Beneath my olive tree- (The loud and the clear, part II).

” This earth is not my sky, yet this sky is my evening
and the keys are mine, the minarets are mine, the lanterns are mine, and I am also mine.
I am the Adam of two Edens, I lost them twice.
So expel me slowly,
and kill me quickly,
beneath my olive tree”. ( Mahmood Darwish)

Hanan. Rebel without a pause

 “Can I take a picture?”. I ask the usual question, waiting for approval, before placing the camera lens in front of her face. We are sitting in the living room of Hanan Soufan, head of a 16-member family, getting the details of last night’s events. The evening before a group of settlers came harassed the kids and cut down some 20 olive trees. Her house and grove is just downhill from the Yitzahar-settlement, where settlers have tried to drive the family away from their home for years. The incident has attracted the local media, human rights organization, and even the spokesperson for the Nablus Governate, has come to see the damage with his own eyes. While we are there, a military car arrives within a few minutes. It backs up, and drives away again. The military has full control over the area from their outposts on the hilltops. The question then arises; where were they when the settlers attacked?

Inspecting last nights damage

Throughout the years Hanan and her family’s situation has been the in the spotlight of many organisations. She has received a special honorable reward of her courage from President Abbas himself.  Hanan has been through this several times. “ Even president Obama has heard of me,”, she laughs. Our question and answer session is a routine for her. The tremendous courage and the steadfast determination has just become stronger with every attack. “We will not leave, this is our home”. Protecting her family and home has come with a price. Some years back, in a settler attack on the house, her husband died of a heart attack followed by the shock.

Hanans husband died due to the shock after a settler attack.

Besides the intimidating and petrifying sides such attack, one has to understand the devastating consequences of the destruction of olive trees. The olive tree, in addition to its symbolic and cultural importance, needs constant care for about seven to ten years before it becomes productive. For some families the trees are all they have. As their land has been taken over the years, the few trees left become their life source. And if one takes in account the number of years invested by people, who don’t have much to begin with, it becomes clear that the obvious consequence of this development, is the slow strangling of the people.

Clear cut. 220 trees cut and destroyed


“The trees are like our children”, a farmer said to me. In a village where settlers had cut down 220 trees, four families lost their livelihood in one night. When I take pictures of the incidents, I go close up to the trees. The straight cuts indicate the use of a sharp object such as an axe. I can only imagine the group of, probably young men, coming down the hill in the middle of the night, cutting, ripping and destroying the trees one by one. They know that they are being watched. They know that no one will say anything.  Now, the relatives of the Palestinian families will help them somehow, and the Palestinian authorities might support them with new trees, but for how long can people hold on like this?

2011 was by far the most violent year when regarding settler violence, seeing a 39 percent increase from the previous year.  2011 started with extremely violent two months, and showed no indication of slowing down. One could ask if the increase in the violence could be a response to an increased violent tendency from the Palestinians. During this same period, however, Palestinian violence in the West Bank dropped significantly with about 95%.

It takes 7 - 10 years for a tree to bear fruits. The newly planted are put i barrels for protecting

 The Nablus area (north of the West Bank, which we live in), have seen an increasingly larger portion of settler violence than pervious years. Violence has also increased in other places in the north of the West Bank, including Ramallah, Qalqilya and Salfit which accounted for about 20 percent of incidents in 2006 and about 30 percent of incidents in 2011.

 The types of incidents we have reported on has mostly been destruction of property, attack on shepherds, intimidation of local population, and confrontation on land borders. The Israeli settlers use a variety of methods to attack Palestinian civilians and their property. These were som of the various types of incidents reported last year:  

  • Arson, stone throwing, destruction of property, vehicular attack, shootings and other physical attacks.

 Hanan and her family sees almost daily some sort of infringement on their daily life. The other day, the settlers had put up a sign next to the water well where they get the water for their animals. A dirt road is being developed right next to the land. “If they want, they can stay inside their own property. Its the robbery of our land that is unacceptable.” And that is what remains the frustrating side of it all; the impunity with which these criminal acts can continue to flourish. I keep thinking that there is a physical limit to this development. There is a limit to how close you can get to someone’s house, before you’ re standing inside it.

