Friday, December 5, 2008

Terror in Wadi Nasara

Today the Abu-Saifan family’s worst fears were realized. (Or maybe not quite their worst fears; as far as I know, they are all still alive.) This afternoon they endured what the Israeli daily Haaretz aptly called a “pogrom.” While hundreds of other settlers stood by, masked men swarmed the family’s house, in Wadi Nasara, on the outskirts of Hebron, pelting it with stones and setting the southern entrance on fire. The 20-person family, all women and children except for three men, was trapped inside, terrified, awaiting their fate at the hands of the rioters.

It was journalists who finally entered the family’s home and put themselves between the settlers and their victims. Soldiers and police did not come for over an hour. The city, one would imagine, was teeming with Israeli forces on this day when 250 extremist settlers, who had already rioted, were being forcibly evicted from a house across the valley from the Abu Saifans. But like so many times before, this tormented family was left defenseless while the settlers unleashed their frustration and hatred.

This summer I visited the Abu Saifan family in their home a couple times a week. They live in a valley between the settlement Kiryat Arba and a house that, until today, was occupied by extremist Jewish settlers. The family faced frequent attacks from the settlers that surrounded them. Internationals from various human rights organizations in Hebron would try to visit at least once a day, armed with video cameras, trying to prevent the stone-throwing and threats that, by the end of the summer, happened almost daily.

It was never enough. We would come for a few hours, drink coffee and tea, and play with the children. I would practice my Arabic, having conversations I half-understood about U.S. politics, my family back home, and, always, the occupation. But eventually we would leave, and inevitably the attacks would continue.

I will never forget Jamal, the 40-something father, saying to a friend and I, “I just want one day of a normal life without settlers and occupation and soldiers. Just one day – not even two – and then I can die.”

I would often see Jamal, a journalist, carrying a video camera outside the house that was evacuated today. When settlers attacked, he and other Palestinians would film and give their video to Israeli authorities and B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization. It is people like Jamal who helped raise the profile of settler attacks against Palestinians this summer so that Israeli politicians are now regularly using words like “pogrom” to describe the violence.

Even so, when the mob descended on his home and family today, no state authority offered protection. I’m sure Jamal was not surprised. His cynicism is practical, not vindictive; today’s attacks were just an amplified episode in an ongoing cycle. The settlers may be out of the house across the valley, but the violence continues.

The Abu Saifan family is caught in a political and ideological battle between Israeli factions. The evacuation of settlers today had nothing to do with the welfare of the Palestinians. It was about the state asserting its ultimate control over extremists who had showed their willingness to defy the government. Today, at least, it was prudent for the state to confront them.

Meanwhile the Abu Saifans remain a Palestinian family dependent on the Israeli military for protection from Israeli civilians. Today, as in the past, the Jewish state was unconcerned with its obligation to provide it.

Tomorrow the family will wake up with an empty house across the valley - and their own house, charred and shattered.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ten Years Since Jaber Demolition

(CPT Hebron Release)

Atta, Dalia and Rodeina Jaber

Ten years ago this week, Atta and Rodeina Jaber’s home was demolished for the first time.

“The rubble is still in my face, on the ground,” Atta said Tuesday as he and his family harvested tomatoes in the hot, late-morning sun. “If I forget, the rubble reminds me. Every day.”

It was Aug. 19, 1998 when 140 Israeli soldiers and two large bulldozers arrived at the Jaber family home. The soldiers pulled Rodeina, her two daughters and her 3-month old son from their home and beat Rodeina and Atta’s mother as they tried to protest. Then the bulldozers destroyed the home that Atta and Rodeina Jaber had built six years before on land where Atta’s family has lived for more than 100 years.

By the time of the demolition, the Jabers had received seven demolition orders from the Israeli Civil Administration. Their land in the Beqa’a Valley is in Area C, which, according to the Oslo Accords, is under full Israeli control. Palestinians are routinely denied building permits in Area C, and since September 2000, more than 1900 Palestinian homes have been demolished due to permit violations, according to the Israeli Campaign Against House Demolitions.

