The Israeli High Court is set to rule on the forced expulsion of all of the residents of the village of Khirbat Zanuta, southwest of Hebron in the southern West Bank on Monday.
Villagers in Khirbat Zanuta (image by ACRI)
The decision comes five years after the initial order was made by the court to demolish the village. That decision was put on hold when an appeal was filed on behalf of the villagers by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel,
“Last year, a Jewish expansionist organization named Regavim succeeded in reviving the case by filing an amicus-curia request; soon thereafter, the state submitted its full response to the petition. In April 2012, the Civil Administration issued additional demolition orders for new structures in the village, including several cisterns (ACRI is arguing that objections to the new orders should be joined to the original petition, but the Civil Administration disagrees). The Supreme Court heard additional arguments on July 30, 2012. During the hearing, the justices delivered harsh criticism of the State for its intent to demolish the village without suggesting a solution for its residents.”
But the decision on Monday is expected to result in the forced expulsion of all of the village’s inhabitants, who have lived on the land of their ancestors for as long as they can remember. They consider themselves stewards of the ancient archaeological site on which they live and tend their sheep, and have prevented any looting or destruction of artifacts on the site.
The Zionist organization Regavim that managed to revive the demolition order on the village had a quick response time from the court. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reports that the organization has a “cozy relationship with the authorities”, according to its Director Bezalel Smotrich, who told the settler website Hakol Hayehudi on July 31, 2012, “Another parameter of the success of Regavim’s activities is the treatment by authorities in the establishment. Among the ranks in the field and in a lot of departments of the Interior Ministry, Israel Land Administration, the Justice Ministry and more, they view Regavim as a positive factor that is coming to their aid to steel them against the pressure they receive from the left. Most of them are good people, idealistic people… happy for the counter-pressure we exercise after years in which they absorbed so much heat in the form of pressure and letters from left-wing organizations.”
The inhabitants of Khirbat Zanuta are shepherds, who have traditionally lived in caves and structures around the cave entrances. The village is located in what Israel calls ‘Area C’, a designation created under the Oslo Accords in 1993 for land that was to temporarily remain under Israeli civil administration control, but should have been transitioned to Palestinian rule within five years. That never happened, and all of the areas designated as ‘Area C’ in 1993 remain under full Israeli control today – most of the 500,000 Israeli settlers that have taken over land in the West Bank in the twenty years since that designation have moved into ‘Area C’.
According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel,
“The case of Zanuta is demonstrative of the Israeli government’s planning policy as it relates to the Palestinians in Area C, in which actions as severe as the destruction of basic humanitarian structures are justified by an absurd Catch 22 that penalizes residents for failing to apply for a permit they could never have been granted. If these demolition orders are carried out, the residents of Zanuta will be stripped of their most basic humanitarian rights: shelter, water, and livelihood, not to mention dignity, culture, and way of life. As an occupying power in Area C, Israel is bound by international law to protect the indigenous community. The case exemplifies a policy of demolishing buildings in Palestinian villages that removes indigenous peoples from their lands in absolute violation of the international law which protects them.”
Hebron, Occupied Palestine – One international was arrested after settlers fenced off the Asseh family home for a second day in a row in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida area.
Yesterday, early Saturday morning, settlers tied a fence across the exit of the Asseh family home with a wire gate to prevent them from leaving for a second day. After the family and internationals removed the gate, settler children threw rocks, water and water mixed with faeces at them. Two Israeli soldiers stood close and did nothing. The police arrived but also took no action despite being informed of what had happened.
Within an hour of the Asseh family and the internationals dispersing, the gate had been reassembled and reinforced. One adult male settler stood over the gate and prevented anyone from passing through or disassembling it. After 20 minutes the Asseh family and internationals finally managed to remove the gate despite repeated physical attacks by the settler. A number of internationals sustained minor injuries. During this, soldiers continued to stand by and do nothing.
The police arrived and first questioned the settler and then two soldiers who were present. After being shown video footage by an international, police demanded that four internationals accompany them to the police station to file a complaint. When the internationals requested to file the complaint later, police became violent and arrested one international. Other internationals were thrown to the ground by police and soldiers who assisted the arrest. The arrested international was eventually released after being questioned in the police station at the illegal settlement of Givat Havot.
What image of Palestinians would viewers, who have a smattering, or if any, knowledge of the Palestinian struggle, gain after seeing Dror Moreh’s documentary, The Gatekeepers?
The word ‘terrorist’ and versions thereof – ‘terrorism’ ‘terror’ – occur over 40 times, and all, bar once, in reference to Palestinians implicitly justifying the raison d’etre for Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
The MO of the vicious Shin Bet or Shabak is covert counter-terrorism – based on the premise that the people of Palestine have no right to defend themselves or fight for their rightful independence enshrined in international law against the brutal illegal occupier and coloniser- the rogue State of Israel.
Meanwhile, Israel, the world’s fourth largest high-tech nuclear military force bleats its right to defend itself against Palestinian rocks and piddly homemade rockets.
The Gatekeepers presents interviews with six former Shin Bet commanders with relevant archival footage. Luke Buckmaster states, “These are men who, after consuming their toast and coffee, went to work to oversee every form of state-sanctioned violence. Manhunts. Executions. Torture. Missions that led to the death of countless innocent people… It seems highly improbable — despite unusually candid-feeling interviews — that the former top brass from the Shin Bet didn’t come to the project without an agenda in mind.” (Crikey 21-8-13)
The documentary has been hailed for presenting the human face of Shin Bet.