 Sources: UN OCHA, Palestinian Monitoring Group (PMG)


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Occupation, its easy as A B C…

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The silence of the lambs.



The main task of our team is to provide protection to the villagers of Yanoun, by supporting them in their everyday activities. However, when the villages in our surroundings experience any incidents, be it from settlers or the army, our task is to get there as soon as possible to report and to support the families.

The other day we recived one of the messages I probably dread the most. “Israeli army- demolition , close, in two villages”. This means in very simple terms,that the army is at this very moment destoying someones home.We call our driver/ interpreter Ghassan who has been working with the program for almost ten years. Still, after all these years, seeing the desperation, humiliation and the everyday strength of the people, he seems to be set back by the news of another demolition. “we were there just a few weeks ago”, he pretends to focus on the road when he speaks. The normally so opinionated Ghassan, sounds like it will be an additional burden to visit these families again, while their homes are being torn down, and not being able to offer anything but our presence. I try to remind him of our tasks of report writing, and being there for the people. He knows it all too well.

After about half an hour we exit the high- way and enter steep, rocky roads that slither their way alongside stunning valley slopes. On our arrival the army has left. In the middle of a green hill side, piles of personal belongings are spread out. A tractor has arrived. Two men are busy loading it with furniture, clothing, cutlery and other things they have managed to save. There are three families living in the area in tents. The way the Israeli authority deals with house demolitions is  quite a complex procedure. From the israeli government’s point, this is declared a military sone and can not be used for housing. According to international law, population cannot be moved, or land not confiscated unless there is absolute military necessity. Its hard to see this criteria beeing applied here.

In many cases, families living in areas where the chances of getting a demolition order are high, people hesitate building any solid structures. I walk around starting to take pictures to document the incident. The army has been systematic this time. They came with their own workers who carried out the belongings from the tents, before taking the tents with them. Other times tents are destroyed without any chance for the families to take out their possessions.

Mohamed Nasasri looks at what is left

Muhammed Abdel Nasasri, the head of one of the family, explains the army’s practice. “the first thing they asked was where our taboun was” ( traditional oven to make bread). That is the first thing they destroyed. To me it reveals a cunning intent. I continue over to the other family. Underneath a small coal oven, four small lambs are crouched together. The usually hyper active lambs are dead-quiet. The sun is scorching hot, and temperatures way too high for the animals. Normally they are placed underneath shelters, or in one of the many caves around this mountainous area. Nasasri tells us that the urgent thing now, is to get tents for the animals. “its more important for them then for us”.

Suddenly I hear a sound, almost like a baby crying. I look down and underneath a pile of earth a sheep’s head is sticking out. The body is covered with rocks and soil, and a cloud of flies is hoovering over the head. Next to it a small lamb is trying to get some response. The army had taken the sheep that was pregnant, and buried it alive. I’m angry and disgusted. The fact that they came with workers, took their time to take out things from the tents, and then took the time to commit this vicious act…Enough.

The pregnant sheep burried underneeth soil and rocks

We write our report, make some calls to other organisations that can provide new tents, share a cup of tea ( which they have prepared for us, despite the chaotic situation),and move on to the next village.

This family saw the soldiers coming and managed to hide away a few thing, but still their tent and shelter for the animals were taken. Sabrin is almost two years old, she pays attention when the Red Crescent arrives with a new tent. We are all there, in the shade of the tree, the UN,Red Cresent, us. All of us continuing to bring “bandages” , after the damage is done. Sabrin seems content for now, until next time.

Sabrin, almost two

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’s (OCHA) latest report, approximately 1,100 Palestinians, half of which were children, were displaced due to home demolitions by the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) in 2011, signaling an 80% rise from 2010 figures. An additional 4,200 people’s livelihoods were affected by the demolitions. These images are dangerously turning into clichés. However, clichés became clichés because they resonated with so many people’s experiences. In this case Sabrin deserves her own story. Her own experiences, which in this case she happens to share with a vast number of people of this area. She deserves to hear the sound of her lambs alive.

Setting up new tent

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Land day 2012, demonstrations.

