Home Again - July 2007

Dear friends and family,

Please forgive me that I have not written sooner to let you all know that I have returned home safely. I left Palestine last Thursday morning and arrived in San Francisco Saturday afternoon. (It took that long because I didn't leave Amman, Jordan until Friday and then missed my connection in New York on Friday night.) I am now settling back into my comfortable life, however, I have been at a surprisingly low energy and the jet lag seems harder to overcome than ever before. It must be because I am pushing 50. At least I'll use that as my excuse for the delay in writing to you.

Thank you for letting me share my journey with you. This is my fourth trip to Palestine in a little over five years and although I've begun to wonder if international volunteers are actually helping the Palestinians, I know that regardless of how pathetic or futile our efforts, a significant contribution that we do make is to tell their stories. Palestinians chafe under the knowledge that they are perceived as terrorists by the majority of the world, even as they feel so unjustly victimized. So I am very grateful to you for listening.

Even though I will no longer be reporting to you, the stories continue. In fact the day I left the IWPS house one of the farmers that I had met was badly beaten by a settler while he was herding his goats. If you want to continue to be informed about what is happening on the ground you can check the IWPS website

or the ISM website

If you want more official versions of the situation you can check out the PA run Palestinian National Information Centre which releases monthly statistics http://www.pnic.gov.ps/english.html

or the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights which releases weekly reports

or B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

The PNIC report for the month of June documented that the Israeli army killed 49 Palestinians, wounded 47, arrested 383 and carried out 765 invasions in Palestinian communities. I can only hold on to the hope that historical events can take everyone by surprise and things can change overnight.



Nablus under Invasion

Home Demolition in Al Funduq

Yesterday we went to document the story of a family in Al Funduq whose home was demolished last Thursday. The report is on the IWPS website (Human Rights Report No. 333 written by yours truly) if you want to read it.
The first picture here is of their old home.
Then second is their new home.
The third is telling their story.
The last picture here is them making tea for us in their new home. (the tent)

Other assorted odds and ends:

Susiya Petition
Last week I talked about the village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills where the villagers face the possible eviction from their lands for the 5th time. Ta’ayush has also created an online petition to protest this injustice. Please consider signing their petition.

Hamastan or Hamas’ Stand?
Polls indicate that only 1-3% of Palestinians want an Islamic state in Palestine. So why did Hamas win so big? And why do they still retain some popularity? This link takes you to the July 10, 2007 Los Angeles Times where an official of the movement describes Hamas’ goals for all of Palestine. He cleverly calls his excellent article “Hamas' stand”.http://exchange.ips-dc.org/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-marzook10jul10,0,1675308.story?coll=la-tot-opinion%26track=ntottext

Artas Demonstration - Video of Awad entreating soldiers
Here is a link to another video for you to enjoy. This one is entitled
Awad Asking Soldiers Permission to Visit His Own Land
Description: During a demonstration at Artas, a village in the West Bank of Palestine one of the organizers and land owner faces a line of Israeli soldiers in riot gear. After explaining that they are brothers who all just want peace, he asks permission to visit his own land that was confiscated just weeks earlier. The Settlement above the wadi that his land is in wants to use the wadi for drainage. (Presumably for sewage as other settlements have done.)

Tree Planting in Tel, a village near Nablus

I realize that I never told you what happened when I went to Tel, a village near Nablus to help a farmer plant trees on his own land that he’s been denied access to for the last 3 years. (The military may shoot or the even more dire threat is settlers with attack dogs and knives.) If he doesn’t plant soon, the land will be confiscated for laying fallow. I am happy to report that we were able to help him plant 20 trees. Further actions are being planned to plant 80 more.

Awad with his son

Artas Demonstration

Dear friends and family,
We went to a demonstration today in Artas, a village near Bethlehem. I have to confess that when we were trying to decide whether to go there or to the demonstration in Bi’lin, the factor that tipped us was a description in a Palestinian Tour Guide book that spoke of Artas’ beauty and its tourist attractions: A convent and a Palestinian Ethnological Museum.

The demonstration was probably the most beautiful one I have been to in Palestine. The breath-taking beauty of the land and the village was only part of the reason. A man named Awad organized the demonstration because he is losing his lands to the settlements on the hilltops above his village. Artas has a long and wide wadi (valley) that is very rich agriculturally. The village is famous for lettuce. (Unfortunately the Lettuce Festival is not scheduled during my time here.) The Settlers want to use the wadi for a drainage system for the settlement. Awad wasn’t sure what kind of drainage but he told us he was sure it wasn’t going to be nice. (Alluding to sewage.) He led a small group of Israelis and Internationals to his land. Of course we were stopped by a line of soldiers in riot gear. Awad and other Palestinians made beautiful speeches to the soldiers explaining their belief that they were all brothers and they all just wanted to live in peace. Awad told them that he just wanted to go to his land and pick some of his apricots. Of course they didn’t let him. After awhile we left.

