Tuesday, 12 November 2013
Postcard from Palestine 12 - Another day with Ta'ayush
In the lair of the beast
Hebden Bridge's Ron Taylor is a regular visitor to Palestine, part of an international movement of supporters.
It is 5am and I am awake before the alarm sounds. Too early to get up and too late for more sleep I lie there trying to think of an excuse not to get up. The slight stomach bug of the last few days seems to have cleared - the local remedies of sage tea or arak (I had both to be on the safe side) have worked. I remember that today is my birthday - should I be doing this now I'm 64? A poor excuse, I decide.
Then I think of my Jewish activist friends from Jerusalem. One confessed to me recently, "Every Saturday I want to stay in bed. But I know if do I will feel guilty all week. So I get up. I have to do it." So I get up, too. Another day with Ta'ayush in the South Hebron Hills begins.
A half hour later I am in a taxi heading to the meeting point on the far side of Bethlehem. Two others - a young frenchman and an even younger Italian woman - are picked up along the way. Radio Quran FM murmurs away but the volume is mercifully low. Then by 7.15 a small convoy of Ta'ayush vehicles is heading south, joined near Hebron by two service taxis carrying a dozen or so French people.
Days with Ta'ayush
Days with Ta'ayush are unpredictable. One might mean a peaceful time accompanying shepherds as they make their way unhindered by soldiers and settlers. Another can develop into tense confrontations as Palestinians are prevented from reaching their lands. Some can be both. But today, I feel, is going to be a big day.
Last Saturday Ta'ayush activists were attacked by young masked settlers. Hidden in the trees of the illegal (even under Israeli law) colony outpost of Havat Maon they hurled rocks and abuse at us. The settlers had been surprised by our presence . "Next week," said Amiel, our leader, "they will be ready for us." Remembering his comment now, I realise we will going back there some time today.
Assembling at At-Tuwani
After a morning of relative quiet we assemble - perhaps 30 in total - in the village of At-Tuwani. It is the biggest village in the area and has been subject to land-theft and attacks by settlers for more than a decade. The villagers' persecutors, considered to be some of most violent in the West Bank, live and conduct their attacks from Havat Maon - possibly the worst neighbours one could have.
The outpost stands on a partially-wooded hilltop. Some structures can be seen but Ta'ayush activists have been aware for some time that more illegal construction, hidden by trees, has been taking place. Today was the chance to enter and take photographs.
Settlers out in force
As predicted the settlers were out in force. But so too were the IDF and the Israeli police. Then the purpose of last's week action became clear - if we were attacked both the police and the army would have to intervene. The plan was not without risks and much depended on the reaction of the commanders. Fortunately those in charge were described as 'reasonable' and we were allowed, as we had every right, to walk through the trees to the place we wanted to be. Before us was a nearly-completed large agricultural building, probably a dairy farm, with outbuildings. Many photos were taken.
The settlers' venom
Angry settlers were everywhere - shouting, snarling, screaming abuse and threatening. Several savage-looking dogs contributed to the menacing atmosphere. The settlers' venom was directed particularly towards Amiel and other activists well-known to and hated by them. "You are not real Jews", "You sleep with Arabs", "We know where you live" - some of the kinder shouts spat out towards them. There were no physical attacks other than a child kicking an Israeli activist.
After perhaps ten minutes the police 'encouraged' us to leave. Our mission accomplished we agreed to leave en masse. Prodded from time to time by soldiers we headed back to At-Tuwani. Some settlers followed through the trees. Rocks hurled in our direction fell well short as the IDF escorted us away.
Evidence of illegal construction
The photographs and video footage will be given to the lawyers of the rightful Palestinian landowners, a petition will be filed, evidence of illegal construction will be presented to the military administration which, in theory, should issue demolition orders against the new structures. None of these will return the land to the Palestinians of At-Tuwani. But, at the very least, it will put pressure on the settlers who prefer to work in secret away from any hint of public gaze. And there is the possibility that their plans for expansion will be curtailed.
Back in At-Tuwani our French friends depart for Hebron.The rest of us prepare to head back north when a phone call means we have one more task. Settlers are hurling rocks at a Palestinian family as they harvest their olives and almonds. On their own land but close to another outpost, settlers are trying to drive them away. By the time we arrive the incident is over but there is an opportunity to have a look round.
Guy, another remarkable Ta'ayush veteran, has been trying to photograph more illegal construction here for the last few weeks. We take our chance and follow him through the gate. The hostility is palpable, young people try to block our way. One child is heard to shout, "Mum, there are people coming to murder us." We carry on forward, snaps of new buildings are taken.
The police and soldiers are all around but the commanders here are less 'reasonable'. The head policeman orders us to leave. We refuse as we are doing nothing illegal. He then declares that we form an illegal gathering and will be arrested. A friend advises me to leave. I agree and slip away, down to the olive grove below, beyond the outpost boundary.
Guy follows me. He, too, cannot afford to be arrested - they are keen to get hold of him, he explains. But two activists are arrested before they can before they can get beyond the boundary. We must leave them behind but not before their lawyer is called. He will drive down to secure their release and take them home.
Postcard from Palestine 11 A Day with Ta'ayush (Oct 2013)
Postcard from Palestine 10 - Leaving Bethlehem (Jan 2013)
HebWeb Forum - Postcards from Palestine
Postcard from Palestine 9 - Destroying Palestine Bit by Bit
Postcard from Palestine 8 - Trees destroyed in revenge
Postcard from Palestine 7 - Normal life in Palestine
Postcard from Palestine 6 -Beer festival and closed military zones (2 November 2012)
Postcard from Palestine 5 - April 2012
Postcard from Palestine 4 - attacked by settlers
Postcard from Palestine 3 - detained by the Israeli army (16 March 2012)
Postcard from Palestine 2 (19 Feb 2012)
HebWeb Forum: Postcard from Palestine
Postcard from Palestine 1 (8 Feb 2012)
HebWeb News - Hebden Bridge Old Gits support Palestinian farmers