Saturday, April 25, 2009

Life Itself

Soldiers were swarming. The army sent two jeeps to order around two shepherds who were grazing their sheep in Humra valley, but there wasn't quite enough to keep all of those young men with guns busy. A few soliders sat in the jeeps or talked on their cell phones, but others took initiative, find ways to harass the shepherds. They took photographs, demanded IDs, ordered Palestinians not to stand on the road, made snide remarks, threated, begged, and vainly tried to heard the sheep down into the bottom of the valley.

Meanwhile, the commander argued with the landowners. "You can't graze here," they claimed. "Show us a map," asserted the shepherds and landowners. "This is our land."

"We set the rules," ordered the soldier, refusing to show them a order from the DCO.

"And we have rights," replied the Palestinians.

The stand-off continued. The army did everything in its power to order make the shepherds leave. But the sheep kept grazing, munching away on thistles and zaatar oblivious to what was happening around them. Eventually, while the landowners continued to make their case to the army, the shepherds slipped away voluntarily, the day's grazing finished. But they didn't leave their land until a tiny black and white sheep was born. Out from of its mother, the lamb came. It cried out as it took its first breaths and a shepherd glently lifted it up by the front legs and carried it away.

Life cannot actually be controlled or occupied. Resistance isn't a choice - it's life itself. The Israeli goverment, it's army, and Israeli settlers are fighting a battle they cannot win.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

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

As I said last week, I'm complying a list of ten reasons why Havot Ma'on Outpost and Ma'on Settlement should be dismantled. And since this is a urgent situation, without further ado, her's reason number two.

Reason Two: As long as Havot Ma'on and Ma'on remain, Palestinians in the village of Tuba have no usable road to their village.

Israeli settlers have built Ma'on settlement and Havot Ma'on outpost on both sides of the only road to the village of Tuba.

The Ma'on Settlement, Havot Ma'on Settlement Outpost, and road that runs between them.

This road, which you can see in the center of the photograph between the settlement and the outpost, was built by Palestinians. It is the most efficient way for residents of Tuba to travel to At-Tuwani and is the only way that vehicles can access the village. As you might imagine, this road is incredibly important to the village's quality of life.

However, since the establishment of Havot Ma'on and Ma'on, Palestinians have been unable to use this road. Settlers have threatened and beaten Palestinians who have tried to use it so frequently with such complete impunity that currently the only Palestinians able to use it are school children - and they require a Israeli army escort to do so.

Because Tuba residents have no road, when a woman is pregnant, she must decide if she will walk to the city of Yatta through the hills - where she could be beaten by settlers - well before her due date or stay in the village and give birth in her home. Because they have no road, accessing health care is difficult for everyone in the village. Because they have no road, Palestinians are unable to bring water to their village during the summer time. In other words, because the residents of Tuba are unable to access the only road to their village, they are denied their basic human rights. As long as Havot Ma'on and Ma'on remain, it's difficult to imagine this situation changing.

But don't think for a moment that Palestinians are passively accepting this situation. In August 2009, Palestinians children and their parents held a demonstration to highlight the importance of this road. Though they were harassed by the army and followed by settlers, they walked all the way to Tuba and home via this road. This photo below shows the march, one of the most moving sights I've ever been privileged to witness.

The August 2nd 2008 Children's March to Tuba walking along Tuba's only road

At the time, a friend of ours told me that march was the first time in eleven years that Palestinians had used that road.

How can you help this situation? That's not an easy question to answer. First, you can let people know about this situation. Write about it. Link to this article. Tell your government representatives and demand that they do something. Write an editoral. Tell your friends. But I also believe that they best way to support Palestinian access to Tuba's road is to support the one group of Palestians who are currently using it: the school children. I wrote about there situation only last week and they still need your support. Take some time to contact the Israeli army and pressure them escort the children properly. All of the details you need to do so are right here.

That's reason number two. Eight more on the way.
Masked Settlers Attack three Palestinian Women
13 April 2009

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.

(Umm-Zeitouna Valley, South Hebron Hills, West Bank) On Apri l 10 at about 10 a.m., five Israeli settlers attacked three Palestinian women from the Bedouin village of Umm Al Kher, south of Yatta, while the women were grazing their sheep and gathering herbs in the nearby Umm Zeituna valley.

