Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Release: Israeli Settlers Pursue Palestinian Children on Their Way to
Summer Camp; Israeli Military Fails to Escort Children

AT-TUWANI – On Wednesday 23 July, three Israeli settlers, one masked and wielding a stick, pursued 14 Palestinian children who were on their way to a summer camp in At-Tuwani. The children from the villages of Tuba and Maghaer Al-Abeed waited 30 minutes for the Israeli military escort that should have accompanied them on the most direct road between the villages of Tuba and At-Tuwani. When the military failed to arrive, the children began walking along a long path through the hills to At-Tuwani. When the children neared the illegal Israeli settlement outpost of Havot Ma'on, three settlers came out from the outpost and began walking in the direction of the children. The settlers had two dogs with them.

International observers yelled to the children to alert them to the approaching settlers, who were pursuing them from behind. The children ran down and across a valley to a location further from the settlers. They continued to At-Tuwani. The settlers remained on a hill top near Havot Ma’on, watching the children as they walked toward the schoool.

The previous day, Tuesday 22 July, the military escort never arrived to escort the children to summer camp. Seven children took a long path to the school. They told international observers that at least eight other children did not attend summer camp because they were too afraid to come to school without an escort. The mayor of At-Tuwani spoke with Israeli military to coordinate the escort for the children. However, several military spokespersons and soldiers on the ground denied being ordered to escort the children.

In 2004 the Israeli Knesset recommended that the Israeli military carry out a daily escort of the children of Tuba and Maghaer Al-Abeed to their school in At-Tuwani in response to settler violence against them. In 2006 Israeli Minister of Defense stated that the illegal outpost of Havot Ma’on should be dismantled because of the settlers’ violence towards school children. During the 2007-2008 school year, settlers used violence against these children on at least 14 occasions.

Monday, July 28, 2008

RELEASE: Israeli Settlers Attack Palestinian Children, Internationals on
Journey Home from Summer Camp

AT-TUWANI – At 1:50 pm, on Sunday, 27 July at least three Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian children and two internationals as they walked to their village of Tuba. The children had been attending summer camp in the village of At-Tuwani. As the fourteen children and two internationals, from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), were walking in a valley south of the illegal settlement outpost of Havot Ma'on, one masked settler came down the hill, throwing stones with a slingshot. The children and CPTer Jan Benvie ran ahead, but other settlers were approaching them from the opposite side of the valley. None of the stones thrown by the settlers struck the children, aged between 6 and 15 years old, and they were able to run to safety.

CPTer Joel Gulledge was filming the attack. When the masked settler saw Gulledge with the video camera, he began directing his stones at Gulledge. The settler hit Gulledge in the leg with a rock and he was unable to run. The settler then ran to him, wrested the camera from him, and began beating him with a rock and the camera. After that, the settler ran off with the camera.

On 22 July, the military did not escort the children. Only sev en children were willing to risk walking alone to At-Tuwani. The children informed CPT that at least eight other children did not attend the summer camp because they were too afraid to walk without a military escort. On the morning of 23 July, the army again refused to escort the children. The children were chased by three settlers, one of whom was masked and carrying a stick, while they walked unescorted to the summer camp. On 26 July, a military personnel informed internationals that the army would no longer provide an escort for the children, who were waiting for the army to arrive while four settlers from the illegal Israeli settlement outpost of Havot Ma'on shouted at the children. The personnel would not give the name and brigade of the commander refusing to provide the escort. When the international explained the dangerous situation for the children, the military personnel said, "I don't think the settlers will attack the children."

In October 2004, Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian schoolchildren and internationals in the same area as the attack on the 27th. Two internationals were hospitalized and, after international media coverage of the attack, the Israeli Knesset recommended that the Israeli military provide a daily escort for the children to go to and from school.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Settlers attacked the school children on their way home from summer camp today. The kids were able to escape, but a teammate of mine was beaten. He's all right - check the CPT website for details as they are released.

