Our Hineinu activists recently wrapped up their three months of daily solidarity work in the South Hebron Hills (SHHs). Read their blog to hear about their experiences on the ground with our activists and our partners.
The two most recent blog entries describe a cycle of events that have culminated in violent attacks on both Palestinian partners and Hineinu participants during the days of May 12th and May 13th. We will continue to provide updates from the ground on this blog, as well as via Twitter and Facebook.
May 4, 2021 Entry – Bob Suberi
Today and yesterday morning were spent in Jabel Dov accompanying shepherds. Settler activity has increased. They set up a new tent outpost on a hill overlooking the valley that shepherds from Tuba use to access their grazing lands. Settlers now are grazing their own sheep there and continue to harass and threaten Palestinians. The settlers use walkie talkies and cell phones to communicate among themselves and I assume with the IDF. It’s never long before the IDF shows up if we interact with settlers.
But now there’s a new wrinkle thrown into the mess. I will give them credit for creativity if not originality. In a previous post, I mentioned meeting the family that owns the grazing property. Apparently the State is challenging that ownership because yesterday the IDF and the police informed us that all the hilltops and ridges belong to the State and that the state allows only Jews to occupy this land!! What this means is that the settlers are now occupying the surrounding hills with their sheep and ATVs. Palestinian shepherds must crest these hills in order to reach the next valley and in order to reach their watering well which is on a ridge. Of course the State knows this and is using this twisted and illegal logic to further limit the traditional mobility of the indigenous shepherds.
The “new rules” also give settlers free rein to carry out their sadistic tactics attempting to terrorize the shepherds. Yesterday, a young 15-year-old shepherd was cresting the hill to cross over to the next valley when a settler drove his four-wheeler into the herd, scattering them. We video taped the incident. We know this young Palestinian, as well as all the other shepherds in the area. They are amazing in their steadfastness. They know that what is happening to them is illegal and beyond their power to stop, but they continue with their routine in spite of the risks. They continue to greet us activists with the warmth and appreciation we have always seen.
A side note regarding the cooperation between settlers and the state: yesterday, a settler came up to me while I was recording and greeted me using my full name. I suspected my anonymity was blown by now within the IDF and the police surveillance apparatus. Now I know those government surveillance files are shared with settler “security.” I never doubted this fact but it’s always nice to have it confirmed in a very direct way.
Incidents of harassment and attacks have been on the increase recently. So we have been doubling down on accompaniment and documentation. Our objective this afternoon was to spot settlers leaving Havat Ma’on to harass shepherds. There was a report that a shepherd had his donkey stolen so we hotfooted over the ridge, talked to the shepherd and followed the trail. We finally came upon a loose donkey and after a lot of running finally cornered it and led it away. In the meantime, the settlers were following us and as we came within range of the Palestinian fields our Palestinian partners, Sami, Basel and Ali joined us. The settlers got up into their faces yelling obscenities and threats. One young settler punk pushed Basel in an attempt to get him to fight back. The settlers were armed and anxious for a fight. So the three of us international activists kept our bodies between them and our friends.
I had a few choice words with my fellow “chosen one”. One particularly aggressive young punk asked me what I was doing there. I told him my Jewish father was a Palestinian and that these people were my friends. He replied that he was a Palestinian also because he lived in Palestine (flawed logic). I then affirmed that yes indeed he lived in Palestine and not to forget it. When the police finally showed up they walked directly to the settlers and with warm greetings and smiles shook their hands. I was within inches of the group and asked the cop if he was going to shake my hand. He gave me a limp one with no acknowledgment. I then asked in a conversational tone if there was any justice on this side of the Green Line given his obvious bias and if he knew how it would look in American eyes. “Sure” was his response. Not said but implied was that the Americans don’t give a shit. We soon headed home but not before the IDF stopped us and demanded our IDs. The settlers answer to no one!
