IDF threatens to close orphanages in Hebron, affecting 6000 children

This is off the CPT newswires… CPT is Christian Peacemaker Teams, an international organization who maintain a presence in the Palestinian towns and villages that are most threatened by Israeli incursions and human rights abuses.  CPT Hebron is, for lack of a better word, hard core.  Hebron, where Israeli settlements not only loom on hilltops but occupy buildings in the heart of the city, and where the settlers themselves are some of the most radical and violent, is a difficult place to live.  CPTers often accompany Palestinian children walking to school to protect them from settler attacks, and observe checkpoints to either discourage or at least witness and document abuse of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers there.  The CPT Hebron info on the website is sort of outdated, but they've been there since 1995, and they put out a frequent bulletin through their Yahoo Group, CPTHebron.


29 March 2008
HEBRON: Sunday, 31 March 2008, Day of Prayer for Hebron's orphans

Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron is calling for Christians around the world to make Sunday, 30 March a day of prayer for the orphans of Hebron. On 25 February 2008, the Israeli army raided all of the buildings and institutions funded by Islamic Charities and gave orphanages and boarding schools until 1 April to evacuate students. On 6 March 2008, the Israeli army again stormed storage buildings of Islamic Charities, confiscating food, children's clothing, and kitchen appliances used to prepare meals for the orphans. These centers house, feed and educate 6000 children in Hebron.

Christian Peacemaker Teams will visit the orphanages and will resist the forced expulsion of children if the Israeli army carries out the order.

Pray for the children of Hebron and for all of those affected by the actions of the Israeli army. Pray that the Israeli civil administration will rescind the order.

To learn more about the Israeli army confiscations from Islamic Charities here are links to recent articles:

Gideon Levy, " Twilight Zone / When charity ends at home"

Khalid Amayreh, "Palestinian Orphans protest after their facilities are raided by Israeli troops"

Oakland Ross, "Hunkering down in Hebron"  



last Wednesday's events

There's a good article about the events in Bethlehem on the IHT.

In it, the reporter, Isabel Kershner, talks about the funerals yesterday and the display of unity, as members from all political factions gathered at the Mosque of Omar in Manger Square to pray and pay their respects to the dead.  She also talks about the circumstances of the men's deaths, and speaks to several individuals about their reactions.

Talking with co-workers yesterday, I also felt the need to record how people were expressing their reactions to Wednesday's assassinations.  Below is a piece that I wrote with the help of two co-workers.  It is intended to give a deeper view into why these men's deaths are mourned so fervently by so many people, and the sense of shock and loss experienced by the community.  This is not an official response from Diyar or the church here, but my personal interpretation of the responses that a few of my co-workers were sharing with me, regarding last Wednesday's assassinations.


I thought it might be important to record local reactions to the shootings in Bethlehem on Wednesday.

People here are mainly sad.  One of the men who was shot, Muhammad Shehadeh, was an icon in Palestinian society, and the men's funerals in Bethlehem yesterday drew thousands of mourners.  It was Shehadeh's house that was demolished last week, and his nephew who was taken into Israeli custody.

Shehadeh is a symbol of the resistance movement because Israel had been chasing him since 1989.  He had become a legend, someone who Israel couldn't catch.  He appeared on television and radio after the demolition of his house, saying that he was sad that his house had been demolished, but he was also optimistic, saying that he knew the Israelis were looking for him, but that he was running to stay alive.

So people are sad, not only because he was an icon of the resistance movement, but also because he was a prominent member of society.  A co-worker explained that in Arabic culture, there are the "big men" of the town, historically the leaders of clans, who are traditionally generous, listen to people's suffering, and help people in need, without expecting things in return – they are motivated my community-mindedness, and people are loyal to them, because they are loyal to the community.  So it is even worse that these men were killed because a "collaborator" tipped off the Israelis to their whereabouts, in betrayal of the men and the sanctity of the community.  These "big men" are even more important in a context where the government and police/military forces are seen to be doing little or nothing to protect and care for the citizenry.  The men are seen to believe in Palestine and to have a sort of visionary leadership that governmental officials are not seen to possess.  Most people think that the PA and the Palestinian military are around just for show, and who can blame them for thinking so, when they do not protect the citizens from Israeli incursions?

