Free Khirbet al-Tawil

From Haaretz:

Khirbet al-Tawil sits on the sides of a hill that descends into the Jordan Valley, between the Palestinian town of Aqraba and the Jewish settlement of Gitit. The village is accessed by a muddy road, which took us a long time to find. On the rocky terrain in between the fields, there were several buildings – either houses or shacks – next to animal pens and coops. When we entered the mosque, accompanied by two researchers from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and a researcher from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the residents were absorbed in lively conversation. It was noon, and they turned first to pray, kneeling on the wet rugs, their faces toward Mecca.

The stone ruins of the ancient, magnificent houses in Khirbet al-Tawil attest that Palestinians lived here for centuries.

I’m not a rap fan. Having just listened to about 8 minutes of Hip Hop M1X with Charlie Sloth, I can say this with some certainty. The rapper I listened to is “Margate’s finest, Mic Righteous” – and I can’t imagine I’d be writing a blog post about him except that something weird happened during his rap: one word was obliterated with the sound of breaking glass (and the shot used did not show Mic’s mouth, so the BBC are wise to lip-reading).

The word obliterated was “Palestine”: Mic Righteous, explaining to his fans that despite his recent success he’s no sellout, says “I can scream Free Palestine for my pride/still pray for peace” or as the BBC preferred “I can scream Free *SMASH GLASS* for my pride/still pray for peace.”

The excuse offered by the BBC’s head of editorial standards for audio and music, Paul Smith, is that the show’s producer “did not edit out the word ‘Palestine’ because it was offensive — referencing Palestine is fine, but implying that it is not free is the contentious issue.” (Antony Loewenstein, 4th February 2012 in Israel) Apparently the BBC felt that it was inappropriate to allow a rap arist to make reference to a contentious political issue. As an unexpected array of people noted in an open letter in May 2011:

As artists, academics, lawyers and parliamentarians, we oppose this attack on the principles of free speech and on the freedom of artists to express political viewpoints through art.

On Wednesday 26th January 2011, or less than three weeks before Paul Smith decided it was “contentious” to imply that Palestine was “not free”, the Israel occupation forces on the West Bank delivered four final demolition warnings to farmers from Khirbet al Tawil, that their homes were about to be destroyed. The buildings had received seven consecutive demolition orders.

The homes shelter some 35 persons, all of whom work in farming and raising livestock. In total, there are 18 families in the area whose primarily source of income is based on agriculture or livestock.

Occupation forces delivered the notices in the afternoon, which gave residents 24 hours to evacuate their homes. Yusif Diriya, a member of the Stop the Campaign in the ‘Aqraba area, east of Nablus, explained that in the past Occupation forces have warned residents and then undertaken demolition during the night, following the issuing of the final warnings. Residents expect their homes to be destroyed, and are appealing to government and human rights organizations for support.

Gitit, the neighbouring settlement to Khirbet al-Tawil, was established in 1972 as a moshav by the Noar Halutzi Lohem (lit. Fighting Pioneer Youth), known as Nahal: an Israel Defense Forces infantry brigade. Nahal soldiers established new agricultural settlements in “outlying areas” – after 1967, in Sinai, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. In 1975 it became a civilian settlement and a member of the Mishkei Herut Beitar umbrella organisation. In 2006 it had a population of 214 with an area of 1,500 dunams.

Another nearby settlement, Itamar, was established in 1984 by several families from one of the largest Zionist outreach organisations in Israel, the Machon Meir Yeshiva in Jerusalem with the assistance of the umbrella organisation Amana. In 2009 Itamar had a population of over a thousand with an area of 7,000 dunams, including the outposts designed to encircle and block development of Palestinian towns Yanun and Beit Furik: residents of those villages report harassment by settlers from Itamar, who sic their dogs on the shepherds to drive them off the grazing grounds: Itamar raises sheep and goats. Of the 4,780 dunams of land that the main part of the settlement Itamar sits on, nearly half is land that was privately owned by Palestinians before the settlers came. From December 2009, the people of Itamar receive an average of NIS 1,000 per person per year in subsidies in addition to the ordinary settlement subsidies, because their area is designated a “national priority zone” by the Israeli government.

From B’Tselem:

The Jordan Valley area is considered one of the areas of the West Bank with the richest natural water sources. Under international law, most of these water sources belong to the Palestinians, while a smaller portion are to be shared by the Palestinians and Israel. Despite this, Israel has taken control of most of the water sources in the area and has earmarked the use of most of the resources exclusively for the settlers in the area, while ignoring Palestinian communities and the chronic water shortage in the rest of the West Bank.

Twenty-eight of the forty-two Israeli water drillings in the West Bank are in the Jordan Valley. From Jordan Valley area, Israel pumps 32 million cubic metres, most of for the use of Israeli settlements such as Gitet and Itamar. A small amount goes to Palestinian villages. Khirbet al-Tawil has an ancient well which is still in use: a water cistern was on the list of buildings subject to demolition order in 2009. The unequal distribution of water and the Israeli control over who gets it has ensured Israeli settlements on the West Bank can farm much more successfully than Palestinian villages.

In Khirbet al-Tawil:

Much of the village’s lands were stolen long ago for Gitit and other settlements, about two kilometers east of the village. The Civil Administration issued the most recent demolition orders two weeks ago. In the neighboring communities, residents report harassment by settlers, primarily from Itamar, who sic their dogs on the shepherds to drive them off the grazing grounds near the settlement.