April 28, 2021 Entry – Bob Suberi
We made our way to Jabel Dov to accompany shepherds from Tuba. Later in the day, the owner of the grazing property came by with his family to visit their land and I assume to affirm their occupancy and to keep the settlers out. We didn’t see any settlers, but a caravan of 4-wheeling Israeli tourists passed through by way of Havat Ma’on, a particularly violent and aggressive settlement. We bailed water for the herd and visited with the land owners. We were headed back towards Susiya when Oriel got a call that there was a problem with settler violence in Tuwani.
We wasted no time getting there and on arrival we found local Palestinians fending off an attack by rock-throwing settlers. We learned later that the attack started when settlers confronted a group of Palestinians that were working on their property on the outskirts of Havat Ma’on. The Palestinians were told to leave their own land, a demand with which, of course, they did not comply. Apparently, at that point, the pushing and punching began. The settlers, outnumbering the Palestinians and activists, picked on the most vulnerable including a 72 year old photographer/journalist who they roughed up pretty well. Then the settlers began throwing rocks, and the Palestinian landowners retreated deeper into their own property. This was the point at which we arrived.
We parked at the top of a hill adjacent to and with a good view of the attack. We planted ourselves and started filming the scene. The confrontation was pretty much a standoff until the IDF arrived and started launching tear gas canisters and stun grenades at us and the Palestinian landowners. At this point the settlers, knowing the IDF had their backs, advanced, hurling rocks as we fled the IDF assault. I was temporarily blinded by the gas, but was able to make my way back to the car. We had to get it out of harm’s way. By the time I got the key in the ignition, however, the settlers were upon us and I was getting peppered with large rocks. One went through the windshield, bounced off the dashboard then brushed my shoulder before landing in the passenger seat. Another went through the rear window and several others continued to shatter what was left of the windshield. I finally backed the car up and drove it out of range of the attackers. I halted at the bottom of the hill and watched as another group of young settlers threatened Palestinians living in the area. They shouted “…all Arabs out of Israel (btw, we are in Palestine) and death to Arabs…”
When the police arrived and things settled down, I drove back up the hill to show them the damage to the car. They didn’t seem to be surprised or concerned. Meanwhile, Palestinians (who had been attacked) were collecting the empty shells of stun grenades that the army had thrown. During the heat of the attack, I was getting calls from concerned Palestinian friends checking on my health. The grapevine here is tight. It was very heartwarming to hear from them in the midst of the chaos and it presented such a stark contrast to the hateful, racist and incomprehensible violence of the settlers and the complicit IDF. If any event in the past month has exemplified the tactics used by the Israeli establishment to harass, intimidate and expel residents in the area, this was it. The settlers, army, and government all work in unison with the same goal in mind, maintaining and expanding Israel’s sovereignty in the South Hebron Hills. I was so proud to be with our Palestinian partners and documenting their defense.
A survivor of settler violence whose mouth is wired shut from his assault.
Recently, we have had several nonviolent, but similarly disturbing, interactions with settlers/authorities that further illustrate the on-going state project to squeeze Palestinians out of their homes, farms and grazing grounds. With extremely rare exceptions the IDF, the Civil Administration, the Border and Municipal Police and civilian settler security thugs respond to settler complaints in concert using their respective and appropriate enforcement strategies. The IDF uses tear gas, stun grenades and bullets to dispel the intruding residents/landowners and documenting activists, often as cover for advancing settlers hurling stones. The police lecture us that our united presence upsets the illegal settlers and instigates violence. Their job is to protect Israeli citizens not Palestinian provocateurs.
Living with our new Palestinian friends has provided us with a unique opportunity to experience an encapsulated version of their lives. Those living in “Area C” have no civil rights, no civil recourse, no civil services and no civil protection. Their villages are hemmed in by belligerent zealots who inexorably steal their land and terrorize their children. The military is ever present and justice is meted out by enemy magistrates. Their movement is restricted. Medicine and education is a luxury. Building permits are denied and most of their homes have either been demolished or have demolition orders hanging over their heads. They are told that they don’t belong in their own land and are treated like subhumans.
