Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Heroes of the South Hebron Hills

Reprinted from Christian Peacemaker Teams with Permission

At-Tuwani Reflection
Joy Ellison

No one will call the shepherds from Tuba and Magher Al Abeed heroes. You won’t see these Palestinian men in red kefiyas and mud-stained boots on the evening news. But while Israeli politicians turn a blind eye to the activities of extremist Israeli settlers, these farmers from the South Hebron Hills are successfully nonviolently resisting settlement expansion.

“I haven’t been to this valley in three years,” Issa* told me as we stood over looking Havot Ma’on settlement outpost. Over the past month, Issa and other shepherds have brought their sheep to pieces of Palestinian land they have not been able to graze since the establishment of the illegal Israeli settlement outpost. By doing so, they are showing the Israeli army and Israeli settlers that they plan to continue grazing on their land. Using this strategy, Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills have successfully regained access to land previously stolen by Israeli settlement. Right now, the shepherds of Tuba and Magher Al Abeed are at the forefront this dynamic nonviolent movement.

“The people of Tuba and Magher Al Abeed are strong. The army has to bring three jeeps for you!” my teammates and I joke. “Yes, yes, we’re strong,” the shepherds laugh. Since they began this campaign the shepherds have proven their strength over and over. The Israeli army has brought out jeeps and asked the shepherds for their IDs. Soldiers have kicked the sheep and threatened to arrest the shepherds. Soldiers have pulled off their pants and “mooned” us. Settlers have approached the shepherds carrying clubs, have fired on the shepherds and their flocks and thrown stones at them. Just to graze their sheep on land they have farmed for generations, Issa and the other shepherds risk arrest and violent attack.

But day after day the shepherds keep coming back to their land and showing their determination. When angry soldiers ordered two young shepherds to leave, the boys responded by sitting down. When a group of settlers came out of the settlement and threw stones at the shepherds and the volunteers accompanying them, the shepherds simply stood their ground. Soon, their lack of fear drove the settlers away.

Everyday the shepherds of Tuba and Magher Al Abeed prove that their nonviolent resistance is stronger the might of the Israeli army or the hatred of extremist Israeli settlers. They are the heroes of the South Hebron Hills.

*Not his real name.

Friday, February 15, 2008

"This is not Israel"

Reprinted from Christian Peacemaker Teams with Permission

Art Gish

At-Tuwani, West Bank

28 January, 2008

It all became clear to me out in the mountains south of Hebron as I was accompanying shepherds grazing their sheep on their own land. A major work of Christian Peacemaker Teams, with whom I work in the south Hebron Hills, has been accompanying shepherds. Israeli settlers have been threatening the shepherds and demanding that Israeli soldiers remove the shepherds from the whole area around the settlements. Sometimes the settlers have been carrying clubs. On January 12, settlers fired six shots to frighten the shepherds.

The actions of the soldiers have been inconsistent. Sometimes they drive the shepherds away, sometimes do nothing, and sometimes say the shepherds can be there.

On Sunday, January 27, Israeli soldiers approached us and announced that the shepherds could not be anywhere in that area, demanding that everyone leave the area immediately. The reason, the soldiers said, was that it is not safe for the settlers if Palestinians are anywhere where they can see the settlements. That means a huge area of land is off limits for the Palestinian shepherds.

We reminded the soldiers that the Israeli High Court has ruled that the shepherds may graze their sheep on that land. We suggested they follow the laws of Israel instead of taking orders the settlers.

We pointed out to the soldiers that we were on Palestinian land. A soldier quickly informed us that the land did not belong to Palestinians. "This is Israel," he said. I told the soldier, "This is not Israel, this is Palestinian territory. Even President George Bush recognizes that this is Palestinian territory, not Israel."

We did a little preaching to the soldiers, telling them "There will never be peace here as long as you claim everything to be Israel, as long as you intend to steal all this land from the Palestinians. The real reason for not allowing these shepherds to be on their own land is that you are helping the settlers to steal this land."

We reminded the soldiers, "You do not need to protect these settlers. It is those settlers who continually are attacking these shepherds, and even attacking little school children. Repeatedly soldiers have stood by and watched as settlers have attacked Palestinians. The question is, do you want peace, or do you want to take this land?"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Curfew for Beit Ummar

Christian Peacemaker Teams sent out these releases yesterday about the town of Beit Ummar, a town located between Bethlehem and Hebron with Christian and Muslim inhabitants. CPT has a long history with Beit Ummar and has housed some of its volunteers there in the past. Beit Ummar has been among the leaders of Palestinian Muslim non-violent resistance, pioneering the practice of conducting Friday prayers in the village's fields which Israeli settlers have tried to confiscate.