Dror Moreh: What shocked me was how humane they were. You have a certain image of somebody like Shalom before you meet him; he has a reputation that precedes him. And suddenly, you find yourself seated in front of Shalom and you do not see this monster, or this heartless bureaucrat, or this mastermind of espionage. You see a human being, with the same doubts and tormented thoughts that you or I have. You see a person with a conscience.
You can bet that a documentary proselytising the humanity of Gestapo heads, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolph Diels and Heinrich Muller would ignite fires of Sheol to spurt from the tongues of the Zionist Lobby.
The documentary opens with footage of a sterile ‘super clean operation’ (like the Wikileaks release of the US gunship ‘collateral murder’ video in Iraq) of the targeted killing, by remote, of so-called Palestinian ‘terrorists’ [freedom fighters], accompanied by the self-congratulatory comments of Yuval Diskin, who adds that in reflective moments he thinks it is ‘ unnatural’ to have the power to take lives in an instant. Really? Such moral musings from a man who has spent 30 years in military, Shin Bet and Mossad intelligence including Israel’s 1982 bloody war on Lebanon. Apparently ‘in no time Shin Bet controlled Lebanon’.
The sensitively airbrushed Yuval waxes lyrical about his ‘exotic encounter with olive trees’ (millions of which, along with livelihoods have been destroyed by Israel) and about his interaction with the peasants as he wandered through landscapes, refugee camps (refused right of return), visiting homes, chatting in cafes (one wonders how many of his bucolic buddies Shin Bet kidnapped and tortured) and then awakes from his fond reverie to remind himself and us of the ‘Palestinian problem’.
Right on cue the next footage, presents a newsreel on the killing of two soldiers in Al Khalil (Hebron). Mystifyingly, there is no footage of any of the hundreds of Palestinian civilians murdered there, in their own city, such as young Mohammed Ziad Awad al-Salayma who, in December 2012, was shot moments after buying a cake for his 17th birthday.
The indigenous people of Al Khalil are held hostage by a handful of settler thugs protected by the Israeli military. The once vibrant commerce of Shuhada St has been shut down and netting covers the narrow passages of the Old City to curtail the urine, faeces and rubbish that vulgar settlers throw down on passing Palestinians.
Avraham Shalom, a feared and uncompromising bully, has an acting skill range from a frisky thrill for his job security “ luckily for us terrorism increased’, to quasi-senility in remembering his ordering the execution of the two surviving handcuffed hijackers of Bus 300. Their heads were smashed with a rock. Shalom (ironic name) admits President Shamir had given him carte blanche on life-and-death decisions- literally – and that he coordinated his actions with Shamir, Rabin and Peres who rolled over and played ignorant under public pressure. Shalom later admits that Israel has become ‘cruel’ and is ‘similar to the Germans in WWII”. He should know.
Yakov Peri another of Moreh’s charming goons, comments on the First Intifada, “A nation rose up and tried to launch a revolution,” Why? Wait for it - “to kick us out”… Ah, there it is- the Israeli mantra of victimhood. Not one of these men of ‘conscience’ get that Palestinians are fighting for self-determination, for freedom from savage and systematic oppression, for their lives and shrinking country.
Peri goes on to laud Shin Bet’s ‘well-oiled’, ‘well-organized, effective’ and ‘systematic’ ‘intelligence factories’. He explains how Shin Bet learned about their territorial units ‘village by village, trail by trail’, through field trips and masses of ‘interviews’ ie interrogations about the village, the clans, number of people and its institutions. This format resembles the well-oiled, well-organized, effective and systematic Plan Dalet that mapped, for the Jewish terrorist militias, the ethnic cleansing of 531Palestinian villages in 1947-48; “These operations can be carried out in the following manner; either by destroying villages (by setting fire to them, by blowing them up or by planting mines in their rubble)… In case of resistance, the armed forces must be wiped out and the population expelled outside the borders of the state.” Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine p.82
Shin Bet then set up a tight web of informers and agents and one wonders what terrible coercions would make a Palestinian betray his community, friends and family. The atmosphere of terror, the sinister recruitment practices and informant systems in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany comes to mind.
The section Our Own Flesh and Blood deals with the rise of settler power. Peri drops a hasbara (Lie) clanger stating that “the illegal settlements were built despite of or in opposition to government decisions”. Shortly after the settler protests in 1975, Rabin allowed the establishment of Ma’ale Adumin and settlers have been given financial incentives and tax concession by successive Israeli governments.
Since 1967 over 541,000 settlers have colonised the West Bank and there are 100 outposts, forerunners to new settlements. Israel threatens to annex the settlements on stolen Palestinian land and since the onset of the present peace farce in July, the Netanyahu government announced plans for 800 illegal housing units. Extremist settler parties have unprecedented power in the present Knesset.
The rise of settler power only disturbs Israel when its own may suffer as with the assassination of Rabin and the deranged plot to blow up the Dome on the Rock. Moreh never refers to these fanatics as terrorists even though, after the massacre at Al Khalil’s Ibrahimi Mosque by Baruch Goldstein, the settler groups, Kach and Kahane Chai were designated terrorist organisations.
