About Thom Davies

a member of team 44 of the EAPPI

Hebron

This week I spent a few days working with the EAPPI team in Hebron.

Hebron is very different than Yanoun.  Hebron has a population of 180,000 Palestinians and is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank.  Hebron and East Jerusalem are the only two communities in the West Bank where Israeli settlers live in the midst of Palestinian communities.  The result of this uneasy coexistence means that Hebron has been divided into to areas HI and H2.  H1 is under the authority of the Palestinian Authorities and is home to around 140,000 Palestinians.  H2 is under the authority of the Israeli military and is home to 40,000 Palestinians and about 400 Israeli settlers living in 4 downtown settlements.

H2 in Hebron captures in one neighborhood much of the Palestinian / Israeli conflict.  In H2 you understand why the Israeli Supreme court has described the military occupation of the West Bank as a “belligerent occupation”.  H2, which was once a vibrant downtown has seen:

  • heavy restrictions on the movements of Palestinians
  • the closure of all the streets in this 40,000 person neighborhood to all Palestinian vehicles
  • the closure of Shuhada Street, Hebron’s principal north south thoroughfare, to both Palestinian pedestrians and vehicles.  Shuhada Street was the commercial hub of the city and it now looks like a ghost town.
  • the closure of half the Palestinian business of the former downtown.  (1,829 Palestinian shops according to UN OCHA)
  • a large, often belligerent, Israeli military presence, which includes numerous roaming patrols of Israeli soldiers, checkpoints, sniper towers and barbed wire.
Downtown Hebron, Shuhada Street, now looks like a ghost town
 This is a photo of a picture I saw on a the wall of a shop.  A once vibrant downtown prior to 1997

A delegation from the Church of Scotland going through checkpoint 56 onto Shuhada Street

The school bags of school children and purses and ID of teachers are check by the Israeli military at Check Point 56

and the elderly and the unwell are forced to wait in the rain as their ID is checked at Check Point 56

One of the responsibilities of the Hebron EAPPI team is to protect the school children in Hebron who have to use the one block of Shuhada Street that Palestinians are allowed to use simply to get to school.  Tragically Palestinian children have from time to time been attacked by the settlers and their adolescent children.  We would arrive a little before 7am and one of us would be stationed at each end of the block.  Strangely, maybe even beautifully, over 10 or 15 minutes the deserted street would magically come alive with children.

At this intersection, beside Check Point 56 where I was stationed, the younger children turned toward the left to walk one block to their school and the older children turned toward the right and Check Point 56 

 Simply because EAPPI shows up every morning and afternoon, to accompany these children and their teachers, they can get to school most days without threat and intimidation.

Simply being present and watching these children, walk and play their way to school put a smile on my face.  I glad I was here.

 

Moments # 4: Two tears, two hands, two am, the door is always open.

I was walking through the old city of Jerusalem.  The narrow streets were very crowded because the noon prayers at Al Asqa Mosque had just finished.

I had just spent several hours sitting at the Western wall, possibly the most holy place in Judaism .  I found a seat inside the prayer area, one of those ugly but ubiquitous gray plastic chairs that show up everywhere.

I tried to pray, and maybe I did, but mainly I spent time brooding.  I wondered about the Holocaust and if the nation of Israel was formed by people living with some kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wondered if Israel is the kind of nation that is formed when a people build there national story around an attempt to eradicate them.  And I wondered if Israel is the kind of nation that is formed when people know that only a generation or two ago, their parents and grand parents went to the ovens like lambs to a slaughter and have promised themselves, never again.

The man in the white prayer shoal in the centre of the courtyard in front of the Western wall caught my attention.  He symbolized something important to me which I do not understand.

He unpacked his tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl, carefully. He tied his Tefillin, a small leather box which contains parchment scrolls inscribed with Torah verses, around his arm and forehead, with the care and authority of a man who does this often. The Tefilin are worn by observant Jews during morning prayer as a reminder that God brought the children of Abraham out of Egyptian bondage.

He covered himself with the tallit.  An reverently he prayed for 20 minutes.

Nothing unusual in any of this except he had a pistol stuck in his belt.  He and I had both gone through the same metal detectors to be in this sacred space, but he was allowed to bring his pistol.