Despite the demolition, the Jabers insisted on staying on their land. Neighbors and family members immediately came together to rebuild Atta and Rodeina’s home. Within a few days, they had built a two-room house with donated labor and supplies. But on Sept. 16, the army returned to demolish this house as well. When Atta tried to hand his infant son to a soldier to take to safety, he was beaten and then arrested. He spent four days in jail and was unable to work for eight months due to his injuries.

The harassment of the Jaber family has continued ever since. With help from a lawyer and Israeli friends, the Jabers were finally able to get a permit in April 2000, but the Civil Administration periodically ordered them to stop building. Then in December 2000, settlers from Kiryat Arba occupied their new house for two days. They broke windows, drew graffiti on the walls, stole tools, busted walls, and burned some of the family’s possessions.

Once again, the Jabers rebuilt their home.

Today they still live in that house, built on a hill above their tomato fields. An Israeli road cuts the Jaber land in half, and across the road is the entrance to the Harsina settlement. Beyond Harsina is Kiryat Arba. Though they have been spared another demolition, Atta says he is still wishing for freedom.

“The occupation still continues. [The Civil Administration] talks about the law. What kind of law? They are breaking the law,” Atta said as he carefully packed tomatoes into a wooden crate.

That morning, Atta and his 12-year-old daughter, Dalia, had to remove crates and vegetables from under a tarp next to the main road. The day before, an officer from the Civil Administration had come to tell them that they were not allowed to sell their tomatoes by the road, and they would have to remove the tarp.

Atta and Rodeina were upset. The road, which is restricted to Israelis, internationals, and those with special licenses, is off limits for the Jabers. In building the road the Israelis had confiscated much of their land in the first place. Now they cannot even benefit from the business it could bring.

“We sell our tomatoes for 15 NIS on the road but only 5 to 7 NIS in the market,” Atta said. This new restriction will cost them.

Still, as Atta thinks back over the last decade, he does not regret his decision to stay here. Despite his suffering, he says he is happy. He, his wife and children continue to work the fields in which, almost 46 years ago, Atta’s mother gave birth to him. “This soil, I nursed from it before the milk of my mom,” he said. “I belong to this land.”

While he talked, a military jeep drove by slowly. “They are watching us,” he said and took a drag of his cigarette. For now, Atta has these fields and his house, but the struggle for his family’s land continues – even as he packs crates with the tomatoes his children dump by the bucketful beside him.

“I wish to have a state,” he says, “and first of all, freedom and humanity.”

Watch Atta reflect on the past ten years:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Soldier Beats Palestinian at Hebron Checkpoint

Wisam and Ayman Karaki, Aug. 14
(CPT Hebron release)

An Israeli soldier beat a Palestinian man Thursday night near the Yatta Road checkpoint in Hebron sending him to the hospital with a gash in his forehead, eyewitnesses said.

At around 7 p.m. an Israeli soldier grabbed a Palestinian man who was standing on the sidewalk beyond the checkpoint, said the man’s uncle, who witnessed the attack. The man’s brother Ayman Karaki, 25, asked the soldier what he was doing, and the soldier pushed him. A third brother, Wisam, 23, approached, and the soldier hit him in the forehead with the front of his gun.

When CPT arrived at about 7:45 p.m., Wisam had just returned from the hospital with stitches in his forehead. Ayman, who recently lost most of his fingers in a work accident, complained of pain in his hands from where the soldier had grabbed him.

Friday, August 15, 2008

PA Raids Charities and Arrests Employees in the West Bank

Principal's office at the Beit Ummar school following Aug. 6 raid

(CPT Hebron Release)

Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron calls on individuals and organizations to contact the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Interior following recent PA arbitrary arrests and raids on charities in the West Bank.

Thursday night, the Palestinian Authority arrested two employees of the Beit Ummar Orphans Care Society, and the Israeli Occupation Forces arrested five board members of the organization.

These arrests come after Palestinian security services raided four charities and two printing houses in the Hebron area on Aug. 6. The security forces raided the “Mujama’ Islami” Headquarters in El-Thahiriya, the Islamic Cultural Center in Taffouh, Benevolent Islamic Society in Beit Ula, and the orphanage in Beit Ummar, according to the Palestine Center for Human Rights.

CPT visited the Beit Ummar Orphans Care Society on Aug. 13 and documented the destruction following the raid. (See video here.) According to a volunteer with the orphanage, 45 soldiers entered the building armed with guns and teargas. The soldiers proceeded to confiscate all files and computers, including every computer in the school’s computer lab. They also locked the doors to the orphanage’s kitchen and food storehouse. When one employee asked to see a written order authorizing the raid, he was beaten with an electric rod. Another employee was also beaten, and no order was produced.

Empty computer lab following the raid

The raid was carried out “in a savage way,” the volunteer said. “Even the Israeli soldiers do not treat the employees like this,” he added.

The orphanage had been previously targeted by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The PA froze the society’s bank accounts four months ago, and Israeli forces had arrested two employees, including the chief of the orphanage. The PA and Israel have accused the organization of both funding Hamas and receiving funds from Hamas, though they have failed to produce evidence of this connection.

“For the first time since 2000 we cannot pay for the orphans and employees,” said the volunteer.

The Beit Ummar Orphans Care Society was established in 1999 and serves about 1000 needy families in addition to 200 orphans. The orphanage also operates a school and kindergarten, which has 250 students up to grade 4. Most of the land and the building costs were donated by Beit Ummar residents.

The Palestinian Authority relies on international aid, especially from the EU and United States, to fund its security services. At a conference in Berlin on June 24, donors committed $240 million to strengthening Palestinian security forces. Prior to that conference, the United States had committed $60 million to training and assisting the security forces.

CPT urges individuals and organizations to contact the Palestinian Authority about these raids and arrests.

Fadwa Shaer at the Ministry of Interior, Dir.-Gen Licensing Department
Palestine (02 240 9242); US (011 972 2 240 9242); Europe (00 972 2 240 9272)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Violence Increases in Wadi Nasara

(CPT Hebron Release)

Settler attacks in Wadi Nasara have increased recently, with at least six attacks reported in the last nine days.

On Aug. 1, a group of about 20 settlers attacked a wedding party at the Jaabari family home. Five Palestinians were injured when they were hit with stones or beaten. Three people, including a pregnant woman, went to the hospital with minor injuries.

The following day, a groups of 25-30 settlers entered the Jaabari land and attacked Palestinians passing in the street. Again five Palestinians went to the hospital with injuries.

Attacks continued over the next week. On Aug. 4, settlers threw stones at two families’ homes in Wadi Nasara. The next day settlers threw stones at a 79-year-old man as he picked almonds on his land and then beat him. When two CPTers visited him four days later, his arm was still covered in bruises.

Settlers attacked again on Aug. 6, throwing stones at a home next to the Kiryat Arba settlement. The Jaabari house was stoned again on Aug. 8, and settlers stole four of the family’s sheep.

“The problem is the soldiers,” said Issa Amro, a Palestinian human rights worker with the Israeli organization B’Tselem. “They are backing the settlers up in a horrible way.”

Amro was detained by soldiers on Aug. 1 when he tried to film the attack on the wedding party. He said soldiers in the area consistently allow attacks to continue.

Contributing to the recent escalation were two tents that settler youth erected on Palestinian land in Wadi Nasara, which soldiers removed on Aug. 9. According to Palestinians living nearby, settler youth – including some from outside Hebron – had slept in the tents for more than three weeks. They attacked Palestinians living in Wadi Nasara as well as pedestrians passing by the tents.

On Aug. 8, settler boys told a group of CPTers and Palestinians that the road running next to the tents, which both settlers and Palestinians use, is now for “Jews only.” They shouted threats when the group continued to pass.

CPT and other human rights workers have been visiting Wadi Nasara regularly since February due to the regular attacks against Palestinians living there.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More Bad News

I've been falling behind a bit and hope to write some more about the CPT delegation soon. In the meantime, there are some updates about things I posted already.

Another Palestinian boy was killed in Ni'ilin. Yousif Amira, 17, died Sunday after being hit in the head with two rubber bullets at the funeral for Ahmed Musa (the 10-year-old who was killed) on July 30. Democracy Now aired an interview about the deaths.

As for Musa, Ha'aretz now reports that, according to eyewitnesses, the boy was shot as he went to retrieve a shoe that had been lost in a scuffle earlier in the day. An autopsy showed he was shot in the forehead at close range, Palestinian officials say.

Also, I learned last week that my friend Omar Qassis's administrative detention has been renewed. He is just one of about 730 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails without charge.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tensions Rise in Hebron

Tent erected by settlers in Wadi Nasara, July 19

Hebron has changed over the past few weeks. About three weeks ago the Golani Brigade arrived here after a stint in Gaza. They are known as "the most aggressive and roughest" brigade in the IDF, according to a former officer with the Golani who is now with Breaking the Silence.

Maybe in response to the influx of more sympathetic soldiers, the settlers have also been acting up recently. Two weeks ago they erected a tent on Palestinian land in Wadi Nasara, a valley bordering the settlement Kiryat Arba. The young settlers who occupied the tent threw stones and attacked Palestinians and internationals who passed by. On July 19, they pepper sprayed and hit ISM volunteers and also broke their camera. Within two days after the tent was erected it was removed - either by soldiers or settlers. But two days later a new tent was up, which remains until now. The settlers there continue to periodically throw stones at passersby.

Not only has settler aggression increased, soldiers are asserting their control and often seem to cooperate with the settlers. When Marius and I arrived to film the July 19 altercation at Wadi Nasara soldiers stopped us from reaching the ISM'ers. "Why are you in my country?" one asked me. "This land is for Jews, not Arabs. Arabs are dogs." On July 29, CPT got a call about young settler boys who were throwing stones at a Palestinian boy flying a kite on his roof. The settler boys were in a soldier's observation tower when we arrived, but the soldier made no apparent attempt to remove them. They didn't throw any more stones, but one boy, who might have been about 12, held a stone in his hand and flicked his wrist toward us a few times as if he was going to toss it. The boys told us not to film them, and when we continued, six more soldiers arrived at the observation tower. They claimed the boys weren't throwing stones and told us to stop filming. When we continued, the soldiers started toward us, climbing across the roofs of houses. (The stone throwing had stopped, so we left before they reached us.)

Soldier with gun pointed at Deboya checkpoint, July 21

The soldiers' behavior at checkpoints has changed as well. Especially at the Deboya Street checkpoint to Tel Rumeida, people are being stopped and searched more regularly. On July 21, Marius and I were on our way to Tel Rumeida when we found a line of people at the checkpoint. Five people were being detained there, including a 12-year-old boy who had Hebrew writing on his shirt. "He stole it," explained one of the soldiers. They held him there for about half an hour before letting him go.

This is life in H2. Everything is unpredictable. There is power in the soldiers' inconsistency - some days Palestinians can pass a soldier or a checkpoint without a problem, some days they are detained while their ID numbers are called in. Young men, of course, are searched more regularly and detained more often. On July 30, I passed a group of young men stopped on Shuhada Street who said they had been held there for two hours.

A few soldiers have told me that they are cracking down because of intelligence predicting an attack in Hebron. Whether this is the real reason or not, the effect is the same. Every time a Palestinian is held at a checkpoint or subjected to a new restriction he is reminded of who is in control.