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We were monitoring the Salaymeh checkpoint on a cold morning. Two soldiers, fully armed and wearing masks, walked past the checkpoint and went up on the roof of an adjoining building. As children started making their way to school, the two soldiers came down and started moving towards the school area. Ofer, a settler who shows up daily at the checkpoint to harass children and human rights monitors, made his daily appearance. Suddenly 3 sound grenades were thrown close to a small group of boys that had gathered outside the school. Within seconds children started throwing stones and throwing back the sound grenade canisters at the soldiers. Things quickly escalated. School teachers and school principals were out on the streets. Then, to everyone’s surprise, live ammunition was fired, 5 shots were fired in the air. I could hear teachers and community members shouting in disbelief saying “ They have never fired live ammunition before”. One teacher had videotaped the scene and was replaying the video as proof that live ammunition was fired.
In the midst of teachers and community members arguing about what steps need to be taken to diffuse the situation, the principal, the only woman in the crowd, of the boy’s elementary school made her way to the growing crowd of boys and started bringing her students back to school one by one. She walked past the soldiers, past the sea of men debating and arguing and gently summoned her students. She knew what she had to do; she had to bring her kids back to school and back to safety.
No discussion, no debate but just action. Was she acting as a school principal or was she responding as a mother? I don’t know, but it was a beautiful and moving thing to witness!
This is just another day in the life of schools in the Jaber neighborhood where sound grenades and tear gas occur several times a week. This particular morning, I was told by the vice principal that only 90 children attended school; 90 out of 350!
In Hebron, outside a makeshift tent off Ein Sara Street, sits an empty coffin. Inside the tent a group of men gathers, each a father whose son or daughter has been killed by the Israeli military during the last three months. Their motto is: “We need our children.” CPTers have paid several visits to the tent to show their solidarity with these bereaved fathers and their family members.
Obviously their true wish would be to have their children alive and well, but these fathers have been forced to ask for their children’s bodies, so they can bury them. The Israeli authorities have offered to release five of the nineteen bodies they are still holding, but on condition that the funerals of the deceased will be held at night with a limited number of mourners. The parents of these five have refused these conditions and continue to press for the return of all remaining bodies.
As the death toll among Palestinians rises, existing members of the group visit newly bereaved families to offer them support. Some men told CPTers that the Israeli military are likely planning to demolish their homes. In some cases, they said, soldiers have already entered their homes, sometimes during the night, to take measurements. We asked about their wives and surviving children. Some said that their wives cry constantly. The surviving children are frightened, including one little girl who each day has to pass the checkpoint where her older sister was shot dead. “Will they shoot me too?” she asks her father.
Perhaps the saddest individual story shared in the tent is that of Jihad Irsheid. On 25 October 2015 Israeli forces killed his 17-year-old daughter, Dania, at the checkpoint beside the Ibrahimi Mosque as she was making her way home from school. An Israeli spokesman claimed that Dania had a knife, though this is disputed by eyewitness accounts. Then, on 9 December 2015, as he sat with his friends in the tent, Jihad received a call to say that the Israeli military had shot his 24-year-old son Uday during a demonstration in the Ras Al-Jura neighbourhood of Hebron. By the time Jihad reached the hospital Uday was dead. What a horrific price this family has paid for this occupation.
The men in the solidarity tent are dignified and determined. Our hearts go out to them as they carry on their campaign to have their children’s bodies restored to them, so they can honor them – each and every one – with proper funerals.
Despite the threat of imminent destruction, the residents of Susiya continue striving for a better future and investing in the younger generation. This village in the South Hebron Hills was completely demolished twice before and faced many other struggles throughout the years. Now, when they were finally hoping for a chance to have their village recognized, an Israeli High Court judge decided that the army can destroy any unauthorized construction. The looming expectation of the demolition orders for all the village’s structures haven’t stopped the residents of Susiya from running various programs and activities for their children. These activities also serve as a message to Israeli authorities and settlers that the village won’t surrender and give up their dream and right of continuing to inhabit their land. It is also part of a general advocacy campaign that has raised Susiya’s profile, and so far, is seemingly playing a major role in deterring demolitions.