After the demo Beth and I walked around the village with Awad. We told him we wanted to visit the convent. (The museum was closed.) While we were walking to the convent, Awad told us that the convent was allowing the Israeli’s to build a tunnel under their land for the settler’s drainage. He told us that the Israeli’s are being very careful not to adversely affect the convent’s land too much because they don’t want to piss off Rome. (I’m paraphrasing here.) He had tried to enlist the help of the convent with the village’s struggle. He went to talk to a nun who had been his teacher when he was in kindergarten. But she refused to help him. As long as the convent or the convent’s lands are not being threatened, the nuns there apparently don’t care about what happens to the lands of the village.


Awad and his son
Artas Wadi
Artas Lettuce
Three Soldiers in Riot Gear
Soldier On Hill Overlooking Demo
Artas Convent
Artas Nun

Pictures Artas Wadi Lettuce Soldiers Convent and Mean Nun

Demolitions and Demonstrations

Dear friends and family,
Sorry that I haven’t written in over a week. It’s not that things haven’t been happening; I just haven’t had the words to communicate them. Or maybe the energy. I don’t know. So I thought I’d just give a short update and hope my pictures suffice.

First of all, I figured out the video thing (I hope). So you can see some of the Debke dancing by going to this link.

A lot of my time has been spent on a home demolition documentation project that IWPS is coordinating with the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions. We’ve been visiting with various mayors of villages in the Salfit region. The mayor of Deir Istiya was an especially charming man. We happened to be at his office when an engineer and some other people were meeting with him about a community center project that he is spearheading. He envisions a recreation area and even a swimming pool. He invited us to go with them all to look at the land it would be built on. While we were there and he was pointing out where various things would be built, it was impossible not to notice the encroaching settlements and settler roads. He said, “Yes, our cousins are talking that land.”

The pictures:
The womyn in pink is the engineer. The mayor also in that picture.
Another picture is of the mayor standing in front of the house in which he was born.
Another is of him in front of a sign proudly announcing another project that is restoring the old city of Deir Istiya. (That project is almost complete.) He joked about taking a picture of an old man in front of the old city.

Another village that is facing home demolitions is Yasuf. There are about 10 homes that will probably be demolished soon. Right now the families are fighting the orders in court. Most of the homes are not even finished yet and they are in Area B, which is a designation that came from the Oslo Accords which basically means they don’t need a permit from the Israelis to build there. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the Israelis.

The pictures:
One of the houses that is being threatened with demolition.
The kitchen of one of the houses that is being threatened with demolition.
Two womyn who live in one of the houses that is being threatened with demolition.
Construction workers working near one of the houses that is being threatened with demolition.

Yasuf Homes Being Threatened with Demolition

July 8, 2007 Debke!

Dear friends and family,

I am off to Nablus tomorrow for a tree planting action near the tiny village of Yanoun. Yanoun is a village that in 2004 was terrorized by settlers from Itmar settlement to the point of fleeing their homes. They came back only with the accompaniment of Internationals who have committed themselves to a permanent presence in the village. One village womyn told them, “If you ever leave one morning, I will leave that very afternoon.” Perhaps you remember that I did a stint there in 2005 and met some really amazing older womyn who ran a store next to the “International House”. The ISM coordinator who asked us to come told us that they don’t know what to expect although attack dogs and knives were mentioned. I’ll probably be there at least 2 days so I’ll write when I get back.

In the meantime and on a much lighter and joyful note, I attended a Debke festival tonight. Debke is traditional Palestinian folk dancing. There are not many words I need to write about it except to say check out the pictures and I wish I knew how to put the videos on my blog.



July 8, 2007 More Susiya pictures

July 7, 2007 The Catch 22 of Occupation

Dear friends and family,

Last week three of us from IWPS made the long journey to the South Hebron hills to participate in two demonstrations. On Friday Internationals and Israelis joined Palestinians in the small village of Wadi Anise for a nonviolent demonstration against the Annexation Wall commemorating the July 9, 2004 International Court of Justice ruling that deemed the wall illegal and instructed Israel to dismantle it. (Obviously that has not happened.) Then on Saturday Internationals and Israelis accepted an invitation from the villagers of Susiya to attend a teach-in and then take a tour of their lands. Since Israeli law forbids them to be on their own land, this was going to be an act of civil disobedience.

To spare you an even longer email than this will already be, I’ll just talk about the event in Susiya.

First some background.

