Tag Archives: settler violence

The Daily Ordeal of Getting to School in Hebron

copied from my Electronic Intifada article here

 

Palestinian children in Hebron are forced to pass through Israeli military checkpoints in order to get to school.

(Osama Qawasmi/APA images)

The Qurduba School in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron is once again a target for harassment by Israeli occupation forces, as new restrictions on freedom of movement bring a wave of settler attacks and soldier violence.

Established in 1984, the Qurduba School sits surrounded by five Israeli settlements on a hilltop in central Hebron. To get to school every morning, pupils between the ages of 6 and 13 — and their women teachers — must navigate a maze of checkpoints and dangerous settler-inhabited streets.

Curfews, checkpoints, land confiscation, home demolitions, army and settler harassment, and other aspects of occupation within Palestinian life in Hebron intensified after February 1994 when extremist Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein, from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, gunned down 24 Muslim worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in the center of Hebron.

In the years following the massacre, the mosque was split into two parts, becoming half-mosque, half-synagogue. In 1997, the settler-populated area around the religious compound was cordoned off by Israel as H2, designating full Israeli military control, while the rest of Hebron was designated as H1, and remains under administration of thePalestinian Authority.

Since 2005, teachers with the Qudruba school coming into the Israeli-controlled H2 district from the H1 area of the Old City had secured the right, through demonstrations, to bypass the daily metal detector scans and bag inspections at the checkpoint. Instead, they were able to pass through a side gate to reach their school.

On Tuesday, 11 October, the army revoked this right for no apparent reason. “Through this special teachers-only gate,” school principal Ibtesam al-Jondy told The Electronic Intifada, “we were able to reach our school easily. It took only five minutes from the checkpoint to the school. Then suddenly, we were stopped for nothing. So all the teachers refused this order, because it’s our right [to pass through].”

In response to this injustice, teachers refused to submit to inspection, and held a demonstration with more than one hundred of their students, who left their empty classrooms to join their teachers at the checkpoint. In a shocking display of brutality, Israeli soldiers sent nine children to the hospital with injuries.

Eleven-year-old Yazan Sharbati, who was injured that Tuesday, told the International Solidarity Movement that “the army told us to go back to school, and we told them that without teachers there is no school … I was so afraid that something bad was going to happen. The soldier pushed me very hard” (“Hebron school demonstrates for third day: “Without teachers there is no school,” 13 October 2011).

Protest struck a chord

The brutal repression of the 11 October checkpoint protest struck a chord in the Hebron community, and inspired an outburst of support in a city all too accustomed to violations of the right to freedom of movement. Over the next two days, community members and representatives from the Hebron governor’s office, along with the director of education in Hebron, stood in solidarity outside of the checkpoint with the students and teachers of the Qurduba School, who held the school day’s lessons outside of the checkpoint. On the third day of demonstrations, soldiers projected the high-LRAD sound cannon, nicknamed “the scream,” and fired rounds of tear gas to forcibly scatter the crowd. One teacher was arrested, and five students and demonstrators were injured.

Students, teachers and demonstrators returned to the checkpoint — Checkpoint 56 — every morning for two weeks. “During this period,” said al-Jondy, “many establishments tried to help us, but we got only promises, without solutions to our problem.” Though settlers had little to do with the events, the protests also inspired many settler attacks, as Palestinian news agency WAFA reported (“Settlers, soldiers continue attacks on Hebron schools,” 20 October 2011).

Inside the Israeli settlement of Tel Rumeida, said al-Jondy, “the settlers began to warn us … that they will settle in the empty school, and keep us away.” To save the school, coveted by settlers for its strategic hilltop location, the few teachers who lived inside H2, and did not encounter the checkpoint during their commute, reopened the school, while the other 13 Qurduba School teachers kept up a daily vigil outside the checkpoint.

Eventually, when all attempts to reason with the authorities failed, the teachers began using a much longer alternate route to bypass the checkpoint every morning. “Except for the Israeli soldiers,” lamented al-Jondy, “nobody has any power. The Ministry of Education spoke with the commander, but there is no solution. The Israeli army claimed they closed the checkpoint because of security. But every day for five years the same teachers come to the checkpoint. They have their names and identity numbers. They are on a list. They are not a security threat.”

Constant physical and psychological assaults

The students and teachers of Qurduba School are no strangers to the travails of occupation. The school sits atop a hill in the middle of downtown Hebron, within ample view of the Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai settlements, each of which consists of a few buildings and a handful of settler families. Across the street from the entrance to the Qurduba School, a door has long been adorned with graffiti reading “Gas The Arabs!JDL [Jewish Defense League].”

The building and its inhabitants are constantly physically and psychologically assaulted by settlers and soldiers. “There were about 450 pupils in the 1980s,” said al-Jondy. “Because of the occupation, because of the settlers and the bad situation here, this number began to decrease. This year we have only 149 pupils.”

Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-PS) stated in a 2008 report about the situation in Hebron that the area around the school and the settlements “is often the scene of violent confrontations” between Israeli settlers and Palestinian schoolchildren. “Settler schoolchildren … routinely verbally harass, chase, hit and throw stones at Palestinian schoolchildren under the watchful eyes of Israeli soldiers. Their parents and other adults engage in similar behavior, blocking the school steps with their cars to make it difficult for students to pass or setting their dogs loose to chase and terrorize young children” (“Under Attack: Settler Violence Against Palestinian Children in the Occupied Territory,” November 2008 [PDF]).