Moreh makes much of death of Rabin and its impact on the peace process but Tanya Reinhart told it straight; “Deception and lies have been a cornerstone in Israeli policy, brought to a new level of perfection since Oslo. While the world believed that Prime Minister Rabin promised to eventually end the occupation and dismantle the settlements, the number of Israeli settlers actually doubled during his rule.”
If you are not convinced The Gatekeepers is a propaganda exercise, listen to Carmi Gillon’s testimony on Shin Bet’s justification for the use of torture in interrogations which became more difficult during the Second Intifada because “ Anyone willing to sacrifice his life whether its for the virgins in paradise or not has nothing to lose.” The belittlement of the sacrifice of suicide bombers for paradisaical virgins confirms Israel’s denial of the Palestinian political impetus for freedom and denial of the desperation of Palestinian life under the might of Israel’s control.
In 2001, Human Rights Watch asked the Danish government to reject Gillon’s appointment as ambassador to Denmark and Amnesty International, citing the UN Convention against Torture demanded he be detained.
Years after the end of the Second Intifada, “the need to use moderate physical pressure in interrogations” continues to this day. Moderate? Impunity to inflict sleep deprivation, sitting handcuffed in a painful, degrading, exhausting position, covering heads, shaking, beatings, humiliation, threats against family, medical neglect, electrocution on adults and minors is secured by Israel’s High Court and the Office of the Prime Minister.
In February 2013, Charlotte Silver’s opinion piece in Al Jazeera, How Israel legitimises torturing Palestinians, to death, exposes how Arafat Jaradet was tortured to death during the 7 days between his arrest and death on February 23.
“The ordeal that Arafat suffered before he died at the hands of Israel’s Shin Bet is common to many Palestinians that pass through Israel’s prisons. According to the prisoners’ rights organisation Addameer, since 1967, a total of 72 Palestinians have been killed as a result of torture and 53 due to medical neglect. Less than a month before Jaradat was killed, Ashraf Abu Dhra died while in Israeli custody in a case that Addameer argues was a direct result of medical neglect… And in the first week of February, two weeks before Arafat was killed, the High Court of Justice threw out Adalah’s petition that demanded the GSS videotape and audio record all of its interrogations in order to comply with requirements of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) to which Israel is a signatory.”
The section, Collateral Damage vividly depicts Shin Bet’s new strategy; state-sanctioned targeted killings which are outlawed under international law. In 2007, Avi Dichter, was forced to cancel a visit to the UK because of a potential arrest warrant on suspicion of war crimes for the bombing of Hamas‘ Saleh Shehade’s home killing 15 family members including 3 children. Sharon called it ‘one of our greatest successes.’
Ami Aylon points out Israel also achieved greater security because cooperation was secured at monthly meetings between Shin Bet and the PLO security in spite of the dwindling Israeli desire to reach agreement on a Palestinian state. This is backed up by footage that features Fatah gangster, Mohammed Dahlan whose death squads took over Israel’s policing of Gaza and the West Bank. Concocting competition and conflict between Fatah and Hamas is a brilliant divide and rule strategy that deflects the Palestinian focus from self-determination.
In interviews, Moreh insists these Shin Bet sadists in sheep’s clothing agreed to be interviewed because of their concern for the diminishing window for a two-state solution that is propelling Israel toward a catastrophe. Ayalon is a vocal supporter the two state solution but without the right of return; a right of all peoples. A Jew anywhere in the world has the right to ‘return’ to Israel but Palestinians are denied their legal right to return to their own country and lands even though international law guarantees, “no territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal”.
Moreh’s urgent pragmatic push for a two state solution must include the corrupt Abbas, and Moreh, in an interview on Huffpost, condemns Netanyahu calling Abbas irrelevant and a terrorist. Of course Abbas, Erekat et al are the dream team because they’ve agreed to a Palestinian state on 18% of the remaining area within the 1967 borders, illegal land swaps that will contain the settlements in a vastly expanded Israeli state, no right of return, and demilitarisation. That is to say the status quo. Israel couldn’t get a better two-state deal.
Perhaps a future Palestinian leader of integrity and /or a one state outcome is the catastrophe Moreh is frantic to evade.
Moreh is honest in declaring, “I feel they came because they are really concerned about the future of the state of Israel.” (clearly there is no evidence they have any concern for Palestinians past, present or future) and Israel’s self-interest is definitely the prime agenda. Israel’s reputation is rancid internationally and it is desperately trying to sweeten it with honeytraps like The Gatekeepers that seemingly appear to criticise Israel, throw in a few moral and philosophical after-thoughts, then stamp the terrorist label onto suffering Palestinians.
Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.
Jonathan Brenneman packed for his second attempt at crossing the Jordan-West Bank border with a jacket, fully charged iPod, letters of official invitation and 500-page collection of Flannery O’Connor stories.
The lanky 25-year-old from St. Mary’s, Ohio had spent nine hours under Israeli border authorities’ questioning just a few days ago. They denied him entry, saying he needed more proof of his purposes in the country. Brenneman prepared better this time around, eating a large breakfast before leaving his uncle’s house in Amman.
Six hours later, Brenneman came back once again.
Brenneman has been volunteering for a year with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a faith-based organization that supports peacemaking in conflict areas. CPT has worked in Hebron for nineteen years, where their main activity is walking children to school to protect them from settlers’ attacks. The volunteers leave every three months to renew their visas and to tell stories about CPT work back home.
