Monday, June 30, 2008

just wanted to re-post a lovely op-ed written by Celia Hassan, the daughter of a friend of mine. Nice job, Celia.

Detention offers student new outlook on Israel

Monday, June 23, 2008

What’s a nice, Reed College sophomore doing in detention at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport? I ask myself this during the hours I am held. What do I have in common with these dozen or so suspected security threats: the gray-haired women who whisper about their treatment, the 8-year-old girl, tears dried on her face and fear in her eyes, the 18-year-old traveling to see family? We have little in common except that virtually all of us are Americans.

But unlike Jewish Americans who breeze through customs in seconds, we are Palestinian-Americans. In treatment reminiscent of the Jim Crow South, we stand in a separate line, are harassed and intimidated. In Israel, the principles we cherish as Americans disappear; we are suspect because we are not the “right” religion or ethnicity.

During my interrogation, an Israeli officer grills me about everything from what classes I took last semester to what my parents do for a living. Another shows me pictures of people — my cousin in California, and my great-grandmother — and asks if I know them. When she shows me a woman I don’t know, she yells at me: “Don’t lie!” When I am allowed to leave the airport, I am advised to make this my “last trip to Israel.”

But this wasn’t a trip to Israel. I will spend my summer at Bir Zeit University in the Palestinian West Bank. Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank and Gaza for 41 years and controls all border crossings. Nothing gets into or out of Palestinian territory without Israel’s approval — not students wishing to learn, business people planning to invest in the Palestinian economy, parents hoping to visit their children; not food, medicine, or fuel.

Routine harassment

Israel routinely harasses Palestinian Americans traveling to the West Bank or Gaza. The State Department notes numerous reports of “American citizens, of Arab descent, subjected to harsh and degrading treatment at border crossings.” Many are denied entry altogether. Last month, a Palestinian-American filmmaker was prevented by Israel from attending the West Bank opening of her latest film. What threat can she — or I — pose to Israel?

Perhaps because we are not Jewish our presence threatens Israel’s system of racial segregation. In the West Bank, Israelis drive on ­separate (and better) roads than Palestinians. They have access to more water and enjoy freedom of movement. Palestinians ration water and are prevented from traveling freely without permits. In Israel, more than 20 laws privilege Jews over Israel’s non-Jewish citizens.

From my great-grandmother’s house in Ramallah, I watched Sen. Barack Obama’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He called Israel a ­shining example of democracy

and pledged unconditional support for it as a Jewish state. Palestinians were disappointed to hear him praise what others, like former President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, call apartheid.

When will America demand of Israel what we fought so hard to achieve at home — equal rights for all? Maybe we should start by demanding equal treatment for all Americans at Israeli airports.

Celia Hassan, a graduate of Skyview High School, is a sophomore at Reed College. She is currently attending the International Summer Program at Bir Zeit University in the Palestinian West Bank. If you’re a student with an informed opinion, send it to The Columbian, P.O. Box 180, Vancouver, 98666, or e-mail it to

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Kisses from At-Tuwani!

Photo from donkey-rider Laura!
Well, yesterday the Israeli army rebuilt the roadblock on the road to Yatta. You should have seen the faces of my neighbors and heard their sighs. Then, a couple of hours later, we discovered that the Israeli army had left demolition orders for the village's new well and at least four other structures in the village of Mfughra, a smaller village about 20 minute walk away from At-Tuwani. While all of this was happening, I was laying down, sweating and vomiting and drinking electrolytes. (I'm now in Hebron and feeling a little better, for those of you who are concerned.) Let me tell you, it was a great day.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Question and Answers

Back when I posted about the expanded (huge, honestly) road block that was blocking the road to Yatta, Alajnbiya asked some great questions. There less applicable now that the block has been taken down, but I'll answer them more generally:

So can you walk around it?

Well, at the time, I would have described what I did as climbing over it. Possible, not easy even for very able-bodied people.

