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

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