A pistol at prayer in a holy place says something about the psyche of this nation.  But I do not understand it.

At the opposite end of the old city of Jerusalem I came across Sheikh Ali, from Al Asqa Mosque.  He was selling honey near the Damascus gate.

Between the honey sales we chatted for 15 – 20 minutes.   We both spoke about our faith.  We agreed that God is our Creator, the maker of heaven and earth, and we agreed that God is One, but our language and cultural differences prevented us from defining what we meant by that.

Our conversation ended when Sheikh Ali touched his eyes and said, “two tears”.

He clasped his hands in the universal sighn of prayer and said “two hands”.

He held up two fingers and said, “two in the morning”.

And with a large smile he pointed towards the heaven and said “the door to Allah is always open”.

I smiled, we shook hands, and I continued my journey.  I found myself thinking about something that I’d read earlier in the day by James Carroll.    Something like, good religion is not about salvation, it is about revelation.  Both a pistol in prayer, and two tears, two hands and two a.m., revealed something to me about a peoples understanding of God.


Pardon my cynicism.

Earlier today a bomb was attached to the car of an Israel diplomat in India. The diplomats wife was “moderately injured” and sent to hospital. Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman has launched an investigation.

Prior to any investigation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already announced that Iran, “the world’s greatest exporter of terror” is behind this attack.

I sense that by the coverage that this story is receiving that the world thinks that this is an important story. Here in the West Bank I’ve read about this attack in Ha’aretz and Ma’an News. I watched a bit of CNN and it seems to have taken root in their hourly news headlines. I was Skyping with a friend from Canada earlier today and he asked if I’d heard about the story. I had.

This is so important that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has issued a statement which condemns the attacks “in the strongest possible terms,” and that “the scourge of terrorism is an affront to the entire international community.” Her statement adds “Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured personnel in New Delhi and their loved ones.”

I find myself wondering if the people of Yasuf and Duma are also in Ms Cinton’s prayers. They deserve to be. One day in December both villages were attacked by terrorists with fire bombs.

When I arrived in Yasuf I noticed a small crowd had gathered directly opposite an outpost of Kfar Tappuah settlement. The village Mayor was in the crowd so I sought his permission, maybe it was his blessings, to ask the people a few question. He pointed at the EAPPI vest and through a translator said, “Yes, yes, of course, you people have a good heart and are always welcome in this village”. I was touched, we had never met, but he was prepared, in the midst of a tense situation, to offer hospitality, simply because of the vest I was wearing.”

Around 1am the owner of this car awakened by a phone call from a neighbor who told him that some settlers were trying to light his car on fire.  He went outside to find his car burning beside two large propane tanks that provide propane for house heating.  The gas had been turned on and the hose loosened.  The obvious attempt was a major fire.  The home owner managed to push the burning car away from the gas cylinders and his home.  A possible disaster was averted.

He told me that he saw two settlers running away and a large group of settlers waiting 30 – 40 meters up the hill with Israeli military as support.

The message from the settlers was clear.  Another price tag attack.

This lettering was spray painted on the wall beside the burning car.  Those who can read Hebrew tell me that it says “the price”. That night the settlers from Kfar Tappuah had determined that this home had to pay the price for some action against the settlement

That same night the people of Palestinian village of Duma were attacked by settlers from Shilo and Eli.  The Israeli military prevented members of our team from taking photos and erased photos that had already been taken.

We returned to Duma a week later and interviewed several people including the gentleman who owned one of the vehicles destroyed by fire that night.  He made his living, supported his family, by buying and delivering water in his community.  Now his vehicle had been destroyed and he was not sure how he would support his family.

We also interviewed the next door neighbor, and energetic, athletic Palestinian police officer who witnessed the arson attack and gave chase.  He described the attackers as three settlers.  He told us that he chased them with his car until he was  stopped by the Israeli military.

It is believed that the perpetrators of both of these attacks were small groups of settlers, who sneak around in the dark and burn peoples property.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defines terrors as “the deliberate and systematic assault on civilians to inspire fear for political ends”.   This definition would certainly include the actions of Israel settlers and soldiers against the Palestinian people of Duma and Yasuf.

