Hineinu activists engage in three months of daily solidarity work in Masafer Yatta/South Hebron Hills (SHH). Read their blog from the 2022 Hineinu cohort to hear about their experiences on the ground with our activists and our partners.
April 17, 2022 Entry – Photo Essay from Gili Getz
The following photos, all by Gili Getz, are from the joint Liberation Seder / Iftar that CJNV held in Umm al Khair on April 17 with our Palestinian and Israeli partners. Present were the Hineinu crew, partners from Umm al Khair and other communities in the area, and several Israeli solidarity activists.
It was a major challenge coordinating the grocery shopping for this feast in Yatta, plus bringing special items (matzah, maror, etc.) down from Jerusalem, and then cooking it all in the Umm al Khair guest kitchen. But the team was able to serve a traditional matzo-ball soup, plus kofta and mnazaleh (eggplant with chickpeas) over rice, complemented by sweet Palestinian grape juice in lieu of wine, as well as all the seder plate items. Along with matzah, they ate Bedouin shrak, a soft, stretchy unleavened flat bread served with all Iftar meals in Umm al Khair.
March 18, 2022 Entry – Asher Kirchner
‘Tis the season of Purim, that fun, silly, but also … reprehensible holiday. The story of Megillat Esther combines an astute satire of the immoral arbitrariness of imperial power — a “king of kings” who without any thought orders the extermination of a whole people within his empire, namely us Jews, a sense of the desperate vulnerability of that people, a “happy ending” that includes a repugnant revenge fantasy.
The story seems to be based on an ancient Persian folktale, not Jewish history. In any case it was never meant to be taken seriously: the story has all the gravitas of a Dudley Do-Right cartoon. The Purim spiel is traditionally performed in the manner of a slapstick farce, the congregation booing whenever the bad-guy is mentioned. Silliness, inebriation, costumes, cutting loose: in short, the Jewish version of Carnival.
But some people have no sense of humour. In 1994 a Jewish settler (whose name deserves to be blotted out like Haman) decided to take the revenge fantasy part seriously. He opened fire at the Ibrahimi (Cave of the Patriarchs) Mosque in Hebron, killing 29 Palestinian worshipers and wounding 125 more. To this day, a significant segment of the settler movement reveres this monster as a martyr. To this day, there are copycat attacks (none so serious, thank G-d) on Palestinians at Purim. A fun, silly Jewish holiday has been transformed into a day of terror for Palestinians.
Perhaps that explains what happened last night in Tuwani, the town that’s hosting the Hineinu cohort this month. I am away in Jerusalem for the weekend, but at 2 in the morning, Katy and Tommy witnessed army jeeps rolling into town. The soldiers threw stun grenades at random houses and then left. Stun grenades make a deafening bang, enough to wake the whole town up. The Hineinu crew captured some of this incident on video. There was no disturbance that these soldiers were quelling, no security threat whatsoever. It was pure gratuitous cruelty, without any possible cover of justification. I can’t think of a clearer illustration of what this Jewish-supremacist-apartheid-settler-colonialist-ethnic-cleansing-slow-motion-genocidal regime means for Palestinians: it is a system of deliberate, calculated cruelty, sometimes manifesting as petty harassment, sometimes as deadly destruction.
For these reasons, I was not able to celebrate Purim this year in ha-Aretz. Maybe there are Rabbinic or Kabbalist reinterpretations that could rescue this holiday, that could find new layers of positive meaning in the story. But I’m not sufficiently learned in Judaism yet to draw on those if they exist. And over here, the revenge fantasy part is all-too-present in the culture. All I can do to rescue Jewish tradition from monsters like the Hebron mass-murderer is to speak out and put my body on the line against the Jewish supremacist regime here, along with others in Hineinu, in solidarity with all the other brave Palestinian and Israeli activists I’ve had the privilege to meet.
March 17, 2022 Entry – Asher Kirchner
I joined Hineinu because I’ve come to understand that as a Jew, it’s not enough for me to sit on the sidelines and quietly dissent – I wanted to take the opportunity to stand beside Palestinian communities on the ground and support their ongoing resistance with my body and my actions.
This has been a difficult week for the communities of Masafer Yatta. On Tuesday, the Hineinu group, along with the whole Palestinian population of the South Hebron Hills, braced ourselves for the Israeli High Court hearing concerning eight villages within so-called “firing zone 918”. See this background article for the full story. Palestinian and Israeli leaders organized a demonstration in front of the High Court in Jerusalem, and Hineinu participants Sally and Maya helped out by bringing some children from the targeted villages to participate. Their parents (who were not allowed to travel to Jerusalem themselves) felt it was important to remind the world that their children will be made homeless by an adverse decision. Afterward, Sally and Maya took the kids to visit the Jerusalem aquarium and eat pizza.
Photo by Oren Ziv.
