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[Excerpts from Ramadan in the West Bank, 2007, Eva Bartlett]

It is 10 pm and the blistering desert-like heat has dissipated into an evening cool which sees the residents of Palestinian Susiya, in the South Hebron Hills, wrapped under heavy covers on their sleeping mats inside weathered tents. Most went to bed two hours ago, and only the stars and the bright spotlights of the illegal Jewish colony over the hills compete for attention.

Across a horizon of cacti silhouettes, larger forms are moving, creeping towards the tents. From the shadows, shapes take form: 8 fully-armed Israeli soldiers from the neighbouring military base, bee-lining across the land of the family I am sleeping with. post continues

 

VIDEO 

Jewish settler attack’ on film

Footage from a video camera handed out by an Israeli human rights group appears to show Jewish settlers beating up Palestinians in the West Bank.

An elderly shepherd, his wife and a nephew said they were attacked by four masked men for allowing their animals to graze near the settlement of Susia. post continues

“Fiish mey, fiish zaitoun. Jaysh (Israeli soldiers) have taken our water and uprooted our trees.”

R’s mother has a straight-backed posture and direct gaze. Her family has lost much land to settlers and army restrictions. She has mothered 12 children, rising at 5 each morning to pray, make and bake bread, and begin morning tasks, which morph into afternoon, then evening tasks. Yet she is not bitter, is extremely welcoming and curious post continues

[notes from a return to Susiya, December 2007]

After many weeks away from the southern West Bank rural area of Susiya, it was wonderful to be back and to see these people I’ve gotten to know but not know enough. It is motivation to better my Arabic skills, and to come back. They have been lovely, filled with such warmth and life.

The illegal Israeli settlement still sits across the valley atop a hill, ‘security’ lights blaring at night, settlers busy at day. The plot of land which only 4 months ago was still Palestinian land has now been almost fully appropriated by a local settler who, in stages, plowed it up, fenced it off, planted on it, and has now hung Israeli flags marking ‘his’ property, irrespective of the illegal means he has acquired it. post continues

[post-dated: 21/08/07 ]

After a day of walking the hills of Susiya, visiting with families spread throughout and suffering from the settlers and army surrounding, we are in the tent of Hajji Sara. She is a strong woman with prominent features: a strong, angular nose; defined cheekbones; a broad smile. She, like her deceased husband, takes on the arrogance of authoritarian soldiers with a fiery defiance. She doesn’t back down from their threats.

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Hajji Sara called us in from the road a few weeks ago. She called us for tea, but re-appeared with tomatoes, eggs, fresh flat-bread, cheese….One girl asked to take Hajji Sara’s photo. She stood up, grabbed a cloth, and fastened a lovely white embroidered scarf around her face, proud and wanting to look her best.
We sit around the gas lantern and banter. We are told of Hajji Sara’s husband, who was undaunted by the surrounding settlers and soldiers:

“Hajj Jaber was very strong-willed. He defied the settlers and police, defied the odds, and the Occupation as well.

He didn’t recognize “closed military zones” –areas off-limits to Palestinians –on his land and proudly marched around his sheep all over his land.

Soldiers took him far away, beyond Tuwani, and threw him out of the jeep. He came back on foot.

He made settlers and soldiers angry, he wasn’t afraid of them. He walked on the settler-soldier road cutting through Palestinian land, amongst his sheep, and when a settler car or military jeep honked for him to move, he defiantly told them it was his land and he would walk amidst his sheep.

They danced and cheered when he died. They clapped and celebrated his death.

He was 75 when he died.”

I go to sleep at the edge of the open-walled tent, beside a grove of olive trees and under a flurry of stars. A dog with a strange bark has finally called it quits, the pregnant cat has stopped rubbing against me, and a light breeze wanders through the trees and into the tent, brushing aside bugs and bringing fresh scents.

If only it weren’t for the settlers, the soldiers, the Occupation, the daily tragedies.

15/09/07

At Jamal’s, we rose later and ate more perfunctorily. Actually, Sanaa got up at 3 am, to bake fresh taboon bread and prepare things, then spent 15 or so minutes waking Jamal and us.

Breakfast was fresh taboon, left-over tomato and potatoes, and different home-made grape jams drizzled in olive oil.

Back to sleep, startling at every sound—Jamal’s tent is closer to the settlement and to potential trouble-makers.

One small feat for resilient Jamal: he is grazing his sheep on the side of the hill, his hill, from which he is usually banned and chased away. The soldiers are asleep. He’s been doing this for a while, taking advantage of their sleeping habits, then grazing sheep lower in the valley when the soldiers awaken.

grazing-sheep.jpg **[sheep grazing in Susiya]

At Hajj Khalil’s, his daughters and grand-daughters are cleaning a mass of freshly harvested grapes. From the pile heaped on a plastic sheet, they are transferred from one bucket to the next in a process of: removing bad grapes, removing stems, washing, draining, hand-pulping, and finally foot-pulping in a large vat before the pot of pulp is placed over a fire and left for half a day. Later, it will become a seeded grape jam or a watery jelly, both very sweet.

