Women’s Day, March 2011: Photo: Amy K.

To many Americans the Arab culture seems repressive, particularly of women. While it is true that in more traditional Arab cultural settings, women have not come as far as they have in other Western societies, the truth is that they are no less strong and capable than their Western counterparts. In fact, it amazes me how the women in Hebron were pushing the bounds and challenging the status quo. I met so many strong and talented women, like principal Reem of Cordoba School, who took on the soldiers at the checkpoint to make the daily commute of teachers and students that much easier. And our landlady Hilda, who was the first woman to teach both men and women how to drive and has been teaching drivers ed for 30 years. If you have seen the way people drive in Hebron, you would realize this proves women really can do anything!

Today an article from NBC News tells about a bloc of women candidates on the ballot for city office in Hebron. Elections have not been held since 1976. The women’s slogan is “By Participating, We Can!” And though there is not a little opposition to women running for public office, they have their supporters too. On October 20th I hope they prevail in their pursuit. And even as they prepare to make history another woman Vera Baboun is a leading candidate for the position of mayor of the city of Bethlehem. She would be the first woman mayor of this city that is known to millions around the world as the birthplace of Jesus. It is a high profile job in a place with so many challenges; challenges Baboun is prepared to meet head on.”We are not going to a fight, but rather to a competition over who can give this city the best services. Let those who have enough creativity go for it regardless of gender, color, or ethnicity,” (Ma’an News 09-23-12). Perhaps it is time for some new ideas and new voices to emerge.

Laila and me in the shop. Photo: Anna T.

As  a woman, I have always believed this statement to be true — “Women can do anything.” But after 3 months in Hebron, spending time with the owners of Women in Hebron (Jaffa Cooperative), I now know this to be true in a way I hadn’t before. I once watched Laila shoo armed young soldiers away from the door of her shop, as they patrolled the narrow lanes. These are no ordinary women, and this is no ordinary shop. Even the realities of military occupation cannot not keep them from living and working for their families and the Palestinian people.

The co-op is women owned and run and it employs 120 women from 8 different villages around Hebron.  The women use their skills in traditional Palestinian embroidery to make beautiful pillow covers, scarfs, curtains, wall hangings, and the very popular coin purses that say “Women Can Do Anything.” Until recently the only shop where you could get these items (except if you buy online) was in the Old City, but on our last day in Hebron Nawal told us the great news that they will be expanding by opening a shop right in the village of Idhna.

Idhna is where Nawal lives, and there she manages a group of 30 women, who create beautiful works of art to sell in the shop. We visited the women of Idhna with Nawal back in March of 2011. It is one of the fondest memories I have of our time in Hebron. It was a Friday evening, so the whole family was around, with little kids running in and out of the room, alternately being shy and showing off for us as their strange guests. We sat around the wall in a big room in the house belonging to one of the women of the coop. Other women joined us.

Since 2005 the women’s cooperative started by Nawal has been empowering Palestinian women from the villages around Hebron to use their skills to earn some money for their families. In a traditional and religious Muslim city, where women are often expected to the stick to the work of raising children and tending to the household affairs, women like Nawal and Leila are extraordinary. As the only women with a shop in the old city of Hebron they have born the brunt of ridicule and questions about the appropriateness of their enterprise. But Laila and Nawal are not deterred by these comments. In fact, it seems they took strength in knowing that what they were doing is right, in spite of what others might think. In their determination was a resolute resistance to anything that keeps people, men or women, from experiencing the freedom and dignity that is their God-created right.

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This shows Susiya’s location between two settlement blocs. Picture: UN OCHA

40% of Susiya could be destroyed in less than a week. That is the grim reality facing 160 of the Palestinians in this small village in South Hebron Hills. In Area C of the West Bank, Palestinians are prohibited from building on their own lands without obtaining permits from the Israeli Civil Administration. These permits are routinely denied, even though the Israeli government has a responsibility to provide for the schooling, healthcare and daily needs of people living in the occupied territories. Needing to provide for their families and children, the people of Susiya, with financial support from international aid groups, built structures that include tents for living, animal pens, latrines, a school, a clinic, and a green energy electricity generator. Israeli and international human rights groups like B’Tselem, Tayyush and EAPPI have had a long relationship with the families in Susiya and have helped raise awareness about the village that has kept demolition at bay. But the right-wing Israeli group Regavim wants Susiya village gone, so that the illegal Israeli settlement of Susiya (note they chose the same name) can expand and take over the hill top. They have petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice to have the “illegal outpost” of Susiya demolished (International Law deems the occupier’s settling of its inhabitants on the land of the occupied people illegal; this means that the Israeli settlement of Susiya is truly illegal).

