News from Hebron

When ‘flexing muscle’ means terrorizing young children.

22/03/12012

The Golani Brigade left Hebron last week and a collective sigh of relief passed through the town. The Golani are famous for being tough on the civilian Palestinian population, and there was some hope that the violations administered by the Golani Brigade would not be repeated by the newly arrived Kfeer brigade. Three weeks ago, on a visit to the Mutanabbi boys school (which is located on a road that settlers use frequently), the principal reported that 27 instances of physical and verbal abuse against the school children by the army during one week alone. A teacher was detained at a checkpoint for 4 hours while on his way to work, and flying checkpoints (pop-up checkpoints) had been set up outside the school, where harassment of the children was regular. When speaking to the principal he told us that the week prior a settler, armed with an M16 assault rifle, had walked into the school, and threatened to blow up the school if students didn’t stop throwing stones. In any other instance this threat would be taken seriously and investigations would ensue. However, in Hebron, the residents say that settlers rule the army and protection is only for the chosen few.

As the rotation of the Kfeer brigade came through Hebron, it appeared that their number one task was to show presence. Checkpoints were loaded with soldiers and every young male was being body searched as they entered into the closed area of Hebron. In response to a Molotov cocktail allegedly being thrown, houses were raided, women and children were taken out of their houses at 11pm at night and a number of young men were forced to lie on the ground and were kicked while lying there. A member of B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation that films violations in the old city was beaten and his camera confiscated. All footage of the house raids and his beating were deleted.

On their third day the Kfeer brigade set up a flying checkpoint in front of the Cordoba school in H2. The students and teachers at this school have suffered harassment from the settlers and the soldiers over many years, so much so that an international monitoring presence is at the school every morning and afternoon to ensure the safety of the school children. On this wet, cold morning the Kfeer brigade blocked the entrance to the school and had around 18 heavily armed soldiers man the checkpoint and station themselves around the school. The school functions mainly as a primary school, with a handful of classes for girls in the 7th – 10th grade. They placed the Molotov cocktail, the cause for all this intimidating presence, on the table and then with their stony faces, machine guns, high-tech listening devices, combat protection gear, and grit determination to find another such device in the bag of one of the school children, one by one stopped children as young as 6 years old to let them know just how serious they were.

One can imagine the impact of this harassment on these young school children. The principal of the Cordoba school informed us that the previous day armed soldiers had entered the school and came into the first and second grade classrooms. The children were scared and some started to cry. Teachers notice that the students are tired, they don’t sleep well, have trouble concentrating and are under a constant level of stress. As well as the constant harassment of teachers and students, the school has been denied a permit from the Israeli government to build an extra floor to accommodate the growing number of students. It has hit maximum capacity at around 152 students.

‘Wicked’ doesn’t come close to describing how great this van is.

13/03/2012

The village of Um al Khair is a small, Bedouin community survives in spite of the high levels of insecurity it faces due the occupation and the harassment of the settlers from the Karmel settlement. Some of the Bedouin tents have received demolition orders and the ongoing theft of land, despite evidence of land ownership by the Palestinian community, make this one of the most vulnerable and impoverished villages in the West Bank. Reports from UNRWA describe the ongoing trauma faced by the residents of this community:

Harassment, compounded by the anxiety resulting from demolitions, has had a significant psychological impact. Many of the community’s children display signs of psychological trauma such as speech defects, insomnia and bed-wetting. http://www.unrwa.org/etemplate.php?id=648

There are great expanses of land here, with the army confiscating 32,000 durams of land, making it a closed military zone. From where we stand, the silence in this great expanse is broken by the shouting of Bedouin children as they enthusiastically yell out ‘what’s your name, what’s your name’ and the clanging and banging coming from the construction site of the expanding settlement. Electricity lines punctuate the skyline, above the Bedouin tents and water pipes gurgle all around the Bedouin community. The settlers and the chicken factories enjoy the privileges of these resources, however the community is off the master plan, denying them any possibility to share these services. There is a deliberate push to displace this community for the second time. However the community is standing fast.

One aspect of the village life that is held in high regard is education. Two years ago the kindergarten was renovated and teachers were given additional training in early childhood education. The most recent addition to Um Al Khair is its community centre, where English classes are being held for the children and the library supplying books for the children. And the library itself is a testament to the creativity of the village.

From the outside, one would easily be forgiven for thinking that they are looking at an abandoned, rusty van. But slide back the door and you can hear the children shrieking with delight as they show you the books that are available for reading. This rickety van, with its wheels missing and its twisted, rusting-sheets of metal provides an anchor for the community. With education services become more permanent fixtures of this community, the idea of building a school changes to the reality of building a community. There are only two shelves of books in the van, but the children and teachers with us understand the value of this treasure trove in this inhospitable environment.

So, while this isn’t quite a mobile library, this van still has the power to transport the children to another world.

When the ‘daily grind’ doesn’t refer to your favourite coffee joint.

Following the Hebron protocol of 1997, Hebron has been divided into two parts. H1, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authorities, and home to around 140,000 Palestinians and H2, which is under the security control of the Israeli army and is home to 30,000 Palestinians and around 500 settlers.