They offer us grapes, tea, and bread, but we decline, it is still Ramadan. M decides to taste the grape syrup, as he is not really fasting and is curious about this delicacy (I’d already tasted it on previous visits). He dips his finger in it while the ladies urge him to tip the bowl and drink. Hajj Khalil comes along and shows M how to do it, raising the dish high and taking a large slurp. A chaos of admonitions erupts and Hajj realizes what he has done, leaning over and spitting out the syrup as the rest of us laugh and laugh at his absent-minded lapse. I’m sure he is forgiven, his breach being more out of force of habit and accommodating guests than intentionally seeking out food.

Hajj returns to transferring water from his cistern to a tanker, via a rented-pump and long hose. The hose runs from the cistern and, supported by a ladder, across the forcibly-abandoned cave next to Hajj’s tent. There is a small leak in the hose and water sprays out and down into the cave. Ever aware of limited water, Hajj spends a few minutes balancing a bucket on a large tractor tire more or less below the leak, catching much of the spilled water, to re-use.

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Watching a P.A.R.C. documentary [The Iron Wall] which sources the Israeli group Peace Now, I later hear:

The average consumption, per capita, in the West Bank, is 142 cubic meters per capita per year, while the average consumption for settlers is about 600 cubic meters per capita per year. Palestinians pay about 4 times more than Israelis for water in the West Bank, while we’re using the same resources and the same infrastructure. In other words, we consume 5 times less but we pay 4 times more.[Dr. Abed al -Rahman Tamimi, Palestinian Hydrology Group]

Shortly after 10 am, Saturday morning, a troop of 6 fully-armed Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) soldiers, coming from the direction of the military base to the northwest, marched directly across the property of Mohammed Nowaja and his extended family. The soldiers marched in convoy, ignoring all attempts of internationals present to communicate with them, from one end to the other of the property, continuing across the valley and up the next hill onto the neighboring property of Ismail Nawaja’s family. At the tents of this extended family, the soldiers altered their direct line march to instead weave all around the property, making their invasive presence felt everywhere.

During this time, I and another Human Rights Worker continually attempted to communicate with the soldiers, alternately soliciting the reason behind the soldiers’ hostile raid and reminding the soldiers that the property on which they traipsed was in fact civilian private property, despite the repeated demolitions of their homes and attempts to drive the residents out of the Susiya area, and asking to see an official permit for the soldiers’ raid.

We also emphasized that there were many small children, including numerous infants, who were utterly terrified by the presence of the invading, armed soldiers. We questioned why the soldiers had determined to invade these many tents on this day, in particular, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. We further inquired why the soldiers were not at least doing what has often been said is their duty in the region: to prevent violence from either the Palestinians or the settlers of the area.

For the last two days, an average of 8 settlers from the Susiya settlement have attempted to cross onto the property of Jamal Nowaja when his young wife Sanaa was alone with her children, only turning back when they saw a neighbouring Palestinian grazing his sheep near by. We arrived at the scene and continued to film these teenage settlers as they ran back towards the settlement and stationed themselves at the soldiers’ outpost, where they continued their verbal threats and harassment, including shouting charmuta [whore] at the young woman attempting to do her work. When we questioned one soldier after the second incidence of these settler youths’ harassment—the settlers still present just meters away—the soldier feigned ignorance, then attempted to brush off responsibility for the youths’ actions, only finally admitting that he should and would prevent their harassment in the future.

The soldiers never returned communication, aside from a final passing of gas when seated at the military outpost near the Susiya settlement. This elicited a series of giggles from the soldiers, which was the only verbalization we were able to obtain from the soldiers.

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Interestingly, the IOF soldiers timed their mini-invasion when UN aid workers were present and witness to the harassment: the roving medical clinic of UNRWA was visiting the Nowaja family and viewed the entire proceedings.

The Hebrew-speaking Palestinians present at Mohammed Nowaja’s tents later told us that they had heard one soldier instruct the other soldiers, in Hebrew, to not speak with us.

This is the second time in three days—the first being Wednesday night, before the start of both Ramadan and Rosh Hashana—that IOF soldiers have invaded these properties. Wednesday evening they came around 10 in the evening, when most of the family had gone to bed, poking their guns in the faces of two young family members still awake, before continuing across their property towards the settlement.

It should be noted that there is a perfectly useable road which near-parallels the route the soldiers are taking across Palestinian lands, and which would render it faster and easier to reach their destination. It is clear that the IOF tromps across the Palestinian land is yet another form of menacing the civilians of the area, as if they haven’t been harassed enough.

Four forty-five and the morning call to prayer has just finished, marking the beginning of day 2 of Ramadan fasting. Following that last mournful praise of Allah, Muslims should not eat or drink until sunset.