On June 14, the Nrsan Center, an NGO from Yatta that runs youth summer camps, carried out a series of activities and games with the children of Susiya, from painting to ball games. On June 23, the NGO Rebuilding Alliance led a “Pinwheels for Peace” activity for the children of Susiya. In this activity, children drew the meaning of peace on a square piece of paper that they made into a pinwheel. For most children the idea of “peace” was expressed in drawings of doves, butterflies and flowers on the pinwheels. This event was part of an initiative that is advocating for the rights of Palestinian children in the U.S. Congress.
Like most Palestinians, the people of Susiya have endured the hardships of the Israeli military occupation for decades. And with this endurance, they have also learned to embolden themselves. The pure and basic act of existing is a form of resisting the constant attempts to obliterate a local culture. Living with joy and teaching the younger generations the values of life and peace, are all ways to keep up the struggle without abandoning dreams and hopes for the future. As Rafeef Ziadah, Palestinian spoken word artist, says about the virtue of her people: “We teach life, sir”.
by a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams Palestine
Demolition in Idhna
Last week Christian Peacemaker Team members drove out of Hebron with our Palestinian partner organizations the Land Research Centre and Al-Haq. Our purpose of driving through the rocky hills with their terraced farms was to see the results of more Israeli demolitions that happened just before the recent big storm. While our destination was only thirteen kilometres as the crow flies – it was much longer, because we needed to navigate around the complex settler road system, and of course Palestinians aren’t allowed on them all.
We arrived in the town of Idhna, a village that that has existed since the Bronze Age. The Green Line (1949 armistice line) lies just a kilometre away, and from the village you can see the Israeli ‘security fence’ cutting across the Palestinian farmland.
Idhna is a village has grown tenfold in the last 60 years. While the original village is in the area designated as Area B in the Oslo accords (civil Palestinian authority), twenty years later, the village now stretches into Area C (full Israeli control). Israel has no desire for this village to expand and so almost every home on the outskirts of town has an Israeli demolition order upon it (as well as a school). As I looked over the new buildings that had clearly been built with the savings, hopes and dreams of any new home, I wondered how people continued to hope when any day their home could be demolished.
It was in the outskirts of Idhna that we met with Mohammed Tamezeh, whose older home was surrounded by the new homes of his daughter and nephews. When we asked how many people were in his family, he said sixty-six without blinking – it took us a while to let him know we meant just the people living in his house – which turned out to be him and his wife and their three youngest children.
Fifteen years ago Mr. Tamezeh built a sophisticated tin and brick animal shelter, which was four metres high and equipped with electricity and a day lounge for people looking after the sheep. Over the years he had built up a flock of 120 milking sheep, many of which are currently pregnant.
Four and a half years ago Mr. Tamezeh received a stop work order on his shelter by the Israeli Civil Administration. This order is the first step in the legal process for Israel to demolish a building. The second stage is a demolition order, which thankfully never came. However, just before the end of December Mr. Tamezeh received a notice indicating that Israel would be demolishing the structure, and giving him three days to appeal. Mr. Tamezeh wasn’t able to launch the official appeal in that time.
Two weeks later, a convoy of jeeps arrived on his property –Israeli military jeeps, border police jeeps and the Israeli Civil Administration with demolition equipment. As soon as Mr. Tamezeh was able to clear his sheep out of the shelter, the Israeli military completely demolished it, flattening feed trays and medicine inside the shelter. Mr. Tamezeh said they were going to also destroy his portable water tank, but he lay on top of it, and the Israeli authorities didn’t insist. He was grateful that none of his pregnant sheep died in the snow, as he was able to put them in a shed on his daughter’s property. The remainder of the sheep thankfully survived the snow in an open field. Milking the sheep is much more difficult in the cold weather now that his working facility has been demolished. It is difficult to give any rationale for what Israel actually achieved by this demolition.
