Monday, March 30, 2009

Ten Reasons that Havot Ma'on Outpost and Ma'on Settlement Have Got to Go

I've been trying to figure out what to say about the last ten days in Tuwani. It's hard to summarize what's been going on over here. There's just too much to say. It's springtime which means that Palestinians are working their land more and more and the weather's pleasant, so Israeli settlers don't mind coming out to harass them. Every day it's a struggle. Grazing sheep is risky. Harvesting crops is risking. Walking home through the hills is risky. Palestinians are even attacked in their own homes.

And this is intolerable. This situation is immoral, and it's illegal too. But the law isn't really the point here. The point is a simple one. We, as human beings, all of us deserve to live in safety and security and we should have the ability to shape our future. There is only one way that Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills are going to have that freedom - Havot Ma'on and Ma'on must be dismantled.

So, over the next few days, I'm going to give you ten reasons why Ma'on and Havot Ma'on have got to go, and should have gone yesterday. In no particular order, here's your first reason:

Reason one: As long as Havot Ma'on and Ma'on remain, school children from Tuba and Mayger Al Abeed can't get to school in a safe and timely fashion.
A Palestinian child injured by Israeli settlers last year (CPT photo)

Adult settlers continue to harass, attack and beat 6-12 year old Palestinian children going to and from school in Tuwani. The Israeli army has proven, time and time again, that they are not willing to ensure the safety of these children. The army is supposed to escort these children to and from school, but for the last year, they haven't been abandoning the children for a third of the appointed escort. These leaves the children alone while they are still in danger. And the children are still being attacked in this area.

IMEMC (say that five times fast) published a great article about the way that the Israeli army has been failing to ensure the safety the school kids military escort
. Read it. And I challenge you to post on your blog or send email to your friends or write to your newspaper and political reps and tell them that you know that this is happening. And that you know the only way that's it's ever going to stop if the Israeli government demolished Ma'on and Havot Ma'on.

And while you're at it, write the Israeli Army and tell them that they've got to escort these children properly. That's a band-aid, for sure, but it's a very important one.

There's reason number one. Nine more coming at you.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Deliverance and Daily Bread: Prayers in Qalandiya Checkpoint

When I stepped into the Qalandiya checkpoint, my fingers found their way to the rosary I carry in the right-hand pocket of my jeans. The last time I passed through this checkpoint, which stands between Ramallah and Jerusalem, was a two years ago when it was still being turned into the full-scale "terminal" it is today. Even at noon on a Wednesday, Qalandiya was crowded and the line was long. In the midst of this crowd of people all wanting to get through as quickly as possible, many with frustration and resigination on their faces, I felt confused and a little anxious. I needed something to hold onto, some tangible symbol of the hope that felt so far away.

Qalandiya checkpoint is a sprawling complex, but the entrance to its heart - where soldiers check IDs and bark commands through static-filled loudspeakers - is a narrow corridor not more than two feet across created by metal fencing. As I stood in in the passage way, feeling like a caged animal, I ran the beads through my fingers and began to pray.

Standing in a checkpoint designed to humilate the words of the "Our Father" finally made sense to me. In the middle of violence and injustice, there is nothing else for which to pray. Daily bread. Forgiveness. Deliverance from evil. These are all that matter.

The soldiers open the turnstile for a few minutes at a time. I passed through while the green light flashed and put my bag on a convayer belt. Next, I stepped through a metal dector. When it beeped, I took my keys and rosary out of my pocket and placed them on a tray before passing through the metal detector again. Then I pushed my passport up to the glass window between me and a young Israeli soldier. After she checked it, I turned to retrieve my bag.

I was walking toward the exit, eager to stand in the open air again when a smirking Israeli police officer demanded my passport. He checked my visa and then looked up into my face. "You look angry. Why?"

"I think this is a good reason to be angry," I replied, struggling to keep my voice even as a guestered toward the checkpoint around me. I was angry, but felt more like crying than shouting.

"So you're angry," he said. "That's fine." He grinned again and handed back my passport. With nothing left to do or say, I walked away.