While participating in the fasting aspect, I choose to drink water. Out in Susiya, where our role as international witnesses surpasses the desire to sleep and rest the thirst and hunger away, not drinking water is not a valid option. Much of our day is spent walking around under the hot sun, surveying the area, talking with the families in tents spread out across hills and valleys, and making our presence felt all around in hopes of deterring violent acts by settlers and/or soldiers. The area is vast, and staying put in one tent all day would not serve the purpose of being here.

Yesterday we walked to some tents far across the valley, near where we had heard settlers were working and preparing to cultivate Palestinian land. Before reaching that land, we stopped to chat with a family, as much as we could with limited Arabic. Normally, the family as any family here would offer us tea and food. This time, too, they did, also themselves fasting.

Being unable to lie about my drinking water, I admitted that I was fasting but still drinking water, at which point they again offered tea. Declining, I explained I was just taking water, at which point they repeatedly offered water. I still prefer not to drink water in front of completely fasting Muslims, out of respect, so I declined saying I had already had some and was fine. Although they could and would not take it themselves until sundown and the evening call to prayer and to break fast, they could not shirk their well-ingrained duties as host.

It is an admirable time, Ramadan. While not knowing the intricacies of Islam, nor even the real history behind Ramadan, I appreciate their appreciation of abstaining until the permitted time, of being truly grateful when allowed to eat and drink again, and of upholding this pact for 30 days. Certainly going without food and water is very taxing and requires quite a lot of will. Going without food is not so difficult, particularly when in an area like Susiya, where one’s senses aren’t seduced by street food and bountiful store shelves. Conversely, walking and seeing grape vines, fig trees, and smelling the taboon bread baking for the meal hours away is very challenging.

We rose yesterday at 3:10, keen to take in the day’s food before the morning call to prayer. That call comes now around just before 5 am, so there was ample time to eat, drink, smoke if wanted, and go back to sleep for a few hours.

Today I’ve decided to not go back to sleep. If I find myself crashing in late afternoon, that will be a helpful way to pass the hungry late hours when there is no work, when we have patrolled round, and when temptation to break fast is great.

I anticipate the end of Ramadan, not because the difficult days will be past, but because the feast and celebration, ‘Eid al Fitr, must be impressive, full of music, food, and I imagine a certain contentment by those having managed to fast for a month and done well for Allah, as well as at being able to resume a more normal lifestyle of continual tea, smoking and food.

[13th of September]

Around 5 pm Thursday evening, we were called running to Jamal’s tent. I had been helping chop vegetables in the kitchen, hungry and trying not to pick at them as the call to prayer to break fast was still two hours away.

Hearing instead the call “moostoutanin,” we ran down and up again to Jamal’s hilltop, where settlers on the next hill were running back up towards the military post. Three or four settler teens had been approaching Jamal’s tent, where his young wife prepared the evening meal and tended her three infants. Dissuaded by the appearance of Abed, the teens ran back towards the settlement, stopping for half an hour to continue cursing and taunting Sanaa, Jamal’s wife. post continues

Rolling hills lined and crossed with newly planted olive trees and rows of grapevines… Sturdy, orderly greenhouses… signs of well-planned agriculture, usually a quite inspiring and motivating sight, particularly lovely under the setting sun and changing shades of dusk.

Yet, in context, these scenes are sickening. The realization that this West Bank land, this Palestinian field, is being cultivated by Israeli settlers, land stolen just over two decades ago through acts of bloodshed, menace, assault, forced-evictions, and lies. The IOF and settlers have caused untold amounts of suffering to these Palestinians whose families have inhabited the area since the early 1800s.

susiya-laia.jpg Over a hilltop, beyond a largely dry and uncultivated valley, small patches of olive and fruit trees, rocks, and desert scrub signify the start of allowed Palestinian areas. Although the IOF and settlers have done their utmost to frighten away the Palestinian land-owners, they are resilient and return time and again, despite beatings, harassment, evictions, and countless other affronts to one’s sensibilities and breaches of basic human rights.

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Just 6 years ago, in September 2001, Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) deemed the actions of the IOF and settlers illegal and immoral: by then, the Israeli army and settlers had already over 5 times evicted the Palestinian land-owners and demolished their dwellings. They had also poisoned sheep, goats, and water cisterns, uprooted and/or destroyed olive and fruit trees, beaten and harassed the Palestinian residents, and stolen trees and livestock. post continues

He is a charismatic older man, and for some reason we’ve taken to each other. I to him for the power of his dignity and perseverance, his un-extinguishable spirit which illuminates his face, his offer of grapes and tea…But mostly it is his grin-smile that charms me.