As it turned out, no decision was announced, but the judges strongly hinted that they would rule against the Palestinian villages. A final ruling in this 22-year-long case is expected within a few months.
In other Hineinu news, we’ve been dealing with engine problems with our cars (blown head gaskets and the like). Last week we received training in basic car mechanics from our Palestinian partner Nasser Nawaja, who probably saved our black jeep from an imminent demise. Also, the Hineinu cohort had been split during our first month between the villages of Umm al-Khair and Susiya. In accordance with our original rotation plan, we are now all residing in the town of At-Tuwani, hosted by two different families. I find that I am missing the people of Umm al-Khair, like Awdah and Khalil, though I am enjoying cooking in a better-stocked kitchen. Otherwise, our normal routines continue: school accompaniment, shepherd accompaniment, and rapid response to army and settler incursions.
February 28, 2022 Entry – Asher Kirchner
A visit to the Qiryat Arba Settlement police station
I was out of commission most of the past week with a bad cold. But yesterday I was well enough to go along with Tyler to accompany a young Palestinian man named Muhammad from Tuba who had been called in to the Qiryat Arba police station for interrogation. Another activist named Hussein came with us, as he speaks both English and Hebrew.
By now, I know the way from where we’re staying to the settlement of Qiryat Arba. It’s where we fill up the Jeeps with gas. But because there were Palestinians in the car with us, we couldn’t go into the settlement. Instead, we had to go the long way around, – through the sprawling outskirts of Palestinian Hebron: that means narrow, winding half-paved roads, actually more potholes than road. Now I know, visually, what apartheid looks like.
Our guide led us around to the aforementioned entrance. I’ve included pictures to give a sense of the sheer ugliness of this place, all concrete, barbed wire and garbage. As you can see, there’s a locked gate with an intercom that you can press to speak to the police inside. Except it doesn’t work, the wires have been ripped out. So you just stand there 5, 10, 15, 30 minutes until someone inside deigns to notice you and ask what you want. You can shout in to them, but who knows whether they can hear inside or not; either way they don’t respond.
So we get there. Tyler and I wait in the car as Muhammad and Hussein approach the gate. The police come out fairly promptly to take Muhammad inside. According to Hussein, towards the tail end of the process the following exchange transpires:
Police: Where’s your phone?
Hussein: I have his phone, I’m holding it for him, there’s no problem.
Police: Give me his phone.
Hussein: No, I’m holding it for him, there’s no problem.
Police: Give me his phone!
Police: GIVE ME HIS PHONE!!!
Police: OK then, I’m gonna arrest you.
Hussein: Fine, arrest me. Let me talk to my lawyer. If my lawyer tells me to give you the phone I will.
Police: All right, don’t give us the phone then. But we’re gonna come for you tonight [i.e. to raid his house in the middle of the night to arrest him, typically with all kinds of excessive force].
Hussein: OK, fine, you do that.
So far as I know, the night raid never materialized, the police officer was bluffing, trying to intimidate Hussein. I included Hussein’s narrative to give an idea of how police and army typically treat Palestinians. Like dogs, Tyler said. Actually, they treat dogs with a whole lot more respect and consideration than that.
Hussein had to leave us after a while. Tyler and I waited around. When a police officer eventually came out, we asked what was happening with our friend Muhammad. ‘You’re not his family,’ he said, ‘so I won’t tell you anything’. After four hours, Muhammad finally came back out.
At the beginning of our Hineinu work here, some Israeli lawyers gave us a legal training workshop, so we would know our rights under Israeli law. But Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to military law. None of these rights apply to them, so far as the military law courts are concerned. Palestinians under interrogation are often subjected to extreme psychological and physical pressure (yes – torture) to confess to whatever the authorities want, or to give evidence against others. If there’s no evidence, no charge even, the authorities can still hold Palestinians in ‘administrative detention’ for six months, renewable indefinitely. I don’t know what went on for Muhammad in that interrogation room yesterday. He emerged after four hours, without any observable injuries.
We never did find out precisely what the interrogation was about. Maybe a settler accused him of throwing a stone. This is what settlers typically (falsely) claim when Palestinians confront them encroaching on Palestinian land. In such circumstances, the settlers are automatically believed by the army and police, according to many activists we have met here, unless someone has video documentation to prove them wrong. Even then, the military courts that govern Palestinians in the West Bank may simply refuse to pay attention to the evidence. Who will they believe, the settler or their own eyes? Unfortunately, it’s often the settler.
This legal system is an echo of the Jim Crow South: a white person accused you, that was it, you were found guilty, no matter how many other African-American witnesses might say otherwise. But if a white witness spoke up for you, that changed the dynamic. This is why it’s so important for there to be Jewish Israeli and diaspora observers, as well as non-Jewish international observers, to document these incidents, and get the evidence into the hands of human rights organizations, and to the lawyers who are willing to take on these Palestinians’ cases.