After three months we get to go home to our privileged, exceptional lives and leave this daily struggle to someone else. Regardless of the intense and intimate experiences we may have shared with our Palestinian partners, we know that we will soon leave; the most terrifying aspect of the occupation is its inescapable permanence for our partners. There is no doubt that our actions as activists will be denounced as misguided, anti-Semitic and self hating, and that we are trouble makers and interlocutors in other peoples affairs. But as Jews, Israelis, internationals, veterans and seekers of Tikkum Olum we have, as Elie Wiesel said, an obligation to speak out against injustice anywhere. As an American, I must acknowledge my own country’s complicity in Israel’s occupation. As a Jew, I’m offended by the exploitation of the Holocaust and the Torah to steal a people’s land and to attempt to steal their dignity.
I cannot stand by and watch this happen without speaking out.
April 25, 2021 Entry – Bob Suberi
Hineinu is a pilot program of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. Participants are coming from the U.K., the U.S. and Israel. We are partnering with Israeli and Palestinian activists to ensure a continuous presence in the South Hebron Hills (SHHs) and to monitor the interactions between Palestinian landowners and the various elements of the Occupation: the settlers, the IDF and the police. We are working at the request of, and in solidarity with, our Palestinian partners. We hope that our presence will diminish the abuse of Palestinian residents and expose the system of land theft and displacement imposed by the Occupation.
We intend to stay in the area for three months; what follows is a brief summary of our first month’s activities. We hope to send out these newsletters every two weeks. Due to delays, please bear with us regarding the length of this first post. Our future posts will be brief.
Covid-19 and the closing of Ben Gurion Airport on January 25 delayed the beginning of the Hineinu program for about 6 weeks. On March 23rd, we finally arrived in the SHHs and began meeting with Palestinian activists from the area. We introduced ourselves and briefly explained why we felt compelled to come to the SHHs. Our Palestinian partners then introduced themselves and talked about their activism, their commitment to non-violence, their successes, and their vision for future projects to resist the Occupation. Our Palestinian partners represent many different villages and organizations across a wide swath of the area. In most cases, these activists are carrying on a tradition handed down from their fathers and grandfathers, their mothers and grandmothers. Their collective experiences will guide us. Their stories weave an intricate pattern of intimidation, displacement, denial and brute collective punishment by the coordinated efforts of Israeli settlers and the government of Israel. Each story is a fractal repeating the shape and substance of the larger colonial design to remove the indigenous residents and to consolidate the “Land of Israel.”
We are also working with other Palestinian and Israeli activist groups whose goals overlap with ours. We have spent time learning from and working with Breaking the Silence (BtS), Youth of Sumud, Ta’ayush, Tuwani Women’s Cooperative, Protection and Sumud Committee, All That’s Left, Rural Women’s Association, and B’tselem, in addition to individual Palestinian, Israeli and international activists.
In our first few days, we toured and learned about the communities in the area. We visited the village of Susiya, where Nassar Nawaja gave us a historical tour of the village starting with the Civil Administration’s (ICA or CA) settlement building and archaeological digging within their community. We met with another activist from Umm Al Khair (UAK), who described the recent shooting of Harun Abu Aram in Tawane, the dangerous constraints Palestinian communities are under when trying to resist the Occupation, and the ways the Occupation limits their ability to develop their communities and live freely. Harun was simply trying to hold onto a generator needed to access electricity that would otherwise not be provided to them through the Civil Administration when he was shot and paralyzed.
Becca Strober from Breaking the Silence (BtS) took us on tours of the SHHs and “Firing Zone” 918 pointing out the geographic and historic perspective of the current Palestinian displacement. The “Firing Zone” is an area in the South Hebron Hills that the IDF arbitrarily designated as a training ground. The designation gives them the right to remove residents from their homes for extended periods of time. Originally, there were 12 villages in the area, but after lawsuits the removal of most of these villages is in the hands of the Supreme Court; a decision is expected any day. Our Palestinian partners in several of the villages we visited described the demolitions that have already occurred, the resulting lawsuits, and the precariousness of not knowing if their homes will be standing a week from today. The boundaries of the firing zone have shifted in order to avoid incorporating the ever-expanding settlements and illegal outposts. In spite of the devious, cynical, and convoluted logic of the Occupation, Becca did end with the hopeful message that the coordinated actions by many different solidarity groups are having an impact on the effort to keep land in the hands of its Palestinian landowners. Click here for more information on BtS tours and activities.