80 years old now, he lives with his wife in the tent, grandchildren visiting from Yatta town when not in school. He and his wife are frequently harassed by Israeli soldiers and settlers from the nearby Susiya settlement. Last year he was badly beaten by seven settlers. They came in the afternoon, at 4, and left his leg badly injured. His is not the only case of settler violence. B’Tselem has documented it well, and Israeli Ta’ayush activists have been there to witness many acts of settler violence, and to aid the victims in getting to medical care or to the nearest police station, Kiryat Arba in Hebron, to file a complaint. Because of the distance of the police station, the difficulty in getting there for most of the impoverished Susiya Palestinians, and the overall ineffectiveness of even managing to file a complaint, many do not pursue legal recourse. So the Occupation and expansion system prevails: settlers run amuck, doing the deeds of Israel through their expansionist activities and through menacing the Palestinian Susiyans to such a degree that many have eventually given in and left the area.

Maybe that is another aspect of my fascination of and admiration for Hajj: his smiling resilience.

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His tent, like the others of this area, is surprisingly functional during summer days: heat stays mostly out, and breezes drift in.

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I worry about the winter rain and wind. Being on a slope won’t help, water running towards the tent. But surely he has planned for this; the people here are resourceful, finding ways to exist with odds and ends, against all odds, then praising with “Allah Karim”—God provides.

Were it not for the settler and soldier problems, God would have provided all the Susiya Palestinians need. Sustenance farmers, the “Cave dwellers” of Susiya thrived on the products their goats and sheep provided, as well as grew grains and basic vegetables, and of course olive trees. Their diet still includes grapes and surprisingly tasty cactus fruit, though laborious to clean. These grapes, herds of sheep and goats, olive orchards, grains, and water resources have all suffered from settler aggressions: stealing, poisoning, and uprooting, also well-documented by B’Tselem, as well as other Palestinian activist groups.

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His tent sits next to the gaping cave hole which once cleverly served as shelter, as did other cave dwellings in the area, but which now lies dormant, filled-in with rocks and rubble from earlier army and settler attacks, its carved shelves and mud-brick-fashioned seats buried beneath dust and Israeli bureaucracy. Deemed house-like structures, for which the Palestinians needed unattainable building permits (for caves!), the usage of these surprisingly functional cave dwellings has been rendered obsolete by Israel, who controls these and other West Bank areas. [Many soldiers I’ve spoken with are quick to state that the area in question, just south of Hebron, is in fact Israel, not Occupied West Bank.] Preserved replicas of cave homes like this attract settlers and tourists from around, come to view what they are told is their history. Suleiman’s mother across the hills would beg to differ: her family lived in this now-archeological park before the evictions of the 80s, before even these caves were taken from them.

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In May 1999, Barak’s government, in coordination with settler leaders, carried out the first organized expulsion, in which 750 local residents were driven out of their homes on the pretence invading state land. Despite a Supreme Court injunction permitting the Palestinian residents to return to their land, the cave dwellers continued to be exposed to pressure from the Israeli military and Jewish settlers; pressure that included the destruction of houses, tents and caves, ruining water holes, uprooting olive trees, and preventing the residents from reaching their land for purposes of cultivation and grazing.Simultaneously, the government continued to expropriate more land, setting up illegal Jewish outposts and issuing writs limiting the stay of Palestinian residents in the area. The principle was to establish facts on the ground. It was Shakespeare who wrote somewhere that “there is method behind the madness.” And indeed, all these actions were carried out by the military –whether the Defense Minister was Arens, Barak or Ben-Eliezer — with the aim of exhausting the residents and forcing them out. It seems that the Defense Ministers acted according to a premeditated plan whose practical purpose is to annex the whole area to Israel “clean” of Arabs in order to create a corridor from Be’er Sheva to the Jewish settlement Kiryat Arba.
This claim is not a figment of our imagination, since it appears on the maps the Israeli delegation presented the Palestinians during the Camp David talks. –Dr. Neve Gordon, Department of Politics, Ben-Gurion University [June 2002]

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tents-and-settler-tents-laia.jpg tents-laia.jpg **[photo credit: these 5 photos from Laia from Barcelona]

With the Olive Harvest approaching but international visitors numbers soon to dwindle, the Palestinian families in Susiya run the very real risk of having their tent-homes demolished, yet again, as well as of being assaulted by settlers who are quite adept now at waiting for opportune moments: those moments are when international witnesses with video and still cameras are not present, and when the olives are about to be harvested. Without their harvest, already impoverished Susiya Palestinians lose a critical source of revenue and a key dietary component.

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[photo credit: these 3 photos from Laia from Barcelona]

Further Info: Stealing of Palestinian Land:

Under an old law from the Ottoman era, Israel claims as state property, land that has been “abandoned” and left uncultivated for a period of four years and this land is then usually allocated to Israeli settlers.
–[OXFAM, “Forgotten Villages: Struggling to survive under closure in the West Bank,” September 2002, p. 21.]

Israel turns a blind eye to any methods used by settlers and soldiers alike to terrorize the farmers away from their farms and crops, even if that means razing their land.