February 24, 2022 Entry – Sally Goldman
My name is Sally and I’m one of the seven Hineinu participants working and living in the South Hebron Hills for the coming months. I was last on the ground from April-August 2021 with a project called Achvat Amim. I volunteered with the South Hebron Hills storytelling project and accompanied shepherds in the Jordan Valley with Torat Tzedek. I’m excited to be back in the region continuing some of this work.
Playing football with school kids from the village of Tuba while waiting for the army escort that is supposed to take them to school each day
Earlier this week the army arrested a man in Susiya without naming any charges. His family believes that settlers made a complaint about him after a confrontation between settlers and Susiya residents last weekend, when settlers lit campfires on Palestinian land in the valley west of the village. Our cohort sat with the family on Sunday night to hear the story of his arrest and show our support. He is still incarcerated, and on Tuesday night, the army showed up to the entrance of the village in a jeep to intimidate the community. “Good night to everyone, and also to the United States,” the soldier said to us in Hebrew as we filmed. This is just one example of settlers and soldiers cooperating to intimidate Palestinians daily.
We have also been accompanying shepherds in the region, and thankfully those mornings have been peaceful so far. Settlers in this area frequently attack shepherds or call the army to force them off their land for the day. Our job is to document interactions with settlers or the military, and de-escalate the situation when possible so that our partners can keep grazing their sheep and goats.
On Tuesday morning Katie, Tommy and I accompanied shepherds in Simri, where we watched a baby sheep being born! On Wednesday morning Tyler, Tommy and I joined shepherds outside of Zanouta. We hiked up hills and down into a beautiful green valley. We started the day’s walk with approximately three hundred goats, but by the time we finished, there were three hundred and one! The baby animals, green hills and small flowers blooming are all signs of the coming Spring.
Last week, we helped to plant akoub seedlings in Susiya. Akoub is a thistly green that grows wild, and an essential part of the Palestinian economy and culinary and medicinal culture. Israel banned wild akoub harvesting in 2005, and hits Palestinians caught gathering it with heavy fines and up to three years of prison time. In Susiya, growing the plant from seedlings is an alternative to riskier wild harvesting, and it’s an economic opportunity for the community. This week, we’re heading back to water the seedlings and hopefully, watch them grow.
February 22, 2022 Entry – Asher Kirchner
We’re back in ‘48 (that means Israel within the Green Line) for the weekend, some of us (including me) in Jerusalem and some in the Tel Aviv area. As we pulled into Jerusalem last evening, after an intense week settling into Um al-Khair, meeting our Palestinian activist partners, documenting 2 house demolitions, and other accompaniment duties, it felt, well, a crazy mixed-up collection of feelings. My first thought was: all this I’m seeing before me – the nice buildings and comfortable infrastructure of Jewish Jerusalem – is a huge lie: it’s all stolen wealth, built out of the immiseration of generations of Palestinians. But I know it’s more complicated than that. Here I want to talk about some of my positive feelings and thoughts about being in Jewish Jerusalem.
One fundamental thing about practising Judaism is that’s a collective enterprise. That is to say, it’s extraordinarily difficult if not impossible to practise Judaism, to observe the mitzvot, as an isolated individual. It’s not just a religion, it’s a culture, and for that you need a critical mass of other Jews around you, participating in and generating that culture. The tiny Jewish community of Edmonton, where I’m from, generates a bit of this, but it’s a weak flicker of flame. We live most of our lives basically “passing” as white Canadians, absorbing the values and worldview of that mainstream culture. Wearing a kippah as I generally do, I stand out as something weird, foreign; and I’m potentially vulnerable to white supremacist attack.
In Jerusalem, however, I find myself surrounded by men wearing kippot, and they all kinda look like me, or at least they look familiar in a comforting sort of way. Now, I’ve been talking about this Jewish culture like it’s all a good thing. Decidedly, that is not the case. There’s a lot of glaring ugliness to this culture, principally in its willingness to immiserate our Palestinian cousins that I opened with. (They ARE our cousins, so culturally close to us in so many ways. They should be our beloved cousins.) But this is MY ugliness, MY people’s sin, that I feel I have a particular stake in trying to do t’shuvah for, to repair, so that Jewish culture and tradition can once again be something I can proudly own. Which is why I’m here. I feel a responsibility to do t’shuvah and tikkun olam for the sins of Canadian society as well, but the feeling is more diffuse and indirect, less personal.
I’m not saying I have to live here to practise Judaism. But I think it potentially enriches the world’s Jewish community to have a homeland here. I say only “potentially” because the current situation is tainted by the moral poison of settler colonialism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, the whole balagan. But if the Jewish homeland here could freed from that taint, I can see the potential for rich back-and-forth cultural/spiritual interaction between the homeland and the diaspora.
