as the financial needs resulting from the Villages Group activities in South Hebron Hills.
We, in the Villages Group, in addition to our ongoing presence in the communities of the area, see ourselves as a bridge between the local Palestinians in this peripheral remote  area and the outer world.
Therefore we invite you to think with us (through emails) what might be the efficient and effective structure to be built between us that will enable ongoing support utilizing the momentum of the tour.
The addresses are:
Hamed Qawasme:  qawahame20@yahoo.com Erella Dunayevsky: danidun@shoval.org.il Ehud Krinis: ksehud@gmail.com
Today while visiting Umm al-kheir, one of the elders told us:  “when you come to visit you bring us a bit from the smell of freedom”.
We thank you all again for supporting us in this tour to sustain and strengthen the above.
Yours, with much love, Hamed and Erella.

Palestinians Return to Bir al-‘Id

One of the most significant developments in south Hebron, which happened few weeks ago, is the rehabilitation of Bir al-‘Id – once the biggest cave dwellers community in the area, and in recent years, an abandoned place (forcibly evacuated exactly 10 years ago under the Barak government), completely deserted under the pressures of the occupation forces and (especially) the nearby settlers post.

The battle for the rehabilitation of Bir al-‘Id has moved
now from the court back to the ground. It is an everyday battle, consuming tremendous efforts from the local Palestinian returnees and the Israeli and International volunteers who try to help them. Below is the story of Bir al-‘Id which was told by one of the returnees – Mahdi – and recorded by Ta’ayush activist and world-renowned scholar David Shulman.


November 21, 2009 Bi’r al-‘Id

“It’s because of the truth that we go there,” Amiel says to me before we get into the waiting “transit” van. He’s been thinking about it since last week’s lectures in celebration of Nita’s book on making peace. I’d been trying to explain in my talk why I keep going down to the South Hebron hills when, after all, our impact on the situation there is so minimal, so pointillist, the task so Sisyphean, the sense of futility so overwhelming. I claimed that despite all this, there is something good about being there, in those landscapes and with those people, and that it had something to do with the difference between truth and falsehood. There are, it seems, situations when the distinction is truly palpable. I listen to my prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu, say that he hopes the Palestinians “will get their act together, so that negotiations can begin.”

You hear the lie at once, and you can’t help noticing how thin and superficial it is, how lacking in any human depth; also, of course, how astonishingly twisted and corrupt. We live in the midst of swirling clouds of lies. “That’s the thing about South Hebron,” Amiel says. “It exposes the lie and reveals the truth in all its clarity. That is why we go there.” “Truth” sounds, at first, like a hard and heavy word, and to say “the truth,” as if there were only one and not many, only adds to the heaviness, but I can tell you that there are moments when truth is light and luminous and singular and rather simple and when it lightens the heart to see and taste it.

Like today. We start off southward in the van, but within ten minutes the police appear from nowhere and pull us over. It’s clear they know where we’re going, and why, and they must have received an order from someone higher up to harass us as best they can, so they pick on the most vulnerable among us, our Palestinian driver, Zaidan, from Beit Hanina in the north of the city. They pull him from the van into the police car, and they have rather a lot of questions to ask him about his driver’s license, his insurance, how many people he is allowed to drive in the van, whether he is being paid for this or not, and so on. They hunt through the booklet of rules and laws and, sure enough, they eventually hit on some regulation that allows them to book a charge and slap a fine of 500 shekels on Zaidan—it seems he had 12 passengers in the van but his license allows him to drive only 10. There are endless forms to fill out while we wait helplessly in the mid-morning sun and one of the two policemen swaggers back and forth scowling at us and barking threats. After an hour or so they issue a temporary license which allows Zaidan to drive for the next twenty-four hours, long enough, as it happens, to get us down to south Hebron.