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This family regroups after their home was demolished in Amniyr (village across the road from Susiya); Picture: Amy K, May 2011

Currently the people of Susiya are working with legal counsel and Rabbis for Human Rights to work through the courts. They have been able to push back demolition for a short time, but legal avenues are running out. What is needed is to raise awareness in the Court of Public Opinion. If Americans and other members of the international community speak out against the demolition of Susiya and other Palestinian homes and villages in the West Bank, the chances are greater that the Israeli Civil Administration will stay the demolitions.

What you can do:

We encourage you to:

  • Send this information to your networks.
  • Inform your representative in government about what is happening in Susiya.
  • Update news/media agencies (radio, TV & print) about Susiya’s dilemma.
  • Contact (Preferably fax) the following officials and call on them to allow Palestinians in Area C to have their right to adequate housing and infrastructure without the threat of demolitions:

o   Your Ambassador and/or Consul General in Israel

§  http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Sherut/ForeignInIsrael/Continents

o   The Israeli Ambassador in your country

§  http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/About+the+Ministry/Diplomatic+missions/Web+Sites+of+Israeli+Missions+Abroad.htm

o   Israeli Minister of Defense:

§  Ehud Barak

§  Ministry of Defence

§  Fax: +972.3.691.6940 / +972.3.696.2757 / +972.3.697.7285

§  Email: minister@mod.gov.il / dover@mod.gov.ilpniot@mod.gov.il

o   Israeli Military Judge Advocate General:

§  Major General Avihai Mandelblit

§  Fax: +972.3.569.4526 / +972.3.608.0366

§  Email: avimn@idf.gov.il

o   Israeli Military Chief of Staff

§  Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz

§  Fax: +972.3.691.6940 / +972.697.6218

Young Palestinian detained at check point. Photo: Amy K

Some people have said to me that Palestinian inconvenience is worth the safety of the Israelis, since of course these people believe all Palestinians are murderous. I did counter to little satisfaction that housing demolitions and arbitrary detentions in addition to other violations of basic human rights are not what I would call inconvenience. I would ask those people whether the following documentation of abuses constitutes inconvenience.

After reading these reports and having spent 3 months last year working in the same places where these blatant attacks have occurred, I am even more concerned about the prospect of peace. I can see that the Golani Brigade is trying to use its allotted time in Hebron to scare away Internationals. Though that will not happen, it reminds me that the Palestinians living in the city have almost no where to turn for legal protection or security for their lives or property. The international observers like EAPPI, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Temporary International Presence in Hebron and the International Solidarity Movement offer the only semblance of accountability for the Israeli army. It is clear that even that does not stop the intimidation, destruction of lives, and denial of rights that continues unabated.

This police officer grabs a little girl in Hebron. Photo: John Janney

This is an article from the International Solidarity Movement, a group we worked with in Hebron. It illustrates the insecurity of

Monitoring the kids on their way home from Cordoba School. Photo: Anna T.

Palestinian life under occupation and the injustice of this system. For years the teachers of Cordoba School have been allowed to use the side gate at checkpoint 56, but last week that changed abruptly, simply because the army said so. Because there is a metal detector inside the checkpoint, pregnant women and people with heart conditions have been allowed to use the gate to minimize health risks. Now even they are barred from using the side gate! There need be no other reason than what the soldiers always told us: “Security.” In protest the teachers and students held classes outside of the checkpoint — on the Palestinian controlled side. The Israelis sent in the Border Police to tear gas them.  The police have manhandled young children from this elementary school, who were protesting non-violently.

Soldier at Checkpoint 56 checking children. Photo: Amy K

For three months I stood inside this checkpoint and watched the teachers and children go through twice a day without incident. The teachers used the side gate and the soldiers checked their ID numbers. Now, not only are they restricted from doing so, but for refusing to go through the checkpoint, the army has closed their school.

The Palestinians are afraid that the Israeli settlers will try to take over the school, since in the past they have vandalized it and the homes nearby. If something is not done, then it is only a matter of time before this really does happen. This news makes me so angry and sad. I know these kids and teachers. They are kind and dedicated to this school that provides a good education to children living in difficult circumstances. These kids deserve an education and the teachers deserve to be treated with respect. Apparently even education is deemed a security risk by the Israeli army; so dangerous in fact, that they would deny it to small Palestinian children.

Virtual tour of the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank.

 

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