Hebron has been under occupation since 1969, when the first religious settlers, who had barricaded themselves in a downtown hotel room and refused to leave, were coaxed out by the Israeli military and given the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. Ten years later, the act was repeated in an abandoned hospital, and this time Israel allowed the squatters to settle in downtown Hebron.

Restrictions on Palestinian life in Hebron accelerated after the 1994 massacre, and the expulsion of Palestinians and their livelihoods from the heart of Hebron’s Old City became an institutionalized process after the area became Israeli-controlled H2 in 1997.

Now, at least 500 settlers and at least 2,000 soldiers have shut down Shuhada Street, the economic heart of both Hebron and the entire southern West Bank. The gradual takeover of Shuhada Street, beginning in the 1980s and culminating after the second intifada, has turned the once-bustling marketplace into a ghost town, and has caused the (often forced) abandonment of over 1,000 housing units and over 1,800 shops and storefronts — which now, in a cruel and ironic twist of history, are graffitied with the same Stars of David that once marred Jewish storefronts in 1930s Germany.

“Sometimes many students come to the school very late,” said al-Jondy. “When I ask them, ‘Why are you late?’ they tell me, ‘Last night I didn’t sleep, because the settlers threw empty bottles and stones at my house.’ So they come here drowsy and sleepy, and they can’t concentrate on any subjects during the day because of what happened during the night. Most of the students’ houses are close to the houses of the settlers, so they are very vulnerable .. sometimes as head teacher I come early to the school, and the settlers chase me with dogs, and I have to run from their dogs.”

The DCI-PS report cites the testimony of Raghad Hashim Younis al-Azza, a ten-year-old student of the Qurtuba School:

“About a year ago, I was going to school with my classmate Ruwand who lives on Shuhada Street. I was with my cousin Ahmad and our neighbour’s daughter, Abrar. On the road, we came across a group of settlers, about 10 of them. They were about the same age as me except two girls who were around 18 years old. The two (older) girls attacked me and hit me. They asked the boys to make a circle around me and beat me. My cousin and the neighbor’s daughter ran to the checkpoint to inform the [Israeli] soldier. When the soldier approached us, the settlers ran away. He asked me what happened. I told him everything, but he did not respond to me.”

Settlers also frequently attack the school itself. To cite one of myriad examples, Ma’an News Agency reported in November 2007 that “right wing Israeli settlers broke into the courtyard of the Qurduba school … attempted to set fire to the building … attempted to rip the doors off the building and succeeded in knocking over walls, trampling flower beds and blocking the path to the school with rocks … a group of children, armed with axes, attempted to break the water pipes that supply the school. They were urged on by their teacher” (“Israeli settlers attack girls’ school in Hebron,” 26 November 2007).

In 2008, a previous director of the Qurduba School, Reem al-Shareef, moved the school’s start time from 8:00 to 7:30am, so the students would not be harassed by the settler children as the latter headed to daily study at their yeshiva. Today, because teachers and administrators must take a long route to avoid Checkpoint 56, “it takes about 45 minutes to reach the school,” said al-Jondy, “so most of the teachers come here late. Three of the teachers have injured themselves because of the new route. One of them hurt her leg, one hurt her back.” Because teachers are late, it is harder to enforce the 7:30 start time, leaving teachers and students once again vulnerable to early morning settler attacks.

Various challenges to education

“It’s very hard to have education in H2,” explained Mohammed Abuthereim, Hebron Municipality Director of Education, referring to the Israeli settlement district of Hebron. “The occupation affects [the children’s] social health. The students suffer from fear, worry and sadness. How to get an education, how to learn to read when you are attacked by settlers on the way to school? The same for the teachers … we need students to learn in safety, and not to have to worry about these things.”

Now that school has reopened, students and teachers are greeted with almost daily settler attacks. “In October, I filed a complaint with the Israeli police at the [nearby settlement of] Kiryat Arba, and they promised that in the future they would stop the settlers, because they don’t have the right to do these things,” al-Jondy told The Electronic Intifada. “But so far, the police have done nothing for us … [On 7 November,] the school’s guard phoned me at nine in the morning and told me there were settlers around the school, throwing empty bottles and big stones on the school and on the garden. So I quickly phoned the police, and they eventually came, but they did nothing.”

For now, the Qurduba School is pushing the Hebron municipality, as well as organizations like the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, to demand that the Israeli military ease its draconian restrictions of freedom of movement, not only for teachers but for all residents of Hebron.

In the meantime, resilience, steadfastness and hope remain the driving forces, in spite of the occupation, that keep the Qurduba School open day after day.

Badia Dwaik, a Hebron resident and the deputy coordinator of the local activism groupYouth Against Settlements, told The Electronic Intifada that the students and teachers of the Qurduba School have begun peaceful protests against the new closure policy.

“Over the years they have struggled for freedom of education and for the right to education enjoyed by all other children in the world, and this continues today,” she said. “They will not give up.”