We’re on our way to Bi’r al-‘Id, but first we stop at Mufaqara—a smattering of black tents on grey rock– to escort the shepherds for a while, since already this morning settlers from the “illegal outpost” of Avigail have tried to drive them off their grazing grounds, as happens regularly. It’s a brilliant winter day, the air cool as fine crystal; from this point high in the hills, you can see almost to the end of the earth, each tiny trace of stone or thorn or goat-dung limned in the burning light, the hills rising and falling and eddying, awash in brown and blue and gold. The goats are happily chewing fresh winter thorns, and for the moment, at least, the settlers have retired into their ugly caravans. The moment doesn’t last very long; no sooner do we take our leave, most of us, than a mad settler dashes into the Palestinian encampment shouting curses, and Michael, who has stayed behind for just such an emergency, confronts him, and there’s a scuffle and Michael is hurt a little before the soldiers arrive.

By then we have made our way on foot through the glowing desert, over the hills, to the tiny set of stone terraces and fences and goat-pens and caves that is called Bi’r al-‘Id. It seems to grow organically out of the hillside, a slight extension of the escarpment and utterly at home in it, unlike the khaki-and-grey pre-fab houses of the Israeli settlement, another “illegal outpost,” of Mitzpeh Yair that peers down at Bi’r al-‘Id from the top of the hill. There’s not much left of the caves; the army destroyed them, filling them with sand and rocks, in 1999. Originally some 400 people lived here. Two Palestinian families have now returned after a long struggle in the courts. Mahdi, whom I remember from a visit long ago, tells me the story in the thick, succulent Arabic of these shepherds, his wind-wrinkled face and black eyes alive with insult and rage.

“First they drove us all away. It was November, 1999. Not just from Bi’r al-‘Id but from all the villages here—Jinba, al-Halawi, Markaz, al-Taban, al-Faqit, Swaia foqa and Swaia tihta, al-Majaz, Murgh al-‘Abid, Sa’aba, and Tuba. In March 2000 we came back for a little while, but the settlers attacked us over and over and then they drove us out again and we couldn’t return. They told the courts they wanted to use this area as a firing range for the army, and the courts let them do it. All these years we waited to come back, and we fought in the court, and two weeks ago the court said we could go home. The Rabbis for Human Rights were here, Rabbi Asherman came and helped us rebuild. The settlers attack us regularly, every day, they throw rocks at us and drive away the herds; last week they killed a baby lamb. Now the court says we can live here, but the army has closed the road and they tell us we cannot use it, so there is nowhere we can go, and we cannot bring what we need to build. There is a woman here who is seven months pregnant; how will she get to the hospital? My family had two thousand dunams of land, all the way down to Jinba; the settlers and the soldiers have stolen everything but fifty dunams; that is all that is left.”

(pictures taken from a November 15th photo-essay about the return, by Francesca+MC on Indybay.org)

Mahdi points, despairing, toward the tents of Jinba, far below us in the desert. It is high noon. Settlers to our left, at Mitzpeh Yair; settlers to our right in yet another “illegal outpost,” this one appropriately called Lucifer’s Farm. An immense, oddly orderly line of sheep, following the shepherds from Jinba, is spread along the whole length of the next mountain ridge, white on golden brown. You can easily see across the border into Jordan and the purple hills of Moab. I think to myself: this must be the most beautiful spot in the Middle East. A place to come home to: I am moved, seeing the terraces re-emerging from the hill. And in the strangely delicious silence of these open spaces, I am listening, wholly attentive, to the unmistakable resonance of truth.

And to the equally unmistakable echo of the lie: the army, compelled by the Supreme Court, has grudgingly allowed these people to come home, but it has cut off their only road to the outside world, no doubt “for security reasons.” They can be here, for now, but they can’t move in any direction. I don’t think we have to imagine the real reasons. Neither do we intend to accept the army’s writ. There is a tractor on its way to Bi’r al-‘Id with canvas for tents and sacks of cement. We’re going to see that it arrives.

