Monday, December 27, 2004

A faraway village...

Hebron Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) is now in two places. The main team lives inside the Casbah in the Old City of Hebron. A smaller group rotates in and out of At-Tuwani, a remote village 20 miles away in the South Hebron Hills. I was quietly overjoyed last week when the At-Tuwani group chose me as their liaison with the main team. As this will be my principal task in the next three months, this note is to let you know about the situation in At-Tuwani. I wish there was space to describe the village. Maybe later. Here is what has been happening lately.

Last September the villagers started to build a clinic. They did this without a permit from the Israeli occupation authorities, as it is well known that such permits are seldom granted, and even then typically after several years’ delay. The builders were harassed by Israeli settlers from the nearby settlement of Ma’on, and also had to stop work whenever Israeli soldiers approached the village. Much of the work had to be done at night. The Christian Peacemaker Team, together with a smaller sister group, Operation Dove (OD), responded to the villagers’ appeal for international observers to reduce the level of violence. Operation Dove (actually Operazione Colomba) is an Italian Catholic group which has also worked in Kosovo, East Timor and several South American countries. We get on well with them.

At-Tuwani has a school which also serves several surrounding villages. Children from one of these villages – Tuba – have to walk close to the Israeli settlement to reach the school. They were sometimes attacked by settlers, and scared of making the journey. In Hebron we are familiar with this situation, so it seemed natural in At-Tuwani too to set up a ‘school patrol’ to accompany the kids to and from their lessons. The settlers responded by attacking accompaniers with chains and clubs on three occasions. Two Americans from CPT and one Italian from OD needed hospital treatment. These attacks drew wide attention to the situation. As a result the Israeli Army has now undertaken to send a jeep to escort the Tuba children to and from At-Tuwani. The villagers understandably distrust the troops, and have urged CPT and OD to keep on watching the children as they pass close to the settlement. This entails a strenuous hill-climb twice a day, and will be very uncomfortable when the rains come. No joy for an elderly arthritic!

Perhaps the most valuable thing we do here is to bring publicity to bear on this lonely area, hidden from normal contact with the rest of Palestine and the world outside. For this reason I am especially grateful to those on my mailing list who have taken time to write to the authorities about the attacks. The villagers have no doubt this publicity has brought notable benefits. The kids now have a military escort. The village has written permission to complete its clinic and the work proceeds apace; the permit is proudly displayed on the door of the little house which the villagers have (illegally) built for CPT and OD. It is even rumoured that the Separation Wall being built in South Hebron is to be rerouted to place At-Tuwani inside Palestine instead of between the Wall and the Green Line (the 1967 border between Palestine and Israel).

We are hearing of similar situations in other villages to the south, and are seeking ways to respond without overstraining our resources. As I write there are only six CPTers out here. More will join us in January. But further injuries would create a critical situation. I know you will keep praying with us.

The attached picture shows Art Gish one evening in our At-Tuwani home, helping a village lad to learn English.

Art Gish teaching english Posted by Hello

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