Although these terrorist attacks happened over a month ago, Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman has not yet launched an investigation.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made no announcement about who was behind the attacks.  CNN has not showed up neither has Ms Clinton.  Nor has she condemned these attacks “in the strongest possible terms.”

Maybe she has left that for you and I.  Remember Ms Clinton’s words “the scourge of terrorism is an affront to the entire international community.”

While you at it please also remember the Palestinian people of Yasuf and Duma in your prayers.

Moments #3: Understanding the power imbalance of the occupation

In this scene you see 3 soldiers, 1 higher ranking soldier, 5 farmers and the Mayor of Yanoun, who is also a farmer / shepherd.  What you do not see is that the deck is stacked against the Palestinian farmers.

Somewhere between the morning walk and breakfast, 4 -5 hours before this picture was taken, we received word that there had been an incident in lower Yanoun.  When we arrived we found that three tractors, 5 farmers from Aqraba, a couple of shepherds and two boys had gathered in Lower Yanoun.
The situation had started around 8am.  The farmers from Aqraba were planning to sow some fields.  The fields had been prepared for planting a few weeks prior and rain was predicted for later in the week. So this day seem the right day to sew crops.
As the farmers drove past the Itimar Settlement Out Post they we stopped by a couple of armed settlers.  Rocks were thrown at the tractors, words were exchanged, no one was injured.
The local farmers have learned from years of experience that if they fight back the Israeli military will arrive within minutes, there military base shares land with the settlement outpost at the top of the hill, and Palestinians will be arrested and charged.
During my time here we have investigated instances where Palestinians were arrested and charged, beat up in jail then released, based solely on the false accusations of settlers.
This photo would be beautiful if it wasn’t a war zone. I don’t know if you can tell from this picture but the military base / settlement outpost sit atop hill 777 to the left of the picture.  The incident we were investigating happened on the road that leads out of the village of Lower Yanoun below the hill.  Yes that is Jordan in the background.
So the farmers did what they have been instructed to do.  They complained to Rashed, the  local farmer / mayor / shepard, who notifies the Israeli military.  Three hours later the military arrives and after a 15 minute conversation in Lower Yanoun the military jeep leads the three tractors down the dirt road toward the farmers fields in Ad Dawa.
About a kilometer down the road, at the junction to the road which runs up the hill to the settlement outpost / military base the convey is stopped by one of the settlers.  It is the same settler who threw rocks at these men earlier in the day.  The farmers are asked to turn around while the soldiers confer with the settler and their commanding officer.
After forty minutes the farmers and Rashed are summoned down the hill to be advised of a decision.  What I had not noticed before, although I had seen the scenario several times, was how the decision gets made.  In each case the military leader, the soldiers under his command, the settlement security and the settlers meet until they have come up with a solution that each of them an agree on.
This day the solution was to inform these farmers that the land that they have farmed all there lives was now permanently a “closed military area” and access to the field is permanently denied.
A similar story has played out three times in this area in the past month with sheep and shepherds and where they can graze.  In each case the local Palestinian shepherds were denied access to land they have been grazing as long as they can remember.
The strategy seems to be to make things so difficult for local people that they will slowly leave and the land will be cleansed of Palestinians.
The conversation looks fair and civil but those in military uniforms have all the power in a military occupation.
You wouldn’t know it by the smile on his face but this man just permantly lost access to his land.  The smile, the bravado, mask the pain and injustice caused by years of systemic racism. 

Moments #2: When the Jordan Valley numbers made sense.

I’ve read the numbers several times but they never really sunk in until I took these photos.  The numbers are simple: Palestinians control about 6% of the land in the  Jordan Valley.  36 Israeli settlements control about 50% of the land in the Jordan Valley.  The Israeli military, through military bases, closed military areas, and nature reserves controls about 44% of the Jordan Valley.

The Jordan Valley was the bread basket of Palestine.  But these green houses, as far as the eye can see, are Israeli settlements.  Each is prospering on land that has been stolen from Palestinians.

Illegal Israeli settlements as far as the eye can see.

Moments #1 The Imans

I thought I’d post a few brief blogs of some moments that have stuck with me over the last few months.

Once a month Father Ibrahim, the Anglican priest at St Philips, a Church in the Old City of Nablus, hosts a lecture / meal of 15 to 40 religious leaders from his community.  This week the number was closer to 15.

