Tag Archives: South Hebron Hills

Carmel’s Settlers Interpretation of the Jewish “New Year of the Trees day”

Had the Jewish settlers of Carmel held their Tu Bishvat (the Jewish “New Year of the Trees day”) tree-planting ceremony on January 16, within the borders of their settlement, Carmel, it would have been taken as a fait accompli by whoever has become accustomed to the fact that Carmel inhabits the lands of others. But their “New Year of the Trees” plantings took place on a range that the sheep of the Umm al-Kheir’s Palestinian shepherds pass on their way out to graze, for many years. The planting on this range was no coincidence, it was meant as a declaration – “This is ours, and so is that”.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday (17, 18, and 19 of January, respectively) the shepherds came through as is their custom, and the army stationed on the range did not stop them. On Monday, January 20, an incident took place when Umm al-Kheir shepherds tried to cross the range with their flock, on their way to the grazing area, as they do every day. The incident was concluded with the arrest of Maliha, owner of the flock. She was released on the same day, with an order keeping her away from the said area for 15 days. On Friday, January 24, in the early morning hours, about 35 settlers, adults and children, crowded on the range for further plantings, as if the  “New Year of the Trees day” was not yet over. They planted again at spots that prevent any further possibility of passage for the Umm Al Kheir herds. It must be remembered that this is an ongoing conflict, and ever since the settlers took over the range de facto (in 2011), numerous incidents have taken place until a court appeal was made by the villagers of Umm Al Kheir. The appeal was accepted by the court of law, and the villagers possess an official document issued by the army and civil administration, confirming their right to pass their flocks over the range.

At 8 a.m., three shepherds (14, 18 and 25 years-old) came forth from Umm Al Kheir towards the grazing grounds, and intentionally directed their flock round about the range in order to bypass the planters of the settlement (in spite of the official document they possess, permitting them to cross the range). Three members of Rabbis for Human Rights joined the shepherds.

The Carmel settlers stand on the range, the shepherds are down on the rim of the wadi. And then several of the settlers descend upon them: Ezer, Yaacov, Aharon, Gabi and his son, Simha and his son David (a bearded man), and Dror (who did not attack) and another whom the shepherds do not recognize by name. The settlers blocked the sheep who were on their way to detour and spare a clash. One of the assailants (unknown to the shepherds) went in among the sheep frantic with fright of the crush, and began to lash out in all directions. Yaacov and Ezer, too, were beating the flock. Bilal, the eldest of the shepherds, filmed the goings-on and kept from responding in any way. The assailants beat him too, saying: “What kind of a man are you?” One of them was armed with a rifle, ready to fire. Ezer and Yaacov were armed with pistols.

Yaacov was choking Bilal, who then shut his video camera in order to keep it whole. Yaacov let go of Bilal’s neck only upon noticing that Arik of the Rabbis for Human Rights was filming this situation.

And the flock? The assailants kept pushing it downhill, the shepherds stopping it. The sheep were maddened. And the assailants? Continued to lash out at the sheep. At this point an army jeep arrived, standing on the range. Two soldiers went down to the confrontation spot, and proceeded to demand Bilal’s ID. He was determined not to be arrested, and as he tried to negotiate with them, Arik intervened while Bilal ran off into the wadi.

Maliha then arrived, unable to bear further abuse of her sheep, and asked Ezer who ws hitting out: “Why do you do this?” He answered her with a harsh blow of his fist at her head. Of its sheer force, Maliha lost consciousness for a moment and fell to the ground. She came to immediately, but before she managed to rise to her feet, Ezer continued to beat her as she lay on the ground. At that point the two soldiers who had only been observing the blows, pulled Ezer up. Eid went down to the wadi to bring the sheep away. Ezer left. Bilal left. Only then, 40 minutes after the incident began, the police and the DCO officials arrived. The policeman asks the assailants: “Why did you not open fire?” And Rami Fares, the Hebron DCO infrastructure officer, says to the Palestinians: You have no right to go over the range”. The policeman pushes away Suleiman and Amna who had arrived on the spot along with other villagers from Umm al-Kheir.

Then Guy of Taayush arrives with the document signed by an attorney, stating black on white that the Palestinians are permitted to cross the range. Guy gives the paper to Rami Fares. The latter speaks on the phone with the attorney whose name is signed on the document on behalf of the Umm al-Kheir residents. The attorney tells Fares; “I speak to you lawfully, not with force”. Needless to say, the Carmel settlers did not acknowledge the document which Guy brought to the spot.

When the army forces arrived, the Carmel settlers concluded their tree planting and left. So did everyone involved in the assault.

The sheep were finally led to their grazing area via the long trail, which the shepherds had originally meant to take anyway, to avoid clashes. Arik joined them. On the way back from their grazing, again Simha, the security official of Carmel settlement and his friends came out towards the shepherds and their flock but without further provocations.

Maliha was taken home, a Red Crescent ambulance arrived, the paramedics examined her and, as she requested, did not take her to the hospital.

And I write this testimony, this time as a detailed report, as I sit with Maliha, her head dizzy, her leg wounded, and her heart shrieking with its great pain. I sit and listen, silently. I know, as she does, that the physical pain will subside. And like her, I try to contain the unbearable – the injustice, the hatred, the blindness… I run out of words…

Erella, on behalf of the Villages Group

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.

COMET-ME Alternative-Energy Project is BBC/Newsweek World Challenge Finalist

COMET-ME, our sister project which has developed out of Villages Group activities, has won prestigious global recognition from the BBC/Newsweek World Challenge 2009 competition.

The judges have chosen COMET-ME as one of 12 finalists. The project, which empowers rural and semi-nomadic Palestinian residents (right now, mostly in South Hebron Hills) by helping them set up independent wind+solar electricity generation units, and training them in installation and maintenance, will be featured in an upcoming BBC story.

The Independent has recently devoted an article to the project, apparently in view of their World Challenge recognition. Here is an excerpt:

For the extended Shineran family, dependent for income on the butter they sell, the electric churn and the large energy-efficient refrigerator they now run off the new system, have together raised sales income from £850 per month to £1,450.

We congratulate COMET-ME, its founder Noam Dotan and all the project’s volunteers, for a well-deserved success. We hope that it continues to grow.
Link to COMET-ME Donation Page.