Farmers are constantly under threat of being beaten and shot at, having their water supplies contaminated (already scarce because 85 percent of renewable water resources go to the settlers and Israel), their olive groves torched and their olive trees uprooted.
–[UN Report of the Special Committee to investigate Israeli Practices affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, No. 40, September 2005.]

source: Heritage uprooted, Sonja Karkar, The Electronic Intifada, Sep 3, 2007

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Over the last two months, Israeli settlers in the Susiya region have appropriated Palestinian agricultural land, in-laid irrigation piping, cultivated, and now fenced-off the vital Palestinian agricultural lands off the main highway, 317, between the Israeli settlements of Susiya and Karmel, south of Hebron.

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The Palestinian land in question is vital agricultural land and the owners, who reside in the area, have not given permission to the settlers to either build or work on it. Yet, the settlers are vying for the land and with repeated illegal building and cultivating tactics are, astonishingly, stealing the land before the Palestinians’ very eyes.

Interestingly, one of the arguments justifying their illegal land-squatting is that the land had been vacant for a number of years and was, obviously, not valued by the owners. According to a settler worker and two soldiers, un-worked land which is successfully worked can then be considered the property of the person who has cultivated it. This heresay ‘law’ does not, however, consider the context of the situation: the very reason the Palestinian land-owners had ceased to work on the land is due to the violent aggressions of the settlers in the area, in effect frightening the Palestinians off their land. Ps have been harassed and threatened, and physically abused. They have been moved off of the land by settler menacing. The owners of the land very much want to use it for agricultural purposes and have tried—mostly unsuccessfully—to file complaints at the nearest police station, Kiryat Arba, nearly 2 hours away. These illegal tactics have been largely successful in the region, with many Susiya residents and land-owners leaving their land for nearby cities and towns.

On various occasions, Israeli activists from Ta’ayush and Human Rights Workers (HRWs) from the various groups maintaining a presence in the region have documented on film and video the Israeli settlers’ stealing of this agricultural land.

Over a month ago, in one of the earlier acts in this newest land-grab incident, Israeli activists and HRWs alerted Israeli police and soldiers to settler activity on the land: a trench had been dug, the tractor still at one end, and piping had been laid. When the activists arrived, one settler remained on the land near the tractor, but disappeared before soldiers and police arrived substantially later on.

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Soon after soldiers had arrived, approximately 20 settlers from local settlements amassed and made a nuisance of themselves, surrounding HRWs and verbally abusing them while flashing cameras into HRWs eyes. During the entire time that the settlers were present, soldiers and police did virtually nothing to stop their harassment of the activists and HRWs.

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In various subsequent incidences, the same settler has been found—and documented—working the land, driving in fence posts, and erecting the fencing itself around the Palestinian land in question.

HRWs observing and documenting the illegal work and illegal appropriation of the Palestinian land have suffered numerous accounts of verbal abuse, as well intimidation tactics and credulous physical threats, including threats at punching to the head and shoving off the land.

The army again, when they finally arrived, did nothing to stop the construction of the fence, nor to reprimand the settler for his illegal building and stealing activities. Observing the relationship between soldiers and settler, little to no impartiality is shown on the part of the soldiers with respect to the settler. Rather, their defense of his right to steal and cultivate land rests on illogical and contradictory statements.

Soldier: “He says that is it his property. … You know, even if it isn’t his property, just go away, he’s working it.

HRW: “You just said ‘even if it is not his property, we can’t go onto someone’s property who is working on property which doesn’t belong to him?’” “How does that work? Don’t you say that equally that applies to him, that if it is not his property, he cannot go onto it and he cannot work it?”

S: “(inaudible) say it isn’t his land. But it was land, he took it, worked it, he invested all his work in it…”

The settler continues, in full view and disregard of international law, to appropriate the land and water resources to grow grapes which forecast a 60,000 shekel revenue in wine production, according to a contracted Israeli worker. At various times during a recent episode of working on the land, the settler approached both HRWs who were filming, shouting, and physically threatening them. At two different points, the settler pushed one HRW who was standing on the land in question. The 2nd time, the settler was much more violent in pushing the HRW, who remained non-violent. The settler continued to threaten to hit the HRW.

At various times the other Israeli attempted to coerce the HRWs to leave, defending the aggressive settler, and even openly admitting at one point that the land did not belong to the settler. This Israeli contracted-worker admitted the grape vines on the land were worth 60,000 NIS and were intended for wine production

• Israeli Worker (IW): “You don’t know nothing.”

• HRW: “What we know is that there are Palestinian landowners that have documents for this land. You have harassed them, you have menaced them, you have prevented them from coming onto their land…”

• IW: “It doesn’t matter. See, the grapes we grow will be wine. And I will drink the wine. It doesn’t matter all that you speak.”

