Yesterday started off early, bringing the parachute and Project Joy to the primary girl's school in Awarta. The teacher who translated, Najah, told her own compelling story. Her family lives in a fairly isolated house close to the Itamar setllement and has been invaded twice by the Israeli army in the past two weeks. The soldiers had the family wait outside (the 13 year old boy had a broken leg) while they ransacked the house, destroying all the food supplies in a 3rd floor storeroom, urinating on the clothes they pulled into piles.
Najah tells us that based on the manner in which the soldiers questioned family members she believes they did not believe a Palestinian from the town had committed the murders of the settler family but that they were under orders to be as destructive a possible. Her youngest child, Kareem, is terrified refusing to go into the kitchen, bathroom after dark without his mother. We offered to stay in the house for the night and she eagerly accepted. Nijah and her husband are remarkable people, they have lost 10 dunums of olive trees (2.5 acres) inside the electric fence of the Itamar settlement and another 50 dunums behind. Yet for the past 6 years the couple walked alone to the settlement to demand that they be allowed to pick their olive trees. Najah says even if there are no olives on her trees because of the settlers, she needs "to sit underneath them and breath their air."
|Itamar settlement view from Awarta|
The settlers often walk the narrow road by her house. The family has a collection of stones on the roof in case the settlers attack but now wants to build a stone wall. As she and her husband showed us the lights on the new hill claimed by the settlement since the family's death, she remarked, "they steal our land, they steal or trees, and they call us their enemies."
This is an inspiring family in so many ways. All siblings of Nijah are doctors and engineers living near the Israeli border, she in turn is determined to provide the same level of eduction to her children. On the one dunum left in their possession, she and her husband have planted vegetables and every imaginable fruit tree, including a grafting strawberry tree that produces both red and green strawberries. The family has no piped source of water so she has rigged her own grey water system from the kitchen drain to water the trees. (The water tanked in weekly is stolen from Palestinian aquifers by Israeli companies then sold back to Palestinians.)
After typical warm Palestinian hospitality and a wonderful meal, we had an uneventful night, but awoke to discover that about ten settlers had driven into the town during the night throwing stones and marking doors of houses where arrests had taken place (according to local reports about 5000 people from the northern West Bank have been taken for questioning by the Israelis in the past 40 days and, for the first time many women have been included in the sweeps. This is especially disconcerting to the children who are used to their fathers being out of the house, but never their mothers.
The town is visibly so frightened. Many men remain in jail, so any organized solidarity effort to spread alarm when the army or settlers come in is difficult to effect. Today in the news Itamar announced plans to build additional homes. The mayor's office tells us that of the 22 thousand dunums belonging to Awarta, Itamar has taken 12.5 thousand. And the lights on the hilltops surrounding the town at night are truly scary. No one is getting any sleep.
As I sit in the mayor's office writing this email..the men are staring into space, pacing relentlessly and SMOKING.
Also yesterday, we continued to try to understand the situation surrounding the arrest of the two 19 year olds for the murder of the Itamar family of five. In talking with family members of one of the accused, the way the army questioned the boy who 'confessed' is really difficult to describe: they had him in the bathroom from 4am til noon with his head in the toilet flushing it repeatedly while forcing his mother to watch. The other, as I mentioned in a previous email, is recovering from an operation making it difficult for him to walk. It is very difficult ( at least!) to imagine that, according to Israeli reports, these two "on impulse" walked to the settlement. We decided to understand the distance by walking toward the settlement, and spent 45 minutes in that direction and made little headway.
In addition there are two electrified fences around the settlement, 15 meters in between the two. A bird would set off the alarms, cameras, and snipers...so many other inconsistencies..but Human Rights Watch was in town yesterday and is issuing a report hopefully this weekend.
Doctors without Borders personnel, in town to deal with childrens' trauma, told me that there is an Israeli pattern whenever there is a violent death in a settlement. In Alon Moreah several years ago, a settler was killed, a Palestinian arrested, more land taken from the Palestinian town of Azmoot, and some time later the Palestinian was released with no charge for the murder -- but the town's land remains in the settlement's hands.
Now that I know the mayor's office has wireless, I hope I can be in touch more! We are waiting to be assigned to new families for this evening...thanks for all the replies and support!