So we head back to the main road, past the gate of Mitzpeh Yair. Army jeeps pass us from time to time without stopping. I’m feeling light—the truth effect, perhaps—and almost drunk on air and color and friendship. We laugh as we walk. Someone says he’s heard that a group of gay religious Israeli men want to establish a settlement around here. Seems appropriate, I say, everything is so wild here anyway, I only wonder which side they’ll choose to be on—that of the orthodox Jewish settlers or the Palestinians? It’s far from clear, like most things. We speak of the Goldstone report on Gaza and of Abu Mazen’s call, this week, for a third, popular Intifada, a non-violent one, like at Bil’in and Na’alin. For years we’ve been saying that a Palestinian campaign of Gandhian-style civil disobedience is the one thing that could bring the occupation to an end. Israel has no answer to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians marching in non-violent resistance in the territories; if this happens, and the Palestinians declare their state, as I hope and believe they will, the Israeli peace groups—what’s left of them—will be marching beside them. Perhaps the Israeli peace camp will rise from the ashes. Happy early-afternoon thoughts: the tender, scary tang of hope.

And then, suddenly, in the distance, we see the tractor. We race down the road. Ismail ‘Aradeh is driving it, with an attached wagon full of heavy sacks of cement and grout, various poles and rolls of canvas and, crushed against the wire at the far end, one large goat and a small kid. By the time we reach him, Ismail has, of course, been stopped by the soldiers: some seven or eight of them in two jeeps have blocked the road. We protest. They phone their headquarters, or some such authority; they are, they say, “checking” to see whether the tractor can or cannot pass.

We let them know what we think about their blockade; they can see we’re not about to leave. Meanwhile, Ismail is worried about his goats. He summons me to help him; we push and shove at the closest layer of cement sacks, clearing a little space; then he opens the back of the wagon and, before I know it, a rather heavy, furry, bleating goat is in my arms. It seems to approve of its new situation; air is more plentiful now, I guess, enveloped as I am by strong goat odors. We stare curiously at one another, Goat and I, perhaps both of us wondering what the future holds in store. Ezra, however, turns up just in time to extract the scrawny white kid from the wagon, and soon both Goat and the baby are ensconced in Ezra’s car and on their way over the hills to Bi’r al-‘Id. I turn back to the soldiers; Assaf signals to me, thumbs up: they’ve been ordered to open the road. The tractor starts chugging slowly uphill. It would never have happened if we hadn’t been here today.

An hour later there’s another tractor, and the soldiers are there to stop it but it’s too late now, and soon our vehicles are going back and forth to Bi’r al-‘Id carrying more volunteers and materials. Will they close the road again as soon as we’re gone? Maybe. The settlers will certainly pressure the army to do so. If they close it again, we’ll come back and re-open it. But it may be harder for them now that we’ve established the principle. “That’s how it works,” Yehuda explains to one of the international volunteers. “Our task is to push the limits. Always a little further. We push and we prod and we test and the system tries to holds us down, but often we manage to shake them up and extend the range of what is possible. Maybe only a little, but each time we win, it makes a difference.” Even Sisyphus has his hopeful moments.

Look how simple things can be. It’s as if all the violent mendacity of the settlers and the soldiers and the border police who protect them and the prime minister and the minister of defense and their dark allies has evaporated in the intense limpid radiance of this winter afternoon. To keep the families of Bi’r al-‘Id from their simple homes is to cleave to all that is false in the human world—to embrace the lie. Either you help them to bring their lambs and goats back to the stone pens waiting for them on this hill, or you stand in their way and hurt them. It’s your choice. Standing on the sidelines and watching passively is a lot like blocking the road. Either you help them unload the bags of cement and start rebuilding the broken terraces, or you take your stand with the system that drove them out in the first place and now continues to threaten them every day, as Mahdi says. From out of the lunacy and inherent murkiness of the world we live in, you get a sudden shaft of light: a tractor, a shepherd, a goat, a cave that is home again, a truth.

The Opening of Second Class in a Chidren Program in Umm al-Kheir

Dear Friends and Supporters,

The generous donations of Jews, Muslims and Christians alike, made possible the opening of a second class of the Umm al-Kheir Learning Enrichment Program. The cluster where this class has now opened is the place that our friend and colleague Ezra Nawi tried to protest against a houses demolition – an incident that led to his recent conviction in an Israeli court.

