Two More Doors Welded Shut on Dubboya Street

Evicted Zuheira, Amal and Amal’s son

Note: This article originally appeared  on the The Jewish Pluralist website. (I sent a penultimate draft from Hebron, so this represents a corrected draft.)

Shopkeepers in Hebron now address me respectfully as ‘Amti, or “Auntie”—a title that means I am not elderly, but well, matronly. And it means that I have worked in Hebron for a full generation—twenty years, minus the five that the Israeli government decided to deny me entry into Palestine.

In 1995, my organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, responded to an invitation from the Hebron Municipality to address  the violence of the Hebron settlers in the Old City for a period of five months beginning in June At the time, people believed there was a realistic chance Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would remove the Hebron settlers and an actual plan existed to redeploy the Israeli military from Hebron at the end of the summer.

Every Saturday afternoon, at about the same time settlers would attack Palestinians, their homes, shops and cars on a short length of Shuhada Street—formerly the main street of Hebron—referred to as Dubboya Street. Our main focus of that first summer of 1995 was to spend Saturdays on Dubboya documenting settler intimidation of Palestinians there and if possible, intervening to prevent violence.

Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995. It turned out that Amir was behind many of those attacks on Dubboya Street and for a time, much of the settler violence subsided. Our focus shifted to home demolition and land confiscation in the late 1990s and then the Second Intifada exploded and gun battles in the streets of Hebron became a nightly occurrence. The stipulations of the Oslo Accords that Shuhada Street remain open to all traffic—stipulations never respected by the Israeli government… well, by that time everyone agreed Oslo was dead.

This week, our team received a call that the Israeli military was evicting an elderly woman and her daughter from their home on Dubboya Street.   As is often the case in fraught situations like these, it took us awhile to get all the facts right. The police said that someone had thrown Molotov cocktails from the women’s roof, but they had given the women no warning before they sealed their home. They said they should have known someone was throwing Molotov cocktails from their roof. And while soldiers were welding their home shut they laughed and settlers taunted them.

We posted an album of photos and our basic understanding of the story on Facebook and our website. And then the comments exploded. On our Facebook page, people kept posting this video, which they say proved the daughter was encouraging her mother to cry on cue, although when my teammates got there they tell me the women were genuinely distraught. framed the video with an incredibly factually inaccurate piece entitled, “What gets a foreign anarchist up in the morning.”  No, we’re not all anarchists and no, we’re not trying to settle in the abandoned buildings.) If you want to know the facts of the story, see this video by Hebron Defense Committee member and Al Haq researcher Hisham Sharabati.

I went to visit the two women the next day. The older Zuheira was depressed and tired, her daughter, smiling and energetic. I don’t know why she was smiling in the video. My bad photo of the two of them seems to indicate that it seems to be her natural disposition.

Doors Welded Shut on Dubboya Street

I do know this: In 1995, even though many shops on Dubboya Street had already closed due to settler and soldier harassment, some were still open. Many people still lived there. Palestinian cars were still able to drive on it. And today, when you walk on the street, door after door after door is welded shut. As Hisham notes in the video, settlers have broken into the backs of the shops to steal the electricity. Most of the families have moved out. The settlers have largely won the battle for Dubboya Street by a process of attrition.

So don’t tell me that Zuheira was crying over fake losses. The Palestinians of Dubboya Street have seen nothing but loss for the last twenty years. And I find it disgusting that people are trying to score propaganda points off the tears of an old woman who has just been evicted with no warning or due legal process.

Dubboya Street

Pope Francis in Palestine and Israel

My piece that appeared on The Jewish Pluralist website this past week:

Pope Francis in Palestine and Israel
Kathleen Kern

“I have a huge crush on the Pope,” I announced to my coworkers in our Hebron apartment* over supper last fall. “I suppose that’s weird, being Mennonite and all, but…”

“No,” my teammate said, “I’m Muslim and I have a crush on the Pope.”

Even my Jewish husband—who was at first skeptical of Pope Francis because of his silence as Archbishop in Argentina during the 1970s-80s when the U.S.-backed junta was torturing and murdering thousands of Argentineans—has admitted he has been a drastic improvement over recent occupants of the Papal See.

For me, the priority Francis places on caring for the marginalized, and the way he seems to have marginalized more popular obsessions of the Catholic church hierarchy tell me that he is serious about following Jesus, and encouraging the wider church to do so. And let’s face it, the guy is a champion when it comes to symbolism: washing the feet of Muslim women prisoners, confiscating the mansion of a rich bishop and turning it into a soup kitchen, choosing not to live himself in the luxurious Papal palace, but in small monastery apartment.

So I expected a certain amount of symbolism when he arrived in BoeCHcQIYAAXNrCIsrael/Palestine this past weekend. And sure enough, that moment happened at the wall that surrounds Bethlehem and which has strangled its economy: the Apartheid/Separation/Security Wall/Fence/Barrier.

Pictures of him laying his hand on the wall and pressing his forehead against it were probably meant to evoke the reverence with which people make contact with the Kotel on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. Someone on my Twitter feed crowed, “This picture is worth a thousand Kerry visits.” But in a picture of the Pope laying his head against the wall I see something else. I see a certain slump in his shoulders. I see depression. I see futility—a “God, you must do something, I can do nothing” attitude.

Perhaps I am projecting. You see, I am married to someone who strongly believes in the two state solution as do his J-Street colleagues, whom I like and admire. And the human rights milieu in which I work contains strong proponents for the one-state solution, whom I like and admire. And I, who have worked in Hebron since 1995 and seen the settler population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank grow from 150,000 to 500, 000 believe this:

Neither solution, as I have studied them, can possibly work, not with the craven Israeli and Palestinian political leadership in power now. Not with Israel holding all the cards and continually confiscating land in the West Bank and building settlements while it claims to want negotiations. Not with the U.S. Congress prepared to give Israel all the aid it wants, no questions asked. I do not see what new or creative ideas Shimon Peres or Mahmoud Abbas, whom the Pope invited to the Vatican while he was in the region, could possibly have to offer to the peace process.

If some solution does come, it will not come from Popes or Presidents, but from people that nobody is watching right now. People who see a chink in the wall of the Occupation that is not widely visible now and a way to bring at least a small part of it down. They in turn will inspire others to bring another part of it down and so on and so on, and finally the politicians will move in, legislate the end and take credit for it.

But I have a feeling that Pope Francis, if no one has assassinated him by then, will know who’s responsible and will give credit where it’s due. (Okay, yeah, I have this worldview thing…)

*I work for a Human Rights organization called Christian Peacemaker Teams. We have projects in Colombia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Palestine and with Indigenous Nations in North America.

SOUTH HEBRON HILLS: Umm al-Kher facing settler attacks, settlement expansion and a lawsuit from Karmel

This release was something I wrote up after my teammate Gabriel and I went out to the South Hebron Hills on Monday and Tuesday to fulfill our commitment to accompany Al-Fakheit school and the SUV donated by UNICEF and the government of Japan to bring the children to Al-Fakheit and Khirbet al-Majaz schools (the schools have demolition orders and the SUV has been confiscated by the Israeli military).  We were with EAPPI, Ta’ayush, and Operation Dove at the Umm al-Kher meeting.  In the end the people there were more upset that the Palestinian authority was giving a lot more aid to people in much less precarious positions than they were in.

SOUTH HEBRON HILLS: Umm al-Kher facing settler attacks, settlement expansion and a lawsuit from Karmel


SOUTH HEBRON HILLS: Umm al-Kher facing settler attacks, settlement expansion and a lawsuit from Karmel

Umm al-Kher is a village of about 135 people from the al-Hathaleen Bedouin who fled from their original lands near the Israeli city of Arad in during the war of 1948 to the South Hebron Hills.  They subsequently suffered the further bad luck of having the Israeli settlement of Karmel move next door in the early 1980s.  Water pipes and electricity run through their land to the settlement, but the Israeli Civil Administration does not allow residents of Umm al-Kher are to connect to the grid.  They use solar panels for electricity and firewood, goat and sheep dung to fuel their stoves.  They derive almost all their income from their flocks.

CPTers went out to Umm al-Kher on 3 February with a representative of the United Nations because of some recent attacks by Karmel settlers on the villagers.  Since men of the village had received threats of arrest if they got into altercations again with the settlers, women had been taking the sheep and goats to their grazing land, but settlers had attacked them as well.

At issue is the route along which the villagers had been herding their flocks to the grazing field.  Settlers had prevented the shepherds from taking a direct route across a hilltop, planting trees as a way of staking a claim to it.  (A representative of the Israeli group, Ta’ayush, at the meeting pointed out that Karmel is planning on establishing a new neighborhood there, so these trees will be uprooted if they succeed in doing so.)  The shepherds must take a forty-minute detour if they cannot cross the hilltop, which is harmful to their pregnant ewes; one pregnant ewe had died after making the longer walk.

The community’s taboun oven has also long been a target of the Karmel settlers’ anger, because they object to the smoke emitted when the residents of Umm al-Kher are baking bread.  The settlers have tried to destroy the taboun several times and are currently suing the community for 100,000 shekels for the damage they say the smoke is causing to their health.  As the U.N. representatives were discussing options that might make the taboun more acceptable, Ta’ayush members strongly backed the villagers, who did not want to switch to a source of fuel for which they would have to pay.   The Ta’ayush activists asserted that the taboun had been there long before Karmel had, and Umm al-Kher should not have to make compromises to accommodate the settlers.

An Umm al-Kher resident noted that one of the Karmel settlers who has committed attacks on community before is a police officer at the settlement of Kiryat Arba, which borders Hebron.  “I see him leaving for work every morning in his police uniform,” he said.  “I know if I respond to his attacks, I would be charged with assaulting a police officer.”

Despite these difficulties, the residents of Umm al-Kheir have decided they do not need internationals living in their village all the time, but rather would prefer they be available on an on-call basis. (An EAPPI unit lives in Yatta and Operation Dove lives in At-Tuwani.  CPT spends an overnight in the South Hebron Hills once a week.)  The court has recognized their right to access their grazing lands and they do not believe that the lawsuit against the taboun will succeed.  However, when one looks at its dwellings made of recycled materials and compares them to the expanding, western-style housing of Karmel, its situation seems precarious indeed.

[Note: This 2009 video of home demolitions in Umm al-Kher profiles Ta’ayush activist Ezra Nawi, who was present and providing translation for Umm Al-Kheir residents at the 3 February 2014 meeting.]

The loss of an orchard and one family’s endless creativity

[Note: I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing lately, just not here.  Below is a piece I posted on the team’s blog.
I’ve modified it a bit, because in the Abu Haikels’ papers, Chaim Bajaio refers to the Jewish religious foundation in Hebron by the Arabic term “waqf”, but other Palestinians thought that would be too confusing to put in our own piece.  I sort of like the idea that a waqf was a waqf in Hebron.  Arabic was the first language of the Jewish community before 1929.]


For Majd Abu Haikel’s graduation project from Al Quds University, she was supposed to take an object’s photograph and then paint a vision of what it could become.  The object she chose was one familiar to all the residents of Tel Rumeida in the city of Al-Khalil/Hebron: a tree destroyed by settlers.  She painted the dead almond tree bursting into blossom.  That painting hangs in the home of her parents, Feryal and Abdel Aziz Abu Haikel, who, in spite of decades of settler and soldier violence, have managed to raise eleven children on Tel Rumeida.  They have gone on to university and careers but remain close-knit and determined to stay where they are in spite of all the efforts of the Tel Rumeida settlers to get them to move.

The newest blow to the Abu Haikel family happened on 5 January 2013, when a bulldozer leveled their sixty-year old almond orchard and installed a caravan (mobile home) in preparation for yet another expansion of the Hebron settlement enterprise.  The father of Abdel Aziz Abu Haikel, Rateb Abu Haikel, had sublet the land from Chaim Bajaio, a member of Hebron’s original pre-1929 Jewish community (whose family the Abu Haikels rescued from the 1929 massacre.)  Bajai had leased it on behalf of the Jewish Waqf (religious foundation) from the Islamic Waqf, run by Tamim Adari.  In 1949, after the West Bank came under Jordanian rule, it was transferred to the Custodian of Enemy property, which, after the 1967 war, was renamed Custodian of Absentee property and came under the control of the Israeli government.  Throughout the changes in government and names, the Abu Haikels continued to pay a rental fee of ten Jordanian dinar every year on the land.

In 1980, the government of Israel stopped accepting the Abu Haikels’ money, although they kept trying to pay each year.  The Zakaria Bakri family, which had a lease agreement similar to that of the Abu Haikels, also had their lease payments blocked and in 1984  had the settlement of Ramat Yishai move on to their land:­ six caravans (mobile homes) with six families, among them the family of Baruch Marzel who had a reputation for instigating much of the violence in Hebron in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1999, the Israeli DCO finally allowed Abdel Aziz Abu Haikel to pay his rental fees for the land from 1980 onward in a lump sum.  He paid three years in advance, for two plots containing the family’s cherry and almond orchards.  In 2002, the DCO again stopped accepting payments and fenced in both orchards, but said they would give keys to the family, a promise it never fulfilled.  Years later, when settlers attempted to cultivate the orchard plots and the Abu Haikels complained, the Israeli authorities told the monitoring group, TIPH, that the land was Israeli state land.­

The Abu Haikels believed that at some point the Israeli DCO would allow them to make another lump sum payment as they had previously, but instead, it appears that the Israeli government may have chosen the old strategy of preventing Palestinians from cultivating land, and then claiming that because it was uncultivated, it was now state land.  Its plans are to turn it into an archeological park like Silwan (more about that in an upcoming release I’m working on.)

Arwa Abu Haikel, who now lives in Sheffield, United Kingdom, but joined the family for an interview via Skype, told a CPTer, “I didn’t realize how much pressure we live under until I came to the U.K.”  She still marvels at the way her neighbors in Sheffield smile at her when they pass in the street, having grown up among Israeli settlers who wished to do her harm.  She has vision problems from a 1999 settler pogrom in Tel Rumeida when settlers hit her on the head with a baseball bat, and a knee problem when a soldier kicked her and her husband in 2008.  “But emotionally,” she said, “I’m still here” [in Tel Rumeida.]

When the CPTer conducting the interview asked the family how it is that their children, despite emotional and physical scars such as these, have become successful, caring individuals.  Marwa Abu Haikel, a civil engineer said, “We believe in the creativity coming from struggle.”