Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Violence against children, from Belfast to At-Tuwani

Families in At-Tuwani, including the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT), have to draw all their water from a well at the foot of the hill on which our new hut is built. While I was at the well on Saturday morning a blue Israeli police jeep drew up and an officer asked me at what time that day an Irish big-wig was expected to arrive in At-Tuwani. I had no idea, though we now have a steady stream of journalists and international officials coming to see for themselves the things we are reporting from the South Hebron hills. The officer seemed friendly but worried, and assured me that if I had any trouble he was here to help. I replied politely that if he had any trouble I was here to help.

School had broken up on Thursday, and the school building was being prepared as a polling station for Sunday’s Palestinian election. With no need for `school patrol’ Cal Carpenter from CPT, Monica from Operation Dove and I set off on foot across the hills to visit the Palestinian village of Mufakra (spelling questionable – not on any map I’ve seen) about 3 miles away, where a week ago Israeli settlers had attacked Palestinian shepherds injuring two of their sheep
which had subsequently died. We were anxious to discover whether CPT accompaniment was needed.

On that short journey across country we passed two abandoned Palestinian villages; a photograph of one is attached. All the families in Mufakra are cave-dwellers. In this tiny village there are only three flocks of sheep, so it was easy to spot the shepherd on the hillside. With typical Palestinian hospitality he invited us to drink tea in his family cave.

We were sitting on the floor in his `parlour’, with tea served by the shepherd’s children while his wife rocked her baby to sleep in a cradle, when in walked the big-wig from Dublin – Senator David Norris of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Irish Parliament, accompanied by two Israelis from the peace movement Ta’ayush. They had visited our empty hut in At-Tuwani and been redirected to Mufakra. Senator Norris joined us for tea and a briefing, being deeply affected by parallels between settler attacks on Palestinian school children in At-Tuwani and Protestant attacks on Catholic children in Belfast: both in the name of religion.

Finally the officer in the Israeli police jeep drove up and announced that it was far too dangerous for the Senator to remain inside the Palestinian dwelling. This caused some merriment. We finished our tea. David Norris had his photograph taken with one of the dead sheep and treated the Israeli officials to a vigorous and highly relevant homily on the troubles in Belfast before driving off in the Ta’ayush car, now closely followed by the protective blue Israeli police jeep and an additional Israeli army jeep.

I am still haunted by those abandoned villages. Their inhabitants left in about the year 2000, intimidated by the neighbouring Israeli settlers. Most moved in with extended families in the nearby town of Yatta, but continue to graze their flocks and till the fields around their old caves and houses. Historians and politicians will continue to debate who was responsible for the exodus of Palestinian refugees in 1948. But who remembers the villages deserted just yesterday in this remote corner of the occupied West Bank? The caves chiseled out of solid rock and cherished for generations? The grave elders and their rugged wives? Their frightened grandchildren? Each empty home, now perhaps vandalized by settlers, holds the memories of a heart-broken household. Each abandoned hearth cries out to heaven: ‘Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these …’

Abandoned Village Near Tuwani Posted by Hello

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