Israeli military arrests approximately 40 Palestinians in Beit Ummar and places village under curfew

By Jessica Frederick

13 February 2008

HEBRON Since 1 am on 13 February, the Israeli military placed the village of Beit Ummar under curfew and arrested approximately forty men between the ages of 18 and 25. Since early morning, Israeli soldiers have been entering homes. The military has closed four different areas inside the village. Soldiers are stationed around the local mosque area and throughout the village, along with two bulldozers and DCO jeeps. The military are denying travel to people in cars or on foot, restricting the freedom of movement for goods and medicine. The military denied entry to an ambulance attempting to enter the village.

Israeli police showed members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in the area an order and a map for Beit Ummar as a closed military zone. Israeli authorities stopped CPTers and informed them they needed to leave immediately.

The Israeli military denied entry to the press and has detained them for an hour and a half.



Israeli Military Conducts Major Operation in Beit Ummar

13 February 2008

BEIT UMMAR: The village of Beit Ummar in the South Hebron region continues under curfew and the army has declared it a Closed Military Zone. It will remain thus until tomorrow night, and papers are being distributed stating that a week-long curfew will be enforced.

So far, Israeli military have arrested 55 Palestinians and house to house searches are ongoing, along with sporadic clashes between military and local youth. The stone throwers are met with barrages of tear gas and `rubber' bullets.

Seven streets inside the village have been closed off, and a store at the entrance of the village, adjacent to the military watchtower was demolished by the Israeli military.

For photos of the Israeli military activity in Beit Ummar, visit: http://www.cpt.org/gallery/album236

Reprinted with Permission
Cross-posted at Booman Tribune, Daily Kos, and Street Prophets

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Tragedy in Beit Ummar

On Friday, January 25 two young Palestinian men, Mahmoud and Muhammed Sabarnah from Beit Ummar were killed after entering the Settlement of Gush Etzion. Over the next few days, Christian Peacemaking Teams sent out several reports giving more context to the incident and its aftermath.

25-27 January 2008

The Hebron team responded in many directions as events unfolded in Gaza, Beit Ummar, and Hebron this past weekend.

Friday morning the team received news that two Palestinians were killed as they were attempting an attack in the settlement of Gush Etzion. CPT later learned that the two dead were from Beit Ummar and were closely related to friends of the team. The Israeli army entered Beit Ummar during Friday prayers, surrounding the mosque.

... Dianne Roe and Eileen Hanson traveled to Beit Ummar.

Roe and Hanson learned that the Israeli army was using live ammunition and had killed eighteen year old Mohammed Mahmoud Awwad, and injured several including Musa Abu Maria, a Beit Ummar non-violence organizer. Following the burial of Awwad, shabab (Palestinian youth) threw stones and the Israeli Army responded with tear gas. Roe and Hanson were caught in the teargas and took shelter in the home of a villager. CPTer Tarek Abuata traveled from At-Tuwani to stay overnight in the hospital with Abu Maria. Abu Maria was released Saturday and did not require surgery.

Sunday afternoon Mary Wendeln, Kathie Uhler, and Roe visited Beit Ummar again to call on the families of the two killed at Gush Etzion. Relatives still await the return of the bodies...

Tragedy in Beit Ummar: A closer look

By Dianne Roe

1 February 2008

I sat in the Jerusalem Hotel restaurant last Sunday and read the headline in Ha’aretz (Israeli newspaper): Yeshiva counselor who killed terrorists lives to tell the tale (by Nadav Shragai, Ha’aretz 27/01/2008). In that article Elyakim Kovatch, the counselor who shot the two intruders, used the word terrorist twelve times to refer to the young men he killed.

I left the restaurant, boarded the bus for Hebron, and got off at Beit Ummar to meet the grieving families of the ones the press refers to as “terrorists.” Cousins Mahmoud (21) and Muhammed(21) Sabarnah had entered the library of a Yeshiva at Gush Etzion settlement adjacent to Beit Ummar late evening 24 January and, according to Kovatch, wielded a knife and a handgun, and ordered those in the library to go up against the wall. Another counselor, Rafael Singer, threatened with a gun and the Sabarnah cousins wrestled with Singer, stabbing him. Kovatch then shot and killed the cousins. No Israeli was seriously wounded.

