AT-TUWANI UPDATE: 21 April-21 May 2008
5 June 2008
AT-TUWANI UPDATE: 21 April-21 May 2008
[Note: According to the Geneva Conventions, the
International Court of Justice in The Hague, and numerous United Nations
resolutions, all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Serving on team during this period were CPTers Jan Benvie, Laura Ciaghi, Jill Granberg, Joshua Hough, Maureen Jack, Sarah MacDonald, Sean O'Neil and members of Operation Dove (Doves).
Israelis from nearby settlements threatened Palestinians working in their fields every Saturday (Jewish Sabbath) during this. Settlers increasingly intimidated and challenged Palestinian shepherds' rights to graze and harvest their land. Israeli soldiers and police often came to the areas of conflict before settlers appeared, but did nothing to prevent their violence.
Palestinians' full access to their lands became even more essential during this seasonal transition from the moist winter months into the long dry season. The past season's rainfall in the South Hebron Hills was 13% of the annual average. With commercial fodder prices tripling since last year, growing their own fodder and grazing mostly-barren hillsides becomes the only option for some families, including many whose livelihoods are completely dependent on their flocks.
In the afternoon, Israeli military authorities began enforcing a closed military zone in the area across Route 317 from At-Tuwani. They stopped Palestinian traffic in both directions, but waived the order for five Israeli settler vehicles, two settlers on a quad bike, two settlers on horseback, and two riding donkeys. CPTers and Doves documented friendly discussions between soldiers and settlers, several of whom wore masks or hid their faces.
The commanding officer repeatedly ordered the At-Tuwani team members to leave. He agreed to show them a map and a document in Hebrew, but threatened to arrest one At-Tuwani team member if he photographed these. The officer said that he would forcibly evacuate the settlers, but settlers continued unimpeded into a Palestinian field. A Palestinian family continued harvesting their wheat nearby, despite the settlers' advance. Soon the settlers left, followed by the military. See 28 April CPTnet release, "AT-TUWANI: Israeli authorities enforce closed military zone for Palestinians, but not for settlers."
Palestinians reported to the Doves that they had been watering their sheep at their cistern, just outside Tuba Village, when they were attacked by six settlers throwing stones and threatening to steal sheep. No one was injured and no sheep were taken, but the settlers used large rocks to destroy the metal door on the top of the cistern.
At 10:20 a.m., shepherds near Ma'on Settlement were on their way home, in the direction of Umm Zeitouna, accompanied by the Doves. Four settlers came out from the settlement and threw rocks at them for about ten minutes.
In the afternoon, several settlers came into At-Tuwani, accusing Palestinians of stealing cherries. When At-Tuwani team members approached, filming and photographing, the settlers (at least two of them armed) pushed, kicked, and head-butted them and the Palestinians, breaking a video camera.
Scuffles broke out as about other twenty settlers, almost all armed with machine guns, arrived in the village, in addition to Israeli soldiers and police, who pushed and ordered the Palestinians farther back into the village.
Settlers advanced and massed around a Palestinian home. As they pointed out and accused individual
Palestinians, army and police arrested those Palestinians, dragging five of
them into vehicles and taking them to the police station at Kiryat Arba
Settlement, near Hebron, where each was eventually released without charges. Police refused to take any testimony from
the injured Palestinians and At-Tuwani team members. At least one-hour-and-a-half later, settlers remained on
Palestinian land. Two Palestinians and
two At-Tuwani team members received hospital treatment for injuries. See
2 May CPTnet release, "AT-TUWANI: Armed settlers invade village,
attacking Palestinians and internationals while soliders and police
Beginning early in the morning and throughout the day, armed settlers roamed through al-Humra, as-Sarura and al-Khoruba Valleys, passing near Palestinian shepherds and their flocks. In the morning, many soldiers and police gathered in the area. After six settlers came and stood on a ridge between two of the valleys, police ordered all the Palestinians and At-Tuwani team members to move back toward At-Tuwani. Late in the afternoon, after soldiers and police had left, other settlers came to graze their flocks, trespassing on Palestinian land.