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Community Building In The Face of Israeli Occupation

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

While the Palestinian-led weekly demonstrations against the separation barrier are an important and visible part of non-violent resistance, a children’s community center in Burin fights the occupation on a daily basis just by opening its doors, sometimes for as little as half an hour.

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Residents of Burin build their community children’s center, which is named for Bilal al Najjar. (Photo: Ghassan Najjar)

In the West Bank village of Burin near Nablus, local youth are building a new children’s center to foster hope in their community.

 

Burin’s 4,000 inhabitants live in a valley, surrounded on all hilltops by Israeli settlements — Yitzhar, Har Bracha, Givat Arousna, and a Yitzhar “outpost.” The children and adults of Burin live, day and night, in constant fear of settler attacks and army raids.

 

21-year-old Ghassan Najjar is the director of Burin’s Bilal Alnajjar Community Center, built in 2008 and named after a villager who died in 1984 while he was being interrogated by the Israeli army.

 

“The youth here are lost,” he says. “There is no outlet for their frustration. The gym that was once open was closed. The boy’s playground is large, but people are too afraid to play there because of the constant army presence in the area…the girl’s school is tiny, and looks like a jail because of all the bars that are up- a caged-up area is the only place where they can play.”

 

In 2005, when they were teenagers in the village, Ghassan and 25 of his friends committed themselves to building a community center. “We wanted to get the youth away from a life of hanging around, smoking cigarettes and doing nothing…we wanted this center to be their outlet, to give them hope.”

 

The teenagers went from door to door raising funds. “People were skeptical at first”, Ghassan remembered. “They would disregard what we were doing, or brush it off, and say ‘how can that help?’ But we were determined.”

 

When the Bilal Alnajjar Community Center was finally established in 2008, the Israeli army began to crack down. From 2008 to 2010, Israeli soldiers targeted the center for harassment, invasion, and vandalism, usually at night.

 

“From 11 pm to 4 am”, Ghassan says, “everyone in Burin knew this village was for the Israeli army… they would break down the doors, break the computers, and trash the center. They would come and go as they pleased, and hang around, and do whatever they want. But this is something that we came to expect. We used to get upset when they harassed our center, but we continued.”

 

In 2010, 22 of the 25 organizers were arrested while cleaning the streets of Burin, and sentenced to a year in prison. While in prison, Burin’s younger generation took on the responsibility of maintaining the community center. One of these young men, who wished to remain anonymous, insisted that “we were dedicated to keeping the center open. It is very important to us. We made sure to open it every day, even if only for half an hour, just to show that we were going to keep it open.”

 

Now, the young men of Burin are building a new children’s center to better serve as a safe haven for Burin’s children. “There are 112 children here who still have nowhere to go”, relates Ghassan. “They don’t want to stay home and sit with their family, they want to go out and have some fun, but they can’t really play in the streets because of fear of army raids and settlers. So they come and hang out in the center but it is small and there is nowhere to play. There is only space to sit and talk.”

 

At the new children’s center, which is currently under construction, the people of Burin hope to maintain extensive athletic, recreational and educational facilities. Villagers have reported seeing Israeli soldiers enter the construction site at night, but they are not deterred. “Once the center is up we expect soldiers to come, this is normal for us. They can enter as much as they like, we will just continue, and renew whatever they destroy.”

 

Ghassan, along with the other directors of the Bilal Alnajjar Community Center, are optimistic. “We have a lot of hopes and dreams. We are still young, we are 21, and we hope to educate the ones younger than us to take over the center. We are not dictators, we will one day move on, but we hope that the young people of this village will keep it up, so Burin can remain strong in spirit.”

 

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Refusing to die in silence: Palestinians resist settler violence during the olive harvest

copied from my MondoWeiss article here

watchingsoldiers
Olive harvesters watch Israeli soldiers after being told to stop picking olives in Burin. (All Photos: International Solidarity Movement)

As this year’s olive harvest sends Palestinian families across all of historic Palestine out to their olive trees, a new nonviolent resistance group called Refusing to Die In Silence is patrolling the West Bank, protecting harvesters from increased settler violence.

womanpickingolives
A woman picking olives in Qaryut.

The 2011 olive harvest, which began in early October, has seen a troubling rise in settler attacks. On October 20, OXFAM reported that Israeli settlers have already cost West Bank Palestinian farmers $500,000 this year in destroyed olive trees. In September alone, 2,500 olive trees were destroyed, out of 7,500 destroyed so far this year (and a conservative estimate of 800,000 destroyed since Israel’s annexation of the West Bank in 1967). This is particularly damaging because this year’s olive harvest is expected to yield only half the oil of last year’s harvest, making each tree all the more valuable more farmers.

An interactive map released by the human rights organization Al-Haq illustrates the “alarming increase in violent attacks” throughout the West Bank in September. In response, Refusing to Die in Silence, launched on September 19 in anticipation of increased violence during the UN vote, has organized daily patrols in the regions between Ramallah and Nablus to protect farmers during the olive harvest. Incorporating Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, armed with cameras and guided by a commitment to nonviolent resistance, the group uses a coordinated system of car patrols, directed from a control room in Ramallah, to respond to settler attacks as they occur.

