Building Justice in at-Tuwani

by Joy Ellison

“You should be delivering demolition orders to the Israeli settlers!” an at-Tuwani resident admonished Israeli soldiers.

On 20 July, Palestinians in the village of at-Tuwani protested as Israeli authorities delivered demolition orders to seven new houses.  The demonstration was a part of a campaign to assert the rights of Palestinians to build on their land and to draw attention to the illegal expansion of the Havat Ma’on settlement outpost.

At-Tuwani residents built seven small houses on privately-owned Palestinian land next to the village.  Village leaders told CPTers that the new construction would make it more difficult for Israeli settlers to seize the land for a new settlement site.  They hoped this nonviolent action could be the first step towards Palestinians moving back into homes that settlers drove them out of in 1997.  But they knew the building project carried risk.

The night after construction began, Israeli settlers smashed one of the half-completed houses and cut down an olive tree.

Undeterred, Palestinians continued building.  As the houses were being finished, the Israeli military drove into at-Tuwani and began delivering stop work orders for the new structures, the first step towards demolishing the new houses.

Community residents gathered beside the new buildings.  They made their case to the military officers, explaining that the land was theirs and demanding to know why they aren’t able to build while Israeli settlements expand unabated.

Palestinian children surrounded each house and chanted loudly, making it difficult for the military to leave the orders at each house or use their radios and phones.  One officer struck a small Palestinian child and an Israeli soldier shoved a Palestinian man to the ground.

Israeli police arrested resident Nasser A. for participating in the protest.  But the Israeli military could not stop the demonstration.  Palestinians prayed together and sat on their land.  They returned the next day to continue to building.

Nasser A. remained in prison for more than one month and was forced to pay a fine of 20,000 Israeli Shekels, an exorbitant sum for a village that is strangled financially by the Israeli occupation.  Nonetheless, the seven new houses are still standing and at-Tuwani’s resistance remains strong.