The truth is, I felt ashamed of my anger. The Palestinian men, women, and children standing with me in the interminable line were nothing but calm. Who am I to be angry, a white American? Back on a crowded bus, I took a deep breath, as though I'd been holding mine all through the checkpoint.

The bus driver started off towards Jerusalem, driving along the 25 foot hight apartheid wall. Written on the wall in black spray paint were five words that caught my eye: "People are stronger than walls."

I smiled to myself, pullled my rosary out of my pocket, and started to pray again.

Monday, March 23, 2009

One of those days, Tuwani-Style

People often ask me what a normal day is like here. Sometimes I get cheeky and respond, "no day in Tuwani is ever normal." But let me actually answer that question. Here's what today was like in Tuwani:

In the morning I got up at 7 am and walked out to a place that we call "the gate" with a delegation from CPT. We waited for the kids from Tuba and Magyer Al Abeed to arrive with the military escort (for those of you unfimilar with the details of the situation here, school kids need to walk past an illegal settlement and illegal settlement outpost to get to school and sometimes they're beaten up by settlers and thus require an Israeli military escort to get to school). I explained what our guests were seeing: the illegal (under international law) settlement of Ma'on, the illegal (under international and Israeli law) settlement outpost of Havot Ma'on, land stolen from a close friend and collegue in Tuwani, an orchard planted by the settlers and irrigated lavishly while Palestinians are suffering through a drought, and a field successfully plowed by Palestinians last year that was stolen again by settlers this year. A depressing description to be sure.

After the kids arrived I walked our guests back to Tuwani for breakfast and then ran home to eat something myself before another group arrived. I gave them a tour, introduced them to two community organizers from the village and helped them do some shopping at the women's co-operative. While I was searching for some change, I got a phone call from a shepherd saying "There are settlers out here. Why isn't someone from CPT here?" I assured them that there were two people there already and that someone else was coming out as well. I continued looking for change. Found some. Sat down. Relaxed for twenty minutes.

My teammate Sarah called one of the community organizers in the village so he could come down to our house and begin giving a second presenation, time time to the CPT delegation staying in the village (the group I spoke to at the gate this morning). While they were talking, school ended and the kids started to gather to go home. I hurried up to the gate again, called the army to ask them to come, and spend some time with the kids. The army came - mericifully quickly for a change. Kids left for home. I watched them until they were out of sight and then turned around to come home.

I climbed the hill up to a neighbors house to join the CPT delegation for a lovely lunch prepared for them by the women's co-op. Took a deep breath. Relaxed. When my cell phone started ringing, I pulled it out of my pocket and answered.

I learned from my teammates that the children encourntered settlers on their home from school, after they were out of my sight. Settlers had been grazing sheep near the path the kids take home from school. Even after my teammates had called the army asking them to accompany the children past the settlers, the army abandoned the kids leaving them to walk about a 1/3 of the designate military escort by themselves. The children had to take a detour and hurry home to avoid the settlers. My heart sank.

When I hung up my phone, another teammate told me she had a update about a situation that began unfolding yesterday when a young man from Tuwani, someone I was drinking tea with just the day before, was grazing his sheep in Khourba valley. Settlers arrived and called the army, claiming this young man had thrown stones at them. My teammates were present with video cameras and knew this wasn't true, but the young man was taken to Kiryta Araba police station any way. My teammates and a lawyer followed him. They were all premited to leave yesterday but asked to come back again today. As I was finishing my lunch, another teammate told me that the young man had been released and was back in the village. Everything was okay. It was nice to have good news.

I helped a few CPT delegated prepare for spending the night in smaller villages in the area and then walked home and collapsed on to our couch (it's a couple of mats, but is always the couch I apperciate most). Checked my email and decided to update this blog.

Tomorrow will be another full, not-normal normal day here. We'll help the kids get too and from school and I'll probably spend some time out with shepherds. But for rest of the night, I plan to rest until something rouses me.

And that's one day in the life of a Tuwani CPTer.
Israeli soldiers join settlers in chasing Palestinian shepherds off their lands instead of arriving on time for school escort.