This is a group of local Imam’s, listening intently, taking notes, on a lecture about “The contribution to Palestinian Education that has been made by Christians”.  The lecture was delivered by a Muslim teacher from Nablus.  The lecture lasted about an hour, followed by a meal and then a half hour of Q & A.

As near as I could tell in translation almost all of the contributions made by Christians, according to this lecturer, had been positive.  He especially liked Edward Said, and encouraged a conversation about the introduction of Philosophy at Palestinian Universities.  Philosophy had been introduced by Christians and for a while, because philosophy raises questions about the existence of God, it had been challenged by the Muslim community.  Today it was simply part of the conversation.

Muslim Imans, welcoming foriegners like me, inviting me to share a meal with them, listening intently and taking notes on a lecture about the contributions to Palestinian education by Christians and after the lecture engaging the Christians in conversation, challenged the stereotypes I carried within me as a person form the west.

I’m thankful for this moment, with the Imams.

Al Aqaba

This is a photo of a UN map on the wall of our home in Yanoun. I find it makes the West Bank look like an Archipelago, Archipelago Palestine.

The various colors on this map are the result of the Oslo Accords which divided the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C.

  •  Area A includes Palestinian towns and villages that the Palestinian Authority has full authority over civil jurisdiction and security control.  Israel can still control movement into and out of Area A.
  • Area B gives the Palestinian Authority full authority over civil jurisdiction and responsibility for public order, while Israel maintains a security presence and overriding authority for security.
  • Area C gives the Palestinian Authority restricted civil authority, for example education and welfare, while Israel has full authority over zoning, planning, construction and security.

On this map the blue which covers over 62% of the West Bank is Area C.  Area C contains all of the Israeli settlements (sort of crimson color), the roads used to access the settlements, and almost all of the Jordan Valley.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) Israeli military forces destroyed 622 Palestinian owned structures in 2011. This was a 42% increase compared to 2010.  This included 222 homes, 170 animal shelters, two class rooms and two mosques.  This resulted in almost 1,100 Palestinians, over half children being displaced because of home demolitions by Israeli forces.

Al Aqaba Women’s Centre (and temporary home of the Village Council) and kindergarten. 

Most of these demolitions (90%) and most of the displacements (92%) occurred in already vulnerable farming and herding communities in Area C.  Al Aqaba has the misfortune of being part of the Jordan Valley and thus like every village in  Area C is under serious threat from what are essentially planning bi-laws.
Given normal population growth villages like Al Aqaba expand, old homes are expanded and new homes are built, institutions and infrastructure are required.  According to UN OCHA 94% of all planning requests are denied.
This means that over the years almost every building in the village Al Aqaba has recieved demolition orders against them.  The mosque has received demolition orders, the women’s centre and kindergarten has recieved demolition orders, and the medical clinic has a demolition orders.
Al Aqaba also has the misfortune of resembling southern Lebanon.  At least that is the excuse the Israeli military gives for years of live fire military training which happens regularly around Al Aqaba.  Over the years of the occupation 8 citizens of Al Aqaba have been killed by stray bullets and over 50 have been wounded.   To date no Israeli soldier has been charged or punished.
One of the wounded is Haj Sami the Mayor of Al Aquaba.  In this photo he sits on Peace Street, the black top recently removed by the Israeli Military.  Gandhi Street which sits at the other end of town also has a demolition order.
If you lived in a small town anywhere you would be lucky to have a mayor like Haj Sami.  He is an activist who works tirelessly and passionatly for the village of Al Aqaba.  Within two minutes of meeting me he asks me where I’m from.  “Canada” I say.
He looks me at me carefully and with a tone that indicates I am somehow responsible, he asks “Why has the Canadian Embassy cut off my funding for two years now.”
“I don’t know” I reply.  How would I, I wonder to myself.
“Has something changed, they always supported our village but now for two years we have been cut off” Haj Sami inquires.
I let that slide, I’m not sure I want to talk about a more conservative government in Canada, but I am reminded regularly in the villages that Canada does not support Palestine the way it used to.
So Haj Sami follows with a second question. “Will you be at your Embassy while your are here in Palestine.”
“Yes”, I reply.  “I was at the Consulate in Ramallah a few weeks ago and Mr. Greenspan suggested that I also visit the Embassy in Tel Aviv.  So yes, I do have an appointment next week.”
“Good” he say, “please ask your Embassy why they have been cut off funding to Al Aqaba for two years now.  It is very important to us.”
“Ok, I could do that” I say, as Haj Sami changes topics.
He waves a piece of paper at us.  All the text is Arabic. “12 demolition orders this time, over 20 building, and only three days to go to court” he says.  “The Army man told us – if we do not get to court within three day he will be back to destroy these homes.”  Of course the Israeli military representative means “a military court”.  All of he West Bank is occupied and Palestinians are charged before military courts.
With Haj Sami’s piece of paper, in Arabic, a local guide, and a translator we set off to find and photo graph each of these buildings.
The first of the twelve demolition orders was for a gentleman who had recently moved his family, three wives and six children, from a tent into a concrete home.  The demolition orders were for the house, animal shelters and taboon.  Our guide suggested that things like tractors and water tanks would normally be confiscated.
The following pictures give you a sense of what is to be included.
 The family home

