Soldiers, police, settlers, and the Palestinians
7 May 2006
I expect you have all heard about the eviction of settlers from a house they took over in the Old City a month ago, on the 6th of April. It had been empty for years, as it is on the settler-only road, Shuhada Street, where all the Palestinian shops were welded shut by the Israeli army about 3 years ago. It is by one of the gateways into the Old City, the Bab al Khan, which is also the main entrance to the Avraham Avinu settlement. We go past there every day on school patrol. Opposite is the house where a Palestinian family we know well have an apartment – I showed them in talks I gave this year, in New Zealand. We specially look out for their youngest son on his way to school, as he has often been harassed by settlers or soldiers or both. Last month, with 3 more settler families so very close, they moved out of their home, we hope only temporarily.
The settlers swore they had bought the old 3-storey property legally from the Palestinian owners, but everyone we talk to says no way would the owner have sold to them – the sale is fraudulent, the papers are fake, and signed by someone who was not the owner. (Shades of the stories of fraudulent land sales in Aotearoa – New Zealand by Maori who had not got the right to sell, to the 19th century settlers, who were out to acquire it in any way they could). The settlers say, Palestinians would say it was a fraud, wouldn’t they, as if they admitted to selling they would be murdered as collaborators. The Israeli High Court ruled that they must get out, first by Friday morning, then deferred it to Monday morning (tomorrow). We watched proceedings for most of the day on Friday, when I took the photos below when we were able to get quite near. About 18 setters were gathered on the roof, chanting and declaiming and shouting. Below, all the security services were out in force: Army vehicles and soldiers, border police, ordinary police, and a riot squad in special black overalls, riot shields and visors on their helmets – as well as all being fully armed as usual. Settlers of all ages were also out in the street, and the 6 riot police put a barricade across the side road by the front door. But in spite of this show of force - the papers talk of 1,000 personnel being deployed for the operation - nothing happened.
We knew there would be trouble, as they were almost bound to refuse to move out voluntarily. Shabbat (Saturday) was quiet, except that the settlers issued a call to Israeli youth to come and join them in defence of their house, so by evening there were many more people around. About 2am this morning (Sunday) we were woken by the noise, and went up on our roof. The view is tantalising, as we cannot see that point in the road, (2 or 3 hundred metres away) because there is a building with a higher roof just in front. Army vehicles were herding Israeli supporters along Shuhada Street away from the house. We could see silhouettes of settlers on the roof, sometimes throwing things, and a tyre being burnt in the courtyard. Today, we have not been able to go anywhere close, as it is declared a closed military zone, so it’s from BBC World Radio that we’ve heard that the squatters have been removed – carried out of the house, I think. A group of settlers ran through the souk at one moment, but were quickly taken out again by the soldiers. We’ve just met our friend Hani who lives at the top of the hill beside the Tel Rumeida settlement: his sister’s car, parked near his house, was burnt out by settlers last night. The mosque gates have been closed all day; no children could get out of the Old City to go to school, and increased numbers of Palestinians are being stopped and held at the checkpoints.
Meanwhile down in the village of At Tuwani in the south Hebron hills, our team reports on the escalating violence of the settlers towards the children: "Are you afraid of the settlers too?"
Increased attacks and harassment by Israeli settlers from Hill 833 (a Ma'on settlement outpost), on schoolchildren from the village of Tuba have drawn a confused response from the Israeli police and military. These actions by settlers include the following:
- Settlers placed large rocks blocking the short road from Tuba to At-Tuwani that goes between Ma'on and Hill 833. (The Israeli Knesset Committee for Children's Rights mandated that the military/police escort of the children use this route, because it is the most direct.) The military left the rocks there for five days, and switched to a middle road around the south side of Hill 833.
- Settlers stood on the road; the police escort arrived, and warned the approaching children to retreat. Settlers broke a window on the police jeep, then two settlers ran away and others drove away. Police took no action against the settlers.
- A settler security guard stopped his truck in the road that is the most direct route, blocking the military escort jeep. He demanded that the military use the middle road instead. The soldiers complied.
- Five adult male settlers circled around the school escort, yelling at the schoolchildren, and then a group of about thirty-five settlers formed a circle around the escort and threw rocks and eggs. The soldiers had the schoolchildren get into the military jeeps, and sat for almost an hour. The military and police took no action against the settlers.
- On two occasions, adult male settlers came from their houses near the middle road and yelled at the children. On one occasion, the soldiers allowed a settler, who was waving his arms and roaring, to walk into the group of children, who scattered and ran. The soldiers returned after the children were home and had a five-minute conference with that settler.
- Settlers placed a barrier of large rocks on the middle road. On first discovering the barrier, the escort used the short road from Tuba to At-Tuwani. Since then, on instructions from their senior officer, soldiers have walked with the children on the middle road, with their jeep returning and driving around through Ma'on settlement to pick up the soldiers. This escort continued for several days, but on 3 May a police jeep arrived, drove to the roadblock, and then left without escorting the children. The children waited for three hours, but despite repeated calls to both the military and the police, no other escort arrived. Finally, three CPTers accompanied the children home.
Despite increasingly aggressive harassment from settlers, tardiness and passivity on the part of the Israeli police and military, these young children continue to make their way to and from school via the longer and less direct route. The Israeli military and police are thus in violation of orders mandated by the Israeli government
A CPTer overheard one of the children ask an Israeli police officer, "Are you afraid of the settlers too?"
CPTnet, 6 May 2006