This time, Israeli authorities have denied Brenneman’s return.
“They told me it’s because CPT is ‘not recognized by Israel,” Brenneman says. “I asked why that’s a problem if our work is legal, but the soldier just said ‘My commander says you are not allowed.’ That was the end.”
Brenneman’s family in the States wrote to their senator in Ohio, who then contacted the American Embassy in Amman. The embassy’s U.S. Citizen Services called Brenneman in for a meeting, but told him they couldn’t do anything.
“They told me the same thing I’ve heard over and over again: Israel is a sovereign nation. They can deny anyone for whatever reason they want, or without reason at all,” Brenneman said.
Two other CPT members have been denied entry in recent months, but Brenneman is the first to be rejected specifically for being a Christian Peacemaker. The other two were turned back for “security reasons,” Israeli officials said.
“Israel never gives a complete reason for denial,” Brenneman says. “Why? Because if they give a legal reason, you could possibly challenge that.”
Founded two decades ago by North American peace churches of Mennonite tradition, CPT teams have worked in Colombia, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, among other places. Their self-proclaimed mission is to reduce violence by “getting in the way.” In 2005, four CPT workers were kidnapped in Baghdad, where they had been documenting U.S. military abuse at Abu Ghraib. One of them, a 43-year-old Quaker from Virginia, was killed.
Brenneman, whose mother was born in Bethlehem and whose father is an “eighth or tenth generation American, very white,” joined CPT partly out of religious conviction. He liked CPT’s belief that Christians have to actively pursue peace, Brenneman says.
“You couldn’t be a follower of the Prince of Peace and just sit back, saying ‘I like peace’ in a comfortable Western way,” Brenneman says. “We needed to go out, partner with oppressed people and work towards justice.”
Despite the group’s Christian title, it does not proselytize. CPT teams include members of other faiths. They begin each day with worship, but in a “very ecumenical” form.
“Although we are versed in a language of international law and human rights, we see this more as a moral and spiritual issue,” Brenneman says. “That gives us a much deeper perspective of the evils that are going on.”
In Hebron, these “evils” include violence towards schoolchildren, assault on Palestinian shepherds and military mistreatment at checkpoints. CPT members wake up before 7 a.m. every day to monitor areas of tension. They bring cameras and write reports.
“When there’s an outside set of eyes, soldiers are far less aggressive,” Brenneman says. “It’s kind of sad how racist it is. But, yeah, just having a white person there makes a difference.”
Some critics have asked why CPT does not work in other conflict zones like Syria.
“If you gave us funding so we could start another team in Syria, we would be glad to go,” Brenneman said. But the severity of Syria’s situation does not lessen ongoing injustice in Hebron, he said. “If you have to go as low as Syria to find someone doing worse things than you, you’re doing some pretty bad stuff.”
Brenneman is waiting in Amman for a new passport before he tries to enter again. He may also try contacting the Israeli Embassy, which has been closed all week for Sukkot.
“If I were you and I got denied twice, I would just give up,” an American Citizen Services official told him.
But CPT is used to arbitrary denial, Brenneman says. In Hebron, soldiers often block the team from their work areas without justification.
“They have guns and can make up whatever rules they want. Some days they make us leave. Some days they let us stay,” Brenneman says. He shrugs. “We continue with our work regardless.”
- AL-KHALIL (HEBRON): Entery Denied: Part II* (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- AL-KHALIL: Settlers re-occupy Abu Rajib house (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Military Training Amid Villages in South Hebron Hills (alethonews.wordpress.com)
* The word “entry” is intentionally misspelled to reflect the misspelling on the Israeli “Entery Denied” stamp.
I made a second attempt to cross the border. Spoiler alert, I didn’t make it.
I have been volunteering with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Palestine for one year. Due to visa restrictions all volunteers have to come into the country under a tourist visa, and leave every three months to renew our visas. Last week I was returning across the Allenby Border Crossing for my fourth stint. I was questioned extensively about myself, my family, my plans for my visit, and the work of CPT. After 7 hours of questioning and waiting I was told I was denied entry. I asked the reason for my denial. They did not give a clear answer, but did suggest that part of the reason involved not having sufficient evidence to support back my story. The soldier suggested I return later with a letter from CPT, evidence of where I was going to stay, and added that I should get a letter from the Israeli embassy. I took his advice, but the Israeli embassy was closed for over a week. So I returned to the border with a letter from CPT stating our work, my position, and my purpose for entering the country. I also printed out two letters from Israeli friends ‘inviting’ me.
My second attempt was similar to the first. I was questioned multiple times. I was asked to trace my family lineage back three generations. I was asked to prove my religion. I was accused of lying about my reasons for coming to the country. I found this ironic because I have always been honest about my reasons for entering, and it has brought me nothing but trouble.
Finally I was denied entry again. This time, the soldier explained it was because CPT is not a recognized organization. I told the soldier that we legally do not need to be recognized by Israel, and I asked why this was a reason for not letting me in. He said his commander said I couldn’t come in for that reason, and that was the end of the conversation.
In recent months Israeli border security has kept two other CPTers from crossing (that is 50% of the CPTers attempting to enter during that time). This is the first time someone has explicitly stated that it is because we are with CPT, although we assumed as much before.