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Israeli soldiers and olive harvesters in Qaryut.

Says Haifam Katib, a coordinator of Refusing to Die In Silence who has been integral to the group since its inception, “we made the group because the settlers attack the villages in Palestine, especially during the month of the harvest. Last year there were many problems and so we decided to protect our people and to help our people pick olives, and to make what is going on well known…to help them, to push them to continue, to not be scared about settlers, to save their land- this is our plan.”

Like September, the month of October has been rife with settler attacks. On October 1, armed settlers uprooted dozens of olive trees in the village of Madama south of Nablus, and settlers from Yitzhar burnt many olive trees in the Einabous and Huwwara villages, south of Nablus. The same day, olive trees were also uprooted and set afire by settlers in the villages of Nabi Saleh and Dier Nidham, in the Ramallah district, and as the trees burned, Israeli soldiers prevented farmers from extinguishing the blaze and salvaging their sole sources of income.

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Israeli soldiers checking ID in Qaryut.

Refusing to Die In Silence maintains contact with West Bank Palestinian villages close to Israeli settlements, so that, in case of a settler attack, help is only a phone call away. “We went around to all of the major villages, and we gave our phone number to the local committees and to the popular committees, and to the people close to the settlements who want to pick olives. They have our number, and if they have problems they call us. We go there quickly to see what happened, and all our guys are journalists, they are filming. It’s their job, and they know how to do it.”

On October 6, settlers uprooted 200 olive trees just after midnight in the village of Qusra, south of Nablus, hours before their owners were to reap their fruit. Katib explains, “in Qusra we arrived in the morning, and saw that settlers had come in the night and cut the trees. The land is very important to the Palestinians, and especially the olive trees grow very slowly, and they take care of the trees many years, to take olives after they grow. So it’s very hard [when settlers cut the trees].”

On October 9, dozens of settlers armed with sticks and stones attacked Palestinians from the village of Awarta, east of Nablus, as they attempted to harvest olives close to the boundary of the Itamar settlement. Two days later, on October 11, settlers from the settlement Elon Moreh attacked olive harvesters near the village of Azmoot, east of Nablus, in a fistfight which occurred after a verbal standoff. The same day, settlers set fire to olive trees in the Palestinian villages of Ras Karkar, Beitillu and Deir Ammar, villages west of Ramallah.

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Trees partially burnt by Israeli settlers in Burin.

“Always I see the same thing everywhere,” laments Haifam. “The settlers try to cut the trees, to burn the trees, to burn all the area, to stop the contact between the farmers and the land. And after, they can take the land. This is what the settlers do, this is their policy, to build more and more settlements.”

The list continues- on October 12, settlers from the settlement Havat Gilad attacked farmers from the village of Jit as well as Refusing to Die in Silence team members, injuring one; on October 21, settlers gathered to photograph and throw stones at farmers in Burin, as soldiers arrested two harvesters; on October 26, Yitzhar settlers blocked Palestinians from harvesting near the village of Huwwara.

In the midst of this flurry of assaults, the Palestinian Authority released a statement on the 24th condemning Israeli inaction, expressing that “Israeli violations against Palestinians and their property and livelihood continue to increase with little or no action by the Israeli authorities to hold people to account under the rule of law.” The next day, the Israeli human rights NGO Yesh Din released a new data sheet accusing the IDF of a “general failure to enforce the law” in failing to protect Palestinian olive trees from settler violence, noting that of the 127 cases under Israeli investigation over the last six years, only one has led to an indictment.

The most serious attack so far this year occurred on October 21, when masked settlers from the settlement Esh Kodesh, armed with metal poles and firearms, descended upon villagers harvesting olives in Jaloud near Nablus, injuring four, including a 12-year-old boy and an Israeli activist. Katib explains that the presence of cameras in Jaloud helped de-escalate a situation that could have turned lethal. “In Jaloud, one international group went to help the farmers to pick olives. When the settlers saw the farmers coming to pick olives they came with guns. But since there was a group that came with cameras, the soldiers came and tried to speak to the settlers, and the soldiers were very nice this time. But be sure, when we do not have cameras, we do not have a good day with settlers.”

By fixing an international eye on the actions of the settlers, the presence of the camera can halt their aggression and de-fuse their violent intentions. “I feel the camera can stop the violence,” says Katib, “because the camera is always a witness in the place…I think the settlers know now that if they want to come and do this, they will be filmed.  Maybe they are starting to be scared by the camera, it is good. ” The camera can also force soldiers to actually adhere to their stated policy of protecting farmers from settler attacks. In the village of Jeet near Nablus, for example, Refusing to Die in Silence accompanied the farmers to their fields “because they were scared to pick olives. Some soldiers were protecting the area, we saw them but we did not care about it, and we started to pick olives. After half an hour the settlers came with covered faces, and they started to throw stones, they started to scare the farmers, and  the soldiers did nothing. But when the group of settlers saw the cameras, in this moment they were surprised, and the soldiers and the police, when they saw the cameras, came very quickly and kicked the settlers out. This was because of the cameras.”