In the 1830s poverty-stricken Palestinian families left their villages in the South Hebron region and purchased land further on the outskirts. The subsequent generations developed a unique culture of living in the spacious caves that dotted the region while sustaining themselves by sheep herding and agriculture. Today many of the villages in the South Hebron hills continue this way of life. One such village was Qawawis. Perhaps some of you remember when I wrote about accompanying the villagers of Qawawis in 2005 who were being severely harassed by settlers. Tragically since then, the settlers have accomplished their objective and the village of Qawawis has been destroyed and the residents evicted. I have no idea where the lovely people with whom I spent three days are now. Probably they are living in poverty-stricken conditions in the near-by villages of Yatta or Carmel.

Susiya is another village in the South Hebron hills that enjoys this cave-dwelling lifestyle. At one point it was situated right next to an archeological site that contains Byzantine, Roman and Hellenistic ruins and the ruins of an ancient Jewish synagogue. In 1983 Jewish settlers established a settlement 2 km from this site and they named themselves Susya. (Did they choose the name to obfuscate the reality of the pre-existing Arab village of Susiya?) In 1985 the military took control of the site and in 1986 evicted the families of Susiya from their homes. The families relocated 500 meters from the Jewish settlement. This was way to close for the comfort of the settlers and so the army evicted the villagers a second time, herding them into trucks and dumping them 15 km to the north. While some families gave up and went to live in Yatta, other families returned to their land, this time a little further from the settlement.

In the next few years the area saw the spread of settlement outposts, illegal even by Israeli law. (By international law, all settlements are illegal.) Nonetheless, under the protection of the Israeli army the settlers were able to grab more and more land belonging to the remaining families of Susiya. Increasingly violent in their actions, (three Susiya residents were murdered by settlers in 1991) settlers stopped Palestinian farmers from cultivating their lands. Once land lays fallow, the state can “legally” claim it. Half of the families have lost half of their lands and the remaining half have lost all of their lands. (See Peace Now report “Breaking the Law in the West Bank – The Private Land Report”, November 2006

In July 2001 a settler was murdered outside the fence of the Susya settlement. Although no one from the village was implicated, the Israeli army carried out a third eviction, much more brutally than the previous ones. Villagers were beaten and/or arrested, caves were demolished, wells blocked with sand and rocks, fields destroyed, 1000 olive trees uprooted, livestock buried alive. Despite this treatment and the insistence of the army that they leave, many of the families of Susiya stayed on their land. The Red Cross brought emergency relief supplies and one week later the army returned to bulldoze the Red Cross tents. (See B’Tselem report “Means of Expulsion: Violence, harassment and Lawlessness against Palestinians in te Southern Hebron Hills”, July 2005

In September 2001 the villagers submitted a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ) requesting a permit to return to their land. The HCJ pronounced the repeated expulsions illegal and presented an interim injunction instructing the army to allow the inhabitants to return to their land, albeit with the restriction that they could not rebuild anything. Hence, since this time, the families of Susiya have been living on their land in tents and shacks.

In September 2004 the HCJ left intact the injunction from 2001 barring the Israeli military from demolishing and evacuating the village of Susiya. The judges even went so far as to reprimand the state, saying, “...the state ...is creating a situation under which a human’s basic existence becomes impossible.” The HCJ gave the villagers until July 2007 to submit a required building plan which a requirement for obtaining legal building permits. While this sounds quite reasonable, it is important to realize that the villagers have been denied permission for surveyors to go on the land to obtain the measurements needed for a viable building plan. Furthermore, the body that issues permits is primarily made up of settlers and virtually never approves building permits for Palestinians. Such is the Catch-22 circumstances of life in Palestine.

The teach-in and tour that we attended with about 50 other Internationals and maybe 150 Israelis marked the deadline for submitting the building plan. Without it they cannot possibly hope to obtain the building permits. In one month the deadline for obtaining the building permit will pass. After that the villagers can expect the army to come and evict them for a fifth time.

At the beginning of the teach-in some Israeli border police showed up and I feared they would prevent the event from proceeding. Fortunately, they left after talking to some of the villagers and the teach-in continued. When the teach-in ended, we were served a simple lunch of delicious homemade bread, cucumbers, tomatoes and several rounds of tea. Then the tour began. We were shown the remains of their destroyed houses that they have been forbidden to rebuild. We were shown their current dwellings that are merely tents. We were shown the settlement outposts on top of the hills overlooking their land. The archeological site was pointed out to us as well. And finally we walked on the villagers’ land that is now claimed by the settlers. Waiting for us were about 18 soldiers and 12 border police. Without the presence of so many Internationals, Israelis and press it would have been very dangerous for the villagers to be there. After some chanting and bannering, we all left and went back to the land that at least for now the villagers arestill allowed to occupy.

Of course by the end of the day we were all without words. What can you say to people who are facing such circumstances? We thanked them for their hospitality and left.