CPT has been working in Hebron for 19 years. We are a member of the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA). We receive grants from the United Nations and from Save the Children UK. CPT is a well known, respected INGO in the region. We have no explanation for the targeting of CPTers at the border in recent months and I question why the Israeli authorities see people working for a ‘violence reduction program’ as a threat.
For Part I of Jonathan’s first border denial click here
- Military Training Amid Villages in South Hebron Hills (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- AL-KHALIL: Settlers re-occupy Abu Rajib house (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Child Shot In The Eye In Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Netanyahu Orders Court To Allow Settlers Back Into Hebron Home (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Palestinian medical sources have reported that a seven-year-old child lost his right eye after being shot with a rubber-coated metal bullet fired by an Israeli soldier in Al-Fawwar refugee camp, south of the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday.
The sources added that the child’s mother was also shot by a rubber-coated metal bullet in her shoulder.
The mother and her child were trying to return to the refugee camp; they were far from clashes taking place between the soldiers and local youths.
Eyewitnesses said that the mother and her child were trying to cross a road in an attempt to find a way back to their home after the army closed the main entrance of the camp.
Nasser Qabaja, head of the Disasters Unit at the Red Crescent in the southern part of the West Bank, stated that an ambulance transferred the child from Abu Al-Hasan Hospital to the Hebron Governmental Hospital, before moving him to the St. John Eye Hospital in occupied Jerusalem.
Furthermore, dozens of soldiers occupied rooftops of a number of homes in the area, and fired gas bombs, concussion grenades and rubber-coated metal bullets leading to a large number of injuries, mainly due to the effect of teargas inhalation.
On 23 September 2013, in response to the death of Israeli soldier Staff Sgt. Gal Kobi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for illegal settlement expansion in the Old City of Hebron.
At 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday 24 September, the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron received reports from the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee that Israeli settlers had re-occupied the Abu Rajib house west of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Settlers had been evicted from the building in April of 2012.
The resettlement of the Abu Rajib house is a direct and significant risk to the community of Hebron, international law, and human rights, as settlements are illegal under international law and impede the ongoing peace process.
In addition to the illegality of the settlement, the location of Abu Rajib will constitute a severe threat to the freedom of movement for Palestinians. The house sits between two Palestinian Schools and Israeli military checkpoint 209, which CPT monitors every morning as part of its school patrol. If the settlement remains, it will be in the middle of an area hundreds of Palestinian children must pass each morning to attend classes.
Over the past week of the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth, the Israeli military has increased its presence with additional soldiers on the ground, occupying Palestinian homes and turning them into military outposts in and around the area of the Abu Rajib house. As a result, school attendance at Al-Faihaa girl’s school and Al-Ibrahimmiye has dropped.
On Monday, 23 September, the Al-Faihaa girl’s school was shut down completely since so few students were able to attend classes. The added Israeli military presence installed around the settlement will continue this trend.
Israeli settlement expansion has led to several cases of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, including near the settlement of Tel Rumeida.
“For the residents of Tel Rumeida, living next to settlers means living under constant threat of attack,” said a representative from the human rights observer organization, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). “The Abu Shamsiyeh family who live in Tel Rumeida is particularly vulnerable to attacks, as settlers and Jewish tourists tend to enter their roof and even invade their garden without permission. Most use this private Palestinian roof to enjoy the view of the city, but incidents have occurred where settlers threw stones and garbage down at the family, urinating into their garden and verbally harassing the family.
“Last month, settler youth entered the family’s garden, threw stones at them, and beat their thirteen-year old son. When Abu Shamsiyeh asked the soldier stationed outside their house for help, he came down and watched as settlers kicked Abu Shamsiyeh, and another soldier pushed his wife, who was videoing the incident, to the ground.”
If the Abu Rajib settlement is allowed to stay, in breach of international law and during the ongoing peace negotiations, the rise in settler violence against Palestinian youth and adults will escalate.
Following the deadly shooting of an Israeli soldier in Hebron city, in the southern part of the occupied West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed to boost settlement activities, and ordered the Civil Administration, to take all needed measures to allow the return of Israeli settlers into a Palestinian home they previously occupied in Hebron.
The Israeli Civil Administration Office is run by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank.
Back in April of 2012, a group of settlers was removed from the home, near the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. They allegedly purchased the property but the purchase was deemed invalid, especially since such deals must be first approved by a commander of the Israeli occupation army.
The settlers were removed after the then-Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, issued an order in this regard following a court ruling.
The decision to allow the settlers to return to the property was made on Sunday night; Netanyahu said that the settlers “must be allowed into the home without any delay”.
After being removed from the property, the settlers filed several court appeals, demanding a recognition of the alleged transaction, while Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, also vowed to do whatever he can to authorize their “return to the home”.
Netanyahu made his decision hours after a Palestinian sniper shot and killed an Israeli soldier in Hebron, following ongoing tension that led to clashes between the soldiers and dozens of local youths who hurled stones at them.
It is also related to the death of an Israeli soldier who was killed two days ago in the Qalqilia district, in the northern part of the occupied West Bank.
“Anyone who attempts to remove us from Hebron, from the city of our patriarchs, will just achieve the exact opposite”, Netanyahu said according to the Israeli daily Haaretz, “We will boost our settlement activities”.
Netanyahu said that the “return of the settlers to the Hebron home would still have to go through legal means”; yet, he ordered all related government facilities, to do whatever they can to ensure their fast return.