The Chicken coop

The Taboon

An Animal Shelter

Another Animal Shelter

For the next hour or so Wim and I trudged though rain soaked fields and sheep shit while Israeli jets flew low overhead.  We photographed all 20 something structures at the West end of Al Aqaba.

In his earlier life Wim spent 20 years working in and for South Africa.  He is not reluctant to use words like Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing.  From time to time he reminds me that the Occupation is simply a slow but very deliberate attempt to cleans the land of Palestinians.

Often I do not say much, both of us can live with a lot of quiet, but I find myself thinking that my tribe, the United Church of Canada doesn’t like words like Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing in the context of Palestine / Israel.  Somehow we associate these words with name calling.

Children call names.  Maybe within my church we need to grow up a little and shoulder our responsibility to not only “seek just” but also to “resist evil”.

So you tell me.  Does this slow but very intentional attempt to gain more land with less Palestinians look like ethnic cleansing to you?

One thing is clear this family will now join the thousands of others whose lives remain at risk of displacement because of an outstanding demolition order.

Something Old Fashioned – a Poetry Recital

I was at a dinner party, Palestinian style, last evening, in Aqraba.

Our host was Ghassan, our service-taxi-driver (he usually smiles more than this).  His mother, who has 76 grandchild, was there.  So was his wife, 6 children, brother, sister-in-law, and their 5 children, and his sister.  Some others came and went.  We all sat in one room.  It was cold, a tiny gas heater near grandma took the edge off for about 3 feet.  And it was crowded.  And it was strangley very good.

Grandma had almost as many stories as she had grandchildren.  And Grandma, as Grandma’s are entitled to do, shared several stories with us.  Of course each was in Arabic and required translation.  One of the stories stuck with me.  It was the day the Israelis almost killed her son.   At that time both Ghassan and the occupation were two years old.  The family lived above he Jordan valley, in Aqraba, where they still live now.

Many of the families of Aqraba owned property in the Jordan Valley and they would camp on their land during the spring.  They would prepare land, sow crops, graze their sheep over the hills, and twice daily milk the sheep and make cheese.   When Ghassan grew older, 8, 9, 10, he remembers walking his mother’s fresh cheese up the hills to Aqraba and selling it before after school

Grandma’s story was essentially quite short.  One day while she was out milking her sheep, less than 30 meters from her tent, the Israeli army shot a rocket at their makeshift home and destroyed it.  “They almost killed us” she said, and then she smiles at Ghassan and reminds us that “when he was only two he always stayed close to me”.   Both were unhurt, but that evening she demanded that husband move the family back to Aqraba and that her husband come to the fields alone.  She said defiantly, “if the Israeli’s are going to kill me I want it to be near my home not out in a field”.

Before and after Grandma’s story telling we were entertained with poetry recitals.   I vaguely remember a time in our culture when parents would take great pride in having their children recite poetry to adults.  It all felt strangely familiar but completely different than anything I had seen in a long time.