Thom, a British activist working with Refusing to Die in Silence, concurs that the camera can effectively counter settler violence as it occurs. “The idea [of Refusing to Die in Silence] came from there being a lack of media as settler violence is taking place. There are numerous reports of settler violence, you can find alot of media covering violence after it happens and reporting about it, but there seemed to be little or no media trying to cover the violence as it was going on. So we came to try and fill that gap, and also not just to have an observer role but also to use the international solidarity here in Palestine to try to deter the violence.”

The presence of internationals in the organization is crucial. Says Katib, “always we have internationals and Israeli activists to be with us, and it is very important. Nobody can believe Palestinians. Nobody, except sometimes the media here. When the media comes from outside, from CNN and the like, they do not believe the news when we speak about settlers killing two or three or four, and it takes time. But when we have an Israeli activist and international activists speaking about this and showing and writing about this, nobody can tell them it is a lie. This is a very important thing. If they see this from their own yes, they are a witness in Palestine and they can speak to their own country about this.”

The presence of internationals on the scene, however, can not always save the day for Palestinian olive harvesters. In what has unfortunately become a yearly ritual for the conflict-ridden area, Palestinian harvesters in Hebron’s illegal settlement Tel Rumeida could not harvest their 3000-year old olive trees on October 22 without constant harassment from extremist settlers- who taunted them by standing on the Palestinian flag- and Israeli soldiers- who joined in the harassment and blocked the path of international activists, present at the scene to protest the occupation and stand in solidarity with the farmers.

‘James’, from Britain, was one of these international activists.  “We were there to support and show solidarity with the farmers,” he said, “because they are under siege, they are very beleaguered in that area. They are surrounded by four settlements, and they want  outside support. It’s really important to them, so that internationals know what’s happening there.”

Haifam Katib, and the other coordinators and participants of Refusing to Die In Silence, are optimistic about the project’s present and future role in developing a coordinated response network, across the West Bank, to challenge and counter settler aggression as it occurs. “In Hebron they have popular committees also doing the same thing. We have many people in Palestine, doing this everywhere, in Jerusalem, in Bil’in, in Al Masara. Also B’tselem is doing the same thing, giving out cameras and going around to document.

“It is the beginning,” he says, “and we hope to continue and to collect more people, and to have cars all around the West Bank, but its really hard. We have some students, some people have another job, so some people can come today but they cannot come tomorrow, and other people continue, its like this. Hopefully we will continue a long time, and we will grow stronger, and continue to make a difference.”

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Hebron Teachers Protest Measures that Keep Them From School

reposted from my +972mag article here

For nearly two weeks, a group of young schoolchildren and female teachers from the Qurduba School in Hebron have been holding lessons every morning outside of Checkpoint 56, to protest increased security measures at the checkpoint.

For the past seven years, teachers at the Qurtuba School have been allowed to bypass the usual metal detectors  at the checkpoint, and cross through a separate gate in order to reach their school, which lies in the treacherous area between the aggressive Israeli settlements of Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai. On Tuesday, October 11, for no apparent reason, the army announced that it had suspended this procedure, and that teachers must pass through the metal detectors and present their bags for inspection every day. At the same time, the army announced that pregnant women and people with heart devices or other medical complications, who had previously also bypassed the metal detectors, may no longer do so, and must now put their physical well-being at risk on a daily basis.

That same Tuesday, the teachers refused to submit to inspection at the checkpoint, and instead held an impromptu silent demonstration on the Palestinian side. At 9 A.M., their students, boys and girls between the ages of six and 13 and now deprived of education, marched to the checkpoint carrying signs and chanting slogans. Israeli soldiers threw them up against stone walls, kicked and hit them with the butts of rifles, forcibly dragged them through the checkpoint, and one settler attempted to push them out of the way with her car as she drove by; nine children were sent to the hospital with injuries.

Hebron students and teachers protest, October 2011 (Photo: Ben Lorber)

Hebron teachers and students protest, October 2011 (Photo: Ben Lorber)

One of those injured was 11-year-old Yazan Sharbati. “There were no teachers in the school,” Sharbati relates in an interview with the International Solidarity Movement, adding “We protested to the army that we wanted our teachers. The army told us to go back to school, and we told them that without teachers there is no school…I was so afraid that something bad was going to happen. [The soldier] pushed me very hard.”

Over the next two days, students and teachers, joined by the Director of Education in Hebron, representatives from the Governor’s office, and local and international press, held lessons outside the checkpoint, standing up at intervals to chant, “We will not return, we want our right to education!” Mohammed Abutherei, Director of Education in the Hebron Municipality, was optimistic. “God willing the army will allow the students and teachers to pass normally,” he said, “because for four days now the children cannot learn properly! Why do they do this to our students?”

His optimism was short-lived, however, when on Sunday a line of about 20 soldiers and border police forcibly pushed the schoolchildren back from the checkpoint, and announced over a loudspeaker that the crowd would be arrested if it did not disperse within five minutes. “This is their character!” exclaimed Tamer, a Palestinian activist from the group Youth Against Settlements, based in Hebron. “This is their behavior, this is their ethics! Yes, we are terrorists,” he said sarcastically, “because we want to learn, we want an education!”