His decision comes despite the fact than an appeals committee, looking into the purchase did not recognize the documents presented by the settlers, but criticized the way this purchase was denied.
Haaretz added that, should the process be finalized, Netanyahu and his Defense Minister could sign off the deal, and authorize the settlers back.
In related news, Israeli Economics Minister, Neftali Bennet, demanded that Netanyahu stop the release of Palestinian political prisoners, as part of peace talks with the Palestinians, and said that the Palestinians “must be punished for the killing of the two Israeli soldiers.”
Bennet, of the Jewish Home Party, who also serves at the Ministerial Council, said that “the release of Palestinian prisoners is based on progress of talks, and our duty should be a war on murderers…” according to the official.
Israel’s Transportation Minister, Yisrael Katz, said that he previously voted against the release of any detainee, and that the release of what he called “terrorists” encourages others to attack Israel.
Following the fatal shooting of the Israeli soldier in Hebron, the army initiated a large campaign and broke into and searched hundreds of homes close to the Ibrahimi Mosque area where the soldier was shot.
Hundreds of Palestinians were kidnapped, and where rounded up in the southern area of the occupied city of Hebron.
The soldiers also occupied rooftops of several homes, using them as monitoring towers, while the army operated in the area.
The military declared Hebron a closed military zone, preventing the Palestinians from entering or leaving it.
Last week, Israeli soldiers shot and killed one Palestinian, and injured four, including three children, in different attacks carried out in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The army carried out 49 invasions into Palestinian communities, and kidnapped at least 41, including 9 children.
Two Palestinians have been killed, dozens have been injured, and hundreds were detained, by Israeli forces since the beginning of the month.
Hebron, Occupied Palestine – Sukkot is a joyful festival in Judaism; however its impact upon day-to-day life in Khalil has only caused greater problems for the Palestinians. Many residents of Khalil have commented that it is during this holiday period every year where daily life in the city becomes all the more difficult.
Last week soldiers began preparations for taking over a house next to the container checkpoint 209 (Quatoum/Abu Rish), which belongs to a Palestinian family. The family received a military order informing them that this house would be occupied by the Israeli army until Tuesday 24th September, the end of Sukkot. Due to the large number of Jewish tourists visiting Hebron during Sukkot, reinforcement brigades have been sent to Hebron, and due to lack of accommodation for these additional soldiers, the army decided to take over this Palestinian house and use it as a military base for the duration of the holiday. Residents of this area have stated that since the soldiers began occupying the house, child detainment and arrests have increased, and there are further concerns that checkpoint 209 may be moved in an attempt to increase control in the surrounding area.
Today, Saturday 21st September, several clashes and attacks took place between settler youth and Palestinian children and teenagers in Tel Rumeida. Additionally, as on every Shabbat, settlers invaded the roof of the Abu Shamsiyeh family and verbally attacked international activists who, at the request of the family, were monitoring the entrance to the roof as it is often entered without family permission. In the past, settlers have attacked the family by throwing stones, spitting at, beating members of the family and urinating into their garden.
On Friday 20th September, clashes erupted in the afternoon as Palestinian youths threw stones at checkpoint 56. After the PA (responsible for this area of Hebron which is part of H1) chased away the stone-throwers, the clashes moved into the OldCity and souq of Hebron, which is part of H2 and thus under Israeli military control. Throughout Friday evening and most of Saturday, Palestinian youths were throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, whilst Israeli soldiers responded with sound grenades, teargas and rubber-coated steel bullets. International activists witnessed border police shooting teargas canisters directly at protesters, as opposed to shooting it in an arch as they are supposed to under Israeli army regulations. Further clashes are expected tomorrow as settlers and Jewish tourists invade area H1.
On Sunday 22nd and Monday 23rd September, tens of thousands of Jewish tourists are expected to descend upon Hebron for Sukkot celebrations. On important Jewish holidays, there is a tradition of the settler community, alongside Jewish tourists, visiting a house in H1 (the Palestinian-controlled part of Hebron) which they claim used to be the home of a rabbi and thus holds religious significance. The Israeli military has ordered the closure of the road outside checkpoint 56 leading to Yatta between 10am and 3pm on Sunday 22nd September. The house that the settlers and Jewish tourists pilgrim to is located on said road, however it is the first time ever that the Israeli military has formally ordered the closure of the road and the shops located there. This order is a clear violation of the Hebron Agreement, signed in 1997 by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, which divided the city into areas H1 and H2 under Palestinian and Israeli military control respectively.
During their most recent weekly visit to villages in the South Hebron Hills, CPTers witnessed a large group of Israeli soldiers in the area and heard an artillery training activity. Every week, Christian Peacemaker Teams, along with other internationals, provides a presence in an area, home to twelve villages, that the Israeli military has designated as Firing Zone 918—a closed military zone for training maneuvers.
On Sunday, 15 September, CPTers witnessed soldiers and a military vehicle near the village of Halaweh and two helicopter flyovers as children studied and played at the school in Al Fakheit. They heard several other helicopters flying nearby during the night. On the morning of 16 September, CPTers heard what seemed to be bomb detonation and machine gun fire. Later in the morning, when they visited the village of Jinba, residents confirmed that the Israeli military had conducted infantry training exercises nearby from about 6:00 to 8:00 a.m. that morning.
