Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Over The Last Year:

I'll admit it, I'm procrastinating. While I was looking on my computer for a file, I found a list that I created in late August, as I was nearing my one year anniversary of working in At-Tuwani. This is a list of some of the things that I've seen over this last year, both terrible and wondrous. It doesn't pretend to be comprehensive, not nearly, but it does give a snap shot of how I see life in the South Hebron Hills.

There are pictures and videos of many of these events. If any of you of especially like to see something, I can see what I can do to fulfil those requests.

Over the last year, I've seen:

- Over a hundred children and their parents march to Tuba along a road Palestinian haven’t been able to use for 11 years

- The paramilitary settler guard of Ma’on push a pregnant woman and steal her zatre

- Palestinians organize the 2007 olive harvest so cleverly there wasn’t a single settler attack

- Settlers shoot three sheep and miss their shepherd. The next day, shepherds grazed hundreds of sheep in the same spot, clear up to the boarder of the settlement

- Palestinian children chased, cursed, threaten and attacked by Israeli settlers more times than I can remember

- Palestinian villagers from Tuba and Magher Al Abeed run through the hills to avoid being beaten by settlers too many times

- One teammate beaten by settlers, another
choked by an Israeli soldier, and another teammate arrested and faced with deportation

- Palestinians lock arms together and start walking forward to protect one from being arrested

- Settlers spray pepper spray into the eyes of a Palestinian and his elderly father. He was arrested. Ma’on’s paramilitary guard threatened to kill him, saying then “there will be no more problems.” When he was released from prison, he walk right up to and and then straight past the paramilitary guard, fearlessly.

- Five sheep ran over by a settler in a car

- A family in Susiya beaten by settlers

- Soldiers attack sheep and goats, kicking one in the teeth and another in the side, causing her to lactate blood

- Women remove a road block, opening the road to Yatta

- Three soldiers expose their butts to Palestinians, while the paramilitary settler “guard” of Ma’on stood next to them

- No settlers arrested for their crimes

- Illegal settlements expanding every day

- Palestinians, time and time again, walk straight up to settlers and soldiers and assert their rights

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This morning while I sipped my tea, I thought to myself, “It happens every day.”

Yesterday afternoon, October 14th, a group of six to twelve year old Palestinian children returning home from school were forced to run for their lives. Every morning and afternoon, these children must walk to past an Israeli settlement on their way to and from school in the village of at-Tuwani. Yesterday, two adult Israeli settlers waited for them near the end of the settlement, threw stones at the children and chased them towards their homes in the village of Tuba. Because these children have been attacked frequently, lately in this very location, the Israeli army is charged with escorting them each day. But yesterday, as usual, the Israeli soldiers drove away, abandoning the children while they were still in danger. “The children were very afraid when they arrived home,” said one father.

It happens every day. Serving with Christian Peacemaker Teams in At-Tuwani, I’ve born witness to more attacks on these children than I’ve been able to keep track of. The children are not attacked every day, but every day they face more danger on their walk to school than I have faced my entire life. We’ve sat together, the children, my fellow CPTers and I, and waited for the Israeli army to come for more hours that I care to recall. Sometimes we play together and manage to have a genuinely good time. One afternoon we played with my camera, the kids posing for me as they climbed trees, climbed on top of each other, giggled and danced. The next day, one of the older girls pulled on my hand and said to me, “I was so happy yesterday! Last night I woke up in the middle of the night because I had a bad dream about the settlers. But then I thought about all the fun we had and I fell back asleep.” Those words broke my heart and I can’t put it back together.

It happens every day. We all know the many ways, tiny and humongous , that our world is falling apart around us: polar bears who are losing their habitat, millions of parents who can’t feed their children, wars with no end in sight, petty meanness, decreased community, and children who are attacked on their way to school. It’s so much to bear. Too much.

It happens every day, but that’s not the end of the story. Lately my mantra has been, “It is as bad as you think it is, but that’s not all.” To paraphrase an old slogan, if your heart isn’t broken, you aren’t paying attention. But if you aren’t also filled with hope, you’re missing half of the story. In at-Tuwani, every day Palestinians are resisting a military occupation that is trying to crush them and their culture. They are grazing their sheep, building new houses, organizing nonviolent demonstrations, and sending their children to school. Now it’s time for the olive harvest and throughout Palestine, farmers will step out on to their land, sometimes risking arrest and attacks, to harvest a bounty of thousands of green, blue, and even purple hued olives. Here in my own pacific northwest, I’ve been thinking about the salmon who every year come down the river, offer themselves up to the people, and then swim back to their headwaters to spawn and die. For thousand of years, despite ever increasing odds against them, they’ve survived through this cycle. I can’t help but think there is something they are trying to tell us.