Land Day;  Palestinians commemorate the events of March 30,1976, when a Israeli plan to expropriate thousands of dunams from Palestinian villages sparked a national protest inside Israel.  On that day, Israeli security forces attacked protesters, resulted in the deadly shooting of six Palestinian Arabs, as well as hundreds of casualties and arrests.  From that date forward, every year Palestinians citizens in Israel, Palestinians in the occupied territories (oPt) and around the world,  commemorate that day and protest the discriminatory land policies carried out by the Israeli government.

In Jerusalem some hundred protesters had gathered outside Damascus Gate in the old city. One would think that a day, with such symbolic connotations, would have attracted more people. The crowd, however, consisted more of spectaors, international activists and media. But the most visual presence was still of the police and the army. It was a somewhat caotic scene that met us when we arrived. A big group ( 70- 100 person, mostly men, but also children and older women), gathered at the corner, next to the bus station. It hard to get an overview. At a split of a second, some people start running in different directions. A group of army men comes running towards. I hear a big blast right next to me. At the same time a kid, no more than 13-14 turns toward the army, and manages to throw a handsize rock. At the same moment, an ambulance stops next to me to pick up another wounded man. Its strange to see the amount of heavy armed personell that is put in to controll this small group of people. It makes one think that that beeing one of the reasons for the low turn-up. At one point I find myself standing in a narrow part of the street| between the buildings and the road blocks. Suddenly two police men on horses come in full speed towards us. People get smashed to the wall, some fall and are almost trampled on. This is perhaps the most intimidating tactic used to create fear, and to disperse people.  During the confrontation, fourteen are arrested, numerous Palestinians are wounded and evacuated by the Red Crescent.

For more news and images from Land Day, check out Al Jazeera:


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Dette er Hebron II

Purim fest i Hebron

Det er Purim. En festlig jødisk høytid som fra utsiden kan se ut som et karneval. Den har som alle andre høytider et religiøst tilsnitt, og markerer en gammeltestamentlig hendelse der Haman ( den persiske Kong Xerxes’ rådgiver)  hadde valgt ut en dag for å utrydde jødene, men der planene ble avverget av Dronningen Esther. Her i Hebron er det tog der bosetterne har kledd seg ut, og tradisjonell jødiske sanger blir spilt ut av store musikk anlegg. Alle hygger seg. Et par av de minste barna er kledd ut som arabere. Lurer på hvordan foreldrene kom på det kostymet? Det er selvfølgelig et tungt militært nærvær i tillegg til politi. Ved moskeen/synagogen ( som er en bygning som er delt etter massakren) samles toget. Det er også tradisjon at det skal konsumeres mye drikke. Det synes godt på mange. Klokken er ikke ett, men mange har vinflaskene godt klistret til leppene. Det danses, ropes.  Unge palestinere og noen turister  har samlet seg langs sperringene ved gaten og følger med på paraden.

Kostyme: Fredsaktivist

En bosetter kommer bort til oss, smiler bredt og håndhilser. “I’m a peace activist, and these are my heros “. Han peker på capsen, og bilder han har hengt på denimjakka. Det er bilder av bland annet Amhedineejad (Irans president), Assad (Syrias president), og Gadaffi. Jeg smiler og ønsker han God Purim.

På vei tilbake til leiligheten ser vi at en ung mann har blitt stoppet av militære ved en av kontrollpostene. To av soldatene har geværene rettet mot han og ber han snu seg med ansiktet mot veggen. Vi stiller oss litt unna, der vi har oversikt. Vi ønsker å få oversikt over hvor lenge militære holder igjen personer, og hvordan folk behandles. Det som slår en umiddelbart, utenom hvor tungt utrustet soldatene er, er deres alder. Verneplikten er treårig, for både gutter og jenter fra 18 års alderen. De ser så unge ut. En av de kommer mot oss i barsk gange. “You cannot stand here”. Han er kort og bestemt. “So, where can we stand?”.Vi spør forsiktig for ikke å provosere for mye. Han svarer ikke. Vi setter oss litt ovenfor kontrollposten, der vi kan ha oversikt.  Den unge palestinske mannen har satt seg ned på bakken. En av soldatene går bort til han, og roper at han må reise seg. Han gjør som han blir fortalt. Den neste halvtimen er lik.