The once bustling town of Hebron old city, located in H2, has become a ghost town and according to a study by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 77% of the Palestinian residents live below the poverty line. I have noticed in a number of the schools that we visit humanitarian food aid parcels for the children, care of Australian Aid. While I appreciate the efforts of my government to supply food aid to the Palestinian children, the situation of financial (and food) security could be placed back in the hands of the Palestinians in H2 if the policy of segregation and forced military closures was repealed.

The bleakness of the situation here is further exacerbated by the settler violence that occurs under the ‘watchful’ eye of the military that is deployed here to maintain security. In 2011, when settlers tried to burn down the Cordoba school in Hebron, the principal installed video cameras on the premises to monitor security. By the first week of February, 2012 the school had been broken into, the wire mesh on the windows cut through and the cameras stolen from the school. The perpetrators were masked, so no arrests were made. Considering there are military cameras on the settlement directly across from the school, military watch towers monitoring the area around the school, an army outpost based directly in front of the school and an army rest post (built in front of a confiscated Palestinian house) it seems strange that no one was apprehended at the time.

Last week we were invited to have lunch with a family in the old city. They have been acutely affected both financially by the occupation and physically by the ongoing settler violence directed towards them. The smiles during the meal masked the hardship and continuous harassment that the family endures on a daily basis.

The family live directly opposite the Avrahim Avinu settlement. Their windows are 2 metres away from the settlement and buckets of water are regularly thrown into the house to harass the family. The settlers also have high power hoses that they spray directly on the children and the family. Members of the family and visiting friends have fallen ill after being sprayed with the water from these hoses, and after taking a sample of the water to the hospital to be analysed, it was discovered there were chemicals in the water. We are trying to get a copy of the hospital report to determine what the exact chemicals in the water are.

When the family moved into the renovated part of their house four years ago, a settler woman came to them and said ‘you will lose your sons, one by one’. There have been other threats. Most recently, as the family were fixing their roof last week, a settler started calling the family ‘rats’.  ‘Hey, you rats. You’re not allowed to live in this house. If you keep living in this house, tonight you will see what will happen. We will kill you all’

There is a military watchtower that sits between the family house and the settlement. The family had a letter from the high court giving them permission to render the roof, which was leaking water. When one of the settler women saw him working on the roof, she called others to come and disrupt his work. This is the same woman who had threatened the family four years ago. The roof was almost completely rendered when settlers entered the family property, via the military watchtower that overlooks the family roof. The soldier on duty did not stop the settlers from passing through his watchtower and trespassing on the roof, resulting in extensive damage to the property. Eventually the civil administration arrived to verify the high court document and they were able to put an end to this incident.

We visited the Palestinian family a few days later to see how the work was holding up during the  torrential rain and snow storm. Not a drop of water fell from the ceiling as we had a cup of tea to celebrate the sealed roof.

Who thought an onion could be so useful?

Hebron 24/02/2012

When was the last time you cursed a vegetable? I’m sure it was the last time you were chopping an onion in your kitchen. Surprisingly enough, in times of tear gas attacks, that same cursed vegetable that causes so much discomfort in the warmth and comfort of your own home, can be a moderate panacea to the burning and stinging that is caused by tear gas. The more you cry, the better it is; to clear out that pesky chemical.

Today the international community came together to support the Open Shuhada St campaign. The closure of Shuhada Street to Palestinians in 2003 has suffocated their lives and their livelihoods. It has caused segregation, fragmentation and disruption so severe that a normal life is impossible. Ibtesim Al Hony, the principal of the Cordoba school, located opposite the settlement Beit Hadassa, said ‘the children don’t sleep due to the settlers throwing stones. The children can’t concentrate so the Red Cross come here to organise fun days to give the children psychological support’.

Today we attended the Open Shuhada St demonstration in Al Khalil (Hebron) to monit it. There were two separate attempts, coming in from different sides of the city, to try and enter the Old City and walk on Shuhada St. We were following the crowd that tried to enter from the south-east of the city. One minute we were walking behind a chanting crowd and the next minute there was a rush of people running towards the back of the crowd.

Your first inhalation of tear gas burns the back of your throat and stings your eyes so profoundly that you wonder if you have felt acute discomfort like that before. The sound of the gas canisters being fired one after the other booms in the air and scatters people everywhere. And that’s where the trusty onion comes in handy. Rubbing your eyes will only aggravate the pain and burn your eyes even more. Smelling a crushed onion will make you cry; and that’s the point.

A number of Palestinians were arrested today, and the ambulances sped up and down from the hospital, which was very close by, to take people away who were suffering from smoke inhalation. The army continued to launch the canisters, into the crowd, into residential areas and at the ambulances that were rushing to the hospital. To my surprise the people would grab tear gas canisters that had been launched into the crowd, even as the smoke was billowing out of them, and in that one moment of defiance they hurl them back at the army.

As the crowd started to thin, young boys continued to throw stones at the tanks and the jeeps. The game of cat and mouse continued for hours; the army fired tear gas, the boys retreated. The boys advanced and threw stones, the army retaliated.

