South Hebron Hills, Thu 17.6.10, Morning
Translator: Charles K.
Tour of the women from the southern group with the Villages Group (represented by Ehud, Er'ella, Ophir, Ziva and Timor).
After meeting at Shoqet junction, we drove off together to Sussia.
As soon as we reached the village, we were impressed by the small windmill turning and generating electricity. We understood that the initiative came with the help of members of the Villages Group, and also the biogas installation and the two greenhouses in Sussia that we didn’t get to see today. We also met Hajar, a psychologist from the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, who comes to Sussia once a week to work with the children and women. While in the village, we saw Hajar conducting activities with the children, and other women from the same organization sitting with a few of the women.
We gathered in a large tent that the village uses for cultural and educational activities. It was erected at David’s initiative, a volunteer from the Villages Group, who didn’t come along today. We discussed the aims of our visit, and the agenda.
Leah said that as far as MachsomWatch South is concerned, the goal of the visit is to see and understand the work of the Villages Group, to see whether and how we can participate in it, both as an organization and as individuals. Yehudit explained that some of us want to do more than go to the checkpoints, because the situation at the checkpoints in the Hebron area has improved in recent years. Mira noted that not all of us agree that Machsom Watch should be involved with the work of the Villages Group, and that we came primarily to learn. Ar'ella from the Villages Group said that they’re interested in showing what they do and explaining how they work, and particularly want to show us a number of places and initiatives in which they’d like to invest more time and energy, and they hope we might be able to help them here, because they haven’t been able to do as much as they want. Ar'ella and Ehud mentioned Sussia, Hashem al-Daraj and Umm al-Hir as locations where we might help, and that you don’t need 4x4 vehicles to reach them. They also mentioned that Abu Kbeita, located beyond the Yatir crossing (on the “Israeli” side), is a place needing help because of harassment by settlers and difficulties in getting through the checkpoint on the way to school and to work. Despite our best intentions, we weren’t able to get there during this visit.
Ar'ella talked a little about the approach of the Villages Group: Their work is based on personal relationships and is intensive; they’re in it “for the long run.” Their orientation is to support those who live in the villages and empower individuals, and wherever politics separates us from them – to oppose that tendency, to meet and work together. An effort over many years has sown seeds that are developing.
Leah said she sees neither herself nor Machsom Watch operating like the Villages Group, over the long term, but on short-term projects.
Ar'ella said that what would help them would be people who make a specific contribution. For example, they’d like volunteers from Israel and from abroad to work in this cultural center in Sussia, to lead workshops and teach children and other residents of the village, organize summer camps, enrichment activities and support of students and young women.
A final, important point is that we understood they really need people who speak Arabic to work in these villages, most of whose residents speak neither Hebrew nor English. Although in order to spend time in the villages, volunteers will have to learn Arabic to communicate, as some of the volunteers from the Villages Group testified.
We drove via Umm al-Hir, located next to the settlement of Carmel, on our way to Hasham al-Daraj. Suddenly we saw a military APC and an unmarked pickup truck blocking the road next to a Palestinian bulldozer, and a group of soldiers (4 border policemen, 3 soldiers in khaki and a driver in civilian clothing) and Palestinians standing on the road. We immediately went into action as representatives of Machsom Watch, got out of the car and went over to see what was happening. The soldiers stopped the work of the bulldozer that was digging a trench for a water pipe from one part of the village to another. The work has a permit from the Civil Administration, but the soldiers wanted to hold it up for some reason. A minute after we spoke to them the soldiers suddenly decided they weren’t needed, and drove away. The Palestinian laborers said they’d been held up for an hour.
After visiting Hasham al-Daraj we returned to Umm al-Hir, to houses located right next to the Carmel settlement. The villagers are suffering from the settlers, who throw rocks and even fire on residents who dare come close to the new neighborhood. The humble village houses are threatened by demolition orders, while luxurious villas are under active construction in Carmel (building freeze??!). We sat in Umm-Yasser’s home, which is built of stone, and saw her embroidery. Ar’ella and the Villages Group thought of marketing Umm-Yasser’s beautiful embroidery, and that of two other women from Umm al-Hir, but they’d need a local coordinator as well as an external volunteer to develop that initiative, which they don’t have yet. The local residents have almost no sources of income, and depend primarily on flocks of sheep. If they’re able to empower the women who embroider it will contribute needed income to the families and will also improve the status of the women.
After a short visit to Eid’s home, we decided to end our visit because of the heat and the lateness of the hour, and said goodby to Eid and his family and to the member of the Villages Group.
After a long, bumpy ride, among barren hills, we reached Huda’s kindergarten. Huda is the daughter of a sheikh from Umm al-Hir; she established the kindergarten four years ago in a small cement structure without running water or electricity, with funds she obtained with the help of the Hebron Mental Health Services. Between 15-30 children attend, aged 4-5 ½, from 8 to 11:30 every day, without having to pay. Huda is paid NIS 500 per month. She faces many difficulties in the local community, including the lack of help and respect. Older children (past kindergarten age) broke windows and destroyed the meager playground equipment in the kindergarten yard. The mukhtar is unwilling to help; his response is “kids will be kids.” She has to work very hard to convince mothers to send their children to kindergarten. When we left, Huda thanked us very much for our visit, explaining that such visits are very helpful because people in the village see that she has outside support. Ar’ella and Ehud see Huda as a very courageous woman who needs a great deal of support – profession, financial and moral – but they’re unable to visit her very often. They’ve been able to raise some money through letters they’re written, and Huda bought a blackboard, installed a gas connection and purchased additional children’s toys. The local school is near the kindergarten; Ehud says that conditions in the school are terrible. USAID approved funds for expanding the school, but for years the Civil Administration has prevented the expansion.