Are there any health care facilities on the Tuwani side?

At-Tuwani has a very basic health clinic that's open once a week for most of the day. But all the major health care facilities are in Yatta.

Are there pregnant women who can't get to the hospital without walking through a field?

Well, I have to admit that this question made me giggle. At-Tuwani's a farming town, nobody can get any where except by walking through fields. :) But seriously, medical access for pregnant women is a huge issue, even when the road to Yatta is open. Because travel to Yatta is always chancy (due to flying checkpoints and poor infrastructure), many women who have family in Yatta simply stay there when their due date begins to approach. Women who live in the Tuba and Magher Al Abeed, two smaller villages of the South Hebron Hills near At-Tuwani, have to walk over the hills to get to the hospital. Settlers have taken over the roads to their villages -- the road to Tuba has been declared "public" by the Israeli high court, but the only Palestinians who are able to use it are school children and they have to be escorted by the Israeli military. This leaves all Palestinians being forced to hike through the hills, even pregnant women. Because of Israeli settlers regularly chase and attack Palestinians, Palestinian residents are forced to take further detours so that they remain out of sight of the settlement and are prepared to run at any moment. All of this means, as you might imagine, that many women are forced to give birth at home, inside the houses they've built inside caves.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Susiya Attacks Follow-Up

Thanks to everyone whose sent links to articles about Susiya. We're happily baffled - we can't figure out why this has gotten so much coverage. You can see video of the attack here and video testimony here. Here are a few of the article that have come out in English language papers:

There's a crucial follow-up story to this incident, however, that's gone unreported. Our friend Nassar who works for B'tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, was filming with a B'tselem camera a soldier struck him in the face and then commenced to destroy his tape. You'll have to forgive me, I really don't remember the date of this attack and I'm not near anyone whom I can ask.

Attacks like this seem to increase when settlers are feeling the sting of being held responsible for their actions. 2 people, I understand, have been arrested now for the attack in Susiya. Since then, we've been seeing more harassment from the Israeli army and settlers than usual. A shepherd from Magher Al Abeed have been has had a string of close-calls over the last week. It just breaks my heart and, honestly, makes me angry.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hi there, readers.

Taking a needed couple of days off in Jerusalem. I decided to prioritize writing a few emails to friends during this break, so there wont be as much here over the next week. Sorry. I do intend to answer the questions, including critical ones, I've received but I can't promise I'll get around to it before I had back to Tuwani. Any way, thanks for asking them.

I did want to give out some good news - the road block has been cleared! I drove straight to Yatta from Tuwani which was lovely. I really hope we can get through the summer without another.

Lots has been happening here - mainly settler and army violence/harassment that we think is in response to settlers getting arrested for attacks in Susiya. But that's for another post.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Nighttime Army Activity

Lately, the Israeli army has decided to harass at-Tuwani at night. The army has entered the village several times during after dark, scaring children and getting all of us out of the bed. I'm too tired to really describe all that's been going on, but you can consult the CPT yahoo group or for more information. For now, here are some photographs from a midnight checkpoint that took place inside the village. Nicely done, Jan. And nice to have a camera with a decent flash, huh?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another wonderful question from Alajnbiya —

I heard that they blocked the road to atTuwani? Is it still a problem?

In short, yes. Ever since February, the Israeli army has been trying to block the road between the communities of the South Hebron Hills and Yatta, the economic and infrastructure hub for the entire area. On June 5th, the army expanded a small barrier into the largest road block of the year. Using boulders, cement blocks, and earth, they constructed a road block taller than I am and impassable. Even as an able bodied young person, climbing over this barrier requires just that - climbing. A couple days ago, I road in a van around through a field where the driver hoped to find another way to cross and reach the road again. After about 20 minutes, they gave up.
The expanded road block