When the crowd remained, soldiers projected a high-pitched siren noise nicknamed ‘The Scream,” and fired rounds of tear gas to forcibly scatter the crowd. In the rush to flee, one teacher was arrested, and at least five were injured as multiple rounds of tear gas were fired down the main streets of Hebron for 20 minutes in the middle of the morning traffic.

Palestinian residents of Hebron suspect territorial motivations underlying the Israeli army’s seemingly random decision to force Qurtuba School teachers, who as individuals have peacefully passed through Checkpoint 56 for seven years, to now submit to daily metal detector scans and personal inspections. Abutherei said, “Now that the school is closed [for these days] I’m afraid the settlers will attack the building, or try to take it over”. Similarly, Tamer claimed that “this is the first step for evacuating the school. They want to close the school because this is an apartheid state. They want to make the whole area for Jews only.”

The school sits atop a hill in the middle of downtown Hebron, within ample view of the Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai settlements, each of which consists of a few buildings and a handful of settler families. Across the street from the entrance to the Qurduba School, a door  has long been adorned with graffiti reading “Gas The Arabs! JDL [Jewish Defense League].” Scarcely a month passes by when its students and teachers are not harassed or assaulted on the way to or from school, or when the school building is not vandalized or set afire (for a partial list of attacks against the Qurduba School, see the Tel Rumeida Project).

Says Abutherei, “It’s very hard to have education in H2 [the Israeli settlement district of Hebron]. The occupation affects [the children’s] social health. The students suffer from fear, worry and sadness. How to get an education, how to learn to read when you are attacked by settlers on the way to school? The same for the teachers…we need students to learn in safety, and not to have to worry about these things.”

The protesters have said that they will continue until teachers can once again walk to school without IDF harassment.

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Harvesting Olives as a Statement of Resistance

 

 

 

Ghassan Najjar, director of the Burin Community Center, stands as soldiers order his family to leave their olive grove. (David Shaw)

 

Palestinian villages across the West Bank are undertaking their annual olive harvest this October, amid fears of harassment and violence from Israeli settlers and soldiers.

While the Palestinian olive harvest is a tradition that stretches back countless generations, the phenomenon of settler violence during the olive harvest is only as old as the illegal Israeli settlements themselves. Every year around October, grandparents, parents and children saddle up the donkey and, tree by tree, day by day, methodically comb, scrape and pick sack-fulls of olives from their family’s allotted portion of the 10 million olive trees that dot the hills and mountains of the West Bank and Gaza.

According to an Oxfam report, “more than 80 percent of olive farmers are small-medium scale farmers, owning olive orchards equal to or less than 25 dunams (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters) in size … olive cultivation provides employment and income for around 100,000 farming families who are olive oil producers … in a good year, the olive oil sector contributes over $100 million income annually to some of the poorest communities” (“The Road to Olive Farming: Challenges to Developing the Economy of Olive Oil in the West Bank,” October 2010 [PDF]).

This way of life, vital for the economic survival of countless Palestinian families, is becoming increasingly threatened — both by the hostility and violence of settlers who live near Palestinian villages, and by the crippling restrictions and regulations of the Israeli military.

Surrounded by settlements

The village of Burin, near Nablus, offers a prime example of the dangers faced by the 2011 olive harvesters. Burin’s 4,000 inhabitants live in a valley, surrounded on all hilltops by Israeli settlements — Yitzhar, Har Bracha, and a Yitzhar “outpost.” Last month, settlers from Yitzhar, proud birthplace of the “price-tag” campaign of racist violence, burned 200 olive trees as villagers were celebrating a wedding (“Yitzhar settlers violently crash Burin wedding, military watches,” International Solidarity Movement, 6 September 2011).

This followed a similar attack in late June, described by Burin residents as the worst attack in 10 years, as 2500 olive trees on more than 900 dunams of land were destroyed, according to a report by the Monitoring Israeli Colonizing activities in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza project (“Israeli colonists Set tens of Olive Fields Alight in Burin,” 2 July 2011).

Ghassan Najjar, director of the Burin Community Center, told The Electronic Intifada that “every year it is getting worse, and this year it is a lot worse. It used to be they burned trees once a year, but this year they have burned trees four times since April. Since April, they have cut down and burned entire areas to clear the land so we can use nothing.”

The olive harvest is frequently a target for settler attacks in Burin. Between 9-16 October 2010, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported four separate settler attacks against Burin olive harvesters (“List of incidents in which damage was caused to Palestinian olive trees or property,” 28 October 2010).

Over the course of the 2009 olive harvest, almost 250 olive trees were cut down by settlers, often with chainsaws, as activists with the Michigan Peace Team documented in October 2009 (“Burin tree massacre,” 3 October 2009).

“Like a sister to me”

Ibrahim El Buriny is a 27-year old olive harvester whose family has combed the trees on Burin’s hillsides for generations. “This land is like a sister to me,” he said. “My grandfather bought this land in 1975 from the village of Huwara. They have records. The papers are in the PA and Israeli databases.”

On the first day of this year’s harvest in Burin, he spoke of how settler attacks in the last five years have escalated. “Settlers are getting more radical as they are growing stronger,” he said. “They are growing in numbers and are better armed … Usually groups of 25 settlers come [from the hilltops down to] us, many with guns. [Or] settlers will get out of their car on the main road, curse at us and shoot at us. The soldiers come and defend the settlers … there are two alternatives — either run and leave all the olives, or stay. If we can, we scare them or chase them away.”

