Performing Deeds of Peace
This is the motto of the Villages Group, a small band of Israelis and Palestinian partners. They are doing all they can to help villagers in the Hebron Hills area in the south of the West Bank who are suffering great hardship inflicted on them by the Israeli military and by Jewish Israelis living illegally in settlements built on the villagers’ lands.
I was included in the warm welcome which four Villages Group volunteers received from the villagers of Sussiya. Their mutual relationship of friendship and respect provides a wonderful contrast to the usual contact between Palestinian villagers and Jewish Israelis: regular unwelcome and damaging encounters with hostile settlers and bullying, terrorizing military.
In 1985, these villagers were forced to move after the remains of a synagogue were found at the original site of their houses and caves. The village was declared a national heritage site. The villagers now live in small scattered groups 1 to 2 km away. They are menaced by Sussiya settlement on the hill above them. As in other villages, settlers, with help of soldiers, prevent the villagers from grazing their sheep and goats on their own land within some hundreds of yards of the settlement. The villagers are prevented from constructing any permanent buildings, so they have to live in tents, which the military say are not allowed either and threaten to demolish.
The villagers are also denied mains electricity and water, though these utilities are provided for the settlement. In Sussiya and in four of the other similarly deprived villages, the Villages Group has facilitated the generation of electricity by the installation of solar panels and small wind turbines. The work is being done by an Israeli-Palestinian team called Comet-ME, with the help of a teacher of electrical engineering at Hebron polytechnic and fifteen of his students, two of whom are from Sussiya. Another energy initiative being piloted here is the production of methane from sheep and goat droppings.
On the cultural side, the Group is trying to counter damaging effects the occupation is having on education. They are guided by what the villagers want. The Group has funded a strong tent on a concrete base laid by the villagers which houses a community centre, a “creative and learning space.” Books on agriculture are one of the first resources requested.
The indomitable Israeli human rights activist, Ezra Nawi from the Taayush movement is working with the Villages Group. He drove Erella and me from Sussiya to Tuba, another village benefiting from solar panels and a wind turbine. Tuba has been denied a properly surfaced access road and the track to the village is very rough, requiring a four wheel drive vehicle. Erella, Ezra and I were again welcomed warmly and were given a tasty meal of khwerna (a herb made into a dish like humus), raw tomato slices, hard boiled egg (organic of course, from the villagers’ hens), newly baked bread, unsalted butter, and a drink of mixed sheep and goat milk.
After talking with Tuba people and walking round the village, Ezra took us to Umm al-Kheir, a Bedouin village benefiting from renewable electricity generation. The residents of the adjacent Carmel settlement have taken a large proportion of the village’s land for their houses and gardens and a large poultry shed. The settlement has been extended by a number of caravans. This outpost is doubly illegal, being so even under Israeli law. The theft of a large proportion of their land, and regular harassment by the settlers makes life very difficult for the pastoral people living here. I met three of the six students from this village who have been helped to travel to college in Hebron with money collected by the Exeter branch of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign in Britain.
In 2007 Ezra was convicted of “participating in a riot and assaulting a police officer,” when non-violently resisting the demolition of a Palestinian family’s shack in Umm al-Kheir. A video, which can be seen on YouTube, shows that this charge has no foundation. In response to the conviction, nearly 140,000 people round the world wrote and e-mailed Israeli officials in support of Ezra’s work for Palestinians. His ability as a plumber is evident in toilets he has built in a number of villages. The first, in Umm al-Kheir, is dedicated to Israel’s former prime minister, Ariel Sharon. An order has been issued for its demolition. As the demolition teams appear inured to shame, let’s hope that in this case fear of ridicule will deter them.
No one knows more about the
effects of the occupation in this area then Ezra. “Over the past eight
years, I have seen with my own two eyes hundreds of abuses [of Palestinian
villagers] and exposed them to the public. The military, civil
administration and the judicial system are all working with the police, and
all of them together follow the commands of their masters, the Jewish
settlers. This unholy alliance is extremely dangerous, because for them the
end – gaining full control of the Land of Israel – justifies the means.
In order to advance this end they dehumanize the Palestinians; and because
the Palestinians in their eyes are not human, everything is permitted. They
can steal their land, demolish their homes, steal their water, imprison them
for no reason and at times even kill them. In Hebrew we say damam mutar,
taking their blood is permissible.” 
Ezra has been described as
Israel’s man of conscience. I have met many other Israelis of conscience,
but the people confronting the racist evils of political Zionism are still a
small minority. The women and men of the Villages Group, Comet-ME and
Taayush are worthy members of this minority, determined that the
Palestinians will be treated with dignity and justice.
In Occupied Palestine
Israel’s Daily Toll on Palestinian Life, Limb, Liberty and Property
to 8am 1 April 2010 Statistics from: www.palestine.org.nz
6 attacks – 16 raids including home invasions
8 taken prisoner – 13 detained – 81 restrictions of movement:
Israeli Navy opens fire on fishing boats
Home invasions -- Israeli soldiers abduct 3 youngsters aged 12, 15 and 17
Farms under Israeli fire in 3 Gaza districts
Invading Israeli forces bulldoze crops near Khan Yunis
Israeli Army violence in West Bank village in support of invading settlers
Night disruption and/or home invasions in refugee camp and 7 towns and villages