Demolitions in the Baqa’a Valley
Just fifteen kilometres from Hebron lies the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, founded in the 1970s on the site of an abandoned military base. This settlement is well within the Green Line (also in Area C) and therefore clearly West Bank land. Under international law it is illegal for Israel to transfer any of its population there, and they are continually condemned by the international community for doing so. Kiryat Arba was founded by Moshe Levinger who says, “that the Land of Israel must be in the hands of the Jewish people—not just by having settlements, but that it’s under Jewish sovereignty”.
The story of Kiryat Arba is also a story of a town that is growing. However the land that it is growing across is Palestinian land. The other place we visited last week was the extended Jaber family who live in the shadow of Kiryat Arba. Their struggle to save the family farm and resist violent settler incursions has been supported for many years by CPT as well as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (Links to CPT and ICAHD stories).
A major highway built for the settlers has cut the family farm in half; they have lost most of their centuries old farm to settlement expansion, and one of the brothers, Atta Jaber has had his home demolished twice. The house we visited was the home of another brother. The Jaber family used to take groups up to the hill above this home and show people the settlement that was growing towards them. However now they can’t even climb the hill, as the perimeter fence has come right up to the edge of the steep hill. In fact the Kiryat Arba Master Plan has explicit plans to take over most of their land.
We walked through their grapevines to their turnip plantation. This is where we saw the home on their property that had been demolished. The home was a humble two-room farm shack, home to an elderly family member who regularly hosted two of her teenage grandsons when they worked in the turnip field. The woman had gone to visit other family the day her home was demolished, so you could see all her belongings crushed under the concrete slab that served as her walls. After seeing the demolished home, we went to see an old water cistern, which has been providing water to their farmlands for centuries. The cistern is built with rocks up to ground level, and has a large cavern inside.
In recent times Israel has been accessing (without permission) the Jaber’s family farm through which they have built a massive electricity pylon. The cistern was sustaining damage from the construction trucks driving through their farm. So just two weeks ago, to protect the cistern, the family laid a concrete slab over it. Almost immediately they received a stop work order on the cistern – an indication that Israel is planning to demolish the cistern.
Both Idhna and Kiryat Arba are growing towns. In the case of Idhna, the Palestinians are not allowed to see their village expand naturally as their population grows, even though under International Law, it is on the land that is supposed to become land of the Palestinian State. In the case of Kiryat Arba, Israel has no right to take any more West Bank land, but is deliberately stretching to take over more of the land so it cannot be a Palestinian State. While the international governments may wax lyrical about a two state solution, it is clear that Israel is working hard against this possibility. Perhaps one can say that urban planning is war by other means?
HEBRON, Palestine – On the morning of 19 January, Israeli forces welded Zuheira Hashem Dundes front doors shut. Her family have owned these two houses for centuries, and she still lived in one of them. Now, her belongings are sealed inside her house, and she must live in her son’s house across the street. The houses are located on Shuhada Street, most of which is closed to Palestinians. These women are some of the only Palestinians still living on Shuhada Street, making this act even more significant.
Christian Peacemaker Teams received a call about the house closing and arrived at 11:30am. About one dozen IDF soldiers had surrounded the houses and were arguing with the two women. Several Israeli settlers were also present. The women continued to argue with the soldiers, and some concerned Palestinian citizens also advocated for the women to be able to keep their houses.
As journalists and local Palestinians gathered, soldiers began pushing the crowd back across the street and away from the houses. At one point, a soldier violently shoved a member of CPT who was taking photographs. At 12:20pm, Zuheira was so distraught that an onlooker brought her a glass of water and a chair, and she sat by her front doors until soldiers forced her to move. By 12:30pm around fifty people had gathered, including representatives from several local and international human rights organizations. Soldiers pushed Palestinians and internationals back, but allowed settlers to stand close and antagonize the crowd.
Zuheira has high blood pressure and diabetes, and the trauma of having her family home taken away from her made her faint. At 1:10pm, an ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital. Zuheira asked that a Christian Peacemaker Teams member accompany her in the ambulance, but the IDF prevented the CPTer from joining Zuheira. By 1:30pm, the soldiers had finished welding the doors shut. Most of the crowd dispersed, and international human rights activists accompanied the ambulance at a distance.