Settlers burn olive groves in an attempt to physically erase Palestinians’ claim to the land, and they attack olive harvesters intending to terrify Palestinians into submission and exile. One-third of Yitzhar sits on privately owned Palestinian land, according to data provided by the Israeli Civil Administration (“Guilty! Construction of Settlements on Private Palestinian Land,” Peace Now, March 2007).

For the settlers of Yitzhar, a burning Palestinian olive tree signifies exactly what a burning cross signified to the Ku Klux Klan in the US of the 1950s — in either case, the message is racial intolerance, and the purpose is ethnic cleansing. “The settlers use fear, they intimidate people to leave their homes … they say ‘we cut down the trees because a Palestinian touched this and made it dirty. This is our land and we can do whatever we want,’” Najjar said.

“We can’t leave”

For the Palestinians of Burin, the olive harvest — in the face of settler violence — becomes a political statement of resistance. “The land is like our mother and father,” said El Buriny. “We can’t leave our land, and who would leave their land? That’s the number one reason [we continue to harvest]. But in our situation, we also need [to harvest] this land for the money as well. [But] even if we had money we wouldn’t give up our land. Even if they forbid us from our land, we are not going to drink a cup of fear, and we’re not gonna stay quiet.”

Najjar echoed this determination emphatically. “Olives are the most important farming product here for us. Of course the olive harvest is important for the olives and for the resistance. We know for certain that if we leave the land they will steal it, and claim it is their land.”

As an aside, Najjar added, “we know for certain that it’s not their land, because they burn it.”

Oftentimes, settler attacks spark confrontations between farmers and settlers. El-Buriny, while stressing that villagers almost never retaliate, insisted on their right to repel the attacker, and to defend themselves, and their olive trees, if in danger. “How can we let someone come on our land, and not let us be on our land, and hit us, and curse at us, and stay quiet? … All we have is a rock to defend ourselves. We don’t have anything but a rock, our hearts, and God,” he explained.

As conflicts have escalated in recent years, the Israeli military has committed itself to administrative and on-the-ground interference in the olive harvest. Its stated intention has even been to protect Palestinian farmers from settler attacks.

In the words of the 2008 United Nations report “The Olive Harvest in the West Bank and Gaza,” “As a military occupying power, the [Israeli army] is obligated to ensure public order and life in the Occupied Territories and the Government of Israel has repeatedly committed to ensuring that Palestinian farmers have access to their fields … according to the Israeli authorities, the IDF and the police will be present at friction points for designated few-day periods to ensure protection for Palestinian farmers from settler harassment” (“The olive harvest in the West Bank and Gaza,” October 2008 [PDF]).

In reality, however, the presence of the Israeli army only offers a minimal amount of meaningful protection for Palestinian farmers, and serves rather to intensify the administrative barriers and physical dangers facing the farmers during their olive harvest.

In 2008, Omar Suleiman, an olive harvester from Kafr Qalil near Nablus, was harvesting with his son when, he told The Electronic Intifada, “six or seven settlers came over the hills with guns and said ‘this is not for you, this is for us, go!’ Since then, the military comes to protect us.”

To a certain extent, he said, “the soldiers are here to make sure there are no problems between settlers and Palestinians.” However, the presence of the Israeli army means that “now, for the last three years, we have to ask the army for permission [to harvest] … [and] if the settlers come to attack us again, the soldiers will help them.” Najjar echoed this claim that “the soldiers are there to protect the settlers. Most of the army are settlers anyway.”

To regulate the olive harvest, the Israeli District Coordination Committee (DCO) provides farmers with permits to access their own land with the “protection” of Israeli forces. Thus, Palestinian families often harvest their land in plain view of the military jeeps and white DCO vans parked on the adjacent hillside. Far from sheltering the Palestinians under a benevolent wing of protection, however, the army will frequently forbid families from accessing their land, usually with no explanation. Additionally, the DCO decides on which days farmers can legally access their land, and usually allots only one or two days for harvesting time, not nearly enough for the majority of families. Finally, if a family does not request a permit from the DCO, the army is given a pretext to prevent them from harvesting, especially if their land is close to a settlement.

On 12 October this year, the Israeli military drove up to the fields of Burin at 9am and ordered the families, on the first day of harvesting, to leave their harvest. Soldiers refused to give an explanation. The military then stated that families would be allowed to return to their fields for the next three days. Two days later, however, the military returned to kick one family off of their land, declaring the area a closed military zone and again offering no further explanation.

Najjar was present with his family when they were ordered to stop harvesting on 12 October. “This is normal for us,” he said later that day. “We are used to it.”

He continued: “This is not the first time we have been kicked off our land. That is no reason for us not to go back and continue work. If my father was not there, I would have been angry and refused to leave. But in front of my father I controlled my emotions, and did not show that I was upset.”

Israeli army’s inaction toward settler violence

Realistically, the presence of the Israeli military during the olive harvest, far from meaningfully alleviating the threat of settler violence, works instead to thicken the layers of oppression through which the Palestinians must struggle in order to make it to their olive trees and back.