I recognized Mahmoud Sabarnah’s mother when she rose to greet me at the calling hours, eyes filled with tears. The last time I saw her she was smiling and dancing at the wedding of one of Mahmoud’s cousins. I thought of how I first met members of the extended Sabarnah family in the summer of 1997 when the Israeli military issued demolition orders on their homes. Bypass road #60, built on Palestinian land to connect the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, does not bypass Beit Ummar; it goes right through heavily populated areas.

I remember that in 2000 and 2001 I met many of the Sabarnah neighbors, also grieving for their children. Israeli soldiers killed many along road #60 in the early months of the second intifada for the crime of living and walking near road #60.

I remember going with members of the Sabarnah family and other Beit Ummar farmers a few years ago when the Israeli military announced they were placing a security zone around Karme Tsur settlement, in effect more then doubling the size of Karme Tsur, and taking in the plums, grapes and olives of the Beit Ummar farmers. I heard one of the farmers from the Sabarnah family cry, “The land is gone.”

I visited Mahmoud Sabarnah’s sister in 2002 after the Israeli military threatened her husband with home demolition if anyone threw stones from near their home or from the almond grove north of their home on road #60. I remember that shortly after that their six- year- old child cried when the Israeli army uprooted the almond trees.

In 2004 I stayed overnight with one of the Sabarnah families when Israeli soldiers entered their neighbor’s home, forcing the family out at gunpoint, and abducting their son, taking him off to prison.

Christian Peacemaker Teams is against weapons, whether they are carried by soldiers or civilians. But why do newspapers refer to Palestinians as terrorists when they threaten armed settlers, and not use that term when armed soldiers enter homes and terrorize unarmed families?

Suppose the occupier and the occupied changed places. The headline of the event might be Head of Israeli terror group kills two Beit Ummar soldiers as they infiltrate terrorist cell. Or suppose instead of changing places they become equal neighbors, sharing the land with no wall between them and no weapons in their hands.

What is ahead for future Sabarnah cousins? There is a non-violence movement in Beit Ummar. Can Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals help sustain it? Today, 1 February the Red Crescent delivered the bodies to Beit Ummar so they could be buried. CPTers Doug Pritchard and Tarek Abuata went to pay their respects. Their report will be released later today.

HEBRON: Tragedy in Beit Ummar pt II: Rest in peace?

by Doug Pritchard

2 Feb. 2008

On 1 Feb. 2008, Israeli authorities finally released the bodies of Mahmoud and Muhammed Sabarnah to the Palestine Red Crescent Society for burial in their home community of Beit Ummar in the Hebron District. Israelis from the nearby settlement of Gush Etzion had killed the two young cousins during a violent confrontation (see CPTnet article, Tragedy in Beit Ummar pt I: A closer look, 1 Feb. 2008.) Residents of Beit Ummar now worried that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) would disrupt the men’s funeral, just as they had repeatedly harassed and attacked members of the community in recent months.

After noon prayers at the mosque, in memory of the two men, now called “martyrs,” a funeral procession of 3,000 mourners began carrying the bodies towards the cemetery. Six internationals, including CPTers Tarek Abuata and Doug Pritchard and four members of the International Solidarity Movement, positioned themselves almost at the front of the procession. As the procession came within sight of Route 60 and the final approach to the cemetery, the IDF had closed a gate across the street. Before anyone reached the gate, and without any provocation or warning, the IDF began firing on the procession, first with live ammunition, and then with plastic bullets, tear gas, and concussion grenades. Three Palestinians were immediately injured near the internationals and taken away by ambulance as the outraged procession retreated.

Some mourners hurriedly carried the bodies of the Sabarnah men along a back route to the cemetery, while others threw stones at the cement IDF watchtower from which the firing had emerged. Another Palestinian fell and friends carried him away. In the cemetery, IDF soldiers arrived and ordered the mourners to leave immediately. After a hasty burial prayer, the family and remaining mourners returned to the street. IDF jeeps then began moving up the street, firing as they came. Palestinians fled into side streets. For the next three hours, IDF patrols spread through the town, continuing to fire on small groups of retreating Palestinians, some of whom threw stones in return.

By the end of the afternoon 14 Palestinians had been wounded.

Beit Ummar: Why did the Sabarnah cousins go to the library?

By Dianne Roe

4 February 2008

After I wrote a reflection about the Sabarnah cousins (Beit Ummar Tragedy; a closer look, 1 February 2008) several people wrote giving criticism or asking questions. One of those was respected journalist Zel Lurie. Following is his comment and my response.