It’s cliche, I know, but it’s nearly impossible to describe the devastating impact of curtailing freedom of movement in this way. Currently, the South Hebron Hills are suffering from a severe drought - this road block has doubled commercial price of water and raised by 30 percent the price of transportation to the area. The summer is not looking good for the South Hebron Hills.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Nearly immediately upon arriving in at-Tuwani after my break in the states, this is what Palestinians asked me to document:

Yeah, those are three dead goats. They were killed by an Israeli settler who ran his car into them. The driver hit two more, breaking their legs. Actually, his license plate began embedded in the horns of one of the goats. That's the only reason the Palestinian owner was able to file a police report. Details can be found here:

This is just sick. I'm sorry that I don't have more profound analysis, there isn't much to say. Lately, settlers have been attacking sheep in the South Hebron Hills seemly at every opportunity because they know that deters financially-strapped shepherds even more than attacking the people themselves. And that's just sick. Enough said.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Can I get a Witness?" Obama on Israel, Iran, and Palestine

Most of the entries you'll be reading over the next few days were written a single sitting at the Jerusalem Hotel in a mad attempt to make the most of limited internet access. As I've sat here writing, I've found myself feeling more and more sad and frustrated. And now I come to what has become the icing on a very depressing cake.

Barak Obama, now the democratic nominee for President, recently gave what I can only describe as an appalling speech to AIPAC. There were many things to criticize about what he said, especially his words on "eliminating" Iranian "threat", but let's just take a look at this line:

"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided."

Let's take a look at what an undivided Jerusalem looks like. An undivided, Israeli-controlled capital means inequitable social services in Palestinian neighborhoods. It means Muslims cut off from their holy sites. It means Israeli settlements crowding out Palestinian homes. It means Israelis in military uniform harassing Palestinian shop owners in the old city market. It means a 25 high wall running around the city.

Jerusalem is a city holy to Christians, Jews, and Muslims and Obama knows that. Somehow, it feels right that I'm listening to Marvin Gaye singing "Can I get a Witness?" while I write. I feel like like I've been having a political love affair and I've just been cheated on. I'm an Obama supporter - though I can't say that I'm all that surprised that he's abandoning principle on this issue. I still think he'll certainly be better than Clinton, even for Palestine. But I'm not above criticizing the candidate I support during his campaign. In fact, I think that is a great idea.

Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi journalist and blogger, recently came over to our house in Vancouver, Washington and politely eat my baba ganoush before giving a presentation to Vancouver for Peace. During his talk, he pointed out that history Presidential candidates have to be pressured during their campaigns for them to change their policies. And Obama's got to change his policies on Iraq, Iran, and Palestine.

So, let's do it. Obama's got a lot going for him - let's remind him that we like the Obama who says what he believes and who represents change, not the right-wing dreams of AIPAC. A teammate and I are trying to get a campaign together to pressure him - we'll give you details when we're organized.
As those of you who follow news from the West Bank will know, on Monday four Palestinians were severely attacked by Israeli settlers from the settlement of Susiya. At the request of the village, a teammate and I spent the night with the family, one of who remained in the hospital still recovering from her injuries. Other CPTers and internationals have been invited to stay for the rest of the week.

The attack was brutal. Six masked settlers beat a 70 years old Palestinian man in the head. When another elderly woman and a young woman attempted to intervene they were beaten with cudgels and rifle butts. The three where sent to hospitals. An adult Palestinian man was also beaten. He showed us his injuries - huge bruises on his back and arms, a wounded finger, and blows to the head. The family also showed us their papers proving that the land on which they were grazing their sheep was theirs.

We could not ask for better hosts. Like all families from the Palestinian village of Susiya, their house has been bulldozed to the ground. Since 2001, the whole village has been forced to live tents, all of which have been razed to the ground twice already. The family welcomed us in their home, making sure that we were warm and well-feed. They asked us about our families and our impressions of Palestinians. They told us to tell their stories of our friends at home. They, more or less, took the attack in stride. It was awful, especially so, and it was clear to me that they were worried. But it was not surprising. In Susiya village, settler attacks and harassment take place every day. Even my teammate and I couldn't find it in ourselves to be shocked. After living next to Ma'on and Havot Ma'on settlements for six months, I'm just not surprised by any act of violence preformed by settlers. It's a terrible feeling.