The police, despite repeated calls, did not venture to the scene, nor did they come when requested in an incident the previous day. While the police and army are very aware of the (illegal) situation, they do virtually nothing to prevent or stop the activity. Police generally do not respond to our telephone calls. The army will come, but greatly delayed—usually (always) arriving after settler digging/building activity has ceased for the time. By the time the army arrives, settlers are either away from the scene or just leaving. Both army and police point the burden of authority in deciding ownership of the land; both army and police reject this responsibility and shirk any duties in taking action against the settlers.

The protests against Israel’s Apartheid Wall in Bil’in village have been on-going for over 2 years now. In the five or so I’ve joined, the Israeli military machine has unleashed a violence truly inexplicable and disproportionate to the circumstances.

Some will say that stone-throwing from earlier protests set the precedent for the barrage of tear gas, rubber bullets, live bullets, sound bombs, and beating, kicking and arrests the majority of demonstrations entail. It is remarkable that such a pretext is accepted and used to justify this brutality, a stupefying force used against unarmed protesters–including children, minors, and the elderly– long before any stones might be thrown.

On numerous occasions, I have been part of protests which arrive face to face with the fully-armed Israeli soldiers, where faces become visible, as does the vulnerability of civilians holding little more than onions and banners. After one such close-up, in which demonstrators had the opportunity to speak to (but not be answered by) the soldiers, explaining our reasons for coming again and again to this land–to resist the continual encroachment onto and stealing of Palestinian land; to give voice to a people who’ve been vilified in corporate media…–and after clearly explaining that our protests have nothing to do with religion, race, or any of the buzzwords used to defeat criticism of Israel’s human rights violations, soldiers–having seen our faces, heard our voices, perhaps even having identified us as living, breathing human beings and not targets, nonetheless were able, minutes later, to throw sound bombs and tear gas in our faces. While the weapons may sound relatively harmless, they could be lethal when used at such close range.

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**scenes of de-arresting Palestinians who the IOF is trying to grab. They are consistently unarmed, exercising only their right to protest non-violently. They can be detained and/or arrested without explanation or charges. [photo credit: Iyad]

I remain supportive of the right of Palestinians and their Israeli and international supporters to protest the annexation and division of their land, but it has broken my spirit and heart repeatedly to bear witness to this bizarre, violent carnival of shooting, gas, military strategy, and inhumanity that make up the demonstrations.

And just when my spirit is yet again broken, believing it is impossible to resist such a huge Occupation with such corporate media backing and propaganda, it is again and again the Palestinians themselves—the very people who of anyone should be licking their wounds in the corner—who lift me up with their singing, dancing, smiles, determination to continue, to not be broken, to not give in or give up. It is, they are, remarkable.

With legal battles underway, and making efforts to counter the media campaign waged by US, British, corporate, and Zionist interests, Palestinians continue to bandage their wounds and resist.

On a positive and encouraging note, I read with pleasure the following newsbrief:

The Goliath real Estate Company Heftsiba who is the company (together with Canadian company Green Park) that was building the settlement of Matityahu Mizrah as well as the settlement of Beitar elite and settlements in occupied East Jerusalem has started showing signs of bankruptcy. The Haredi population who have bought apartments from the company broke into the unfinished apartments in various building sights including Matityahu East. Heftsiba has existed since 1968 and executes 10% of Israel’s real estate.
In Israeli channel’s 2 news a financial expert explained that the reason for the companies downfall was the stop work order and the inability to sell more of the apartments in Matityahu east. He called it “Modiin Elite next to Bilin”. It is still not clear how this will effect the continuation of the building of the settlement, the ban on Building, or the courts decision. But in the struggle of who would outlast the other between Heftsiba and the Bil’in villagers. Bil’in’s resistance has endured!

The day after last Friday’s protest, I got a call from a Palestinian friend, concerned. “I saw you on the news, holding onto a Palestinian man, with other activists, keeping the soldiers from taking him [unwarranted arrests are common at protests, and elsewhere; Palestinians are pulled and detained and/or arrested without reason or charges]. You must be careful, they are very violent [I know] and no one will stop them.”

But this is the problem, isn’t it? No one does stop them. Palestinians, out of the view of cameras and observing eyes, are routinely taken, beaten, detained or arrested for from hours to days. There is no room in Israel’s “democratic” legal system for accountability for soldiers’ actions.

This same friend is still waiting for the legal system to try the murderer of his 10 year old daughter, shot in the back of the head with a rubber-coated steel bullet by an Israeli soldier just 6 months ago. He recently received the news from that despite eye-witnesses, there was not enough evidence to pursue the case in Israeli courts and that it would be closed.

06/08/07

It’s midday and the best place to be is in the shade of the open-walled tent, wind blowing, heat discarded outside. Mahmoud and Abed are playing chess, Mahmoud dancing a victory dance over Abed. Defeated, Abed tips the chess board and stomps off with cries for tea. He is 21.