Over the next week, this blog will continue to be automatically updated with entries that I wrote yesterday. Those entries will still be interesting but they wont be a relevant as they were yesterday.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Release: Armed Settlers Enter the Village of At-Tuwani, Threaten and Insult Palestinians and Internationals: Israeli Police Refuse to Come to the Assistance of Palestinians
At-Tuwani, South Hebron Hills: On Friday 25 July at 10:30 am, three Israeli settlers, one masked and accompanied by a dog, left the Havot Ma'on settlement outpost and followed a Palestinian shepherd and his young son into the village of At-Tuwani. Over to the next hour, the settlers remained in the village shouting insults at the residents of the village and threatened to shoot them.

One settler took photographs and video of Palestinians and members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and Operation Dove (OD). He shouted racist insults comparing Palestinians to donkeys and made sexist comments to a female member of CPT. He also announced that he was carrying a gun and would shoot Palestinians if his fellow settlers requested it.

A volunteer with Christian Peacemaker Team called the Israeli police to ask them to come to village. The police refused to speak to her in English. An Israeli lawyer with Yesh Din then called the police, but the officers never arrived in the village.

Both Palestinian residents of At-Tuwani and members of CPT and OD reported that these three settlers had repeatedly threatened and harassed Palestinians on previous occasions. Notably, two of the three were photographed inside the village on At-Tuwani on 29 April 2008. (See Release: Israeli settlers attack and intimidate Palestinians: Israeli authorities allow twenty Israeli settlers to remain on At-Tuwani land)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

At-Tuwani: The Ongoing Struggle

The best video about the situation here yet produced. (Just ignore me. No, really, please ignore me.) But a warning - it begins with a fairly graphic scene of Palestinians beating beaten at a nonviolent demonstration.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"School children threatened by Israeli settlers in South Hebron Hills"

The Right to Education Campaign, based out of Birzeit University, has just released a wonderful report on the situation facing school children in the South Hebron Hills. They explain:

Often, on their daily route to school, the children are subjected to threats and violence by the Israeli settlers. After a series of settler attacks on the children in 2004, the Children's Committee of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, ordered a military escort to accompany the children on their route to school every day. In spite of this, the military escort often does not turn up on time or escorts the children only half the way, which makes the children vulnerable to attacks. To make the situation more complex for the children, settlers have recently installed a gate on the road, which is sometimes locked and therefore prevents the children from going to school completely - and these children are therefore being denied their right to education.

The report goes on to give an example of the sort of treatment that the children regularly endure:

...on the morning of 17th March, 2008, the children were unable to meet the regular military escort. The escort jeep stopped well short of the appointed meeting place, and despite repeated calls to the military by the international volunteers and concerned Israelis, the escort jeep never came forward to meet the children. The children could not walk towards the escort jeep because of the threatening presence of a settler. The settler was near the military escort and was speaking with the soldiers. He shouted threatening remarks at the children, and also threatened them with a rock. Eventually most of the children decided to take the long route to school, walking unescorted through the hills and arriving in At-Tuwani at about 9.00am, about an hour after school had started. Four of the children returned home and did not attend school because of the problems with the escort.

This situation is not unusual; the military escort often refuses to accompany the children for the entire route, in spite of the law ordered by the Knesset, obliging them to do so.

Thank you, Right to Education, for your wonderful work!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hi readers. I'm in Hebron right now, enjoying a little break. I'm honestly completely exhausted, so I don't think there will be much content on this blog for the next week. I need to get some rest.

Life in the South Hebron hills seems to be getting harder all the time. Our landlord and his 12 year old son were detained without food for 14 hours last week. In the end, the army took away their car and now say that they will have to pay 3,000 NIS to get it back. I just can't express how upsetting this was. The women in the family decided to cheer themselves up by having a dance party. But, as it seems to always go here, most of their music tapes were in the confiscated car. But we all danced (or at least I tried to) and laughed. Sometimes that's all you can do.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dreaming of Paradise

"I had a dream last night," Shaadi told my teammates and me while we sat munching sliced tomatoes and olives one hot afternoon. Shaadi told us that in his dream he had climbed to the top of one of the pine trees at the edge of the Havot Ma'on Israeli settlement outpost. Below him, Shaadi said he could see Israeli settlers stealing the fodder that he uses to feed his sheep.