For part of the afternoon, soldiers closed the road between At-Tuwani and Yatta, where it intersects Route 317, the Israeli settler highway. Most Palestinians had to find alternate routes.
About twenty settlers of all ages went on a hike through the Palestinian village of Mfakara, on the south side of At-Tuwani, ostensibly in connection with Israel's 60th Anniversary celebration. They stopped and gathered around a Palestinian cistern, opening the lid. The settlers appeared not to have contaminated the cistern as they had last December. (See 19 January CPTnet release, "Cistern contaminated in Humra Valley.") The settlers returned to the Hill 833 settlement outpost, which the settlers call Havat Ma'on, without further incident.
Later in the evening, soldiers set up a temporary checkpoint on the road between At-Tuwani and Yatta, making Palestinians wait while checking their IDs. For half an hour they held two brothers from At-Tuwani, verbally harassing them and calling them "troublemakers."
At noon, soldiers set up another checkpoint for one hour, in the same location as the previous day. They stopped Palestinians in both directions, checking IDs and searching cars and tractors.
In the afternoon, about fifteen settlers came from the Ma'on Settlement into At-Tuwani and gathered near a Palestinian home, shouting insults and making threatening gestures. A crowd of Palestinians and At-Tuwani team members gathered in hopes of deterring their advance. Israeli soldiers and police, accompanying the settlers did nothing to intervene. Soldiers then began to load their weapons, threaten, chase and push Palestinians. One soldier threatened to arrest a Palestinian whom he accused of touching the soldier's rifle. No one was arrested and the crowd eventually dispersed.
From 6:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., soldiers stopped Palestinians on the road between At-Tuwani and Yatta, checking IDs and forcing some Palestinians to turn back or find alternate routes. Soldiers stopped and emptied one van full of children and teachers on their way to school, ordering them to line up beside the road, before letting them proceed.
Starting early in the morning, several Palestinian families grazed their flocks and harvested grain in nearby valleys where Israeli authorities and settlers had contested their ownership. At-Tuwani team members and Israeli peace activists accompanied them. Israeli police and soldiers remained on nearby hilltops without interfering with the work.
Through the morning, four settlers trespassed nearby, walking through Palestinian fields and olive groves of Humra valley. Eventually, they entered At-Tuwani village and stood in the olive groves just above the village for several minutes. Soldiers there did nothing to deter them, but instead took photos of nearby Palestinians. A Major from the Israeli Civil Administration told villagers that unless settlers physically enter a Palestinian house, they do not constitute a problem. Police eventually arrived and asked the settlers to leave. Afterward, police and soldiers left the village.
At about 10:00 a.m., soldiers in a humvee arrived near shepherds grazing their flocks on their hillside south of At-Tuwani, followed by a settler in his car. CPTers Benvie and O'Neil watched as the shepherds and flocks immediately fled the area, except for one teenaged Palestinian boy. A soldier took photographs of Benvie, and then gave his camera to the settler, who also photographed her. Soldiers summoned the boy, who was visibly terrified. They ordered him to raise his shirt, put his hands on the jeep and spread his legs while they searched and questioned him, and then let the settler question him. Soldiers told Benvie and O'Neil that they have to check whether the shepherds are terrorists, because "they come with their lambs and bombs."
At 1:00 in the morning, seven military jeeps came into At-Tuwani and soldiers began running house-to-house searches. While some soldiers shouted and banged on doors, waking families and making them come out of their homes, others opened and searched Palestinian vehicles and combed the empty hillside with flashlights. They launched flares and exploded several aerial sound grenades. They gave no explanation for this activity other than calling it a "security operation." At about 3:00 a.m. they left and appeared to proceed to another village.
At about 9:00 a.m., Palestinians were grazing in a valley near the village of Mughayer al-Abeed. Two settlers came in a car, briefly chased the flocks and then parked on a hilltop to watch the grazing. Soldiers arrived and spoke with them. Benvie and Ciaghi followed and filmed the soldiers as they approached the shepherds on foot. The officer said something about Palestinians being forbidden to graze here, but would not specify boundaries or reasons. The soldiers soon returned to their jeep and eventually everyone left.