It happens every day. Horror and hope. They stand together, side by side, on the knife’s edge. And they offer us a choice, every day.

More Attacks on the School Children

Israeli settlers from the settlement of Ma'on in the South Hebron Hills attacked Palestinian schoolchildren on their way home from school yesterday, 14 October. The children were returning from school in the village of At-Tuwani to their homes in villages of Tuba and Maghaer al Abeed. Two adult Israeli settlers waited for them near the end of the settlement, threw stones at the children and chased them towards Tuba.

"The children were very afraid when they arrived home," said O, one of the children's fathers.

This attack happened in spite of the fact that the Israeli military is responsible for escorting the children past the settlement of Ma'on and settlement outpost of Havot Ma'on. Both the settlement and the outpost are illegal in international law and the outpost is also illegal according to Israeli law. Despite the fact that there have been repeated attacks on the Palestinian elementary schoolchildren, and despite Palestinian, Israeli and international representations, the Israeli military continues to fail to escort the children safely past the settlement.

Their vehicles almost always stop and turn before the end of the route, which leaves the children to walk alone on a part of the route where Israeli settlers have attacked them several times. Internationals monitoring the school escort cannot see the children in this area.

Settler attacks on the schoolchildren from Tuba and Maghaer al Abeed have been a recurrent problem for years, and the implementation of an Israeli military escort has failed to solve the problem. Last year, the 2007-2008 academic year, settlers attacked the children a total of fourteen times, as documented in the report "A Dangerous Journey: Settler Violence Against Palestinian Schoolchildren Under Israeli Military Escort."

Source: Christian Peacemaker Teams

Sunday, October 12, 2008

At-Tuwani Reflection: Swings and Roundabouts

By Jan Benvie

8 October 2008

This summer the at-Tuwani villagers organized a two and a half week summer camp for local children. The children loved the fun of the camp. New play equipment had been donated and it was sometimes difficult to tell who enjoyed the swings, seesaws and roundabouts more, the children or the adults!

However, under Israeli military occupation, summer camp is not all fun.

During the school year the Israeli army escorts children from the villages of Tuba and Maghaer al-Abeed to school in At-Tuwani, because they are in danger of attack from Israeli settlers living in the nearby illegal settlement and settlement outpost. Prior to the camp, villagers contacted the DCO (the Israeli military division that administers civilian affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories) and requested an army escort for the children. They received an ambiguous reply, and some days the army escorted the children to camp, on others they did not.

On Friday 25 July, CPTer Jessica Frederick and I stayed overnight in Tuba. The following morning we left the village at around 7:30 am and walked with the children, aged between six and 15 years old, to the edge of the Israeli settlement, where they meet the army escort.

The children were happy as we walked along. It was camp day! They were all proudly wearing their summer camp T-shirts and baseball caps, given out the previous day. They ran and skipped along the road, laughing and joking. Suddenly, we heard shouts and saw Israeli settlers walking towards us from the outpost. The fun-loving atmosphere instantly evaporated. The children moved into family groupings, the older clearly taking on a protective role towards the younger. Only three days previously the children had been chased by settlers, one masked and carrying a stick.

We immediately called the army escort, but the soldiers refused to come because they did “not have orders." The settlers stood some distance away, but continued to yell. The children, although clearly petrified, told us they still wanted to walk to the camp – not by the shorter, direct route they take with the army, but a longer, slightly safer one.

It was shocking to watch the children as we made our way to at-Tuwani. Two older boys ‘scouted’ ahead with me, directing me where we needed to be more cautious. Jessica walked behind the children, still tightly knit in their family groups. When the path forced us to pass within sight of the outpost, the children almost crawled along the ground, anxious not to be seen by the violent settlers living there.

That day the settlers did not attack, but their shouts and jeers, their very presence, were enough to inflict horrific fear in the children.

Abusers do not need to beat their victims daily. They beat their victims often enough to intimidate and frighten them. Then a mere threat is enough to terrorize.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Support La Onf!

Iraqi nonviolence activists calling their network "La Onf" (meaning nonviolence) activists are launching the third annual week of nonviolence and are asking for your support.

You can sign a letter of support for their efforts. And equally important, you can let other people know about what they're doing, because it's really amazing.