Mahmoud, his older brother, worked in Israel for about 6 years, apparently stuffing force-feeding tubes down the throats of geese, part of the pate trade in Israel. “Hada mish quayis,” he explains, saying the work was terrible, and he hated to put the tubes down the birds’ throats. He realized it wasn’t worth it, being away from his children for long periods—so that his oldest son, a 5 year old, calls Abed “abu,” father, and Mahmoud “Mahmoud.” So Mahmoud came back to herd sheep and goats, be near his family, and philosophize on the global chase for money and on what one truly needs to exist happily. He explained this to me in charitably simple Arabic.

He is making a kite for the youths—he picked up 3 like-sized sticks, crossed them into a pinwheel, and is fastening them with plastic binding. The youths are tearing open plastic bags—pink, black, green—to use as the kite material.

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Much of this “village” is made of temporary structures: tents with walls which roll up, allowing wind and air in or keeping out cold wind and rain in winter months.

Kites made, the three younger and two drifting neighbouring adolescents fly them in perfect winds.

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Kite-making and flying over, the radio is turned on and the tent space erupts into a clamour of dance moves. Hammoudi, the two-year old, is the star for a while, dancing pant-less, arms up, hands clapping, feet stomping, determination on his grinning face. He is precious and precocious, daily revealing a quick intelligence.

The neighbour teens come in and join the dancing, arms linked or slung over shoulders, and feet a flurry of rapid hops and steps as they do Dabka moves.

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The room is alive with dancing: shoulders shimmer, feet stomp and slide, and life-long love for dancing very evident.

These smiling, dancing, lovely people are the world’s “terrorists,” the kind of people whose existence has almost been “wiped off the map” in many acts of “defending oneself,” in real terms in multiple acts of city lock-downs, army invasions, house demolitions, closed-borders-imposed malnutrition, poverty, starvation, and banned emergency visits to the hospital.

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Here to offer them our international presence, hoping that will ward of aggressive settlers and would-be tent-demolitions, they instead offer so very much with their ready inclusion of us in family events and their evident desire to share time together. My last day with them for these next couple of weeks involved meeting a daughter and new in-laws as they arrived for a post-wedding celebration at the paternal home.

Food and tea were cut short by settler activity on the Palestinian land we’ve been monitoring. Smiles, laughter, and genuine kindness were unwillingly swapped for the open hatred of the settlers we filmed in the process of finalizing their months-long land-steal: in the morning they had begun erecting the wire mesh of the fence to enclose the stolen land. This task was further completed at evening, the opposite side going up. As we filmed this sad event, the main settler who has been active in stealing and working on this Palestinian land paused his fence efforts to shout “Nazi, Hitler, go home” at us while threatening to punch us in the face. He later broke whatever restraint he was trying to maintain for the cameras and shoved the other Human Rights Worker, trying to push him and myself off the settler-appropriated land.

As in previous incidences with this settler working stolen land, the army was slow to arrive and the police simply didn’t. When the police have bothered to show up, they display an open bias against law and the Palestinian land-owners. Together with the army, the police play the game of re-assigning duty and authority to one another: the army cannot arrest the settlers, but the police claim the army are the ones who must first decide whether the land in question is Palestinian or settler land. The army claims otherwise, citing the police as the decision-makers. Round and round in this dizzy, ridiculous game we chase their tails, as the settler continues before our eyes to appropriate the land and water resources to grow grapes which forecast a 60,000 shekel revenue in wine production, according to his Israeli-worker side-kick. Meanwhile, the Palestinian land-owners, who are very much present and keen to work their land for agricultural (livelihood) use are left landless and facing the daunting, delayed legal system that is Israeli “democracy” in reality.

Last night we had a mini-feast, celebrating the renovations of Hola and Mahmoud’s tent-home: they had installed cupboards and shelves, and had created a little, functional kitchen. For a first-time visitor it may appear paltry, but for them it was one more step towards living a settled life again, even though they are painfully aware that the next demolition and eviction could be imminent, could come at any time.

Yesterday, walking to the main highway to check on settler activity, we saw the settlers had again resumed digging and building on the field of Palestinian land they’ve stolen. They’ve marked it off, dug it up, laid piping for irrigation, planted crops, in-laid fencing, and now continued with more hole-making and building.

They are usually good at ignoring our cameras and presence, save for when they pause to shout “Nazi, Heil Hitler!” or, if at a distance, to feign shooting at us.

They are oblivious to military presence, and the military are useless in stopping them –they don’t even try. Rather, some openly declare they cannot stop the settlers’ activities, and furthermore feign ignorance as to why it’s a problem.

They either do not, or pretend not to, recognize the land theft that is robbing the Palestinian farmers –small-scale independent farmers, providing just enough for their family and perhaps a small income –of needed agricultural land. They equally don’t recognize that the settlers land is stolen, their wealth based on it (and incentives from the Israeli government), nor how genuinely impoverished the Palestinian residents are.

They seem to believe Palestinians have chosen to live in shabby, impermanent tents without electricity or running water. They are unaware or do not recognize that the Palestinian land-owners are unable to attain Israel’s sacred building permit, that any effort at reconstruction and living in a permanent shelter on their own land is deemed illegal.

Thus the tents…across a valley from the internationally-illegal Israeli settlement which towers with new, large houses replete with the running water and electricity unavailable to the Palestinians. The settlement blare throughout the evening quiet with its street and spot lights.

Down the road, at the illegally established “National Park,” now a supposed archeological site, a sign reads:

Susiya was a Jewish city of average size. It extended from the 3rd – 9th centuries C.E. The city was built on three hills with agricultural areas between them.

The major street of the ancient city leads to a synagogue on top of the southern hill.

Within the city, many courtyards and caves were used as dwellings.

They have appropriated everything, lust for more –for all –and are no so slowly eroding the Palestinian boundaries which remain.

These soldiers yesterday, and days before, display ignorance on so many levels: local Palestinians’ suffering and the many settler and Israeli government reasons for it; the history of the area; the illegality of settlements; the fact that this is West Bank area; the Occupation.

Two weeks ago, I visited the family of a Palestinian friend. While he lives and works in Ramallah, central West Bank, he comes from the village of Yatta, in the very south of the West Bank. He visits his family every week or so. As I’d been staying in the Tel Rumeida enclave, H2, of the larger area of Hebron (Arabic: Khalil ], less than an hour away, I was able to get away for a night to visit his family.

En route, we were slowed to a standstill by a wedding celebration lap around town. Horns bleating, music blaring, hands clapping, the parade of cars blocked most traffic on the main street. Yet no one seemed to mind; rather, they, as did R, joined in the honking and singing. At one point the mass of cars stopped completely, people ran from their cars to a central point, hoisted the (presumably) groom onto their shoulders, danced and sang for a few minutes, shot off some fireworks, and ran back to their cars to continue celebratory laps.

“We need this,” R explained, referring to the chaos and noise of the celebration. “Our lives are so tense and constrained, we need this release.”

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We arrived to find his mother and neighbours cooking bread in their outdoor bread-making hut. Rather a wooden shack, with a tin roof and a tarp side. Their tandoori oven appeared like a clay oven—until I touched the cement to find the rim dissolving into the dirt which formed it. The oven is a depression, with a bed of coals, and a small hubcap of dirt in a mound. A large pot lid is placed over the hole to complete the makeshift oven. Bread dough is finger-knived into small mounds, which are then pizza-flapped into discs and placed on the already warm coal. Five to ten minutes later, the disc is plucked from its bed, coal bits gingerly brushed off, and the bread, steaming and fragrant, ready to dip into local olive oil for the best snack I’ve had in a long time.

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Aside from the practical aspect of providing the grain staple of most meals, the bread hut is communal, shared by five neighbouring women. It is a place of baking, of meeting, of conversations, of community.

I tried my sticky hands at cutting the dough and flip-flopping it into shape. My efforts were met with unhidden amusement and laughter.

R’s family, as so many I’ve met, with or without any personal connections, showed me such generosity and warmth, and this came at a very needed time, when the emotional pressure of life under settlers, soldiers, and checkpoints in Tel Rumeida weighed me down. Tel Rumeida, a story that will take pages to explain, and even then will never be quite fully rendered or understood.
bread-olive-oil-zatar-tea.jpg The sweet tea never tasted better. The tomatoes, from their agricultural land in Susiya, were fresh and chemical-free. Susiya. Another area to attempt to render lucid. Impossible. Susiya, where R’s family, along with so many, own land but cannot live on it due to settler aggression. Aggression doesn’t even come near to explaining the violence of the fanatical settlers there.

sleeping-platform.jpg The night air in Yatta was cool, bug-free, military-vehicle-noises-free, settler activity-free. It felt free: though the life there is not luxurious, it was such a pleasant change from the violent oppression that makes up Palestinians’ reality in Tel Rumeida, Susiya… Nablus, Jenin… West Bank… Gaza. Oh Gaza, how sorry I am for your closed borders.

Gaza’s borders have officially been closed since mid-June, leaving 1000s (estimates are at 6,000 by many accounts) suffocating and stranded at the Rafah-Egypt border without adequate anything.

Being in Hebron, then in Susiya, I felt both closer and further from Gaza, where I desperately long to visit, to render human the humans that are there, suffering, living on a pittance—less than a pittance—because our governments have deemed them “terrorists” (after democratic elections) and unworthy of the most basic human rights: food, freedom of movement, the ability to be self-sufficient—-those border closures have resulted in what the World Bank, UN, and numerous aid and rights groups put at over 80% of businesses closing, with nearly 90% of Gazans living below the poverty line.

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