At-Tuwani: Arrests and Impunity


by Eileen Hanson

On May 18, four CPTers in coordination with Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli group, Ta'ayush, went to the village of Al-Buweib in the South Hebron Hills to accompany local farmers tending their land. Farmers in this area have been unable to access both grazing fields and olive groves due to threats and harassment from Israeli settlers in the nearby settlement of Pnei Hever.

Three weeks earlier, settlers attacked a Palestinian from at-Tuwani and Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights and tried to steal the camera of a member of Operation Dove (an Italian peace group).

Shortly after the Palestinians and solidarity groups arrived on May 18, several settlers as well as Israeli Army and Police jeeps showed up. In an act of nonviolent resistance, the Palestinians sat down in the intersection, preventing vehicles from reaching Al-Buweib. However, a group of settler youth started running up the hill toward the fields where farmers were plowing and several women were harvesting.

Later, settlers stormed into an olive grove and began shaking the trees and harassing the farmers. One settler stood in front of a tractor so the Palestinian driving it could not continue working.

The settlers did not offer any evidence to support their claims to the land. In contrast, the Palestinians landowners had full documentation of their ownership and had contacted the District Coordinating Office (DCO) of the Israeli Army the day before to clarify their right to access this land.

A June 2006 ruling by the Israeli High Court states, "The army and police are obligated to take action to protect Palestinian farmers and their property from any individuals attacking them . . . the defense of Palestinian farmers cannot be carried out through the closure of agricultural land; rather, the military commander must act to both ensure that the Palestinian farmers can access their lands, and to protect their right to property."

However, on this occasion the DCO did not defend the Palestinians' legal rights to work their land. Instead, the soldiers declared the area a closed military zone, and ordered everyone, including the landowners, to leave.

Police arrested five Palestinians for refusing to leave even though the army had temporarily blocked the road preventing anyone from leaving. Three of the men were released after a few hours, but two remained in police custody.

In spite of the attacks and arrests, Palestinians persist in their determination to work in their fields and groves.