Minutes after the Ta’ayush activists arrived at the wheat field together with the Palestinian villagers, a group of settlers, lead by the Rabbi of ‘Maon’ settlement, began running down the hill towards them. The settlers shouted at the harvesters, threatening them and demanding that they leave the field. Some of them had guns.
At that point the soldiers intervened. Instead of arresting the rioters, they stopped the harvest, denying the Palestinians access to their land. As is usually the case in South Hebron, they protected the violent law-breakers the Jewish settlers.
It all began several hours earlier. Saturday morning, not long after dawn, Ta’ayush activists from all over Israel left their homes in order to join the Palestinians from Twaneh, a small village located in South Hebron. We wanted to harvest a wheat field that is located near the Jewish settlement Maon.
Saturday marked the end of a gory week the terrorist bombing in the center of Jerusalem, two targeted assassinations in Gaza, and a long list of innocent Palestinian and Israeli victims. Especially at a time like this, it was important for us to demonstrate our solidarity with our Palestinian friends and to protest against the endless bloodshed. With black flags on every vehicle, we drove towards Twaneh.
Approximately one kilometer past the green line soldiers and the border police blocked our way with an improvised roadblock. They had been waiting for our arrival.
The commander declared the place a closed military zone and told us to turn around and leave immediately. We asked him to show us the legal order stating that this was indeed a closed military zone, yet he had no such order at hand. What was worse, while the soldiers at the roadblock did not allow Ta’ayush activists to enter the region with their cars, they enabled settlers’ cars to pass. South Hebron is closed only for peace activists.
Following repeated demands on our part to see the order, the commander announced that the ‘Lavi’ regiment commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Yehuda, would arrive shortly to show us the order. The Lavi is a regiment of conscript soldiers that is currently assigned to the area (and consists mostly of soldiers who are from Jewish settlements).
After waiting about half and hour we decided that while we were being blocked settler cars would not pass. We sat on the road thus blocking all cars from passing through. At this point the roadblock commander allowed four activists to drive to the next checkpoint in order to talk to the regiment commander.
The regiment commander had a written order declaring the area a closed military zone, signed by the brigade commander, dating from the 14th of June, 8:00 AM, until the 15th of June. Clearly, the order was issued in ‘honor’ of our visit.
The commander also showed us other orders pertaining to different areas in South Hebron. All access roads had been blocked in order to ‘prevent a violent collision between Ta’ayush activists and settlers,’ as he put it. Although Ta’ayush activists clarified that they were interested only in harvesting the land together with the Palestinians, and that they would avoid on their part any contact with settlers, we were still treated as a threatening force.
After lengthy negotiations, the regiment commander permitted two Ta’ayush cars to pass through. He announced that there was no restriction on harvesting the field and even promised that his soldiers would secure the harvesters. Despite the fact that 150 activists had hoped to reach the village, meet the people, and help with the harvest, we decided to compromise hoping that the Palestinians would finally have an opportunity to harvest their field. They had been waiting a month and a half and in a few weeks it would be too late. Two vehicles with Ta’ayush activists as well as authors David Grossman and Meir Shalev who had joined the convoy left for Twaneh. The rest of the cars drove to Jimba, a Palestinian cave dwellers community located further south. Settlers who reside in the outposts nearby also constantly harass the Jimba residents blocking their access to their water wells and fields.
Meanwhile, at Twaneh our Palestinian friends greeted the activists. The ‘Ta’ayush Tent’ where we gather every week was knocked down by soldiers from the Lavi regiment a week earlier during a violent attack on the village.
The villagers told the activists that they had been preparing for the harvest since early that morning, and that the soldiers together with the supervisor from the Civil Administration had limited the harvest to those patches of land furthest away from ‘Maon’ settlement. This order contradicted the promise made earlier by the regiment commander.
Within minutes after the Palestinians and activists began the harvest, a group of settlers came running down from Maon, led by the Rabbi of the settlement. They shouted at the activists and Palestinians, threatening them and demanding that they leave the field immediately. The soldiers, in turn, demanded that Ta’ayush activists leave the field; instead of arresting the rioters, they stopped the harvest.
Once again the violent settlers won the day. Once again the unholy alliance between the settlers, military, police and civil administration was exposed. This alliance is indeed the backbone of the cruel occupation.
Despite the frustration and disappointment, we plan to go back to South Hebron this coming Saturday. We plan to harvest the field. We will not succumb.
AVIA PASTERNAK is a graduate student at Hebrew University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org