Friday, January 13, 2012

Settler Violence 101

I was planning on putting up a post about my eventful trip with the College Choir to Zababdeh today, but I think that can wait until next week. Instead, I'm going to put up this post that was written by Ryan (one of my fellow MCC workers in Israel/Palestine) and just was published on the MCC - Palestine blog. This post is called Nonviolent Courage Under Fire, and the original can be found here. It is fantastic, and really gives interesting insight into settler violence - something which is almost never discussed outside Palestine (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, I suggest that you read the quick explanation of what settler violence is by B'Tselem, an Israeli group committed to human rights in Palestine). It's one of those things that no one wants to hear about, because it challenges your stereotypes. Palestinians are supposed to be violent and Israelis are supposed to be peaceful, and any information that counters this belief is usually just ignored. Anyways, with no more commentary, here's Ryan's incredible post:

Palestinian nonviolence activist Hafez Hreini, from the village of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills.
It takes courage to run toward someone who is shooting at you, especially if you are unarmed.
In April 2004, in the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani, Hafez Hreini learned that Israeli settlers had approached his 70-year-old mother Fatima in the fields as she was tending her sheep. In this area of the South Hebron Hills, Palestinians have long faces frequent harassment from Israeli settlers and soldiers attempting to take control of more and more land.
Hafez ran to the fields, heart pounding. When he saw his mother, her face was bloodied. Eight Israelis from the nearby settlement of Ma’on had hit her in the head with rocks and beat her with her own shepherd’s rod. One of the settlers had a gun.
In his memory, Hafez barely heard the sound of the gunshots. As he recalls, “I was looking only at my mother.” But as he sprinted to his mother’s rescue, he remembers bullets ricocheting from the rocky ground under his feet, spraying dirt that stung his face.
The Israeli peace activists who had alerted Hafez to the situation also rushed to the scene and caught much of the incident on video. They were intervening as Israeli police and soldiers arrived and the settlers ceased their attack. A Palestinian ambulance rushed Fatima to the hospital. The next day she filed a complaint with the Israeli police, but none of her attackers were prosecuted, in spite of the video and eyewitness evidence.
As he retells this painful story in his gentle voice, Hafez remembers being filled with rage. What culture on earth does not justify retaliation for an attack on one’s mother? Instead, he says, “My first nonviolence came from my mother.”
As he cared for her during her painful recovery, Fatima told Hafez that he must find a good way to resist, but she did not ask for the revenge that he was contemplating. “Will it work or not?” was her simple response. “You will destroy yourself, and your family. You have to promise that you will not go this way.”
“It was the first step for me,” Hafez recalls.
The attack on Hafez’s mother is just one example from decades of harassment faced by his family and village. Consequently, for two years before the attack on Fatima, Israeli solidarity activists had been coming to At-Tuwani to document and try to prevent settler and military violence. Hafez says that it was hard to trust these activists at first, but they showed him and his community a “new reality” that not all Israelis were oppressors in the form of settlers and soldiers.
“I realized that most Israelis and internationals know nothing of the occupation,” recalls Hafez. But this was slowly changing through the efforts of Israeli groups such as Ta’ayush, and international presence provided by Christian Peacemaker Teams and Operation Dove. Their accompaniment, combined with small successes through nonviolent demonstrations and legal advocacy–winning recognition of land ownership, access to the electrical grid, and court-mandated Israeli military escorts protecting schoolchildren from settler harassment–built the community’s confidence in nonviolent resistance.

Joe Carr and Laura Ciaghi of Christian Peacemaker Teams walk with Hafez through his village's olive groves.
On these foundations, At-Tuwani continues its struggle. “We’re doing it [nonviolence trainings] to create a new generation that believes in peace,” says Hafez. “It’s like a tree–you have to water it every day.”
But Hafez and his community’s most fundamental form of resistance is not in nonviolence trainings, demonstrations, or lawsuits, but in the Palestinian concept of sumud, or “steadfastness.”
“This is resistance–to go daily to your land,” Hafez explains. In this way, just by living their lives in the face of ongoing oppression and violence, “we are protesting every day, every night.”
According to reports by humanitarian and human rights groups, settler violence  against Palestinians throughout the West Bank doubled in 2011 and is the worst since 2005. As in Fatima’s case, perpetrators enjoy virtual impunity from Israeli authorities, with 90% of complaints going unprosecuted.
“It happened to my mother and it is happening everywhere,” says Hafez. “They are looking for excuses to show Palestinians as violent animals. They are provoking violence.”