In a place where not only every house that was built in the last 40 years have been demolished, but also the digging of the toilets under the ground is prevented by the occupation forces, the conditions in class (which is actually the tiny living room of the teacher Targhrid) are harsh, but as you can learn from the photos attached, the children’s spirits are high.

Ehud Krinis

2NEIGHBORS: A New Villages Group Partner Project

Dear Friends and Supporters,

We in the Villages Group get much satisfaction in enabling others develop their own initiative through us. For the last two years we served as the mother organization and the close partners of the COMET-ME team, and their renewable energy project. This incubation term is now over. COMET-ME team will continue to develop the energy project with us by their side, but from the organizational point of view, they are by now completely independent, with their own NGO status.

While The COMET-ME energy project already won much publicity and success, another very important project, is now emerging and getting its stature, which we in the Villages Group served at the time as mother (in a more practical than organizational manner). This is the 2NEIGHBORS initiative which promises to bring livelihood to women in the caves dwellers area in south Mt. Hebron and elsewhere in the Occupied Territories, and to encourage cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. I urge you to visit the 2NEIGHBORS website and think of ways each one of you can contribute to the success of this initiative.


Ehud Krinis
Villages Group

Learning Enrichment Program for the Children of Umm al-Kheir

Dear friends and supporters,

In the Western part of the Palestinian-Bedouin settlement of Umm al-Kheir are two extended family clusters of approximately 100 people, over half of whom are children. These centers perhaps suffer more from the persecution of the occupation authorities than any other place to the south Mt. Hebron. The direct reason for this that they are a mere few meters away from the Carmel settlement that was established decades after the forefathers of these Bedouin were expelled from their homes in the region of Arad following the 1948 war and, as a result, they settled in Umm al-Kheir, which was at the time under Jordanian rule. For the past year and a half on the ‘Villages Group’ blog, we have reported the efforts of the Israeli authorities to embitter the lives of residents in both centers near the Carmel Settlement, chief of which is the ongoing cruel destruction of homes.

In the daily reality of despair and distress imposed by the occupation authorities on these people’s lives, there are also lights of hope – some the result of cooperation between local residents and various organizations and groups, among them Israeli organizations and groups, such as ‘Cultural Projects ‘Mifalei Tarbut” of the Tel Aviv Hapoel football team, Taayush, and the Villages Group. Most important of all are projects resulting from local initiative – like the one discussed here, and appearing in the images.

A young local engineer, Aziz Hazalin, established a small playground for the children of one of the two clusters; an initiative that was facilitated by a donation from a Jewish-British business man. Another important initiative is a learning enrichment program for children initiated last year by Na’ama Hazalin, a local qualified teacher. This enrichment program has now functioned for a year and is run by Sara, Na’ama’s sister. For the past year, this program has been supported by the Jewish-British organization – The British Shalom-Salaam Trust. Approximately fifteen children from the second cluster, between the ages 6-14, participate in the program. In a conversation we had with the two teachers, Na’ama and Sara, they reported significant achievements resulting from the enrichment program:

  • The program enables personal attention from the teacher. The main activity takes place over the weekend when the teacher personally helps the students. Consequently, there has been a significant improvement in the children’s learning achievements, particularly in such subjects as mathematics and English, which are the focus of the program.
  • Over and above mathematics and English, there are also projects in the fields of painting, drama and story reading.
  • The particular importance of the program is that it is an intimate meeting place, within the family, where children can express themselves freely, without fear of being mocked by their peers at school.

It is our impression, based on many visits to the place, that the learning enrichment program has been a great success and should continue. Moreover, the program should be expanded to include the second center as well. There is another young woman who is willing and able to run the program in the other center.

The annual cost of running an enrichment program is $3,000 per cluster $6,000 per two clusters. We appeal to groups, organizations and individuals to help us continue and maintain, even expand this small and very important educational project.


Ehud Krinis

Villages Group