No catalogue of Israeli oppression and persecution of the Palestinian people can be complete without the ongoing plight of the villagers of Tuwani in the southern West Bank.
The small hamlet, which residents say dates back to time immemorial, has been a frequent target of harassment, vandalism, attacks and assaults of all sorts by the neighboring Jewish settlement outpost, known as Havat Ma’on.
Havat Ma’on, originally an army outpost, is inhabited by 300-400 fanatical settlers, some originating in places as far as Moscow and Baltimore. Indoctrinated in the Jewish messianic ideology, the settlers are considered among the most criminal elements of the settler movement. They believe they have a mandate from God to harass, torment and kill “goyem” or non-Jews.
“Criminality is the mindset of these people. They think that their practice of Judaism is measured in proportion to the amount of persecution and aggression meted out to their Palestinian neighbors,” say Ahmed al Hreini, a resident of Tuwani.
“They are more than just bad neighbors, more than a thorn in our side; they are a cancer.”
They want to seize our land
Saber Hreini, 55, is the head of Tuwani’s local council. He says that the Ma’on’s settlers’ ultimate goal is to force the inhabitants of the small village to leave in order to take over their land.
“And in order to effect their criminal goal, they commit every conceivable crime against our people, including poisoning our sources of water, poisoning our sheep and cattle, assaulting our shepherds, beating our school children on their way to school and back home, uprooting our trees, and terrorizing us nearly on a daily basis”
“Hardly a day passes without an incident. They want to keep us on the edge, constantly nervous, so that we reach a point where we will have had enough and leave.”
Hreini has some unlikely witnesses testifying to the veracity of his accusations. They are a small group of mainly North American peace activists, known as Christian Peace-making Teams or CPT, who have maintained an uninterrupted presence at Tuwani for the past 15 years.
Generally speaking, the Christian activists, who promote nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation, monitor Israeli violations of human rights in the occupied territories, especially in the southern West Bank.
At Tuwani, their activities center on providing daily escort for Palestinian children walking to and from school as well as accompanying Palestinian shepherds and farmers to fields where they are exposed to assault by the extremist settlers.
This activism has earned them the wrath of the settlers and anger of the Israeli government and army. On numerous occasions, CPTers were seriously assaulted and injured by masked settler thugs. However, whenever the victims sought redress, the Israeli police and courts would demand proof that were nearly impossible to obtain such as the perpetrators’ full names, photos, and addresses.
“I think there is a clear collusion between the settlers at Havat Ma’on and the Israeli army and government. Their common goal is to harass the Palestinians to leave in order to expand the settlement,” said one CPTer from the United States.
“I can say that the settlers operate in sync with the Israeli army, they are more or less two sides of the same coin.”
Saber Hreini, pointing his finger toward the nearby small forest, explains the “inherent contradiction” between nature and settlers.
“You see this beautiful scenery, this small forest, the lofty trees. You wouldn’t believe that inside the forest exist ferocious human beasts that would be happy to strangle and murder school kids on their way to school or back home from school. Do people like these exist in any other place on earth?”
In addition to planting poison pellets in Tuwani fields, which have killed sheep, gazelle and other domestic and wild animals, the settlers also keep monitoring any new building at the village.
“Whenever they see any family or individual build a new home, they call the army to come and destroy it.”
Hreini says the Israeli army destroyed his own home twice.
“They just would like to see us evaporate into non-existence. They want us to be obliterated from the face of earth. They want to do to us what the ‘white man’ did to native Americans.”
No water, no electricity, no roads
According to villagers, the bulk of Tuwani’s homes, including the local small mosque and clinic, are facing the prospect of demolition by the Israeli occupation authorities. Such facilities are viewed by the Israelis as factors encouraging villagers to stay.
On 19 March 2009, Tony Blair, the Special Middle East Envoy of the Quartet, visited Tuwani, assuring villagers that an oral permission had been granted by the Israeli military authorities to begin the work needed to bring electricity to the village.
He said “without a new and different system applying in Area C [the area in the West Bank under Israeli military and civilian control], then it is very hard for Palestinians to enjoy the standard of living that they should enjoy and be able to develop their land as they should be able to develop in freedom.”
However, Blair, viewed by many Muslims throughout the world as a war criminal for his role in effecting the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States and her western allies, didn’t keep his word, or more probably the Israelis didn’t take him seriously.
A few weeks later, the Israeli army issued a demolition order to the newly constructed electricity pylons in At-Tuwani.
On 25 May 2009, Israeli occupation troops stormed Tuwani and ordered villagers to halt construction work on new electricity pylons in the village. No written orders were delivered. Saber Hreini wrote to Blair requesting his help in obtaining written permission for the electricity work to continue
“We hope that in your role as envoy for the Quartet, you can be of assistance to us in contacting the Israeli government with the hopes of procuring written permission for these projects. We fear without written permission our problems will continue.”
Tony Blair never responded.
On 20 December, 2009, the Israeli army confiscated all the equipment that was to be used in the electrification of the village.
Moreover, the army issued another order barring the rehabilitation and pavement of the entrance to the village, a measure Hreini says “epitomizes a thoroughly racist mentality.”
“Israel, which calls itself a democracy, is trying to kill our community. They won’t allow us to have running tap water, electricity or a decent access road that would connect us with the outside world.”
“But we are clinging to our land like never before. I assure you that Tuwani, which predated Ma’on by many decades if not centuries, will remain much longer after Ma’on has gone.”
Unfortunately, this writer couldn’t access the Jewish settlement to obtain the settlers’ side of the story. A settler, carrying an automatic rifle, trained his weapon toward us, saying in Hebrew, go back or I will shoot.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.