Tag Archives: Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Machsom Watch account continues:

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

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

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

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

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

I sentence the defendant to:

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

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

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

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

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

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.

David Shulman: Another Well and Another Goat

Another incisive and insightful on-the-ground report from Prof. David Shulman.
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.”