27 October 2007

Palestinian Children Detained

I volunteered my time helping out with the Friendship and Solidarity Summer Camp in Tel Rumeida for two-weeks in July while also teaching my ESL and yoga classes with Art Under Apartheid. The summer camp was a great program for the kids of Tel Rumeida to escape the everyday stresses of life under Israeli occupation. The best thing about the summer camp was the field trips. This particular field trip that I'm reporting on though was full of irony. Read more to find out why.

On Saturday, July 21, 2007 the Tel Rumeida Friendship and Solidarity Summer Camp, which included 100 children and 7 adult International and Palestinian volunteers, went on a solidarity field trip to the tiny village of At-Tuwani, located in the South Hebron Hills region just south of the city of Hebron. The people of Tuwani live very simple lives with very little electricity and running water and without modern conveniences. Since the early 1980s, when Israeli settlers began establishing outposts on the lands surrounding the village, the Palestinians in this area have struggled to maintain their community. Soon after the settlers arrived they began attacking Palestinian shepherds and farmers, uprooting Tuwani’s olive trees and stealing their sheep. Tuwani falls within the section of the occupied West Bank most dominated by the Israeli government’s authority. The Israeli army also therefore began destroying the Palestinians homes and mosques, arguing that villagers had not obtained official permits to build on the land. Attacks from both settlers and soldiers continue today.

Before 1980 there were approximately 750 villagers, today there are less than 200 left due to the attacks and violence that make life unbearable. The Christian Peacemakers Team have a daily presence in the area which includes escorting the Palestinian children to school to help them avoid being stoned to death by settler children.

The purpose of this field trip was to give the children of Tel Rumeida and Tuwani contact with each other in order to create a union of solidarity with one another despite the distance between their homes as well as the differences in their lifestyles. The children of Tel Rumeida were able to experience life in a different way and gain more knowledge on the extent of the occupation in Palestine.

Issa Amro, a Palestinian anti-violent activist, led discussions with the children citing that there are both good and bad Palestinians and Israelis. His goal was not only to develop solidarity amongst the Palestinian children but to open their minds to forming friendships with Israelis and to learn to recognize the good in everyone.

After touring the tiny village we walked back to the bus to find that we were being detained by the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) soldiers.

This was due to some questions the soldiers had about the Palestinian bus driver's paperwork. The bus driver was in the process of changing his paperwork from Israel to Palestine, but everything was in order and legal as we found out in the end. However, this did not stop the soldiers from detaining us for over 2 hours in the 85F/32C + weather, with no shade or cover and without water as our water supplies quickly ran out.

I made phone calls to the Red Crescent Society only to find out that they were closed on the weekend. What? That's crazy! Other volunteers made phone calls as well, including the US Embassy. No one came to rescue us except the police who continued to detain us. Imagine being detained for 2 hours in the heat with 100 little kids! Well, let me say that I applaud these children. Children in the US would have never been able to hold up under this kind of intense pressure. These Palestinian kids are unfortunately used to being treated this way. Occupation and detainment are part of everyday life for them.

Instead of whining and crying about why this was happening to them they decided to be proactive and form their own little demonstration! I felt so proud of them and still do! I remember my eyes filling up with tears while filming this protest. They are shouting "Bidna rouweh, bidna rouweh !” which means “we want to go, we want to go !” Here are video clips:

Eventually we were released. We were scheduled to move on down the road about 5km to the town of Sousiya. However, due to the length of time we were detained we could not visit this town. The children were deeply disappointed but never once complained. I think the international volunteers complained more than anyone. It is very difficult to experience this type of treatment. We did continue on to Quawis, another little village. Here we were able to refill our water bottles with fresh spring water and explore the caves that these people live in. Yes, these villagers live in caves.

The settlers in the surrounding always end up destroying any homes that they build. Even ICAHD comes out and helps them rebuild the homes only to find that it is destroyed within months. However, ICAHD and the Palestinians do not give up! I will write more about this town in another post.

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