In the summer, several hundred villagers live here, and in the winter about 150 remain. They have a small, well-kept school for all the village children. They get their electricity from Aqraba; water comes from a well. The village head, Bani-Jaber, says Israel wants to change the land’s designation from farmland to a military training area. Afterward the Israel Defense Forces will give the land to the settlers, and it will be rezoned as farmland for its new owners. That is what happened in the past, and that’s what’s likely to happen again, the villagers believe.

The livelihood of these villagers depends solely on the wheat and flocks. Without land, without water, they cannot continue to live there. So they resolved, all the adults of the village, to fast for twenty-four hours, from dawn Saturday 27th to Sunday 28th January – a public hunger strike against what is being done to them.

Last Saturday they gathered at the mosque. Nonprofit representatives, local politicians and television crews from the local area showed up. Even Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, president of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, came. IDF soldiers also came, and confiscated Barghouti’s identification papers.

For those 24 hours, they were all together in the mosque – women, men, and children. One 10-year-old boy, Daya, participated in the hunger strike. Asked why he went on strike, he replied immediately in his thin voice: “Because this is no life.”

They know nothing changed in Israel or the settlements due to their actions. But they believe that some international organizations and governments support Israel only because they do not know enough about suffering of the Palestinians – the small villages holding on to the land in the West Bank – and they hope that the hunger strike would change that.

Even though only local Nablus TV showed up; even Reuters didn’t come.

Was it hard to strike, we asked? They laughed: “Compared to our [usual] living conditions, it was very easy.”

Bani-Jaber, says that he broke the fast on Sunday with an ordinary breakfast – labaneh cheese, olive oil, mallow and bread. But this time the breakfast tasted especially good.

On Friday 11th February 2011, there were 5,550 Palestinian prisoners in IDF detention centres. 45 of them were children under the age of 16, 171 minors between 16 and 18. By the end of December 2011, Israel was holding 307 Palestinians in “administrative detention” – prisoners without charge or trial. Nearly a third are held for six months to a year; nearly a quarter from one to two years.

Israel has created in the Occupied Territories

a regime of separation and discrimination, with two separate systems of law in the same territory. One system, for the settlers, de facto annexes the settlements to Israel and grants settlers the rights of citizens of a democratic state. The other is a system of military law that systematically deprives Palestinian of their rights and denies them the ability to have any real effect on shaping the policy regarding the land space in which they live and with respect to their rights. These separate systems reinforce a regime in which rights depend on the national identity of the individual. (B’Tselem)

It’s an extraordinary act of ordinary humanity when people gather together to make a statement as the people of Khirbet al-Tawil did with their fast: with their extraordinary hope in our humanity, that someone, beyond the Jordan Valley, outside the borders of Israel, would take note of what is being done to them.

There are a number of appropriate responses – take action via Amnesty International, donate to B’Tselem, buy from Palestinian Fair Trade. or in Edinburgh, from the Hadeel shop in St. Andrew’s and St. George’s West in Shandwick Place.

What is not an appropriate response is to declare it unmentionable that Palestine is not free. But apparently:

The BBC Trust has decided it is not “proportionate or cost-effective” to proceed further with the complaint, but the original decision does not seem proportionate either. Indeed, had the BBC allowed the song to go through uncensored, it probably would not have been remarked upon (after all, it was two words, not a long political diatribe). As it is, this incident sends a very uncomfortable message. (New Statesman, 2nd February 2012)

Meanwhile, the Israeli occupation has today – a week after the village of Khirbet al-Tawil fasted from dawn to dawn – served notice that the homes of the village are to be demolished, and the people who live there displaced. The last agricultural land they have will be taken. The justification given is that the land is wanted for “military training facilities”.

Other forms of harassment and maltreatment include; the closure of the main road which residents use travel to and from their village, prevention of farmers from reaching their farms, allowing the settlers to vandalise the farms with pesticides, theft of animals, and destruction of wells.

This latest notice also includes the demolition of Al Khirbat mosque, which is under construction as well as the electricity network recently completed to the value of $200,000 donated by the Belgian government.


Followup, May 2014:

On Monday the 12th of May, at 7AM, approximately 350 Israeli soldiers, two buses, and several military jeeps arrived at the remote village of Khirbet al-Taweel and ordered the inhabitants of two houses to remove all furniture in order to proceed with their illegal demolition. Previously the IRC (International Red Crescent) had aided the village providing tents as temporary shelter. However, two tents were ultimately seized and one destroyed that morning. The owner of one of the houses apparently offered the soldiers tea saying, “You may take away my house, but you can’t take away my hospitality”.
The three families also lost their water tanks to the demolitions carried out by the Israeli army. In order to get drinking water, they now have to walk 30 minutes uphill to get to the nearest town (Aqraba), and then back.
During the day, the Red Crescent provided the families with some tents. However according to one of the women who were evicted, the Israeli army told them that they were not allowed to stay in the area and had to leave immediately.
The woman stated that: “We have nowhere to go. This is our land, our homes. Where should we go?”
During the past five years, Khirbet al-Taweel has had many demolitions. According to several local villagers, this is a strategy from the Israeli authorities to force local populations to move, and thus expand the illegal farming settlements, located on the other side of the mountain from Khirbet al-Taweel.

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