Hebron and the South Hebron Hills
The tours initiated by the Minister of Education – a-political, he claims – have returned Hebron to public discourse. The argument against this initiative is that a “manipulative use is made of students and teachers who unwillingly become a political tool”. The Minister, however, claims that the Ministry of Education is careful to present more than a single world view. Indeed? An attempt made by a Jerusalem high school to expose its students to more than “a single world view” has been aborted.
We wish to bring several examples of the horrendous difficulties encountered by Palestinians in their everyday lives in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills area.
Yedioth Aharonot published the story of a Palestinian woman living in Tel Rumeida, Hebron, whose car has been burnt for the five time now by Jewish settlers. The woman has begun a hunger strike as she no longer sees what else she can do. We called on her. Hana Abu Haikal sits by her burnt car, surrounded by journalists and photographers from all over the world. She sits, a heavy-set, elderly woman, her legs swollen, telling her story: if she were a Jew, she would have the right to park her tax-free car with a ‘disabled’ label as close as possible to her home. But she is not Jewish, and lives too close to the Jewish settlers of Tel Rumeida in the city of Hebron, and therefore is not allowed to park her own car next to her home. Like all her Palestinian neighbors, she must park in the nearby wadi and climb by foot, about 500 meters, back and forth between her car and her home. However, in the wadi is a trail “for settlers only” so she may not really go there, and her car is in danger. She must actually pay someone to keep an eye on her car. How can one live like this? At the request of the visiting photographers and journalists, Hana gets up and shows us how difficult it is for her to walk. (Hebron, 18.1.2012)
We decided to visit the “Cordoba” School house. As we arrive at the staircase leading to the school, Noam Arnon shows up – spokesman of the Jewish settlers of Hebron – and, seeing our guest who photographs the Beit Hadassah area, says: “Go on, take a picture of us monsters”. We remind him that we don’t consider them monsters. “Even if you wreak injustices, you are humans”. This disarms him. He mutters something and drives on… The walls of Cordoba School have been smeared with graffiti since August: “Hebron has always been, will always be OURS!”
We wish to know how the strike ended, that took place following the changes at Tarpat Checkpoint and the new demands that teachers crossing it be inspected twice a day by the metal detector. The principal tells us they went back to work since on Thursday (20.1.2011) settlers threatened to charge and take over the school: “If the buildings are empty, we’ll occupy them”. The school staff told us of the violence, swearing and profanities sounded by the settlers. At that incident, policemen and soldiers were present but none of them put a halt to the settlers’ violence. However, they did detain the Palestinian janitor for questioning… The teachers decided to open the school but only those living close will come to work, not having to cross the checkpoint. Volunteers replace the absent teachers. Nineteen teachers who live in iH1 (Palestinian-controlled Hebron) are still absent and we wish to find a way to end the local conflict at the checkpoint and get back to letting the teachers go through a normal gate. To our surprise the army has been willing to cooperate with our mediation: policemen along with the DCO representative came for a talk with the school directors. At the meeting the Palestinians repeated the anomaly that Hebron students must experience coming to and going from school, and the one-sided attitude of the police in favor of the settlers. After a lengthy discussion, a solution was found: The teachers will resume the old crossing procedure, which has been so important for their dignity versus the Hebron settlers’ violence. (Hebron, 24.10.2011)
We came to learn about the uprooting of olive trees in the area. We stopped by the illegal outpost Eshtamoa, crossed the road to take a distant look at the olive grove that was ravaged. Not a minute went by and 7-8 settlers appeared running, looking at us and waving us off. A soldier arrived running, too, and pointed his weapon at us. We got back in our car so as not to heat things up. (South Hebron Hills, 24.10.2011)
Many incidents have been taken place at A-Tuwani village lately. We are shocked by the meanness and callousness shown by the State and its institutions in all their handlings of the village people. Their only vice is the location of their village – at the foot of the settlements Maon and Havat Maon, and close to some archeological findings. On Friday, February 3, 2012, a group of tourists arrived, in one of their “Bible Paths Tours”. First they visited Yatta, and its Biblical pools, and then came to see the remains of the “ancient synagogue” at A-Tuwani. We asked the villagers if anyone had notified them of this, of their yard having become a holy site. “No”, they wonder at our question. The buses parked at the entrance to the village, the tourists came in on foot, escorted by police and army, prayed and blew the traditional Shofar horns. Settlers Yehoshafat Tor and his brother from Havat Maon and other Maon settlers joined them – they do not miss a single opportunity to come and harass the people of A-Tuwani. After a turbulent hour-and-a-half they left.
That night, 25 olive trees were mysteriously cut down near some villagers’ homes, and another 15 in a more distant grove. A-Tuwani villagers complained to the policel. Last night, at midnight, they heard noises, went out to see who was there. “Police, army!” they were told. “Get back inside”. That’s is right. They came. To protect? To defend? To arrest the marauding settlers? No. No one was arrested. That’s how it goes, another day, another night.
A bit of history: since 1981, when Maon and later Havat Maon were founded, the villages of A-Tuwani have suffered harassment by their neighbors. It began with polluting the Palestinians’ water cisterns by throwing dead chickens in, continued with uprooting olive trees and go on with frightening the little children who walk to the local school from their neighbouring villages. In 2004 a solution was found, which the army agreed to uphold: An army jeep with soldiers would escort the children from Tuba on their way to school each morning as they have to pass close to Maon. The army does not dare to prevent the Maon thugs from harassing the children. It is easier for it to assign a military escort to these school children. The A-Tuwani villagers have complained that lately the army does not show up at all, or if it does, it is very late. The children who were promised an escort at 7:30 a.m. so as to get to school on time, either come there late or have to go back home for fear of walking to school unescorted. (South Hebron Hills, 6.2.2012).