Finally, people are sad because of the circumstances of the deaths yesterday.  As my co-worker tells it, the men had just bought some hot, fresh bread from the bakery on the street near the Freres School, near to the house of another co-worker and about a 5-minute walk from mine.  This is so intimate, so familiar, that many people feel like the shooting could happen to anyone.  It happened in the center of one of the old neighbourhoods of Bethlehem, on a street that everyone knows, outside one of the town's favourite bakeries.  It really seems to have affected people deeply.

So this is the other side of the story.  People admit that there are bad things about Islamic Jihad, and that none of the men were without fault, but people revere them as symbols and as pillars of the community, and mourn them as such.  That they were killed rather than captured makes them martyrs in the eyes of many, and solidifies their status as symbols of the Palestinian resistance movement.




more killing in Bethlehem

Yesterday evening Israelis came into Bethlehem and shot four men riding in a car near the Freres School -- close to the house of a co-worker and about a 5-minute walk from my house.

The story is here.

One of the men had been on the run for almost 20 years, and recently started popping up on the radio and on TV.  A co-worker says that a "collaborator" probably found out that he was around, and called the Israelis, who came in and shot him.

I only started hearing about collaborators -- people who sell information to the Israelis, either to make money to support their families, or as part of a bargain to get themselves off the "wanted" list -- this week, when I saw the film "Paradise Now" for the first time.  I'm sure I must have heard about them before, but maybe this is the first time I've consciously thought about them, and what it means to be one.  If you haven't seen "Paradise Now", I'd recommend it.  It's about two seemingly normal guys in Nablus who get called up for a suicide mission, but it's also about the structures of militant organisations (the ones in charge sending others off to their deaths, eating sandwiches while the chosen bombers are filming their testimonies) and debate among Palestinians as to whether or not suicide bombs help or hurt the Palestinian cause for independence and self-determination.

So today in Bethlehem there's a general strike -- the only shops that are open are the pharmacies.  People say that it'll last until Saturday.  We shut the front gates to our offices today so that it looks like we're closed, but I think everyone came into work.


Amnesty International report: Palestinian homes demolished without warning

Got this off the AI wires this morning... IDF demolition crews destroyed large parts of rural villages in the Jordan Valley, where exists some of the most fertile (and therefore most coveted) land in Israel/Palestine.  While last week's house demolition in Bethlehem was a targeted assault on the home and family of a member of Islamic Jihad, these home demolitions are part of the strategic expulsion by Israel of Palestinians from their lands in the Jordan Valley.  The report states that at least 34 people, including 26 children, are homeless in the villages of Hadidya and Furush Beit Dajan, and 9 are homeless after the destruction of their farm in Jiftlik.

11 March 2008

The Israeli army demolished more homes in Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday morning. The homes of Palestinian families in the villages of Hadidiya, Jiftlik and Furush Beit Dajan, in the Jordan Valley area of the occupied West Bank, were demolished.

Amnesty International's researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories witnessed the demolitions. Donatella Rovera described the scene:

"In all the places, most of the people are children. These homes mostly have three generations – the grandparents, parents and children. In Hadidiya, there were four families, in Furush Beit Dajan, five families.

"All of the people have had homes demolished before, but this time they had no warning. The people were very, very upset. They were running to get their things out of their homes, but the bulldozer just went on demolishing."

Soldiers of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) arrived early in the morning in jeeps accompanied by a bulldozer and then demolished the buildings where the four families were living. The destroyed properties belonged to Mohammed Fahed Bani Odeh, Mohammed Ali Shaikh Bani Odeh, Ali Shaikh Musleh Bani Odeh and Omar 'Arif Mohammed Bisharat and their families – at least 34 people, including some 26 children.  

After destroying these homes, the IDF moved on to destroy homes in Jiftlik and Furush Beit Dajan, where homes have previously been demolished in recent months.

"In Jiftlik, they are destroying a farm – it is one of the rare farms here and there is otherwise not much livelihood for the people. They first bulldozed the vegetable area a couple of months ago; then they bulldozed the home today," said Donatella Rovera, who also witnessed this demolition.