Dear Dianne

Yes the Sabbaneh family has suffered but the boys did not invade the yeshiva library to learn.


Hi Zel,

You are right. They did not invade the library to learn. The circumstances of this and their previous intrusion indicate they did not invade the library to kill, either. (About two years ago they entered Gush Etzion, tied up security guards, took their weapons and cell phones and escaped back to Beit Ummar. They were apprehended and were released about three weeks ago after serving two years. They could have killed their captives but did not.) I believe they entered Gush Etzion this time, ready to die. Perhaps they even wanted to die. They were without hope for the future. Perhaps their killer did them a favor.

I have agonized many times about what to say to give hope to young Palestinians. If you can't build a house on your land, you can't get married. If your father's land has been taken, and his fruit trees uprooted you can't harvest crops as he did. Even the schools and universities have been invaded and closed down. They are open again but students who have spent even a short time in prison are reluctant to go to university where they are vulnerable.

The cousins knew that no matter what they did, they would end up back in prison. I also think they were still imprisoned after their release. Freedom of movement is still severely restricted to Palestinians. Parents imprison their newly released children, worrying every time they step out the door that they will be taken at the next checkpoint.

Zel, I believe you already know these things. You have been here and have advocated for Palestinians. For me there does not seem to be an adequate way to express the despair of one more generation of those living under occupation. Yet I believe I must try if I can put the human face on what the occupation does to its victims.

Thank you for writing. Dianne

Snow Blankets Hebron

Reprinted from Christian Peacemaker Teams with Permission

By Mary Wendeln

February 1,2008

For days as I walked through the market, the Palestinians commented on the weather –

snow is coming. Now Beautiful snow covers the hills, homes and the streets of Hebron.

Palestinians, Israeli settlers, and CPTers are snow bound in their homes. Normal snow activities abounded

such as:, cancelled events, stranded travelers, snow shoveling and the delightful sounds of children playing in the snow.

For a while even the Israeli Occupation seemed to be at a stand still. Everything seemed normal. Israeli Occupation has no control over Mother Nature.

She did not discriminate over which homes and streets the snow fell. Israeli soldiers (IDF) issued no snow stoppage. Israeli government made no proclamations on the quantity of fallen snow nor was there interference by the other key promoters of the Israeli Occupation. Snow covered all the religious sites in Jerusalem.

Is this how it can really be in Palestine? Is Mother Nature telling us something?

As Palestinian and Settler boys participated in a typical snow ball fight when the falling snow [ceased], the Israeli soldiers removed and held two twelve year Palestinians as if they were criminals. Normal activity returned to that of the Israeli Occupation as settler boys pelted snow while the IDF looked on in approval.

For a brief 24 hours, things seemed real and normal.

Gaza: Israeli "End the Siege" Action at Erez Checkpoint

Reprinted from Christian Peacemaker Teams with Permission

30 January 2008

On January 26, almost 2000 people arrived at the Erez Checkpoint, Gaza, in buses, trucks and a long convoy of cars. Participants displayed enthusiasm, energy and hope through Palestinian flags, Hebrew and Arabic signs, two tons of relief food (donated by the participants) as well as 5 tons of essential foodstuffs and water distillers the organizers had purchased. Though demonstrators could not hand the commodities directly to the Gazans, the organizers promised that in the next two days this will be accomplished or they will appeal to the High Court.

Jessica Frederick and Paulette Schroeder, representing the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron and Sean O’Neill a CPTer from At-Tuwani, along with representatives from at least 26 Israeli human rights and peace activist groups who had organized the Action, traveled in this convoy.

The program included speakers: Nurit Peled Elhanan, Uri Avnery, Dr. Eya al-Sarraj who spoke of solidarity among Jews, Arabs and Christians working toward freedom for Gaza. Nurit Peled Elhanan, an Israeli peace activist whose daughter had been killed by a suicide bomber stated: The world is afraid of the Muslim womb..."Dr. Sarraj from within Gaza on his cellular phone declared with great passion: "Every drop of blood is a crime against humanity." Shir Shusdig, a young Israeli woman from the Israeli village Sderot near the Gaza border, spoke with courage: “For seven years I am suffering from the Qassams (rockets) in Kibbutz Zikum and Sderot. I know that the people on the other side are also suffering very much. That’s why I am here.”

Many journalists and peace activists from around the world recorded the news to send to their constituencies back in the States, Mexico, and Great Britain. One peace activist from Israel, 85 year old Pnira Feiler, a nurse, now serves as a volunteer with Physicians for Human Rights in clinics within the Occupied Palestinian Territories. She is quick to point out: “The Palestinians do not have access to medical services and at many of these checkpoints mothers have babies and people actually die.”