During their visit to Jinba village, CPTers learned that the Israeli authorities had stopped employees of World Vision as they were driving from Jinba to Al Fakheit and confiscated their car on 11 September. According to a United Nations employee, soldiers said they would not return the car for at least sixty days.
The area has been relatively quiet since May – with no training activities seen or heard, though helicopter flyovers continued even during this “quiet” time and settler violence and a military raid occurred in July. Here is a video of an Israeli military helicopter harrassing the village of Al Fakheit:
On their way into the area, CPTers also witnessed the digging of a new cistern. The Israeli government issued a stop work order on the cistern saying it is in a “nature reserve” (as well as the firing zone.) Nevertheless, the work continues.
The area is currently the subject of a court case in the Israeli Supreme Court. Eight of the twelve villages, where about 1,000 people live, are under eviction orders. Many structures within those villages also have demolition orders. When the case came to court on 2 September, the judicial panel proposed mediation. The case will again come before the court on 2 October. The military exercises CPTers witnessed were the first since the 2 September court date.
The U.N.’s 2012 Humanitarian Impact of Israeli-declared “Firing Zone” in the West Bank Factsheet reports that in addition to restriction on grazing livestock (the livelihood of many inhabitants of the area),
residents of firing zones face a range of other difficulties including the confiscation of property, settler violence, harassment by soldiers, access and movement restrictions and/or water scarcity. Combined, these conditions contribute to a coercive environment that creates pressure on Palestinian communities to leave these areas… International law also prohibits the destruction or confiscation of private or public property, unless for reasons of military necessity, as well as the forced displacement or transfer of civilians.”
“They consider us as the enemy. These are extreme settlers.”
Hishem, a Palestinian, sits with us in the shade of an olive tree in front of his home in Wadi al Hussein, Hebron. His children are playing on the hill behind us, and directly behind them stands the vast Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba. There, a man – a settler – is standing on his balcony watching us.
It is hard to know where to start when trying to explain the settlers of Hebron. They are at the heart of the problems here. One of my first encounters with them was on my second proper day of work, when I was walking down Shuhada Street and found myself on the wrong end of an egg thrown by a little settler boy of 7 or 8 years old. One of the local shopkeepers, Munir, has now nicknamed me ‘Umm Baydah’ or ‘Mother Egg’, for being the first of my group to be hit by one. He said “now you are a Palestinian”, and told me to start a tally count.
You might think, what kind of parents give their children things to throw at people walking down the street? But eggs are the least of it. Hishem’s extended family has been attacked, had their windows smashed, their homes set on fire and even been shot by their settler neighbours.
The settlers of Hebron are a religiously motivated group of Israeli Jews who occupy four areas, known as settlements, in the centre of H2 (Israel-controlled), Hebron, and two settlements in the Wadi where Hishem lives. They are known for their willingness to use violence, harassment and intimidation against those they perceive to be standing in the way of them achieving their goals, which are primarily to rid the city of Palestinians. The settlers never refer to Palestinians, always to Arabs because they deny that there was ever such a place as Palestine or such a people as the Palestinians. They say that the Palestinians should leave and go to one of “their own” Arab countries.
All settlements, including those in East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law. Every country in the world recognises this except Israel. From some of my stories so far, it might seem like there is one set of rules for Israelis and one for Palestinians. That’s because there actually is. In the West Bank the Israeli authorities enforce Israeli civil law on settlers, but military law on Palestinians.
The settlers believe in Eretz Israel – greater Israel – that Israel should permanently encompass the Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. These are the areas currently occupied and/ or controlled by the Israeli army. Some settlers believe that Israel’s borders should stretch even further afield than this into other countries. Their beliefs contradict all international understandings of where Israel’s borders should be.
These are the nuts and bolts of the daily battle being played out in H2. Everything is about who owns what, who can walk or drive where, even who can stand where. Hebron is the only city in the West Bank to have Israeli settlers living in its centre. The city is of religious significance because it is where Abraham and his sons and their wives lived, and are buried. It is the second holiest site for Jews, the fourth holiest site for Muslims, and is also of significance to Christians.
The settlers believe that they are doing God’s work in ridding Hebron of Palestinians, and dream of turning it into a Jewish city. But I don’t know of any God that would approve of their behaviour. Ironically, there tends to be most trouble on Friday nights and Saturdays – the Jewish Sabbath. One of my jobs is to be present whilst hundreds of settlers walk from Kiryat Arba through a Palestinian neighbourhood to pray at the synagogue on a Friday night. Dozens of extra soldiers are bussed in to protect them but some of the settlers carry their own rifles too. I find it quite bizarre, and certainly one of the least holy sights I have ever seen.
On the Sabbath last week, a colleague from another international organisation saw a group of teenage settler girls spitting at a group of Palestinian girls on Shuhada Street. Again, not so holy. I met Nadar, Noocha and their family, who showed me their windows which were smashed by settlers. They live next to the synagogue in Hebron. A Palestinian I meet called Hani tells me he does not believe that the settlers follow the true Jewish faith.
The settlers seem to be willing to do almost anything to achieve their aims. This short film clip, from Israeli human rights organisation BT’Selem, first shows one of the settlers explaining things for herself, and then some of her actions. At least watch the first 2 minutes if you can – I’m pretty sure you’ll be shocked.
You might have noticed the solider standing by whilst the settler abuses her neighbour and then the solider pushing the Palestinian woman, rather than dealing with the settler children attacking her home. Palestinians often report that soldiers do nothing whilst settlers are on the attack. I have already seen for myself the close relations between many settlers and soldiers, with settlers bringing food and drinks to soldiers throughout the day, and even settler children playing in military watch points whilst soldiers are on duty there.
In March this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said,
“settler violence continues to be perpetrated with impunity… Israel needs to hold perpetrators accountable. While investigations are not opened into most incidents of settler violence, between 2005 and 2011, only 9 per cent of the investigations opened resulted in an indictment.”
Hani, Reema and their family live just past the caged house in that BT’Selem film clip, by the settlement of Tel Rumeida. They have to walk past the settlement and through the yard of an Israeli army base to get to their house. They can’t take a car to their house. They have been harassed and attacked by their neighbours many times. The settlers have even tried to burn down their home, and have come in the night to smash it up. About a month ago, they tried to burn down the family’s 300 olive trees for the ninth time, scorching the land, and making some of it impossible to harvest this year. Burning and chopping down olive trees is a common tactic of settlers across the West Bank.
“Aren’t you frightened?” I ask Reema and she replies, “At the start we were frightened but now we are used to it.”
One of our duties on the Sabbath is to spend time sitting on the roof of the Abu Shamsiya family’s home in H2. The flat roof of the family’s home backs onto Shuhada Street, and has a small Israeli army watchtower on it which does not appear to be used at present. From the roof you can look out across the city of Hebron, and down onto the family’s terrace below. The terrace has a cage around it to try and stop the family being struck by objects thrown by settlers on the roof. In the past, these objects have included eggs (they seem to be a favourite) and stones, and settlers have even urinated on them.
So the reason for our presence is to deter settlers from coming onto the roof. The first time I sat there, we prevented three settler groups from coming onto the roof. A teenage boy in one of them had a rifle slung across his person. On Tuesday, we were unable to prevent one settler coming onto the family’s roof when we were there. He pointed at the view of the Palestinian city, “This is Israel” he said. ”It’s Palestine” I said. “Lo” (no) he said. Another group that my colleague saw gestured at the view of the Palestinian city and said “All of this will be Jewish”.
Virtually every Palestinian home in H2 has a kind of cage across the windows to try to guard against settler attacks. It is hard to get used to seeing children waving and shouting hello to us from behind these cages.
On Monday last week when I was doing the lunchtime school run (accompanying Palestinian children to Cordoba School down Shuhada Street) about 150 settlers, most of them teenagers, arrived apparently on some kind of tour. Remember – they can go anywhere in H2 but the Palestinians are very restricted as to where they can even walk. The settlers were congregating at the bottom of the school steps. When it came time for the kids to go home from school, many of them were scared to go down the stairs because of the settlers. I walked up and down the steps with them, to try to make them feel more secure, and it seemed to give them confidence to be able to get home. Although the truth is that I had no way of knowing whether the settlers would cause trouble. Luckily, the worst they did was to stare at us all, and shout and throw things at the feet of my male colleague who arrived to help me.
Not all Israeli settlers are religious extremists like those in Hebron. Some, who live in settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem for example, are economically motivated. They are attracted by the housing subsidies that the Israeli government provides in many settlements.
Wherever they are located though, there is no doubt that the settlers and settlement expansion, are a major barrier to peace between Israel and Palestine.
Hani and his son have both spent time in prison for retaliating when settlers have attacked them. But Hani tells me that he now believes in non-violent resistance because it gets more positive results. He says it helps him to separate hatred for a policy from hatred for a people, and believes that it can help those in other countries, especially Jews, to see what is happening here.
You might ask, how do the Palestinians put up with this? Why don’t they give up? How can they carry on living where they do, facing such violence and harassment on a daily basis? I asked a few of the people I met whether they would ever think of leaving,
“At the end of the day, it’s our right to our land,” says Hani.
“We are here, and we will stay here. This is our land.” says Hishem.
“We will stay here in a tent if we have to, we will not leave,” says another.
Many of them could not afford to go elsewhere, and where would they go anyway? Over 60% of the West Bank is directly under Israeli control. And many of them, like Hishem’s family, have already been refugees once from the time that the State of Israel was created. And why should they leave? As international law confirms, this IS their land.
But there is another reason, one which is about the Palestinians as a people.
The truth is that they must not leave if the dream of having a Palestinian state is ever to be realised. The settlers and the soldiers must not succeed in cleansing Hebron – or anywhere else in the West Bank – of Palestinians.
I hope that my presence here, and that of my EAPPI colleagues, somehow helps to make it a tiny bit easier for them to stay. One man tells me, “When settlers see people like you they are less likely to cause problems, especially on a Friday and Saturday.” And Hani says, “Before, we were alone as Palestinians with the Israelis but because of the internationals – people like you – we have witnesses to the violence of the settlers. This makes things a bit better for us.”
Just knowing that makes being here worthwhile.
- Four young boys arrested and beaten in Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Soldiers assault a twelve-year-old Palestinian while settlers invade family rooftop in Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- “Shabbat shalom” – no peace for Palestinians in Hebron this Saturday (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Yom Kippur – Illegal Israeli settlers attack Palestinian farmer attempting to harvest almonds (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israeli settlers torch Hebron family’s property for eighth time (alethonews.wordpress.com)