The official reason given by the IDF for closing these houses is that someone used them to throw two molotov cocktails at the nearby Beit Hadassah settlement. However, when CPTers questioned one of the police officers, he admitted that the old women were not responsible throwing molotov cocktails and that neither the police nor the IDF had not talked to Zuheriah about the incident before sealing off her home and her possessions.
Because most of Shuhada Street is closed to Palestinians, the unjustified actions of the IDF are even more devastating. More of the street is now empty, which will make it easier for nearby settlements to expand into this area. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention Article 49 and several United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal. The welding shut of Zuheira’s houses is a part of the slow takeover of this part of Hebron through military and settlement expansion, creating a corridor of Israeli control which threatens to further strangle the old city of Hebron.
by Jessica Morrison
[Note: This article is adapted from a reflection Morrison wrote two days before Winter Storm Huda swept the region, bringing with it snow, icy rain and a severe drop in temperatures that killed people in Gaza and Lebanon.]
Winter is just starting to bite here in Hebron, or Al Khalil, as Palestinians call it.
The Jaabari family live on the outskirts of Hebron, and the nearby hills are covered in Israeli settlements. Under the Oslo accords, the area is designated as ‘Area C’, where the Israeli authorities have full control. This designation was meant to be a temporary measure, but decades later, the status remains. The family has a strong flock of seventy sheep for which they had built a sturdy brick shelter and has a nursery for their thirty calves. They also have a small field in front of these where green onions grow.
The last week has been a difficult one for the Jaabari family. The weather has started to get very cold, so the animals have become more reliant on their animal shelters to keep the animals warm in the bitter nights.
Yesterday morning, an Israeli bulldozer and the military rolled up the Jaabari family’s street. In Area C, people must get permission from the Israeli authorities to build any structure. For Palestinians, in 97% of cases this permission is never given. A bulldozer can only mean that Israel has decided to demolish something.
Having had their animal shelter demolished previously, the family quickly moved all their animals to a neighbour’s property. The bulldozer entered their land, trampling and digging through their onion field. The military offered neither paperwork to justify their actions, nor an explanation. The bulldozer destroyed the animal shelter the family had invested the equivalent of $60,000AUD into building. And then they turned on their animal nursery, destroying it also.
The family makes its living by farming, so their livelihood has just been destroyed.
I heard today that there were two other demolitions in the area. Another two families, with painful stories of lives and livelihoods turned upside down. As the first snow of winter approaches, the families and their animals have a frightening week in front of them.
Education Denied: Two schools closed and multiple injuries due to Israeli military teargas and rubber-coated steel bullets fired at Palestinians
11 December 2014—This morning the education of thousands of Palestinian children in Hebron was again compromised. While hundreds of children tried to walk to the seven schools near both the Qitoun/209 and Salimeh/29 checkpoints, Israeli border policemen fired teargas and rubber-coated steel bullets in response to a few children throwing stones towards the checkpoints. Even after classes began, the Israeli military continued to fire teargas. Two schools near the Salimeh/29 checkpoint closed within a half hour of the start of the school day. Two other schools reported additional problems caused by the actions of the Israeli military.
Al Khalil School, an elementary boys school with 270 students, had to close before 8:30 AM after four teargas canisters landed in the school courtyard. While CPTers were checking on the school, an ambulance came to take fourteen year-old Nasha’at Gaith, who’d been hit on the thigh by a teargas canister, to the hospital. Three teachers, Hani Hudoosh, Yaser Abu Zaanouneh, and Is’haq Badar also required medical attention for teargas exposure.
Khadeageh School, an elementary boys school with 400 students, had to close at 8:30 AM due to fumes from three teargas canisters that landed near the school’s entrance. Thankfully, no injuries were reported. Teachers shepherded the young boys out of the school, only for many students to run back in as the Israeli military continued to fire teargas into the street.
