Friday, December 07, 2007

At-Tuwani: Demonstrators Walk in Solidarity to Tuba Village
3 December 2007

On Saturday, 1 December, more than 200 Israelis, Palestinians and internationals walked from At-Tuwani to the nearby village of Tuba. The walk highlighted the violent harassment and other severe difficulties faced by villagers in the Southern Hebron Hills of the West Bank. These difficulties continue to worsen with the growth of unauthorized* Israeli settlement outposts.

Located a few kilometers outside the larger Palestinian city of Yatta, At-Tuwani serves as a gateway to trade, education and healthcare for a handful of more remote villages. Tuba is just a 20 minute walk southeast of At-Tuwani by the most direct route, which the people of Tuba traveled regularly before the construction of the Ma'on settlement (1984) and adjacent unauthorized outpost of Havot Ma'on (2000). Since then, settler attacks have forced Palestinians to take a longer route, which is about one hour on foot or by donkey.

Settler violence has also blocked Tuba villagers from reaching their fields for routine plowing, sowing and grazing. The Israeli peace organization, Ta'ayush, which cosponsored Saturday's march, hoped that a large Israeli activist presence would enable Tuba farmers to plow without harassment.

Initially the Israeli army tried to block the demonstrators from leaving At-Tuwani, but the large crowd peacefully pushed through the army cordon and continued over the hills to Tuba. The Palestinians successfully plowed and sowed their fields with only minor disruptions. Two Israeli settlers ran down into a field and tried to disrupt the work, but soldiers prevented them from doing so. An Israeli soldier also tried to disrupt plowing by confiscating the key of the tractor, but the farmer restarted it and continued working.

After a peaceful gathering with Tuba villagers outside their caves, the demonstrators returned to At-Tuwani in the afternoon on a path next to the outpost. Clapping and singing, they walked past dozens of Havot Ma'on settlers who came out to watch, dressed in white Shabbat robes. Some younger settlers tried to disrupt the procession, but Israeli soldiers and police restrained them.

Later in the evening, Israeli settlers attacked a boy from Tuba and stole his donkey. Two CPTers and two members of Michigan Peace Teams spent the night in Tuba, in case of further retaliation by settlers, but there was none.

*Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal under international law; however, the settlement outposts are illegal under Israeli law.

Note: Tuba and its fields are situated within a vast tract of land that the Israeli government threatens to confiscate and use as a military firing range. This case is still under jurisdiction. If the Israeli Supreme Court finds in favor of the state and the army, they will expel all the villagers from their homes.

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