We went to the village of Tuba, where Ali Awad discussed its history: the closing of the road to the children’s school when the settlement of Havat Maon was built, the expulsion from their homes, and the Supreme Court decision that allowed them to return. Ali returned to Tuba at 9 years old and has lived there ever since. He told us stories of settlers killing their dogs and sheep and attacking their children as they pass the settlement on their way to school. Outside of UAK, we took a short ride in the surrounding hills where Bedouin tribes were provided master plans for their villages in exchange for the title to much of their land. In return they got roads, utilities, and building permits from the state. This was a cynical way to pit Bedouins against Bedouins and those who resisted the injustice are paying a heavy price, as planned.
Awdah Hathaleen from Umm Al Khair, gave us a tour of his Bedouin village and its recent history. He described the multiple demolitions of their community center. He explained that the Civil Authority (CA) just showed up one day and bulldozed it. The community rebuilt it and again it was torn down. The reasons given by the authorities are usually that they did not have a building permit. Palestinians in area “C” are rarely granted building permits (98% are rejected). Awdah told us of his cousin who built a gas station/store at the entrance to the village. He borrowed money from friends and family to the tune of tens of thousands of shekels for the project and it would have been a major asset to the village. His investment was confiscated by the army, leaving an empty lot. It will take him years to repay the loans and the affair threw him into a major and lasting depression.
On a Saturday, we joined Ta’ayush as they accompanied families from the village of Umm Arais on their weekly picnic in their fields. Mitzpe Yair is a settlement very close by that often interferes with their access to these fields. When we got there, we noticed that the settlers had slaughtered sheep and spread the carcasses around the field where the children play. It was a disgustingly offensive and violent act deliberately aimed at the consciousness of the children. In defiance, several of the village men dragged the carcasses across the road to the settlement side. The IDF then stepped in and demanded that the Palestinians move the offending offal back to their side of the road (all this property belongs to the village). They threatened to remove the Palestinians from their own fields if they did not comply. This is what the “most moral army in the world” spends their time doing to protect the State of Israel. Photos and video were taken. Later we assisted Ta’ayush in removing boulders blocking a road that provided direct access to another village. IDF and settlers watched us and as we were leaving we were stopped and asked what we were doing…we said hiking and all was well! And then we broke for Passover to celebrate our liberation from oppression — the irony and whiplash was immense.
On our first official day accompanying shepherds, we headed to the village of Banei Naim and followed the shepherds with their herds of sheep and goats. We hiked up the valley to within sight of the settlement of Pene Chever. As soon as we got there, a settler showed up with his dog and telephone and apparently called the police and the army because they showed up shortly. The last time this happened to the shepherds, they were forced to leave the area (which, by the way, is on Palestinian land)! Our presence as Israelis and Americans with cameras proved to be a deterrent and the Palestinians were allowed to remain there for the rest of the day. Later, the settlement security chief drove up with his security vehicle and yelled through his loudspeaker, telling the shepherds to leave. He then turned on his siren in an attempt to scare the herd and drove off. Two nights later, a car load of settler youths drove through the village threatening the villagers “not to piss them off.” This is a tactic we have seen over and over again and is intended to remind the victims of land theft that they are continuously under surveillance and resisting in any way will be met with violent retribution.
We were asked to stay with a family that was attacked a month ago while they were asleep in their house in the evening. The house is only one room and two families live in it. The patriarch of the house showed us a demolition order they received in 2015 and they have been living with that hanging over their heads ever since. We are rotating with other Israeli activists who have been staying with them since the attack. The following morning was brisk, but the sun on the metal door of our room warmed our space like a heater while our hosts served us the creamiest, fresh goat milk butter with freshly-made bread and tea.