Inngangen til en kontrollpost. Soldatene står på den andre siden.

Soldatene går bort og flytter på han, ber han snu seg mot veggen. En dame (jødisk) kommer med en pose med noe å spise til soldatene. Etter en stund kommer En annen internasjonal observatør gruppe (TIPH). De gjør mye av den samme jobben som oss, men rapporterer ikke offentlig. De har mulighet til å ringe militære overordnede etter 45 minutter, uten noen garanti for at ting løser seg.  De individuelle soldatene har forholdsvis mye makt når det kommer til hvordan de skal utføre oppdraget sitt, er en spesiell side ved systemet.

Jeg er tørst. Idet jeg tar opp vannflaska for å drikke, tenker jeg at den unge palestineren, som nå har stått der i ca en og en halv time, også vil ha. Jeg snakker med de andre i teamet. Hva er det verste som kan skje. At de skjeller meg ut? Holder meg tilbake for å avhøre meg? Jeg bestemmer meg for å gå bort. Soldatene står med ryggen til. Jeg rekker vannflaska til han, uten å si noe. Ha smiler og rister på hodet. En av soldatene har snudd seg og roper etter meg. Jeg sier at jeg ikke har sagt noe, og ville bare gi litt vann. Vi er tilbake ved status- quo. Etter en stund kommer politiet. Militæret og politiet har ulike ansvarsoppgaver og er ikke nødvendigvis samkjørte. Det er en stor panseret politibil. Ingen går ut av den. Plutselig føles det hele som sluttscenen fra Tarantinos, Reservoir Dogs. Vi ser på soldatene, og mannen. Soldatene ser på mannen og politiet, og politiet ser på oss soldatene og mannen. Soldatene ser ikke ut til å bry seg om politiets nærvær. Etter litt åpner politiet bildøra, og noen av soldatene går bort og prater med dem. Etter noen minutter kjører politiet avgårde igjen.

Politiet har ankommet. Jeg prøver å snike til meg et bilde

Saken løser seg ved at en eldre mann, som kjenner den unge mannen, kommer og kjefter på soldatene på hebraisk. Han forteller de at gutten er syk, og at dette vil forverre tilstanden hans. Det har gått to timer. Dette er en helt vanlig hendelse i Hebron og rundt om på Vestbredden. Hjelper vårt nærvær? Vet ikke. Hadde han blitt behandlet verre hvis ingen så på. Kanksje?

Før jeg drar fra Hebron rekker jeg også å oppleve å  blispyttet på av bosetter barn. En gruppe bosettermenn som er ute å jogger, med riflene sine i hånden, midt i byen. Palestinske unger som kommer bort til oss og forteller om at soldatene har slått til de med gevær. Og at vi må være til stede på skoleveien til barna, for at de ikke skal bli trakassert av bosetterne.  

Jeg rekker også å møte en ordfører i en av landbyene utenfor Hebron, som hadde fått de

Tungt militært nærvær i Hebron. Og tunge porter som deler byen.

nye israelske planene om hvor den berømte muren skulle gå (Muren har blitt satt opp av Israel for sikkerhetshensyn. Problemet er bla at mye av muren går inne på palestinsk område. Muren er ulovlig etter internasjonal rett.). De nye planene viser at bygging av muren vil konfiskere ca 30 % av landsbyen landområder! Ordføreren fryktet at ungdommene i landsbyen vil komme til å demonstrere mot planene. Dersom det blir steinkasting, vil landsbyen bli “straffet” med nattlige “besøk” av militæret som vil komme til å ransake tilfeldige hus om natten, og eventuelt arrestere med noen tilfeldige ungdommer for å sette et eksempel. En vanlig rutine.

Jeg føler meg svett, sliten og trenger noe som kan bidra til en slags balanse i hodet. Min svenske kollega Rafiq tar meg med til barberen Ali. Med en hånd som ville gjort enhver kirurg misunnelig, gir han en fantastisk barbering. Det føles lettere.  Det er små ting som trengs for å føle seg vel, i hvert fall etter slike dager. Stor takk til Rafiq, Helene, Alex og Miriam på Hebron Teamet.


Irfan og Ali

For mer nyheter fra Hebron sjekk ut Helenes blogg:

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