The women reported that the men were masked and armed with wooden sticks They beat one of the women, aged 21, injuring her arm, and chased the women and flocks off the land while throwing rocks. The injured woman needed to be hospitalized.

Later that morning in the same area, four settlers harassed shepherds from Tuba and Umm Al Kher, chasing them and their flocks off their land. The four settlers also harassed two members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, who were passing in Umm Zeituna on their way to Tuba. One of the settlers tried to seize a mobile phone from the CPTers while another stole a video camera. The CPTers reported that the four men then ran toward Ma'on settlement.

Palestinians and At-Tuwani team members made complaints to the Israeli police, providing video and photographic evidence. The police said they would start investigating on Sunday.

Settlers from nearby settlements regularly harass and attack Palestinians in the area of Umm Zeituna while the Palestinians are grazing their flocks, farming their land, or walking to the city of Yatta.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Today was another one of those days that can't be adequately described. When I arrived in Mashaha valley, I found a friend of ours absolutely beside himself. His field of wheat had been completely destroyed. Settlers grazed their sheep in the middle of his field and now it's destroyed and now his wheat crop is decimated.

The day went down hill from there. Soldiers drove up clearly intending the declare the area a closed military zone, which always a very troubling development in this area since access to land is so important and so tenuous. You can read more information about what happened in the release below, but that's not what stood out to me.

I was struck deeply by how easily the hard work of a Palestinian farmer is destroyed. In November, Palestinians plowed that field in Mashaha in an impressive act of resistance. That day, the army premited them to work and kept the settlers at bay. But a week ago, I watched as a jeep accompanied a settler has he grazed his sheep in the Mashaha and today, the soldiers confered with the settlers and allowed them to stay in the area. Moreover, they acted as though Palestinians had no right to be there whatsoever. How quickly things change.

It's hard to believe that daily acts of nonviolent resistance - that plowing fields, grazing sheep, and harvesting olives - will be enough to build a just peace against an oppresive, violent state. But what else is there to do?

AT-TUWANI: Israeli settlers destroy crops near At-Tuwani village; soldiers declare area a Closed Military Zone

[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.]

On 18 April 2009, Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills reported that Israeli settlers had destroyed a large, privately owned Palestinian wheat field by allowing a flock of goats and sheep to graze on it. Palestinian owners discovered the destruction when they arrived to harvest the crops on the morning of 18 April. The field, located in Meshaha Valley, is the property of a family living in the nearby village of At Tuwani.

Also that morning, Israeli soldiers declared a large area of land east of At-Tuwani to be a closed military zone and forced Palestinian shepherds and their flocks to leave their land. Landowners and internationals were told they would be subject to arrest if they remained. The soldiers also ordered Palestinian landowners to advise the military every time they intend to access their own land within the zone. Israeli soldiers refused to provide Palestinian landowners with copies of the map of the military zone boundaries and would not tell them how long the closure would last. Throughout the morning, a group of at least ten Israeli settlers conferred with the soldiers.

The Palestinian owners of the land said the cultivated area destroyed was approximately forty dunum (approximately ten acres). Palestinians from At-Tuwani and nearby villages have repeatedly observed settlers from the outpost of Havot Ma’on with a flock of sheep and goats grazing on Palestinian land east of the outpost in recent months. Israeli settlers with the flock have threatened Palestinian shepherds and disrupted the grazing of Palestinian flocks on several occasions this spring, prompting Palestinians to file legal complaints against them.

The crop destruction represents a severe economic loss, as the area is experiencing an extremely dry spring and the field was one of the few near At-Tuwani that produced a spring wheat crop. Spring crops and the raising of sheep and goats are central to the economy and way of life in At-Tuwani and the surrounding small villages of the South Hebron Hills. Disruption by the Israeli military or settlers of agricultural work at this time of year represents a substantial threat to the villagers’ livelihoods.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Quiet Day in Tuwani:

Everything here in the At-Tuwani area is calm and peaceful. It's unseasonably cold, which suits me fine, and it seems that most shepherds today are embracing the fact that it's a Friday as a reason to stay home. We're all having a bit a rest, which is welcome after the last couple of weeks of non-stop shepherding and non-stop harassment from the settlers and the army.