In October 2010, Oxfam noted that, “in the first six months of 2010, the United Nations reported that hundreds of dunams of agricultural land and thousands of olive trees and other crops had been damaged in settler-related incidents. Israeli NGO [non-governmental organization] Yesh Din, an Oxfam partner, recently published a study in which it did not find a single case where the Israeli authorities had taken action to bring those involved to court.” (“Palestinian olive oil profits in the West Bank could double if Israeli restrictions ended,” Oxfam, 15 October 2010).

As the settlers grow more radicalized and Israeli regulations grow more dense, October 2011 may be a rough olive harvest for Palestinians in the West Bank. However, Omar Suleiman from Kufr Qalil offered a glimmer of hope. While an Israeli military jeep, a DCO van, and a small group of settlers sit perched together on the opposite hillside, he continued to affirm the pride, steadfastness and determination of his people.

“This settlement [pointing to Har Bracha] came here 20, 30 years ago. Israel has been here for 60 years. My family has had this land for 4,000 years.”

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Settler Attacks Countered by New Refusing to Die In Silence Group

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

 

Settler Attacks Countered by New Refusing to Die in Silence Group

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 11:14 Ben Lorber for the Alternative Information Center (AIC)
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On Tuesday afternoon (20 September), Israeli settlers from the settlement of Yitzhar arrived at the Palestinian village of Affira Al-Khaeliya outside of Nablus and, after a brief demonstration, stormed the village, assaulting its inhabitants and damaging property.

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Launch of new campaign Refusing to Die in Silence, on Sunday 18 September 

Israeli soldiers eventually arrived, only to protect the heavily armed settlers from the local unarmed Palestinians, who attempted to defend their village with the stones at hand. In the ensuing conflict between soldiers and Palestinians, one 13 year old boy was hit in the back by a close-range high-velocity tear gas canister, and at least three people were injured by rubber bullets.

 
Thom, an international activist from Britain, arrived on the scene at 3 pm with ‘Refusing to Die in Silence‘, a solidarity group formed on Sunday by popular resistance committees in the West Bank. When he arrived at Affira Al-Khaeliya, “the soldiers were standing in between the settlers and the villagers, protecting the settlers as they went back to their settlement. As we tried to confront the soldiers and ask them what they were doing, they threw many sound grenades at us and started firing tear gas and later, rubber-coated steel bullets. They fired a tear gas canister straight at a boy who was 13 years old, hitting him in his back before he fell to the ground. At the time it looked like he had been paralyzed, I don’t think he was, but he couldn’t move and had to be carried to an ambulance. When the owner of a nearby house tried to walk to her house, they threw a tear gas canister at her feet. She is 80 years old. She was taken to an ambulance as well, but she is ok…once the settlers had returned to the settlement, the soldiers started to move back and fire less tear gas, and the conflict slowly dissipated.”

 

‘Refusing to Die in Silence’ was launched on Monday (19 September) in the Ramallah-area village of Nabi Saleh. The group uses a coordinated system of cars and video cameras to monitor, respond to and intervene in settler attacks occurring this September across the West Bank. Speaking of the need for the group this September, Bil’in resident Mohammed Khatib of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee noted on the committee’s website that “If anyone needed further proof that Palestinians cannot count on Israeli authorities to prevent settler violence, recent events show beyond doubt why we need to organize to defend ourselves. This is exactly what these volunteers will do in a civic and peaceful manner”.

 

“The idea” behind the group, explains Thom, “is that we get a call from the villages experiencing settler attacks, and we immediately get in the car. There are two Palestinians in the car and two internationals and two cameras, one video recording camera and one photo still camera. We go straight to the village where it’s happening and document the settler violence and, if feasible, if there are no soldiers and it appears the settlers are attempting to escalate violence, then as internationals we get out and try to deter the violence.”
Refusing to Die in Silence represents a concerted attempt to unify the efforts of popular committees from villages all across the West Bank, in face of an almost certain increase in settler violence as the UN bid for statehood commences this week. The best way to respond to settler violence, which strikes unexpectedly and disappears as soon as the damage has been done, is to respond quickly and to protect Palestinians. Thom notes that “the idea came from the lack of media as settler violence is actually taking place. There are numerous reports of settler violence, you can find alot of media covering violence after it happens,but there seems to be little or no media trying to cover the violence as it is occurring. So [‘Refusing to Die in Silence’] came to try and fill this gap.”
Internationals play a crucial role in the organization, not merely as observers watching the conflict from afar, but as actors standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people. “We use the international solidarity here in Palestine,” says Thom, “to try and deter the violence and stop settlers from entering the villages.”
The settlers entered Affira on Tuesday in response to the anticipated UN vote, as part of a new initiative to ‘show Palestinians whose land it is’. They also attempted to show this to Palestinians later on in the day, outside the nearby village of Awarta when, at about 5:30, settlers could be seen, in Thom’s words, “on the fields of Awarta playing music and waving Israeli flags and singing and celebrating.” This region has seen much violence and harassment recently- last week, in the village of Burin, next to Affira Al-Khaeliya, settlers burnt two hundred and twenty olive trees belonging to Palestinian farmers.

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