The action to “End the Siege in Gaza” ended as a shining example of Israelis, Palestinians, Christians, and Muslims working together for peace and for humanity.

As of this writing, Israeli authorities have not allowed the supplies into Gaza. Organizers of the action plan to take this issue to the Israeli High Court.

Photos and video of this action are available at: http://www.cpt.org/gallery/ENDtheSEIGE

Is there peace now?

Reprinted from Christian Peacemaker Teams with Permission

Art Gish

Hebron, West Bank

23 January, 2008

Right after the big meeting in Annapolis, Md., 27 November 2007, I returned to the Middle East for another three months of work with Christian Peacemaker Teams. I have been viewing that meeting and President Bush’s recent trip to the Middle East from the perspective of what I see happening in Israel/Palestine. So far, I have not seen one step taken by government authorities here toward peace.

On the very day the meeting took place in Annapolis, Israeli soldiers came to the village of At-Tuwani where I am living to deliver a military order to demolish the mosque in the village.

The Israeli government has announced that they will continue settlement construction and expansion in spite of international law and recent agreements. Immediately after the Annapolis talks, the Israeli government announced they would build 300 new housing units right outside Bethlehem. Even the Bush administration protested this clear violation of the Annapolis agreement. Sixteen new settlements were established in the West Bank in the two weeks before Bush’s visit.

Building of the Wall continues to isolate Palestinian communities and results in the confiscation of Palestinian land. One small section of the Wall south of Bethlehem will result in the loss of 5,000 acres of prime farmland for Bethlehem area farmers.

Israeli military killing of Palestinians has greatly increased since the Annapolis meeting. The kill ratio now is over forty Palestinians killed by Israelis for every Israeli killed by Palestinians. The situation in Gaza is horrendous, as has been well reported in the news media lately.

I continue to look for signs of peace. I have seen none coming from governments. The only signs of peace I see are the grass-roots efforts of Palestinians and Israelis to build a nonviolent movement to end the Occupation and bring Israelis and Palestinians together in peace. That excites me.

Why can't you bring us our donkey?

Reprinted from Christian Peacemaker Teams with permission

At-Tuwani Reflection:
Joy Ellison
22 January 2008

When I saw Heba* talking to the Ma'on settlement guard, I went running
towards her with my video camera poised. In at-Tuwani, extremist
Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinian children walking to school,
as well as Palestinian adults working on their own land. But as I
hurried towards Heba, I realized this 7-year-old was about to teach me
a lesson in nonviolent resistance.

Her hands clasped behind her back, Heba looked up into the face of the
settlement guard. With her usual composure, she spoke to him. This
particular settler is notorious for harassing Palestinians; I've seen
adult Palestinians take off running when he approached. But he was
looking down at Heba and listening. Before I could reach where she
stood, Heba turned and calmly walked away.

"What did you say to him, Heba?" I asked. A small, shy girl, Heba
didn't reply at first. But soon my teammates coxed an answer from her.

"I asked him why he couldn't bring back our donkey."

Recently, Israeli settlers beat a Palestinian man from the village of
Tuba and stole his donkey. (See Release: Large Israeli-Palestinian
Solidarity Walk to Tuba) Palestinians living in the South Hebron hills
have had their livestock stolen before. From experience, they know
the Israeli police are unlikely to do anything to help them recover
their property or prosecute settlers who attack them. Perhaps the
entreaties of a little girl could succeed where the Israeli police fail.

About a half an hour before I watched Heba make her case to an armed
settler, Israeli soldiers drove up to where Palestinians where were
plowing. Palestinians asked CPT to film as they insisted on their
right to work their land. Neighbors came to see what was happening.
Soon they were joined by a crowd of children. Heba's mother passed
out tiny cups of Arabic coffee. As soon as the settlement guard
arrived, Heba's grandmother, the oldest woman in Tuwani, walked up to
him. She greeted him without a trace of fear and asked him where the
donkey was.

Armed with nothing but their rights as human beings, the people of
at-Tuwani stood on their land and demanded their due expertly. The
farmers convinced the soldiers to allow them to work and the
settlement guard assured Heba and her grandmother that he would do his
best to bring back the donkey. I don't have much hope that the donkey
will be returned, but I'm sure that Heba will grow up knowing how to
resist injustice. And that gives me hope for the villages of the South
Hebron Hills.

*Not her real name.