Meet the org. helping West Bank Palestinians keep their homes, land

Ta’ayush is a grassroots movement working to break down the walls of racism, segregation and apartheid by constructing a true Arab-Jewish partnership.

PEACE ACTIVISTS plant trees in protest against Jewish settlements near Yatta, in the West Bank, earlier this month. (photo credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)
PEACE ACTIVISTS plant trees in protest against Jewish settlements near Yatta, in the West Bank, earlier this month.
(photo credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)
 On Shabbat early in the morning, I joined a small group of people from the organization Ta’ayush (Arabic for coexistence or “living together” on their site) to travel from Jerusalem to the South Hebron Hills where they go on a weekly basis to try to protect Palestinian shepherds from Israeli settler violence. Ta’ayush is a grassroots movement working to break down the walls of racism, segregation and apartheid by constructing a true Arab-Jewish partnership.
For more then a decade, Ta’ayush has been working in area C of the occupied Palestinian territories – especially in the South Hebron Hills – to support Palestinian residents in their struggle to retain their homes and agricultural lands. Palestinians in these areas face constant harassment and violence by Israeli settlers and the army, which aims to cleanse area C of its Palestinian population by compelling them to leave to areas B and A, and to seize its land for Israeli settlements. Preventing access to agricultural lands and water cisterns, house demolitions, setting fire to tents, and physical attacks are all common methods in the authorities’ and settlers’ attempts to push the Palestinian residents from their homes and towards the area’s urban centers, such as Yatta, Samua, Dura, and Dahariyya.
The group of about 15 people on Saturday were divided into smaller groups and each headed out to a different point of confrontation. I went with two others to Said, a landowner next to the illegal Israeli settlement Havot Yair. Said has been the constant victim of violence from settlers from this settlement. He is still recovering from a smashed jaw, his mouth still sewed shut from the surgery after he was attacked by masked settlers. He, of course, lodged a formal complaint with the Israel Police, but like in almost all similar cases, the police did not seriously investigate and no one was or will be charged with this crime.
Havot Yair is an Israeli outpost located near the Nofim and Yakir settlements. It is home to around 70 families. It first was established in 1999, although it later was evacuated and then reestablished in February 2001. The parent settlement of this outpost is Yakir and 17,666 sq.m. that this outpost is built on is expropriated private Palestinian land. The Sasson Report stated that the Israeli Ministry of Housing and Construction had allocated one million new shekels for the construction of several structures at the outpost. Havot Yair – like all Israeli outposts – is illegal even under Israeli law. The international community views Israeli outposts as Israeli settlements and considers them also illegal under international law, but the Israeli government rejects this.
We witnessed firsthand a settler shepherd who constantly provokes Said by driving his sheep and goats onto Said’s land. There were several other settlers there who were there to provoke, including an extremely rude young woman and her children. Said was also there with his wife and children and his brother and his children. Everyone had their phones or video cameras in hand filming each other. If it wasn’t so serious, it might be a great scene for a comic film, though obviously a tragic comedy.
When we arrived by foot to the site, the Israeli army was already there. About ten heavily armed soldiers wearing full face mask hoods led by a captain were mostly just standing around, separating the sides. As the settlers moved the Palestinians followed to ensure that they would not enter Said’s land. Said claims to know every stone on his land and in his mind he has marked the borderlines of that land.
AFTER ABOUT one hour a woman captain from the Civil Administration showed up and took control. Esty is her name and she has been in this position, according to what she said, for three years. She has been to Havot Yair and to Said’s land many times before.
She came equipped with official maps and Said pulled up his own map from his telephone. There were discrepancies between the two maps. Said said that he received the map that he has from the Israeli court from a case that he brought to the court in which he actually won. This is not a common occurrence for a Palestinian land owner.
But Said’s map was not signed by the court and Esty, the Israeli officer said that she had to rule by the map that she had which she said was official. She said that Said should make sure to get a hard copy of the map from the Civil Administration office in Hebron stamped and signed.
In the meantime, Esty pointed out the exact borders of Said’s land according to the Israeli army. The whole discrepancy came to a small piece of land adjacent to the dirt road that leads from Said’s land into the settlement.
According to Ta’ayush, this is part of the daily struggle that the Palestinian landowners in the area face. The settlers whittle away piece by piece from Palestinian land which they arrange to have transferred to the settlement.
We witnessed the exact same thing in our second visit to Tuba, another small village of shepherds near the Israeli settlement Maon, which is known to be one of the most violent settlements in the area. We showed up when there was a standoff between the settlers – this time there were all armed – and a group of shepherds who were chased away with their sheep from their well by the settlers.
When Esty showed up shortly after our arrival, one of the settlers, Yehoshafat, who we were told is one of the founders and leaders of the Hilltop Youth – the most extreme and violent settlers. He approached Esty with his phone and I overheard him tell her that he has a new map which shows a large extension of land granted to Maon. The extension of the new area includes the well of the Palestinian shepherds.
Esty didn’t have the map but she sent an officer with her to call in from the car and to have it sent to her. In the end, she ordered the shepherds to stay away from their well. If they had proof that it was in fact theirs, they should go to the civil administration with the proof and it will be documented, she said.
I asked the shepherd, Ahmed, if he had the papers to prove that the land was his and he said yes. I asked him if he would go with them to the civil administration in Hebron, and he said no.
The issue is not, of course, the few meters of land here or there. The constant efforts of the settlers to confiscate the Palestinians land affects the lives of the Palestinians who have to face these settlers on a daily basis.
The issue is, of course, the occupation and its injustices. Ta’ayush is not an organization that works on the political or the legal level. Ta’ayush’s work will not end the occupation.
They may not even be able to protect pieces of land from the settlements’ unending greed and resolve to take over all of the land. What Ta’ayush does and can continue to do is to protect the lives of some Palestinians.
There was no blatant violence in the two sites that I spent several hours witnessing. If we weren’t physically present, Said and his family, and Ahmad and his family in Tuba might have suffered from the violence of the settlers and from the army who are clearly there to protect the settlers, not the Palestinian residents.
If Ta’ayush members were present when Said was violently attacked perhaps it wouldn’t have happened and he would not have ended up in the hospital. What is clear, when Israelis opposed to the occupation are not present, the violent settlers can do whatever they want and the army and police will generally turn a blind eye.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press and is now available. It is out in Arabic and in Portuguese as well.