"Come down here," one of the settlers called up to Shaadi. "No, no" he said. "I'll up stay here." But the settler reached up into the tree and pulled Shaadi down to the ground. "They tried to kill me," Shaadi told us. He put his hands around his throat to show how the settlers had chocked him. "And then I woke up."

Shaadi says that his children often have nightmares like the one he described. They used to have even more, he told us, but now his village is more organized and more successful in nonviolently resisting the attacks of Israeli settlers. Still, to get to school in At-Tuwani, Shaadi's children have to walk through an Israeli settlement, along a road where adult Israeli settler have attacked them with chains and stones. Seeing Shaadi's children greet me with smiles and laughter is a delight, but also it feels strange, like a dream.

A week ago, I looked out on to Havot Ma'on from on a hillside where I had never sat before. As I saw on the settlement outpost from a new angle, I found myself filled with jealousy. Before me on the wooded outpost, in adjacent valleys, and in the neighboring houses of Ma'on settlement, settlers moved around freely, without inhibition. "They have so much space!" I thought. I envied all of room they had in which to walk without fear of attack or arrest. Certainly, the settlers of Havot Ma'on are afraid. But theirs are fears that born of prejudice and hate. And whatever their feelings, they are not enough to change the insistent reality of the South Hebron Hills – it's Palestinians, not Israelis, who run through the hills afraid for their lives.

As I sat watching dusk fall on Havot Ma'on, I thought back to another day I spent with Shaadi and his family. Shaadi asked my teammates and me to watch as he, his wife, oldest daughter, young son, and tiny baby made their way from to Magher Al Abeed. Sure enough, as Shaadi feared, as the family climbed over the hills a car left the settlement and speed after them. I called Shaadi to tell him that settlers were coming. "Thank you, thank you!" he said. Over the cell phone I could hear him calling to his family, telling them to run home. "What a nightmare," I thought.

Rarely do dreams of Israeli settlers and soldiers disturb my sleep, but I lately find it increasingly difficult to put my faith into a dream of a better future for Shaadi and his family. A taxi driver recently quipped to me, "If we have peace, we are in paradise." Sitting on a hillside watching the sunset stain the sky, I often imagine what at-Tuwani will be like when the occupation is over and Shaadi's family can walk over the hills without fear. Paradise is certainly the word for what I see. But everyday the Israeli government seems to have even less will deal with the extremist Israeli settlers who terrorize Palestinians like Shaadi. The longer that I live in Palestine the less certain a future of peace and justice feels to me.

But sometimes when I meet the children coming to school in the morning, Shaadi's daughters Manar and Diana catch my eye. They are still in elementary school, but the girls walk with commanding dignity. I stand beside Diana as she explains to the Israeli soldiers who escort her to school that they arrived late and did not met the children to the correct location. "You have to come by 7:30," she insists. And as I watch this little girl speak to the soldiers with such conviction, my sense of despair eases. For a moment, I stop wondering, "When will this nightmare end?" and begin to think, "How much longer can this injustice possibly continue?" In the face of Palestinian children dreaming of a better tomorrow, surely today's horrors cannot stand for long.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I've been talking about water quite a bit lately, undoubtedly because I find it impossible to drink enough in this heat. For the village of At-Tuwani, water is a huge issue. That's why I wanted to highlight this article, "Israel's Discriminatory Water Policies." It gives a great little overview of what's going on and why water has become such an important issue.

At-Tuwani, of course, is one of the 220 towns and villages that are not connected to a water network. The village is dependent on wells and cisterns, making it extremely vulnerable to droughts, like the one we are currently experiencing.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Buckets and Demonstrations

"Mumkin daloo?"

