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Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Postcard from Palestine

Hebden Bridge's Ron Taylor is a regular visitor to Palestine, part of an international movement of supporters.

Saturday Feb 5th, Al Khader, near Bethlehem.

Our wish has been granted. The fierce gales and (much needed) heavy rain of the last week have gone. Today is cloudless and there is only a cool breeze. A glorious day in the South Hebron Hills beckons, Still the four of us - myself, an Irish friend and two young people I had not met before - are muffled against the early morning cold.

Road 60 snakes its way out of Jerusalem, bypassing Bethlehem via a series of tunnels and bridges. It was built by Israel to enable Jewish settlers living in the southern part of the occupied West Bank to commute quickly into Jerusalem and beyond. After a short roadside wait our transport, a minibus, pulls up and we squeeze on board. We are greeted by the activists of Ta’ayush. There are faces I recognise and some new ones too. I am pleased to be back with them.

Postcard from Palestine

Palestinians, Israeli Jews and working together.
Rebuilding home demolished by the Israeli army

Ta’ayush is Arabic for living together and each Saturday, whatever the weather, activists travel south to support Palestinian farmers and herding communities. The support is crucial. The Palestinians trying to eke a living from a harsh environment are vulnerable to the actions of the Israeli army (IDF) and some of the most aggressive, racist and violent Jewish settlers in occupied Palestine. Put simply, both have the same purpose - to remove the Palestinians.

Passing settlements and settlement outposts (all built in contravention of international law) we skirt the city of Hebron to its east and 15 minutes later we are in the sparsely populated hills. Our destination is the herding community of Umm-al-Khair, tucked away behind Carmel settlement. The IDF is already in place as we turn off Road 60 just by Carmel. But, for the time being anyway, the soldiers seem more interested in a group of runners - a rare sight here - heading north towards Hebron.

(A group of internationals and a couple of Palestinians were attempting a long distance run along the length of the West Bank. Their purpose, we are told, was  to raise awareness of fair trade Palestinian olive oil. Later we receive news that IDF had forced the group to stop - running on public roads is not permitted apparently. Some of the group were detained - two French people and a Palestinian. The Palestinian has been charged with organising an illegal demonstration ! The French couple were released without charge after they presented their passports.)

The purpose of our visit to Umm-al-Khair is to assist in the rebuilding of a Palestinian home demolished by the IDF on January 25th. It was home to a widow and her seven children. It is hard to imagine a mind so cruel that it could order such an action at the coldest and wettest time of the year.

Palestinians were already at work as we arrived. We joined in the task of sorting the rubble left by the guilty bulldozer. After 20 minutes or so Amiel, a remarkably fine man and the group leader, asked me to go with him and a few other activists to another location where our help was needed. Back on the bus he told me we were heading to the village of Shaab-a-Bittun. Two weeks ago the IDF had blocked the only road into the village.Without warning a bulldozer arrived and pushed earth and rubble into a mound to stop vehicle access. It has since been removed but the road had been damaged. Our job was to repair and improve the surface.

(Briefly, once they became aware of the roadblock Ta’ayush’s legal team went into immediate action. It petitioned the Israeli high court to order the IDF to remove the roadblock. The IDF argued there was another road that could be used. Ta’ayush said there was not. The judge then suggested a field visit to look at the situation. Ta’ayush responded by saying that Shaab.a-Bittun was isolated from the rest of the world without justification and that they would remove the blockage themselves the following Saturday. The IDF removed it on the Friday - a small victory but an important one.)

We were greeted by some villagers, a mountain of gravel (purchased by Ta’ayush) and an assortment of equipment - buckets,shovels, mattocks and wheelbarrows. Four hours of hard graft had smoothed the gouges left by the bulldozer and the recent torrential rain. Exhausted we still managed a cheer when the first tractor, driven by a beaming farmer, came through. With aching arms and painful backs we forced ourselves up the steps of the minibus when it arrived from Umm-al-Khair.

(As ever here one battle is over and another one begins. Shaab-a-Bittun’s only source of electricity is from a series of wind turbines. They were installed a year or two ago by Comet-ME, an organisation funded by the German government. In recent weeks the IDF has ordered their demolition. Amiel told me the German ministry involved has demanded an explanation from the Israeli ambassador in Berlin).

In the meantime Amiel had been whisked away in a car by Ta’ayush activists who had reached the area before the minibus. As he disappeared he shouted that settlers had stolen a flock of sheep from a neighbouring village. He told us later that the flock had been returned to its rightful owners.

The bus took us the few miles to our last port of call. The Palestinian village of Susiya is a jumble of tents and makeshift huts. For years it has been subject to harassment and aggression from settlers living in the nearby settlement of the same. (That’s were the similarities end. Susiya settlement has all the attributes and amenities of a town somewhere in the West - red tiled roofs,neat gardens, mains water and electricity and so on.)

The IDF has routinely demolished homes and animal pens in Susiya. But now the local school, recently built and not yet complete, is scheduled for demolition. A rally was being at the school to protest against the army order. But before we can reach the school we stop to repair the road which has been vandalised by settlers. Around seventy other Israelis, from Combatants for Peace, and a scattering of local were present. After a few speeches cactuses were planted. A little puzzled we climbed back aboard our bus for the journey back home. As were alighted the bus near Bethlehem I was tempted to give my usual short speech - “it has been a privilege to be with you all today, to be in the company of so many human beings”  - but I didn’t. I think they know how I feel.

Ron Taylor


See also

HebWeb News - Hebden Bridge Old Gits support Palestinian farmers

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