But back to my point. There is something comforting to me in being surrounded by Jewish culture, warts and all. Now as I write, I’m preparing, for the first time in my life, to observe Shabbat as halachically as possible. Will I find it spiritually meaningful? We’ll see. But I’m looking forward to trying. I went out first thing this morning to the Machaneh Yehudah shouk (like a Jewish version of Baltimore’s Lexington Market) and bought food for the next two days: pita, grape leaves, chamutzim (pickled veggies), and apricots. All parve, nothing requiring further cooking. This evening I’m going to walk to Nava Tehillah, a Renewal shul that Rabbi Gila and others have recommended to me, for Kaballat Shabbat service. Tomorrow I’ve been invited to a Shabbat lunch gathering for the Jerusalem activist community. This will be after a day of intense high-stakes protest in Sheikh Jarrakh. (I’m going to stay away from that protest, I’ve decided. I’m here for the South Hebron Hills, and this weekend is for recuperation.)
What are the ramifications of the foregoing observations and feelings? I guess I’m saying that I’m glad there’s a place where a critical mass of Jews can live together. I’m glad there is a Jewish homeland here. I know there are anti-Zionist comrades (Jewish, Palestinian and others) who would argue that a Jewish presence – at least an Ashkenazi Jewish presence – here in Palestine is an unqualified evil. That Jewish claims of historic attachment to this land are a colonialist fabrication, tout court. Certainly those claims have played out in a tragically colonialist way, to the great suffering of the Palestinian people. BUT IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY! Jews could have come here, not to colonize and dispossess, but to live as neighbours alongside our beloved Palestinian cousins. To enjoy a Jewish homeland, to find refuge from antisemitism abroad, we didn’t / don’t need a Jewish state. We don’t need to have the whip hand over Palestinians or anybody else. For we were strangers in the land of Egypt, Torah reminds us, and others had the whip hand over us. The lash fell on our backs. We should understand what that feels like. Isn’t that the fundamental message of Torah? And if it didn’t have to be colonialist in the past, it doesn’t have to be that way now, or ever again. This Shabbat I’ll be praying for a decolonized Israel-Palestine.
February 17, 2022 Entry – Asher Kirchner
On Feb. 6, the 2022 Hineinu cohort (Katie, Maya, Sally, Tommy, Tyler, Zak and I) assembled in Jerusalem, in an Airbnb, getting to know one another as well as the in-country CJNV staff, Oriel and Clare, who led us in several days of workshops, assisted by other Israeli activists, to prepare us for our accompaniment work in the South Hebron Hills, where we arrived on February 11.
The first night, we were warmly greeted in Um al-Khair by Awdah, an activist, English teacher and resident of this village. Over the past few decades, this Bedouin village has been subjected to continuous stream of land seizures by the neighboring Jewish settlement of Carmel, home demolitions, severe beatings by the army, and too many other things to recall.
Awdah explains how his brother was forced to study for his college entrance exams by the light from the settlement of Carmel, as Israeli forces don’t allow Umm al-Khair to connect to the electric grid.
Through it all, they were guided by a leader of nonviolent resistance, Haj Suleiman al-Hathaleen. Just over a month ago, an Israeli police truck ran down this elderly man, whose decades of resistance inspired the entire region, refusing to stop when bystanders shouted there was a man under the vehicle. The police then fled the scene without offering assistance. He died two weeks later of his injuries. The village is still in deep mourning.
In the village of Tuwani we’ve met our activist partner Basil and his mother Kifah, who helped organize the village to build a school, obtain electricity, and start a women’s handicraft cooperative, all in the face of constant Israeli harassment and violence. We’ve also begun to accompany children from nearby Tuba, who must run a daily gauntlet on their way to and from the Tuwani school, past the extremist settlers of Chavat Ma’on, who have attacked them in the past. In Susiya, we met Nasser Nawajah, who works for B’tzelem.
Nasser told us of the constant threat, and actuality of house demolitions in his village. Unfortunately, we didn’t have to wait long to see demolitions ourselves: Israeli authorities carried out demolitions yesterday, in nearby villages. In the second, the homeowner arrived on the scene, yelling, obviously distraught to see his house being destroyed, while his wife and daughter looked on sobbing. The border police tackled him, knelt on his back, tossed a stun grenade at us observers, then shackled his hands and ankles and took him away in a van. Yesterday I went out with Zak to accompany Sagar al Hathaleen and his flock of 30 or so sheep and goats to graze in a nearby wadi a few miles from the village.
Baruch H” all was peaceful today, though he has been threatened by settlers recently. Then we spent the evening in Tuba with our partner Ali and the wonderful kids of that village.
Hineinu 2021 Blog Note:
Hineinu 2021 activists were on the ground from February through May 2021, piloting our first sustained solidarity project. The most recent Hineinu 2021 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 12 and May 13, 2021.
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!