I don’t know how many times I will experience tear gas in my time here, however, the Palestinian community will certainly continue to be confronted by this ‘non-lethal’ crowd dispersal over and over again. In addition to this, the army sprays a putrid ‘skunk bomb’ at the crowd, on houses, in the streets. The smell makes you feel nauseous; it permeates your hair, your clothing the air. This is the farewell gift as the army retreats.

I represent the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the NCCA or WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact myself, Debra Porter (dporter@ncca.org.au) or the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi-co@jrol.com) for permission. Thanks.

 Military Trial of 17-year old Amal Hamamdeh from Mufakarah. Charge: Spilling Water on Soldier

January 17, 2012

As reported here, during home demolitions in the cave-dweller village of Mufakarah, two young women who resisted nonviolently were arrested and charged with “assaulting soldiers” under the Israeli Occupation’s draconian martial law. The older of the two, Sausan Hamamdeh, reached a plea bargain in December resulting in a fine. When reporting on that development, we were fairly confident that her 17-year-old cousin Amal Hamamdeh would see her charges dropped. After all, she just tried to hand Sausan a water bottle to wash her pepper-sprayed eyes, and when soldiers interfered some water were spilled on them. We were wrong. Read more

The daily ordeal of getting to school in Hebron

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. Read more

Two Palestinians girls arrested during home demolitions in the Palestinian village of Umm Fagarah

November 24th, 2011

At-Tuwani, South Hebron Hills – On November 24th, Israeli army broke in the village of Umm Fagarah demolishing several huts and detaining two girls.
At 10 am two bulldozers arrived in the village, escorted by five military vehicles. Without showing any demolition order, the army demolished two houses, a mosque, a barn and a structure containing the generator.During the operations, two Palestinian girls were hold by the Border Police. While the inhabitants rushed from neighboring villages to watch the going on, the two girls have been kneeled on the ground by the soldiers. Ignoring the request of the Palestinians to be able to rescue the rabbits, the israeli army tore down the barn injuring and killing the animals. After the demolitions, the army took away the two girls without providing any explanation on the charges.
Similar incidents have taken place in the same day in the village of Susiya, where have been demolished a house and a barn. Read more

To see a video of the arrest and the demolitions click here

Between heaven and earth – and Israeli law

IMNEIZIL, West Bank: A freezing wind blows across the south Hebron hills and the people of the tiny village of Imneizil are steeling themselves for winter and the prospect they may have to face it without electricity.

Situated between two Israeli settlements – Susiya and Beit Yattir – Imneizil, like so many Palestinian towns, is off the grid, with no electricity, water or sewerage due to severe restrictions on Palestinian development.Two years ago, the Energy Research Centre at Al-Najah University in Nablus and SEBA, a Spanish non-government organisation, installed solar panels in the village to replace its petrol generators. The venture received €292,000 ($394,000) in funding from the Spanish government.The panels, which provide power for the 390 residents, their school and a small medical clinic, are now under a demolition order by the Israeli authorities. ”We are suspended between heaven and earth; the solar panels were a glimmer of hope for us and now they are trying to destroy them,” the village head, Ali Mohammad Ali Hreizat, said. Read more

AT-TUWANI REPORT: “The Dangerous Road to Education—Palestinian Students Suffer Under Settler Violence and Military Negligence”

Operation Dove (Nonviolent Peace Corps of Association “Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII”) and Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) announce the publication of the 2009-2010 report on the Israeli military escort to the Palestinian schoolchildren from the villages of Tuba and Maghayir al-Abeed.

An average of eighteen Palestinian children from the villages of Tuba and Maghayir al Abeed attend school in the neighbouring village of At-Tuwani.  To reach school, the children typically use the primary road that connects their villages with At-Tuwani and passes between the Israeli settlement of Ma’on and the Israeli outpost of Havat Ma’on (Hill 833).

Since 2001, Israeli settlers from Havat Ma’on have routinely attacked the children on their journey to and from school, but it was not until November 2004 that Israeli authorities established a daily military escort.  Despite the Israeli military escort, the children have been victims of violence 104 times between November 2004 and June 2010.  The soldiers carrying out the escort have at times failed to protect the children and have frequently arrived late, causing the children to wait, sometimes for hours, before and after school. Read more.

Israel Set to Destroy Spanish-Financed Solar Energy Plant in Hebron District

Israel is planning to demolish a local solar energy plant in the Hebron district town of Mneizel. The plant provides the sole electricity to this town, surrounded by Israeli settlements, and was financed by the Spanish government for some EUR 300,000. If Israel carries out its demolition orders, will the Spanish government demand compensation? Read more

Another Round of Israeli Military Vandalism at Umm Al-Kheir

Yesterday morning, Thursday September 8 2011, around 7 AM, the IDF military regime’s “Civil Administration” officials arrived at Umm-Al-Kheir, accompanied by a bulldozer and military forces, to destroy homes.

The residents of Umm-Al-Kheir – situated in the West Bank, roughly 8km north of its southernmost border – are Bedouins, originally living on land that became part of Israel. They were driven out following the 1948 war (see more details here), and in the 1950s purchased the land on which they live, which was then under Jordanian rule. Read more.

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