A good example of the impunity with which settlers act happened on March 13th, a day Ta’ayush was not available and before our Hineinu group arrived. A man and his family arrived in their community field to picnic and the children to play and run. A group of settlers brutally attacked them, sending the father into the hospital with a broken jaw and leaving the mother with a bruised leg. The family returned and although the settlers and IDF were present, so were Hineinu activists and Ta’ayush (in Umm Arais, mentioned above). The Palestinian family were able to express their complaint and proceed with their plans unmolested.
Accompanying our Palestinian partners punctuates our days. Whether in the fields for work, shepherding or recreation, they are vulnerable to settlers who see any Palestinian presence as a threat and infringement upon their God-given land. Our accompaniment appears to reduce settler violence. Although we cannot stop them from threatening Palestinian shepherds afterwards, we are told that by showing up and documenting abuse by settlers and demolitions by the CA that, at least in the villages that are hosting us, things have gotten better. Reports of settler activity in the process of establishing a new “outpost” in an area surrounded by villages brought us, after a long trek, to a tent adjacent to a cave where settlers were actively setting up camp. The area is not far from the settlement of Havat Moan, an area of “linked” settlements and outposts that are effective in cutting off communication between Palestinian villages. This new outpost is an extension of the spreading tentacles of settlement activity.
The settlers couldn’t miss our presence. There were about ten activists. They walked towards us and as they got close their appearance was like something out of a Quentin Tarantino film. They were dressed in quasi-Bedouin attire, accompanied by a lone camel and carrying beer bottles. They appeared to have been doing a bit of drinking. It was a very strange and unsettling encounter and we left as more settlers started arriving in order to avoid a confrontation. This is the Holy Land’s Wild West a la the Coen Brothers.
One of us was invited to accompany a Palestinian activist (who prefers to remain anonymous), to “make the rounds” with him and his cameras. He has been posting videos and photos of demolitions and settler activity for years on his facebook page, “Alliance For Human Rights”. He is a gentle soul and the conversation we had in the course of the day was sweeping and deep. He is a father and an artist whose commitment to activism presents many challenges to providing for his family. But he persists in bringing awareness of Palestinian subjugation to the outside world. His art reflects his passion to tell their story.
We drove all over the SHHs, reacting to reports of ICA (Israeli Civil Administration) sightings. At the end of the day there were two demolitions and a confiscation. The demolitions were of Palestinian tents providing shelter for farmers in the field or shepherds. What was striking was the length to which the army, the CA, and the police go in expense and manpower to impose their control and to intimidate their “subjects.” The brainwashing of youth and soldiers must be effective in order to convince them that these petty and superfluous acts of subjugation have anything to do with Israeli security. The fact that they rarely, if ever, demolish illegal settler encampments tells a complex story of how the powers that be have used settler activity to grab land and to recruit constituents at the expense of Palestinians. And also, much less talked about is the fact that the government has bred a beast on the supposed periphery of Israeli society that in actuality pushes the government’s intentional agenda of land theft forward.
Work days are good days to interact with our Palestinian partners without the stress of impending threats. In the village where we are sometimes staying, we have the unique opportunity to help build a volleyball/basketball court. The site on which we are working is hard, rocky, uneven and slanted so we have had to bring in lots of dirt and gravel to level it. It is hard, sweaty work moving the “fill” by wheelbarrow. Contributing to the community in this way alongside community members is very satisfying. The truckloads of fill and later concrete have to be brought in the cover of night with lights off so as to avoid bringing attention to our work. One call from the nearby settlement of Carmel would bring the Civil Administration and bulldozers to end our project. As if moving 30 yards of gravel and sand by wheel barrow isn’t hard enough. The job is almost done. It looks great and with a new basketball the kids are already playing on the court.
However, as is the ubiquitous condition in these parts, we woke up this morning to the sound of a drone hovering over the new community project and it is only a matter of time before we hear from the CA regarding the level of threat this playground poses to the State of Israel. We will keep you posted!