Hafez shares his story with a learning tour sponsored by MCC East Coast.
Recent media reports highlight the Israeli government response to spikes in settler violence, but often ignore the fact that Palestinians still face intense state violence. Residents of At-Tuwani have faced the demolition of their homes and even mosques by Israeli authorities as well as physical attacks on a number of occasions. Two years after being attacked by settlers, Fatima was again hospitalized after being beaten by Israeli soldiers at a nonviolent demonstration.
As Hafez and Fatima’s story demonstrates, neither Palestinian resistance, Israeli activism, nor international solidarity can be successful in isolation. The people of At-Tuwani and throughout the occupied Palestinian territories demand allies at all levels of struggle–on their land, in the courts of their oppressors, and to all corners of the international community. As Hafez states, “We need the support of everyone who believes in peace, human rights, and justice.”
Hafez’s story was just one of many that we heard on our most recent MCC learning tour. These tours are one of the key ways by which MCC shares the stories of our Palestinian and Israeli partners and neighbors with people around the world. Members of the group that met with Hafez in October just hosted their own storytelling night back home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with more than 125 people attending. Such efforts, and the ripple-effects of activism that result, further encourage the steadfast resistance of Hafez and many others.

Monday, January 9, 2012


As most of you know, Palestine is divided up into two halves, which are similar in many ways, but have a few differences, including being governed by two different groups. The West Bank, where I live, is governed by the Palestinian Authority, which is by and large a peaceful group committed to nonviolent means of resisting the occupation. Gaza, however, is ruled by Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist group by the EU, USA, Canada, and Israel, because of their refusal to recognize Israel and their sometimes violent means of fighting back against the occupation.

Since Gaza and the West Bank are separated by Israeli territory, as well as governed by different groups, it is extremely difficult to get permission to go to Gaza. Even for West Bank Palestinians, who you might assume could just go from one area to another, it is very difficult to coordinate because not only must you get permission from Hamas to enter Gaza, but you must also get permission from Israel to travel through their territory to the Gaza border.

For the past 6-8 weeks, the Bible College has been trying to get permits for the Choir to visit Gaza and sing at the churches there, because apparently, they are really in need of some Christmas cheer. I think that things are terrible in the West Bank... I've been told Gaza is a hundred times worse. Israel continues to bomb Gaza on a regular basis, and extremists retaliate by shooting short-range rockets over the border into the Israeli desert, which then causes Israel to retaliate by bombing more of Gaza. Unfortunately, while most of the rockets from Gaza land in deserted areas of the southern Israeli desert, many of the Israeli bombs hit schools, hospitals, and refugee camps in Gaza. Apparently, Gaza looks a lot like an active war zone. I've often heard Gaza described as an "open air prison," as movement in and out are incredibly restricted. I have never been, and unfortunately, because the application process is even more difficult for internationals, I will probably never be able to go to Gaza, despite my efforts to convince everyone who goes that I'd be a really great person to have along with them (I'm awesome at carrying suitcases).

Fortunately, the choir is getting ready to go to Gaza, because THEY GOT PERMISSION! They were informed at 7:30 this morning that they had been approved to travel to Gaza, but their permits are only valid for 2 days. Yes, you read that right. 2 measly days. So, 4 hours after they got the word that they could go (after almost 2 months of waiting to hear back), they are packing up and leaving within the hour. Everyone is running around in a tizzy, trying to arrange to leave immediately.

When I mentioned that I was surprised at how quickly they were ready to up and leave, one of the older choir members, who we'll just call "G," told me a story that I thought gave me a really unique window into the Palestinian travel mindset, and I thought I'd share it with you.

G: "When I lived in America, I had to move from Missouri to Florida. I was very, very concerned. What is the procedure? I'd never left Missouri before. Would they let me out? How would I get through all the states? Would Florida let me in? I didn't know how it worked. One of my American friends could tell that I was very worried and asked me what was wrong. I told him that I didn't know how I was going to move to Florida. I didn't know the procedure. I hadn't filled out a request or called anyone or filed any paperwork. I didn't know how to go about getting permission to go from one state to another. My friend laughed and told me 'G, you just drive. No one cares. No one will stop you. You just... go.' I was shocked. It is not that way here. Here, you need permission to go anywhere or do anything. Most of the time, you are denied. But if you are granted permission, you better hurry up and go before someone changes their mind."

This whole idea of "asking permission from the government" is so foreign to me. I'm used to living in a country where I can pretty much do whatever I want. I can go wherever I want. I am encouraged to be independent. I am free. Freedom now means something very different to me after living in a place where, for all intents and purposes, people are not free.

I have another really interesting experience to share with you, but I'm waiting until the choir is officially finished with all of their seasonal travel, just as an extra safety precaution. I should get that post up late this week/early next.

Anyways, I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and are enjoying being back at work (hah!).