Letter from Tuwani

A rural Palestinian scene. (Luke Powell)

13 October 2004 — Tuwani is a Palestinian village of 150 people in the southern Hebron hills of the West Bank. There are a dozen or so other villages in the area, even smaller than Tuwani. These villages have been on this land for over five hundred years, and have largly maintained their ancient way of life. They build their homes out of stones, with domed stone roofs, or they live in caves. They get water from wells, and survived without electricity, until they recently installed a diesel generator which runs for four hours a night. The village looks forward to the next wedding, as it is their only excuse to party, but they love guests and have a phenomenal ethic of hospitality.

In the 1980s, Israel began building settlments (or colonies) in these hills. They have systematically expanded them, confiscating more and more of these villages’ farm and grazing land. Some of the smaller villages have been destroyed entirely by the Israeli military or rampaging settlers. This simple and loving village of Tuwani has demolition orders on every house and building, including the recently built school and a partially built clinic. Settler violence has terrorized them for years now. Settlers have stoned old women and small children, destroyed crops, killed livestock, and poisoned their water supply. The Israeli military is also involved, as they raid houses, arrest young men, and frequently drive through the village in Jeeps and Hummers at high speeds.

A month ago, our Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) group in Khalil (Hebron) responded to an invitation to begin a nonvioent presence in Tuwani. We teamed up with a faith-based Italian peace group called Operation Dove, and the Israeli peace group Ta’yoush. Our initial projects were accompanying the villagers as they defied military rulings. For instance, the military is continually blocking and destroying the only road that goes out of the village, so secretly the villagers take trackers and unblock it, and then build a new road where the other one was. If soldiers see them do this they might behave violently towards the villagers, so we are there, ready to descalate any violence. It is the same story with the clinic. Israel forbid them to build one, but the nearest clinic is 45 minutes away and Israel is continually destroying the road that leads to it. So we are helping the villagers build it, and it’s fun. The Palestinians post a lookout for the army, and when a Jeep goes by, we all hide or pretend we aren’t doing anything, and as soon as they leave we go back to work.

Two weeks ago, we were asked to begin accompanying the children from the nearby village of Tuba to the school in Tuwani. The children have to walk very close to Ma’an Settlment and Ma’an Ranch, a settlment “outpost” intended to expand the settlment. Three days into walking the children, five masked settler men attacked the two CPTers with chains and a club, hospitalizing them both. Thankfully the children excaped harm. After that attack, the military declared that road a “closed military zone”, which bans any non-settler or soldier from going there. So we began taking another way, which is longer and has no road. Several days later, masked settlers again attacked the group, this time hurling stones with sling shots, and severly beating one member of Operation Dove. They also attacked the other CPTers, two members of Amnesty International, and three Palestinian men. For more information about these attacks, check out www.cpt.org.

I arrived in Tuwani a few days ago to fill the gap left by the attacks. The first day, we went the same way and hoped for the best. Israeli activists worked to get the Israeli army and police to protect us, and we saw several Jeeps and Hummers roaming around the area as wer walked. But on the way back, a commander named Ophier approached us and told us they would not protect the children as long as members of CPT or Ta’yoush are with them, because they believe that we are the cause of the violence. If we leave, they said they would promise to protect the children, and that they would be at the school that afternoon to take them home. The villagers decided it was worth a try, but we should watch from a nearby hill to be sure everything was ok. However, the army did not show up that afternoon, so we proceded to walk them home. On the way back, we were cut off by an army jeep and out stepped Ophier. He informed us that this was now also a closed military zone, and that we would not be allowed to escort the children. I asked him what would happen if we did it anyway, and he said he would ask us nicely not to, and then he would ask us “not so nicely”.

The Palestinians, after thinking about it, said that they did not trust the Israeli military (terrorists in their eyes) to protect their children from the terrorist settlers. So we decided to escort the children “the long way”, which is a round-about journey, over mountains with no path or road, and only goes kind-of near the settlment. This went fine in the morning and that afternoon. An Israeli activist from Machsoum Watch (“Checkpoint Watch”) and a Palestinian community leader decided to challenge the military order, and drive on the road that goes by the settlement. When they were stopped by soldiers, the Israeli woman succeeded in getting a commander to promise to actually escort the children, so the villagers decided to give it a try.

Yesterday, a man from the Israeli Civil Administration met with some Twanie community leaders. “Tuwani is getting an awful lot of attention” he said, “what is it you want?” They told him of the problems of their poisoned water supply, the lack of roads, and the issues facing the children getting to school. He promised to get motions underway to build more roads that connect the villages, and get them permits for the clinic and other structures they need. This information is encouraging to the villagers, but they have very little trust. Israel has learned from the U.S. how to make deals with native people, so we will see which of his promises are fulfilled.

This morning, the children set off for school with a Palestinian man from Tuba, but were confronted by a group of settlers with dogs. The soldiers who were parked near-by intervended, prevented any violence, and got the children to school. But of course now the children are too afraid to use that road, and went home the long-way. Today CPTers and Operation Dove joined members of Ta’yoush to help pick olives in the near-by village of Quawese, where settlers often attack Palestinian farmers trying to harvest. We will continue to try and think of ways to get the children to school.

“Kul mushquela, illha hal (“Every problem has a solution”) so goes an important Palestinian saying. I believe this, the Palestinians have convinced me it is true. I have learned a lot from their perseverence and creativity, they keep me strong, couragious, and hopeful. Seeing Hafez, one of our close friends here, talk to Israeli soldiers is incredible. His house has a demolition order, and soldiers have repeatedly invaded his house and forced him to remove all his belongings in order to intimidte him. But when we encounter soldiers, he speaks to them with courage and authority, he’s niehter afraid nor overconfident, not rude, but gives no ground. If he can stand up to them, so can I.

Joe Carr is a 23-year-old peace activist from Kansas City, Missouri. He has worked Earth First, Food Not Bombs, and Arts in Activism. In 2003, he coordinated for the International Solidarity Movement in Rafah, Palestine, and witnessed Israeli soldiers murder US peace activist Rachel Corrie, and British peace activist Tom Hurndall. He now works with the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Al Khalil (Hebron), Palestine and in the US Palestinian Rights Movement.