Every evening when the heat breaks and it's time to draw water from the well, the children of at-Tuwani come to our house and ask us for our bucket. Our bucket is small and gray and exactly the same as every other bucket in the village; I think it's purely the thrill of asking us crazy foreigners "mumkin daloo?" ("Can we have the bucket?") that keeps the kids coming. Usually we hand over the bucket and return to whatever we were doing. But last night, my teammate Sarah politely turned down our young neighbors.

"We're on strike today. We're having a demonstration," she explained. "I'm very sorry, but I can't give you the bucket."

The reason for our daloo (bucket) demonstration was simple. The previous evening, seven-year-old Samih never returned our bucket. He forgot it and left it to spend the night at the well, not making its way home until yesterday afternoon. My teammates decided to express our discontent the firmest and most easily understandable way we could - through nonviolent resistance.

The girls asking for our bucket knew immediately what we meant by "demonstration." Here in At-Tuwani even the youngest child can tell you about the violence and injustice that the village is facing. Children alert us when the army sets up a checkpoint at the entrance to the village and they have christened our frayed Oscar the Grouch doll "Gadalia" after the armed Israeli settler who threatens their parents routinely. But from the oldest man in the village to the young girls who asked for our bucket, everyone in At-Tuwani also understands how the village is resisting the Israeli occupation of their land. Children observe their parents nonviolently confronting Israeli soldiers. Little boys accompany adults as they graze their sheep on their land in defiance of threats made by Israeli settlers. Women clear away roadblocks knowing they might be arrested. Everyone is familiar with nonviolent demonstrations and our neighbors vigorously debate their strategies.

Recently Sarah interviewed one of my favorite little girls for a short video on life in the village. "My name is Amira," she explained. "I live in At-Tuwani. I love At-Tuwani because…no!" she declared. "I don't love At-Tuwani. There are settlers and soldiers and they always cause problems!" Amira may be well aware of the situation facing her as she grows up, but she is also learning what resistance means under the tutelage of her parents and relatives. A few months ago she sagely informed me, "Wherever they go, soldiers always cause problems, but they don't come to Tuwani as often now because the people here are strong." When Amira grows up, whatever challenges her village faces, I'm sure she will be ready to organize nonviolent actions far more powerful than a "mumkin daloo" strike.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I don't generally post fundraising requests, but I just heard that the International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC) is in dire need of funds. If you follow the situation in Palestine, you're probably familiar with IMEMC, but let me give you an insight into the role they play for organizations like CPT and communities like At-Tuwani. Every time the Israeli military violates international law or Israeli settlers harass Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills, IMEMC is the first news outlet we call. They've been an invaluable as we've tried to tell the stories of At-Tuwani to as wide an audience as possible. In addition to running a wonderful website, they produce a weekly radio show that can be heard all over the world (and downloaded through itunes.) So, think about sending them some cash - we desperately need news outlets that tell truth and cover overlooked stories, like those coming from the South Hebron Hills

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

So,What Do You Do, Any way?

It's been a while since I've described what my day-to-day life actually looks, but I understand that inquiring minds would like to know. So, here are the nitty-gritty details.

In the morning, around 7am, we've been accompanying Palestinian shepherds as they graze their sheep. Particially, that means we pull out video cameras and binoculars, sit on rocks and if settlers arrive or begin to attack, we document and follow the direction of Palestinians. The idea is to have record of what is happening here, to support Palestinians in reclaiming their land by grazing on it, and to be available to physically 'get in the way' during settler attacks, if Palestinians request it.

We finish up with shepherding by the time it gets unbearably hot, usually around 10:00 am. During the afternoon, we're on call for other emergencies - checkpoints, soldiers in the village, settler attacks - or surprise visits from the UN! We also give tours of the area and try to keep our tiny house neat.

And we play and chat with our wonderful neighbors, like these beautiful people:

Kids from the pink house at the top of the hill

Watching for Settlers

Harvesting Wheat

Climbing all over CPTers!