Saturday, May 16 2009 Safa and Hilltop 26

We met at the usual place. We split up our group and set off to the southern West Bank. My group was going to meet with farmers in the village of Safa. The other half of Ta’ayush was off to Um Zetuna. We arrived at Safa and met with the farmers that had been working since the early morning with a group of Israeli and international peace activists. The army had been quiet and since the farm land was in a deep wadi, it usually takes time for the settlers to understand that the farmers are working. After about an hour, a group of settlers appeared on the horizon and began chanting ‘death to Arabs’. This is predictable settler behavior and we continued working.

Eventually the Army arrived on the scene with a closed military zone order for the farm land that we were working. The normal conversations began but this time Amiel came with a print out of thisSupreme Court decision. Amiel began reading aloud from the decision which states that the farmers must have access to their lands without the threat of closed military zone orders and harassment by the settlers. Amiel’s final plea was directly to the commander and he informed him that if the army evacuates us from the area it will be his personal decision and Ta’ayush will sue him directly for his illegal conduct. After that, the commander went back to his jeep. Apparently, Amiel had struck a nerve and the commander took some pause at the thought that he could be held personally accountable for breaking the law. Seldom have I witnessed a soldier ponder the ramifications of his decision to enforce a closed military zone.

The army did not bother us any longer after Amiel’s talk. The sun grew hotter and hotter as the day wore on. Eventually we sat and talked about the situation in the West Bank. Today, a journalist from the United States, Max Blumenthal, joined Ta’ayush. He is working on a number of web videos about the reality of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. We spoke with him about the work of Ta’ayush and the situation in south Hebron. I asked him if he planned on traveling to Gaza. Max reported that in to get press permission to travel in Gaza, one has to sign military censor permission. Journalists are not allowed to publish the names of any generals or commanders that are involved in war crimes in Gaza. Sounds like an interesting story in itself.

Everyone jumped on tractors for a lift out of the wadi, which was the scariest part of the day and went back to the village. We had a brief rest in Safa en route to hilltop 26 with the rest of Ta’ayush.

Our goal today at hilltop 26 was simple: check the situation, view the almost certain ‘closed military zone’ order that the army would greet us with and document the fact that the army does not remove the settlers. Today, however, things took a slightly different course.

We arrived at hilltop 26 and were greeted by the same group of teenage settlers. There was an IDF jeep parked right on the dirt road leading to the outpost which was a new development. Upon our arrival, the settlers reacted with normal barrage of petty insults and provocations. Often their dogs come over to us for attention and love, something I am sure they do not receive from the settlers. The settlers were enraged when we would pet the dogs and immediately removed them and then yelled at us for touching them. One dog went to an Italian woman from the International Solidarity Movement for attention. The settlers proclaimed that a bitch was petting a bitch. This is the normal rhetoric that comes out of their mouths.

The army unit slowly grew over the course of half an hour and finally they imposed a closed military zone on the area as we had expected. We protested the fact that the settlers were not being removed. For some reason, still unclear at this point, the IDF removed the settlers. Removed is too strong a word. The IDF ‘removes’ peace activists and today they asked the settlers to leave, at their own pace and in their own time.

Why did the IDF honor the law today? You can see in the video that one settler informs the commander that we (Ta’ayush) want the army not to remove the settlers so that we can record it. His source for this information….this very blog. Thanks for the support!

Ta’ayush was not able to see whether the settlers were fully and permanently removed from the area because we were threatened with arrest and had to leave in a hurry. I can guarantee that the settlers returned to the outpost shortly after we left the area. Today was the first time that the IDF enforced the closed military zone on the settlers. What can this mean for the legality of the land? Can we expect the army to remove the settlers every time we show up at the outpost? Are we merely in a lull of intensity there because of the Prime Minister traveling to Washington in a couple of days? Are our actions contributing towards the ultimate removal of this outpost? Are the settlers going to continue to read my writing even if they cannot understand English?

There are many questions and not many answers right now. We have had some successful actions over the past days but many questions have arisen out of them. Being a peace activist takes time, patience and now that the summer is close, sunscreen.