Tarek Ben Zyad School, a secondary boys school with 473 students, reported that 17 year-old Taha Abu Sneineh was hit on the upper arm with a rubber-coated steel bullet and was taken to the hospital for treatment.
Ibrahimi School, an elementary boys school with over 200 students, had to close a first grade classroom because of teargas fumes. The teacher conducted class in another room without the resources available in his own classroom. When CPTers arrived, about a dozen students sat in the office, onions and alcohol pads under their noses, trying to dissipate the effects of the teargas they had walked through to get to school. One boy, who arrived late, was hospitalized for teargas exposure only yesterday. Teachers who had been waiting at the Qitoun checkpoint to make sure students could pass safely also recovered in the office.
Al Hejeryah School, an elementary boys school with 450 students, reported no problems beyond students exposed to teargas on the way to school.
Al Fayhaa School, an elementary girls school with 250 students, reported no problems beyond students exposed to teargas on the way to school.
The UN school, an elementary boys school, reported no problems for their students.
Education is a fundamental human right. The context of the Israeli military occupation threatens Palestinian children’s access to this right on a daily basis. Facing the threat and reality of teargas (and sometimes sound grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets) fired at their children on a nearly daily basis, Palestinian parents, teachers, and administrators have to make difficult decisions every day about how best to protect their children from these and other physical and emotional effects of living under military occupation: Should they send their children to school or keep them at home? What time should they send the children or walk with children to school to avoid these threats? How can schools address both the physical and emotional needs of students in this volatile context? On a given day, at what point do the physical and emotional effects make teaching impossible? How can students be kept safe if they need to be released from school due to untenable circumstances? Imagine having to answer these questions every day. Imagine trying to keep your children and students safe and not being able to do so because of the arbitrary nature of the Israeli military’s use of force.
Today some of the over 2,500 children who attend the seven schools near the Salimeh/29 and Qitoun/209 checkpoints went to school, learned new lessons, and went home. Their normal day “only” involved military checkpoints, the sight of heavily-armed border police, and the sound of teargas being fired near their schools. However, many students lost a complete day of learning or did not receive a full day of classes. Worse than that, many students lost another piece of their innocence and another sliver of the safety that all children deserve.
The Collective Punishment of Teargas: Ibrahimi School closure and 12 year-old boy hospitalised as a result of excessive teargas this morning
Israeli border police fired teargas at Qitoun checkpoint, causing the hospitalization of a 12 year-old boy and the closure of the Ibrahimi School. Israeli forces frequently fire teargas at Palestinian school children as they pass through checkpoints on their way to school, often in a disproportionate response to stones being thrown by a handful of children. Frustration at the daily oppression of occupation leads some, predominantly young Palestinian boys, to resist or to display their anger at the injustice of being occupied by throwing stones at the towering military checkpoints that cover the city. These checkpoints, which regulate, slow and control Palestinian movement through space, are sites in which Israeli forces frequently harass Palestinians, and are one of the many symbols of the manifest humiliation, injustice and racism of Israeli occupation. To fire teargas at children throwing stones is nothing short of collective punishment. Teargas fill the air, physiologically, and no doubt psychologically, affecting all adults and children within its reach.
This morning at checkpoint 209, through which 183 children and 52 adults passed from 7am to 8am, the teargas was so potent from two teargas canisters fired by Israeli border police that the Ibrahimi School was forced to close. This affected the school’s over 200 hundred students, in clear violation of the human right of access to education. Before the school closure, a 12 year-old boy opened a window in the school and the teargas, fired approximately 250m away, was so strong he suffered severely from inhaling the gas. Teachers called an ambulance and decided to close the school to avoid more children being harmed from the gas. An ambulance came after approximately 25 minutes, hindered in its response by the physical obstacles of occupation such as checkpoints and the apartheid laws governing Palestinian vehicular access in H2 Hebron. A CPTer who was there said “sitting with and attempting to soothe the boy, who was scared, unable to breathe properly, and unable to open his eyes, broke my heart, once again, at the injustice of this occupation in which Palestinian school children are confronted with the military might of the Israeli state on their daily journey to school”.