Over time Ghassan’s family has had all their land in the Jordan Valley stolen.  Aqraba, Ghassan’s home, is a town of 10,000 people and this community has had over 100,000 dumas stolen in the Jordan Valley.  The Jordan Valley is almost 30% of the West Bank and contains almost all of its best agricultural land in the West Bank.  At he moment Palestinians have access to less than 25% of the land in the Jordan Valley.  The rest is controlled by Israeli Military and Settlers.

Before supper one of Ghassan’s daughter, dressed in traditional Palestinian dress, recited, with delightful energy and intensity, a patriotic, pro-Palestinian poem for at least five minutes in Arablic.

And after supper she recited it, with great pride, again.

The food was good, the entertainment was homegrown, original, and presented with great pride.  The highlight for me was when Ghassan encouraged he oldest daughter, a shy 16 year old to recite something for us.  With gentle pride, and a hint of teen age embarrassment she started to recited the following poem by Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet.  Once she found her voice, she recited it the way Holy Scripture ought to be read, as if it really contained something important, both life affirming and life giving.

As she told the poem, each “…and be gone” became a little clearer and stronger.

O those who pass between fleeting words
Carry your names, and be gone
Rid our time of your hours, and be gone
Steal what you will from the blueness of the sea
And the sand of memory
Take what pictures you will, so that you understand
That which you never will:
How a stone from our land builds the ceiling of our sky.

O those who pass between fleeting words
From you the sword — from us the blood
From you steel and fire — from us our flesh
From you yet another tank — from us stones
From you tear gas — from us rain
Above us, as above you, are sky and air
So take your share of our blood — and be gone
Go to a dancing party — and be gone
As for us, we have to water the martyrs’ flowers
As for us, we have to live as we see fit.

O those who pass between fleeting words
As better dust, go where you wish, but
Do not pass between us like flying insects
For we have work to do in our land:
We have wheat to grow which we water with our bodies’ dew
We have that which does not please you here:
Stones or partridges
So take the past, if you wish, to the antiquities market
And return the skeleton to the hoopoe, if you wish,
On a clay platter
We have that which does not please you: we have the future
And we have things to do in our land.

O those who pass between fleeting words
Pile your illusions in a deserted pit, and be gone
Return the hand of time to the law of the golden calf
Or to the time of the revolver’s music!
For we have that which does not please you here, so be gone
And we have what you lack: a bleeding homeland of a bleeding people
A homeland fit for oblivion or memory.

O those who pass between fleeting words
It is time for you to be gone
Live wherever you like, but do not live among us
It is time for you to be gone
Die wherever you like, but do not die among us
For we have work to do in our land.

We have the past here
We have the first cry of life
We have the present, the present and the future
We have this world here, and the hereafter
So leave our country
Our land, our sea
Our wheat, our salt, our wounds
Everything, and leave
The memories of memory
O those who pass between fleeting words!

Awarta

Awarta is a village south of the city of Nablus and close to the Itamar settlement.  2011 has been a difficult and turbulent year for the people of Awarta.  After the murder of a family of five at the Itamar settlement in early 2011, the village of Awarta was placed under a curfew and declared a closed military zone.  The Israeli military made mass arrests and questioned all men in the village.  Eventually two young palestinian men were charged with murder.

Naja, and English teacher in Awarta tells a story of what seems like collective punishment of an entire village.  According to Naja the Israeli Soldiers regularly enter private houses, long after the arrests, and force the entire family into one bedroom and vandalize the home, often “dirtying” the house with human excrement.

On the Christmas day a large group of settler families, protected by soldiers who surrounded them, entered the village of Awarta.  For about two hours the settlers danced, and sang, and shouted abusive slogans at Palestinian families.

Naja’s family, like most others in Awarta, has experienced the abusive treatment by the soldiers (Naja did not want her photo taken). Four times her house was entered by the Israeli military, the rooms were ransacked, furniture turned upside down, drawers emptied (Naja showed photos).  She told our team that this has caused many sleepless nights, because now, any noise outside the house could mean another attack from settlers or soldiers.  This has been a very traumatic time for Naja, her husband and their five children. In an attempt to feel safe in their own home the family has borrowed money to build a concrete wall in front of the house.

Many of the people in Awata own land that is presently located within the control of the settlement.  Naja talks of 20 dunam of land planted with olive trees that are inaccessible because it lies within the control of the Itamar settlement. To harvest olives from their own trees and on their own land they have to seek permission from the Israeli authorities.  Many years permission was only granted for one or two days which is not enough time to harvest all the olives. Naja has watched settlers take the olives that her family was not allowed to harvest. This year, which according to the Red Cross was a bountiful year for olives, Naja did not receive permission to harvest or tend her olive trees.

Two days for harvesting is not enough to properly maintain an olive grove. Farmers need time to weed, to plough, to prune the trees etc. Neglecting these tasks will reduce the amount produced by each tree. Naja and her family have noticed a declining production over the last decade.  Last year the settlers also burnt about thirty of the higher production, older olive trees.  The gradual confiscation of the olive trees, and the reduction of olive production has created economic problems for Naja and here family.

When talk turned to the future, Naja talked about her longing for ‘Real Peace’. For Naja ´Real Peace´ means, her children going to school; living without violence and without the threat of violence; children not being arrested; people not being stopped at checkpoints; freedom to visit any place to worship and to pray.

Real Peace will be possible, she says, but not with the presently elected Is Israeli government.

Naja remind us that all parents worry about their children, but most parents do not have to worry that their children, who have grown up with daily humiliation by settlers and soldiers, might one day lash out against their oppressor and so easily get themselves into trouble.

Asira Al Qibliya, Again

Again this week we visited Asira Al Qibliya.  Another settler attack on Saturday.  This time we met a different family, who lived next door to Basam Mohamed Seleh.  Bassam joined us.  Nada, the woman in white, told us her story.  Tragically most of it I’d heard before, a crowd of 35-50 settlers.  No women settlers this time.  Much loud yelling.  Rock throwing.  The other villagers arrive to offer protection and the settlers retreat.  The Israeli Defense Forces were there the whole time offering protection to the retreating settlers.  As the settlers retreated the IDF shot tear gas into the village.  It was a Saturday afternoon and this time “many children, a baby, and young people were hurt by the tear gas”.  Nada told me “it is my job to bring water and onions to the tear gas victims”.  Victims of tear gassing have learned that when they have been gassed they can break an onion in half and sniff it, and get it close to their eyes, which reduces the irritation to the eyes and noise.

Saturdays are worse than other days for settler violence.  This strange reality is apparently connected to the Jewish Sabbath.  The relationship between violence and Sabbath is unclear to me.  But much that comes from the Yitzhar settlement do not make sense to me.   According to Gershom Gorenberg, in the Unmaking of Israel, the violent history of Yitzhar goes back to at least 1989 when sixteen year old Ibthisam Bozaya was shot dead during a violent settler rampage through the village of  Kift Harith.  Twenty years later two rabbis from the yeshiva at Yitzhar, Yitshak Shapira and Yosef Dlituzur, published a book called the Law of the King, which some reviewers called “The Complete Guide to Killing Non Jews”.  The book describes when it is permitted or forbidden for a Jew to kill a gentile.  The essential argument of this book is that a Jew’s life is worth more than a gentile’s and it is a lesser sin for a Jew to kill a gentile than a Jew.  According to Gorenberg (and others) the authors claim, “there is even a basis in religious law to argue that children may be intentionally targeted, if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us”.

From the roof of Basam’s home we could see across to village to the home of the of another family.  This is where the attack started on Saturday.

This home has been attacked numerous times before because it is on the edge of town.

During one attack the settlers sprayed several Stars of David on the home.

The response of this family was to build a wall along the edge of their property that had been attacked.

Their hope was that a good solid concrete wall would protect them.

Unfortunetly for them this wall failed to provide the protection which they sought.

Earlier in December their home was attacked by with paint balls over there wall.

I confess, that my first reaction to this Star of David, was to think of a Swastika.  In this case the Star of David, a symbol that many Israeli’s hold proud, was used as a symbol of hatred and intimidation.  It is amazing that six strategically arranged lines can conjure up such racism and fear.

As we left the property I noticed this oily smudge on the ground just a little way down the hills from the home that had been attacked home.  Apparently used automobile oil was poured on the road.  Then with the aid of an accelerant the mess was lit on fire to prevent other people form the village coming to offer support.