This morning, though, a group of settlers, one of whom was visuably armed with a large automatic rifle, road on horseback out from Havot Ma'on outpost toward Mfagraha village. Being concerned, we called someone in the village who explained to me that this had been taking place reguarly for the last few days. "It's normal," he told me.

Normal for hostile men to ride through your village, displaying their guns? Normal, when this are the same people who beat up small children on the way to school?

I am always astonished by the human cacapcity to cope.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Well, it's one of those time when this blog get quiet, just because there is so much going on that I can't keep up. Hopefully I'll have time to do some writing later. Until then, love from Tuwani.

Monday, April 06, 2009

I have to admit it. I haven't done much blogging during today (and I get all of my blogging for a ten day period done in one day. Blogger just makes you think I write more often than that). But I'm going to promise to try to do some while I'm in Tuwani. Until then, take a look at this release. It summarizes the last ten days I spent in Tuwani pretty darn well:

In three recent incidents Palestinian shepherds asserted their right to
graze their sheep on their own land, despite Israeli settlers' attempts to
intimidate the Palestinians and disrupt their agricultural work.
Palestinians in the South Hebron hills have responded to recent violence
and incursions on their lands with a law suit and a nonviolent grazing

The morning of March 22, as shepherds from the village of At-Tuwani grazed
their sheep in nearby Humra valley, a settler brought his flock to the
area from the Israeli settlement outpost of Havot Ma'on. The settler
called the police and army, claiming that one of the Palestinians had
thrown a stone at him. When the police arrived, they detained the accused
Palestinian and took him to Kiryat Arba police station. Internationals
who had been present and videotaped the scene showed the police video and
pictures demonstrating that the shepherd had not thrown stones, and the
man was released. The following day the Palestinian shepherd returned to
the police station with papers proving his ownership of the valley. He
has filed a suit against the settler for trespassing.

On March 25, while Palestinian shepherds grazed their sheep on land
belonging to the village of Juwayye, twenty Israelis approached from the
settlement of Ma'on and shot at the shepherds. Despite the presence of
Israeli soldiers and the Ma'on settlement security guard at the time of
the shooting, no Israelis were arrested. Palestinian shepherds continued
to graze their sheep for two hours after the shooting, but were then
forced from the land by soldiers claiming they were too close to road 317.

On March 28 shepherds from Tuwani and other villages in the South Hebron
Hills responded to recent harassment by gathering peacefully with their
families to graze sheep in Khoruba valley near Tuwani. After they had
been in the valley for about an hour four settlers, two with their faces
covered, walked out from Havat Ma'on outpost into the flocks and among the
shepherds and their children. In response, Palestinian shepherds sat down
and refused to remove their sheep from the area. Israeli soldiers,
police, and border police arrived but did nothing to prevent the settlers
from disrupting the grazing sheep.

Palestinians in Tuwani and the surrounding villages face continued threats
of violence and intimidation from setters. With the start of the grazing
season, villagers say they expect the actions of the settlers will become
increasingly disruptive, but that the villages remain committed to
nonviolence as they confront the incursions.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

It's Palm Sunday 2009 and we're celebrating Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  Here's what happened in the Tuwani area today:


Three children from Juwiyya, ages 10, 11, and 14 were taken by the army and taken to the road next to Ma'on settlement.  There the three children were beaten by six masked settlers, including the Ma'on settlement security guard.  The settlers told the children that they owned the land.  The children thankfully are now safe at home.  Their crime?  Grazing their sheep, well within Juwiyya village. 


Two of my teammates were walking through the hills, on their way home from Tuba.  Masked settlers approached them and they were forced to run for their lives away from masked settlers.


A young man from Juwiyya was shot at by settlers earlier this morning.  He was also grazing this sheep on his land.


All day long, in various ways, Palestinians nonviolently resisted settler violence and land confiscation.  They grazed their sheep, gathered herbs, played and laughed, all while facing danger calmly and persistently. 


I yearn for justice's triumphant entry and dare to believe that it might come soon.  But it cannot come soon enough.