On May 15th, I was accompanying a shepherd who has worked very hard and risked much to resist the confiscation of his land. My teammate and I joined him as he grazed his sheep on a piece of land that settlers have had their eye on for some time. Meanwhile, our other teammates were calling the Israeli army trying to convinced, beg, cajole, or browbeat the Israeli army into escorting the kids from Tuba home from school. Then low and behold, the jeep appeared on the hillside above us. The soldiers talked to two settlers - the same people who had been harassing shepherds all day long. Instead of taking the kids home from school, the soldiers forced the shepherd I was accompanying down into the valley. It was madding. Here's the release that we sent out.

[Note: According to the Geneva Conventions, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, and numerous United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal. Most settlement outposts are considered illegal under Israeli law. The At-Tuwani team comprises both CPTers and members of the Italian peace organization, Operation Dove.]

Israeli soldiers in charge of escorting the children from At-Tuwani to their homes in the villages of Tuba and Maghayir al Abeed arrived at the meeting point thirty minutes late on 15 March 2009, leaving the children waiting in cold, rainy weather. When At-Tuwani team members with the children called for the escort, the army dispatcher said the escort would come thirty minutes late and offered no further explanation.

At-Tuwani team members accompanying local shepherds in the area witnessed two settlers in a white pickup coming onto Palestinian land and chasing away shepherds at about 12.50 p.m. Ten minutes later, an army jeep drove into the same area, and two soldiers joined the settlers in preventing shepherds from accessing their land. The soldiers left the area at about 1:25 p.m. and drove to the escort meeting point.

Further departing from protocol, the jeep drove off into Ma’on settlement while two soldiers escorted the children on foot. The jeep rejoined the escort ten minutes later when it was almost over.

After five years of implementation, the Israeli military escort still has problems performing its legal duty. The escort sometimes is late, forcing the children wait alone in cold weather or unsafe locations. In addition, the army vehicles and soldiers on foot consistently stop and turn before the end of the route, which leaves the children to walk alone on a path where settlers have attacked them. During the 2007-2008 academic year, settlers attacked the children fourteen times, as documented in the report “A Dangerous Journey: Settler violence against Palestinian schoolchildren under Israeli military escort” [].

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Well, when I arrived in At-Tuwani, it started right a way. I set down my bag and started to admire the improvements that my teammates made to our house while I was away and then the phone rang. While the 19 Palestinians standing with them were detained for 45 minutes, two teammates of mine were arrested as they video tapped a bulldozer expanding an illegal settlement. Funny, getting arrested for recording someone else breaking the law. Thankfully, they were released the next day. Here's the story:

8 March 2009
AT-TUWANI: Israeli police detain Palestinian landowners asserting their rights, arrest two members of Christian Peacemaker Team members

At 11:30 a.m., 8 March, Israeli police detained nineteen Palestinians who were trying to access their land near the village of Um al-Kheir. The police also arrested two Christian Peacemaker Teams members (CPTers) and charged them with obstruction and trespass, even though the owners had invited them to their land.

Palestinians from the village observed workers using road building equipment on Palestinian-owned land near the Israeli settlement of Karmel which is adjacent to Um al-Kheir. When the Palestinians and CPTers approached the work area, an Israeli settlement security guard began demanding they leave. When they remained on the land, he contacted the Israeli army and police. At 12:00 p.m., Israeli police detained the Palestinians for forty-five minutes at the scene. They arrested the CPTers and transported them to Kiryat Arba Police Station outside Hebron, where they charged them with trespassing and obstructing the building work. The CPTers were at least ten meters away from the construction vehicles and were simply standing with the Palestinian landowners.

Neither the army nor police asked the Palestinians for papers to ascertain the true ownership of the land.

Here's the follow up:

9 March 2009
AT-TUWANI RELEASE: Israeli court releases CPTers arrested for accompanying Palestinian landowners

At 2:30 pm, on Monday, 9 March, a Jerusalem court released two Christian Peacemaker Teams members (CPTers) whom Israeli police arrested while the CPTers accompanied nineteen Palestinians trying to access their land near the Bedouin village of Um al-Kheir. The CPTers were charged with trespass and obstruction of construction work, despite the fact that they were at least ten meters away from the work zone and the Palestinian landowners had invited them to their lands.