"The family of Mahmud Mat'ab Da'ish, his wife and seven children were previously given a tent by the Red Cross and they started planting vegetables again. Today, the army has been bulldozing the green plants.

"In all three locations the soldiers haven't allowed us to get near, I don't even know if they have a military order to destroy everything  - we asked them but they didn't show us anything."

The families in Hadidiya have lived in the same area for generations, herding sheep and goats and cultivating land on the Jordan hills. They have come under increasing pressure from the Israeli army to leave the area. The same four families had their homes destroyed in February this year and other homes were demolished several times by the Israeli army in 2007.

The demolitions are part of intensified efforts by the Israeli army to expel Palestinians from the area of the Jordan Valley. Much of the Jordan Valley, including the Hadidiya area, has been designated by the Israeli authorities as a "closed military area" and the army has been exerting increased pressure on local Palestinian villagers to force them to out of the area.

For years, the Israeli authorities have pursued a policy of discriminatory house demolition, on the one hand allowing scores of Israeli settlements to be built on occupied Palestinian land, in breach of international law, while simultaneously confiscating Palestinian lands, refusing building permits for Palestinians and destroying their homes. The land vacated has often been used to build illegal Israeli settlements. International law forbids occupying powers from settling their own citizens in the territories they occupy.

The demolitions come one day after the Israeli government came under international criticism for approving the construction of hundreds of new houses for Israelis in the Givat Ze'ev settlement north of Jerusalem. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the government to "halt settlement expansion" in the West Bank. Javier Solana, the European Union (EU)'s foreign policy chief, said the EU opposed the move to expand the settlement.

Read More

Israeli army destroys Palestinian homes (News, 14 February 2008)


shooting in Jerusalem

You may have heard about the shooting in Jerusalem last night.

I was in a cafe in Bethlehem when it happened -- some people were down from Jerusalem and one of them got a phone call to give them a heads-up about the situation, in case the checkpoints were shut down or something.  The first thing we heard was that it was a suicide bombing, but then someone else called and said it was a shooting, which isn't much better, but it is a different sort of deal.

The yeshiva where the shooting took place is famous as the "backbone of the settler movement", apparently, so it probably wasn't a random choice.

There's an article on the IHT here.  Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman, is quoted as saying, "tonight's massacre in Jerusalem is a defining moment... the same warped and extremist ideology behind tonight's massacre is also behind the daily rocket barrages in the south."  Which is both worrying (defining moment?) and I think incorrect.  The daily rocket barrages from Gaza are probably more because Gaza is the largest open-air prison in the world, where water is scarce or polluted, there is no fuel or electricity, and many live in abject misery because of the closure policies of the Israeli government toward them.   Go figure, right?  A gunman (not a suicide bomber) attacking a yeshiva that's the religious "backbone of the settler movement" would make more sense to come in response to the continuing house demolitions in the West Bank and the continuing expansion of West Bank settlements (the E1 plan, in particular, which is going to annex large parts of Arab East Jerusalem) even though they're unequivocally illegal under international law, and prime ministers since I don't know when have all said, "yeah, yeah, we'll totally stop building settlements...".  The spark that set this guy off might have been the over 100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including a number of children, who were killed in Gaza by Israel since last week (it's set off a number of demonstrations, certainly), but to lump together all the things that people do for a variety of reasons under the blanket term of "terrorism" only serves to justify the blunt and collective punishment that Israel continues to perpetrate with complete impunity against the Palestinian population.

Then, in Bethlehem last night, the Israeli troops rolled in and destroyed a house in the neighbourhood between my house and where I work, which is only a 10-minute walk.  Apparently they were looking for a wanted Islamic Jihadist, but he wasn't there, so they destroyed his house and took his nephew to an undisclosed location, where he may remain for months in "administrative detention", without anyone knowing where he is, and probably without being charged with anything.  A co-worker who lives near to the house that was demolished says that the last Israeli troops left around 6:30 this morning.

So that's what's going on.  I'm safe, and I don't know anyone who died, but things keep getting worse here.