Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Words of an "On the Ground" Participant

Dear Friend,
The words of witness of an "on the ground" participant in the struggles among Isr's and Pal's are compelling. "Friend" Tom Arendshorst was part of a CPT (Christian Peacemaker Team) experience last month. He has written about it. Here is his April 10 report. Thank you, Tom. (He is a graduate of the Kroc Institute on Peace, at Notre Dame) JRK

A Time to Sow, A Time to Reap
Saturday, April 10, 2010:

We’re up and away early this morning, packed for our two home-stay nights in the South Hebron Hills village of At-Tuwani. The villagers’ barley is ripe, ready for harvest, and last night Israeli settlers from the adjacent Ma’on settlement grazed sheep on the Palestinians’ grain, destroying 30-40% of the vital crop. We’re going to accompany the villagers as they harvest their crop. It’s what Christian Peacemaker Teams do.

From At-Tuwani we hike a mile or so south on a rocky path, past olive groves on the right and a small pine-cypress forest above us on the left (which harbors an Israeli “outpost” hamlet, illegal even under Israeli military (IDF) law but protected by the military), to the little green vale where villagers are already at work. The entire group of twenty or so are an extended family; with them are an old Chevy truck and a scattered flock of sheep and goats. We –- Sharon, Milena, Gloria, Fathiyeh, Marlin, and I --- pitch in, pulling barley up in bunches by the roots, shaking off the valuable soil, stacking the grain into shocks, carrying shocks to the trailer, happily sipping little cups of steaming sweet tea every half-hour. The thorns mixed in with the barley make me wish I’d brought some work gloves with me.

Farther down the wadi we see the olive grove hacked down by settlers a year ago, growing anew. As usual, that crime elicited no investigation or response from the military or police. Settler (or even IDF) attacks against Palestinians or their property are almost routine. Because Ma’on settlers, adults and teens, so often have attacked and harassed (rocks, insults, pushing, hitting) the schoolchildren who hike two miles from the hamlet of Tuba to the At-Tuwani school, whose only path takes them past the edge of the settlement, CPT has worked out a deal with the IDF to escort the kids past the settlement twice each day. The CPTers meet the children at each end, to assure their safety and phone the IDF commander when the military jeep doesn’t show up. It’s bottom-up peacebuilding, resisting barriers and working for measures of justice in one village. We hitch along, red CPT caps on our heads, to watch the kids arrive and depart.

Not long before our visit Ma’on settlers reported a missing sheep to the IDF. Soldiers went to the Tuba hamlet and “investigated” by ransacking the Palestinians’ homes but not even bothering to look in the sheep pen. On another occasion several Israeli settler youths, armed with automatic rifles, threatened camping Palestinian shepherds near where we harvested barley and incited a fight. In the struggle one of the settler youths was shot. The settlers ran home. The next day IDF soldiers found the shepherd boy who’d reportedly fired the gun and killed him in his family’s home. Within the last two months Israeli police have abducted and beaten a twelve-year-old At-Tuwani shepherd, later releasing him without charge, and two boys who’d been attacked by a group of settlers (no settlers were arrested, of course).

Hebron and the South Hebron Hills are hotbeds of Israeli security concern and settler violence against Palestinians. I’ve asked several experienced observers about these extreme settler behaviors; they consistently estimate that 20-25% of settlers are violent Zionist extremists, the rest just Jews taking advantage of the settlement opportunity to develop their lives in Israel. The Israeli government invites new immigrants to be settlers in Palestinian territory, gives them stipends to live in nice apartments, ensures them unlimited water and unquestioning military security, and tacitly encourages their hostile, disruptive incursions into Palestinian society.

Sharon, four other delegates and I spend a night in the home of Atta Jabber and his family on the outskirts of Hebron, hard up against the expanding settlement town of Kiryat Arba. Atta’s family has lived here, on their property with its vineyards, for generations back into time. A couple of years ago the IDF came with its Caterpillar bulldozers and demolished Atta’s family’s house. The community helped Atta rebuild. The bulldozers came again and destroyed his house again. An Israeli woman, angry at her government’s treatment of Atta’s family, paid for the home to be built a third time, and it stands intact. But the IDF also blew up Atta’s cistern and cut off his water supply to his family vineyards by building a lovely Israeli-only highway between his home and his family’s vines. Atta has been arrested without charge and beaten so both legs were broken.

Atta’s stories present dramatic examples of Israeli occupation cruelties. But he presents his history without dramatic flair or emotion, and surprises me by combining the Palestinian hope for their legal rights with affirmation of Israel’s continuing existence. Indeed, I have not heard from any Palestinian the much-publicized insistence (in our U.S. press) that Israel “not exist.” I do hear, from Atta and multiple other sources, Palestinians’ fear of extremists’ violence, the fear that Palestinian terrorist attacks will enable the Israeli government to ratchet up the violence of its reprisals and pressure.

Atta’s wife makes us a delicious dinner of rice and chicken, and we meet the kids. I meet Atta’s mother and, after a flashlight look at her eyes, assure the family that her two cataract surgeries look excellent. Exhausted and eager for rest after dinner and our evening of conversation; Sharon and I make ready to plop down on two of Atta’s mattress pads, but he and his wife insist that we take their bedroom --- and their bed. We sleep like wintering little bears.

Viewed from the sky, as if a topographical map, Israel’s extension of settlements and Wall into Palestinian territory emerges not as some “natural” definition of reality but as an advancing line of battle, a strategic war of conquest. Here is an important water source; the Wall amoebas it away from the Palestinians who have depended on it for centuries. Here are arable fields adjacent to a little town; the Wall, or a new Israeli-only highway, cuts between and isolates people from crops. Here is Palestinian East Jerusalem, or a city near the established “Green Line” border dividing Israel from Palestine; Israeli military, government, and judiciary combine to bulldoze homes, take over property and construct new “settlement” condominiums, with encircling military security zones inside surrounding Palestinian communities. Here is a village or valuable farm out on its own in the South Hebron Hills, in the corridor Ariel Sharon saw as territorial connector between Palestinian West Bank and Palestinian Gaza; new settlement fortress-towns are constructed on hilltops encircling or next to those vulnerable targets.

The pressure is inexorable. Together with its apartheid system of separate, discriminatory laws and selective enforcement, discriminatory education, incapacitating limitations of movement, water theft, and economic crippling, the settlement-and-Wall process is one of slow, civilized, strangulation of the Palestinian people and society, an ethnic cleansing.

Viewed from the sky over time, will the occupation succeed in “cleansing” Palestine of Palestinians?

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate;
Only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness
multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. . . The chain reaction of
evil --- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars --- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

--- Martin Luther King, Jr.: Strength To Love