Israeli police arrested the CPTers on Sunday, 8 March, at 11:30 a.m., when Palestinian landowners from Um al-Kheir asserted their right to visit their land. The villagers observed workers using road-building equipment on Palestinian-owned land near the adjacent Israeli settlement of Karmel. When the Palestinians and CPTers approached the work area, an Israeli settlement security guard began to shout, demanding that they leave. When they remained on their land, the guard contacted the Israeli army and police. At 12:00 p.m., Israeli police detained the Palestinians at the scene for forty-five minutes. They arrested the CPTers and transported them to Kiryat Arba Police Station outside Hebron. Neither the army nor police asked the Palestinians for papers to ascertain the true ownership of the land. Um al-Kheir villagers report that the work they observed is expanding Karmel settlement and stealing their land and livelihood.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Article from Seth Freedman: Israeli and Palestinian Officials Must Help Villagers Running the Settler Gauntlet

A few days ago, Tuwani was visited by Seth Freedman, a reporter from the Guardian who was a pleasure to take around over Tuwani's hills. Seth's first article on the situation here has now been published and I submit it for your reading pleasure.

With no one in either Israeli or Palestinian officialdom paying serious heed to their predicament, the situation will undoubtedly continue to deteriorate for the months and years to come. Tuwani and Tu'ba's suffering tells a far bigger story, in which the illegal and immoral expansion of settlements across the region brings misery and mayhem wherever it spreads; unless the brakes are applied soon, there will be no stopping the rot until it's far too late to turn back the clock.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tony Blair in Tuwani!

I know it's bad form, but I'm pasting this article in wholesale:

Bethlehem – Ma’an – Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank are denied basic rights afforded to Israeli settlers said Quartet Envoy Tony Blair during a visit to a West Bank village on Thursday.

“The reason for coming here today is to draw attention to the fact that without a new and different system applying in Area C, it is very hard for Palestinians to enjoy a standard of living so that they can enjoy and develop their land as they should be able to develop it,” said Blair during a visit to the village of At-Tuwani, in the hills south of the city of Hebron.

Area C is the some 60% of the West Bank that is under full Israeli military control. In the Oslo peace accords, Israel was allowed to maintain control of the land, until a final status agreement is reached.

Blair noted that Palestinians in Area C are “obviously denied the right to live decent lives,” while “around there are outposts where people do have a decent standard of living,” he said, referring to Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land.

Blair also said the Quartet had raised the issue of Israeli house demolitions in Jerusalem, where more than 1,000 Palestinians are facing displacement in just one neighborhood, Bustan.

“People feel there is no justice and equality in the way these rules are applied,” he said.

Blair also said that enough money had been raised to rebuild the Gaza Strip, which is struggling to recover from Israel’s offensive in December and January which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians. He said however that political steps would have to be taken to ensure that reconstruction takes place.

He said, “The danger is that we reconstruct Gaza and then it is destroyed again.”

Blair is the representative of the international Quartet, a grouping of the US, UN, EU, and Russia, tasked with facilitating the Middle East peace process.

I really hope this gives settlers in the area pause.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Visiting Tristan Anderson in the Hospital

It's continually amazing to me how tragedy takes one's voice away. There is no way that words can fill up the space that is left when senseless violence tears our lives apart. But words are what violence leaves us and I want to believe that they are still the best way we have to reach out to one another and transform pain into a reason to struggle for a better world.

I spent yesterday in the Tel Aviv hospital visiting with the family and partner of Tristan Anderson, a young man whom the Israeli Army shot in the head with a tear gas canister at a demonstration last Friday. Tristan is in stable, but critical condition and is very forunate to have the support of two wonderful parents and a partner who loves him deeply and we all share their hopes for Tristan's full recovery.

And, honestly, at the moment, that's all I can say about this right now. I just want to lend my voice to the many that are saying "We know what happend. We know it was wrong. We know it happens to Palestinians every day. Know we will do everything we can to keep this from happening to someone else."

That's all for now.
Well, I guess I've unintentionally been keeping a low profile here. But I'm pleased to announce that I'm back in Palestine and this blog should have more content than in the last few months! Enjoy.