I've talked more about this than I expected to. For more details, take a look at the Haaretz. They did cover the story, but I can't find the article. If any of you do, please comment with a link to it.

What a nightmare.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I promised answers to Alajnbiya's questions about this video. And here they are! (I'm a jet lagged, so forgive me for not being very talkative.)

1.) How much does this limit the people from grazing their flocks?

The short answer - a lot. In the past, the majority of At-Tuwani's grazing land was under closed military order. This particular closed military zone order didn't last for long - the village resisted it too much. But closed military zones have completely destroyed Tuwani's economy in the past.

The evening after the events in this video took place, the leaders of Tuwani decided to try grazing near Avigayle settlement, which about a 10 minute walk from the village, to test how the Israeli army would respond. Sure enough, the next day, one villager was nearly arrested and the army later pulled out a closed military zone order. Leaders in the villager were extremely worried that this would become a trend, but thankfully it hasn't.

2.) Is there farm land included too?

Yes. There really isn't a distinction between farming land and grazing land - it's all important because there isn't a lot of it and there's even less water to nurture it. That's why closed military zones and settler violence have impacted at-Tuwani so deeply.

3.) Do Tuwani's villagers have deeds to this land?

Again, yes. This is a little bit complicated - most of the villagers have deeds, but the land is used collectively. Everyone shares grazing space and there are some landowners who've been driven out of the South Hebron hills all together. Getting the landowners involved can be difficult and the Israeli army sometimes uses this as an excuse. Mostly, though, they don't bother with excuses.

4.) Are they ever shown the orders in Arabic?

I'm not so sure. Not that I'm aware of.

5.) Why doesn't the world care???

Well, I like to think it's because very few people know what's going on. So, go tell them about it!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Book Launch! 118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams Held Hostage in Iraq

On November 26, 2005, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) members Tom Fox and Jim Loney along with delegation members Norman Kember and Harmeet Sooden were kidnapped in Iraq. Tom Fox was killed on March 9, 2006. Jim, Norman and Harmeet were freed two weeks later on March 23 after 118 days of captivity.

The kidnapping of these four peacemakers was like a rock thrown into a pond.

This collection describes the ripples on the water.

And it's now available for purchase, and at a pre-launch discount at that. Visit to order.

And why does this book belong on a blog about at-Tuwani? Well, those are Tuwani kiddos on the cover at one of the demonstrations the village had calling for the release of our teammates. Honestly, though, I feel very sad writing about this situation. Merfat, the smiling girl in the center of the photo, died recently and it's impossible to think about the kidnapping without thinking about Tom. So many people were impacted by the terrible events that this book describes. Still, the book claims to be filled with "stories characterized by hope, courage, friendship, and forgiveness."

I still haven't read it and since I'm heading to Palestine very soon, I don't think that I'll be able to. But if any one you do and would like to write a review, I'll publish it here! Don't be shy!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hebron Orphans Update:

Recently, a CPTer wrote to the Israeli army and shared her feelings on their on-going situation facing the Hebron Islamic Charieties Orphanages. (Take a look at the tags for more info.) Here's the letter she got back.

Thank you for your comment. We are not connected to this issue, or any issue of activity in Hebron or the rest of the West Bank. Therefore unfortunately your comments have no where to go on to. Requests for further information on anything regarding this type of activity in the Palestinian Territories can be referred to the Spokesperson's office with the Coordination for the Government Affairs in the Territories. Please pass this information to anyone who you know that may also seek further information.


Public Relations

IDF Spokesperson Unit

Odd, as the IDF has claimed that it initiated this policy, as reported by many Israeli papers. Thought you all would be interested.

PS: Here's there email address: