Saturday, November 2 2013 An article in “Le Monde” about Ta’ayush


Written in French by Luc Beaudoin

In the Paths of Occupied Palestine—Part 1 of 2

Photo Captions (clink the link, above, to see photos in the original article): Bedouins from Um al-Hayyari having difficulty watering their flocks: the settlement in Carmel (right) expanding their military defense. Bottom: Ta’ayush’s Tamar confronts soldiers defending the settlement consuming Palestinian lands.

The Oslo Accords (1993) between Israel and the Palestinians predicted that a five-year interim period would lead up to enacting the permanent agreement in which the West Bank (and Gaza) would be divided up into three areas: Zone A- 18% of the land under full Palestinian control; Zone B- 21% with Palestinian administrative control and Israeli security; and Zone C- 61% under complete Israeli control.  The vast majority of the Palestinian population of 2.7 million people resides in Zones A and B, while all settlers (approximately 330,00 people, with an additional 200,000 in East Jerusalem) live in Zone C in more than 150 settlements and dozens of outposts (extensions that are illegal under both Israeli and international law).  It is nearly impossible for Palestinians to build in Zone C, which many Israeli officials want to annex to Israel. This article deals with Zone C.


Israelis Defending the Palestinians

In the occupied territory, especially in Zone C, the Palestinians live in dire straights. A handful of Israeli’s come in solidarity with you—an article about South Hebron from our special envoy.


On Saturday, November 2, we met in the parking lot of a public park in West Jerusalem at 7am. One-by-one, Mary, Tamar, Danny, and other members of the organization Ta’ayush (Arabic for “living together”) arrived and enrolled in tasks for the day and listened to Ameil’s orders.  Ben, about 50, the small group leader, explains, “As usual, we will got to the South Hebron hill villages to help the Palestinian people from the settlers’ attacks. Please note that there will likely be a game of cat-and-mouse with the army and the police that may try to stop us.  You may need to outrun them.”

About a dozen men and women, Israeli Jews aged 30-60, board a minibus and a four-wheel-drive vehicle; both have seen better days…Heading south, right into the West Bank, we pass Bethlehem on the left and stop at a bus stop to collect two volunteers from abroad, an American about 60 and a 21-year-old French girl. After traveling about an hour, the vehicles pass through Hebron, and Israeli Defense Force (IDF) jeeps start to follow us.

The first stop is near the Palestinian town of Yatta: about twenty Palestinian men and women have started harvesting in the large olive groves. The Ta’ayush members join them.  Extremist settlers from the area often come to interfere with their work.  Today, perhaps because of the presence of Israelis standing united with the Palestinians, it is quiet.


Military Area

After less than an hour, at about 9:30am, our activist group leaves.  Another long day ahead, clouds cover the horizon.  After a short distance we come to the area of Umm al-Arais close to Mitzpe Yair, an (illegal) outpost. We turn down the narrow path leading to the village, when a settler, about 40 with glasses, a long beard, and a skullcap on his long hair, blocks our path.  “It’s Avidan,’ mutters Amiel, “a secular person who became a religious extremist.”  It is impossible to pass; both banks of the valley are too steep.  An IDF jeep comes and a noncommissioned officer emerges, flapping a written order: “This area was declared a closed military area, entrance is forbidden,” and politely commands, “You must leave immediately.”  He makes sure the settler sees the text.  We came a long way and decide to take the hills on foot.

The group reaches our destination in fifteen minutes: the edge of the hill outpost Mitzpe Yair, which is some campers and wooden sheds around several greenhouses the settlers built on Palestinian land.  The Israeli Supreme Court ordered the outpost be disassembled by October 31.  They are still there.  Two Palestinian landowners, Awad and Jabbarin, arrive with their families and friends.  Some settlers confronted them while twenty soldiers, weapons hanging on their backs, protected the settlers.  The tone rises rapidly, fight breaks out, and Awad and Jabbarin are taken to a military prison.

Ta’ayush’s Tamar cannot hold back any longer.  She admonishes the soldiers; most of them are younger than twenty. “It is too much for her,” Amiel explains, “She has to teach them a lesson, tell them that they protect those who violate international law or Israeli law.”  Her tirade lasted about fifteen minutes.  “I usually stop after a few minutes,” she confesses, “but this time I saw that some of the young soldiers were actually listening to me, so I kept going.”


The Police Supervisor: The Eye of Gil’ad

He was at the Mitzpe Yair outpost that encroaches on Umm al-Arais. He was also in Carmel, another widening settlement on the lands the Bedouin claim they purchased decades ago.  He was the only cop each time, but he was accompanied by fifteen soldiers.  He shouts, “Come on, disperse, thank you!” Photographing the participants without threating or intimidating them.


God Gave Them This Land.

Maggie, an American activist living in Bethlehem, proves herself to be brave: she passes through a barbed-wire fence and heads toward a group of settlers.  In brief, “I wanted to enumerate their wrongs,” she says, “but they responded by saying God gave them this land—what can you say to that argument?”

Overall, the conflict lasted a little over an hour, and the Israeli soldiers were quick to prevent the settlers from leaving the area by the greenhouses and hurting the Palestinian families.  Amiel is some distance away on the phone with a lawyer trying to take care of the two arrested Palestinians. Then an Israeli police officer showed up and ended the event.  “His name is Gil’ad Heuer; we know it,” someone whispers to us, “There is no way to negotiate with him.” Indeed, the man with a bald head under a bright blue cap firmly commands to Palestinians and activists alike to get leave, and the soldiers help him execute the command.

We are in the vehicles again, heading to the Bedouin village of Umm Khayer, which was established when several Bedouin families were expelled from Beer Sheva in the Negev in 1948.  There, the Jewish settlement of Carmel is strangling the small community.  “The want to keep us from watering the sheep of this land that that we leally bought,” explains Mutasim, about 15, in fairly good English, “They want the settlement to spread further, but it is already stealing our land.”

The same Israeli soldiers from Mitzpe Yair are now in place here.  Mustasim’s father, an owner of a flock of sheep, breaks into a furious speech punctuated with cries of “Allhu Akbar” (God is great).  He has a gray beard and white hair wrapped in a kaffiyah, his clothes are tattered, and with his right hand he is shaking his walking stick in the air: he looks like he is insane.  The soldiers laugh and photograph him.  The event is surreal. Following a few minutes of conversation with the Bedouins; we learn of children being attacked, so the group leaves.

The next event turns out to be not simple at all.  A few kilometers away, we come to Lo-Tunawi, a poor village of about fifty houses in the foothills.  For lunch we haveshwarma, a sandwich-like melody of meat and vegetables, and we feel re-energized.  The sun beat out the clouds and puts fourth a magical show on the hills of the West Bank.  We continue on foot with two Italian volunteers who have lived in the area for a few weeks. “We help the children in the village,” says Theresa, 27, “To get to the nearest school they are supposed to go along this path that passes an illegal outpost, Havat Ma’on, but the settlers throw stones a them every morning.”  About fifteen Ta’ayush members turn down the broken path.  We walk a half-an-hour to school, but there are no children among us today: it is Saturday.  Amiel says, “These attacks on children has been going on for twelve years. In 2007, the House Committee decided the kids would receive a military escort, but it was carried out without much zeal.  Sometimes the soldiers would show up, and sometimes they would not.  Sometimes they would have to put fifteen children in a jeep because, despite the presence of the soldiers, the settlers would continue to harass the kids.”


Watch Out, Rocks!

We arrive at nearby Havat Ma’on, situated on the hilltop.  The olive groves far below look miserable; half of the trees have been cut down by settlers angry with the Palestinian villagers.  Suddenly, some blurred images appear in the trees on the hills towering above: fiver or six masked young settlers.  Members of Ta’ayush pull out cameras, and one of them calls, “Watch out, rocks!”  Sure enough, rocks begin to fall around our group.  We have no choice but to retreat.  About a kilometer away, we are safe.  We stop and catch our breath, lightheaded.  No one was hurt.  Our thoughts return with each sip of water, and someone tries, unsuccessfully, to make jokes.

Amiel said that he was going to file a complaint against the stone-throwers, but he added that there would be “no chance of a conviction.”  We return to the vehicles as the sun begins to set.  On the long drive back we are faced with nagging questions: How can you throw rocks and children on the way to school every morning?  How is it that so few Israelis participate in admirable organizations like Ta’ayush that demonstrate solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians?