SermonsTel Rumeida

Restricting the life out of Hebron’s Old City– by Kathleen Kern

A repost from The Jewish Pluralist from my most recent assignment in Hebron.

Restricting the life out of Hebron’s Old City– by Kathleen Kern


Every year when I return to Hebron I have come to expect that I will find the Israeli Military Occupation more entrenched, the people more battered, more resigned. I expect that the Christian Peacemaker Team I have worked with since 1995 will have new challenges to meet. When I rejoined the team in early March, however, the extent of the restrictions on team’s monitoring work at checkpoints during school hours frankly shocked me. Border Police no longer permit us to exit the Old City near our apartment and make the five-minute walk to the Qitoun checkpoint to document how the soldiers treat schoolchildren and teachers passing through. Instead, we must take a fifteen-minute taxi ride over the hills and around to reach a location we can see from the roof of our house.

Once we are there, we must stand on what my teammate Stephanie calls poetically “the teargas side of the checkpoint.” Occupation forces have built up the checkpoint considerably since I left and from where we stand, we can see only from a distance the interactions between soldiers and children. We can no longer hear what happens or ask the children what soldiers said to them. The situation is worse for the children at Qurtuba School. Our colleagues with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme (EAPPI) were intended to be present for students as they passed through Checkpoint 56 and the settlers on Shuhada Street who have a history of attacking them. Now they must remain on the H-1 side of the checkpoint, where they can do nothing if something happens to the children on the other side.

The Occupation’s restrictions on international monitors in the H-2 area of Hebron are of course falling more heavily on Palestinians, and nowhere is this more the case than those living in Tel Rumeida. Last fall, the military began assigning numbers to Palestinians living in Tel Rumeida. Hani Abu Haikel showed us two numbers written on the outside of his green ID case when we brought a visiting CPT delegation to visit. If you don’t have that number, you are not legally allowed to be there. It doesn’t matter if you are a relative or a friend. (Relatives and friends of settlers living there are of course, allowed to visit them.) Three days earlier, Hani had workers pruning his grapevines, and settlers “reported” them to the soldiers, who told Hani he had to get special permission to have his grapevines pruned. The morning we visited, his wife Rheem and daughter Bashaer had been walking to a dentist appointment and a settler boy told the soldiers they didn’t live there, so the soldier made them wait in the pouring rain for twenty minutes while he checked their IDs.

Last month, as Hani was arguing for his right to pass through the checkpoint, a soldier called his commanding officer and asked if he could shoot him, and he overheard the commanding officer say on the radio that Hani was “too old” to shoot. Last fall, when killings in the Tel Rumeida area of Hebron were an almost daily occurrence, the Israeli military authorities evicted the International Solidarity Movement volunteers from their apartment just outside of the Gilbert checkpoint. That was when the neighborhood felt at its most vulnerable, an international married to a Palestinian resident told me after when I ran into him after our Friday afternoon mosque patrol. INTERNEMENT

“They want to make us afraid,” Hani said. Many of his neighbors have moved now. He says the intention of the occupation authorities is clear: to make life so unbearable in H-2 that Palestinians will leave. And of course, that is why they have placed the restrictions on international volunteers as well. They want to make us afraid, too—afraid of deportation, afraid of making the situation worse for our Palestinian partners, afraid that our work is becoming pointless, because we cannot reach the areas that where we need to do our documentation.

Listen to us carefully. If all of H-2 from Tel-Rumeida to Kiryat Arba becomes a settlement corridor, do not say you were not warned, because right now, the Israeli settlers here in Hebron are winning.


An Editorial Note—by Peter Eisenstadt
Kathy Kern is one of the bravest persons I know. As she mentions in her article, she has been going to Hebron as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) for over two decades. CPT is a Christian pacifist organization, with its roots in the traditional peace churches, the Mennonitesand the Church of the Brethren, , though it is broadly ecumenical in its outlook. To quote from its website, CPT “ places teams at the invitation of local peacemaking communities that are confronting situations of lethal conflict. These teams seek to follow God’s Spirit as it works through local peacemakers who risk injury and death by waging nonviolent direct action to confront systems of violence and oppression.” They do not go into war zones, but areas, like Hebron, that are what might be called “near war zones,” areas of great tension between the oppressors and the oppressed, between the occupied and the occupiers.

Working in Hebron is hard and dispiriting. CPTers try to help Hebronites in their conflicts with settlers, soldiers, and Israeli officials. They document the daily indignities meted out to local residents. The team in Hebron is currently short-handed, in part because Israel sometimes does not allow CPT members to enter the country. (Kathy was once denied entry at Ben-Gurion airport.) And in the recent years, its work has been pervaded by the sense that Israel and the settlers are winning; and that it will win its long, slow war of attrition against the Old City of Hebron; as Palestinians are either forced out or leave because living conditions have become impossible.

I was privileged, in December 2014, to spend a day with Kathy and her husband, Michael Argaman, at the CPT apartment in Hebron. It is utterly chilling to think that however bleak things were at the time, the situation has radically deteriorated. As Kathy notes, the Qitoun checkpoint, which was a twisty-turny five minute walk from the CPT apartment is now inaccessible by foot, and unlike when I was there, the CPT team is now limited to the Palestinian side of the border, so they cannot see the interactions of the school children with the IDF soldiers. I accompanied the CPT team early one morning to watch children crossing the checkpoint on their way to school. I can still smell the tear gas. Hebron has been, in recent months, even more explosive. At the Quitoun checkpoint recently there was an incident when the IDF killed a Palestinian youth in an alleged stabbing incident. The Old City of Hebron for many decades has been the site of the hottest of cold wars, requiring little in the way of additional kindling to burst into flames. The Israeli occupation of the Old City of Hebron is where the occupation of the West Bank began, and if it ever ends, it will make its last stand in Hebron. All I can say is that Kathy and her CPT colleagues, trying to salve the half century old open wound of Hebron, are truly doing God’s work.


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.”

Yummy foods I have been eating in Palestine

Hi kids!

We’ve been awfully busy, with school patrol, a house fire, clashes and a trip out to Firing Zone 918 and you know I don’t have opposable thumbs, so Kathy hasn’t been able to type this very important post about yummy foods we have been eating.  Last week we went with some of our friends from EAPPI to have a yummy barbecue dinner Youth Against the Settlements was hosting up at Tel Rumeida:IMG_9600 IMG_9601 IMG_9605 IMG_9608

Kathy wrote up a review of the evening for the TripAdvisor Facebook Page.

IMG_9603 IMG_9604After our winter work day we went out with our friend Hamed Qawasme, his daughter Rama, and our EAPPI friends to a restaurant called Falafel Kingdom.  Maurice liked it so much, he decided he wanted to go there for his final meal before he left the country and to celebrate his 27 years as an ordained priest.  Our friends Sami and Yussuf came too!IMG_9609 IMG_9610 IMG_9611 IMG_9612 IMG_9613One night, our teammate Christopher, Kathy and I were the only ones home for dinner.  He made stuffed pepper in three pretty colors, and then he found vegetarian jello and put dried apricots and pomegranate seeds in it. Then we put condensed milk on top.  Super Duper pretty and super yummy!IMG_9614IMG_9615

Oh also we had a wonderful day off at Kibbutz Harel with Kathy’s friends Aviva and Avner.  she forgot to take a picture of the food.  But she did take a picture of the nice warm bedroom! And she loved the shower!IMG_9618Well, that’s all for now! Next time, maybe I’ll tell you about some of the fun I had in the South Hebron Hills!