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Al-Bueire, 6 July 2010
Today we made a foot patrol of Al-Bueire, an area on the edge of Hebron where settler harassment is a serious problem. We simply walked, slowly, up and down the road that runs through the village. Now and then we approached a Palestinian on the road, and each time the approaching figure visibly slowed down, cautiously trying to work out if we were friend or foe. What a way to live. We called out "As-salam aleikum" to reassure people.
None of the settlers came down to the village while we were there. (And indeed, this is one of the main goals of our foot patrols.) But they have been around recently, with daily encroachments small and large, trying to harass the native inhabitants out of the area.
As we walked, a family called us in to their house, offering us tea. The father of the family introduced himself as Dr Sufian Sultan, while his son proudly told us that Dr Sultan has a PhD in agriculture, and was once the head of the Palestinian Environmental Authority. Both father and son spoke good English.
We ask them if they had any problems with the settlers. Dr Sultan chuckles at the question.
"Let me tell you what happened yesterday. Settlers came to our property and started trying to uproot some young fig trees we had planted. They were also cutting our irrigation pipes and vandalising the grape vines.
"My sons went to stop them destroying the trees, and there was a struggle. They were pushing each other. One of my sons knocked the hat off the head of one of the settlers. Soon 20 more settlers came, and they started throwing stones. My sons escaped and came back to the house.
"Then I went out, to try to ask them to stop. They threw stones at me also, so I went back inside my house.
"I called the police, but when they heard an Arab on the phone, they just hung up. I called the Palestinian Authority, and they said they would help. But they called the Israeli Occupation authority, who sent some soldiers down here.
"The soldiers arrived at our house, and we told them what had been happening: the settlers invading our property, destroying things and throwing stones. The army captain said, 'Why are you telling me this? This is not a problem for me.'
"They did however want to know about the hat that one of my sons had knocked from a settler. They said, 'Where is the hat?'
"They detained one of the boys who was here working on the house, and took him to the settlement. This boy was not even there when the settlers were causing trouble. At the settlement they asked the settlers if this was the person who took their hat, but the settlers said no, it was not him. So they let him go."
I ask him if there is any kind of help he can turn to.
"Sometimes the Christian Peacemakers Team come around here. One time an American from CPT even stayed at our house, but the Israelis did not like this. Soldiers came to our house at three o'clock in the morning, and kicked the door down. They took all our IDs, and searched the house. They asked me if I had any weapon in the house, I said no. The soldiers were searching the kitchen, and in the drawer they found a cooking knife. He said, 'What is this?' I said, 'It is a knife.' He said, 'Why do you have a knife?' I said, 'Sometimes when you are cooking, you need to use a knife.' Then they left the house."
Dr Sultan and his son seem to find these incidents quite funny. I suspect this is not the worst of their experiences with settlers and soldiers, and ask them what other kinds of things happen.
"The settlers burn cars, they destroy our crops. Sometimes they wait on the hillside above the road, and when a Palestinian drives past, they try to drop large stones down onto the car. The worst was in 2004: one of the settler leaders here was killed after a rivalry with another settler. They wanted to bury the dead man on that hill over there (Dr Sultan points to a hill on the other side of his farm). Even the Israeli authorities said no, this was not allowed. So over 1,000 settlers came here, and they went crazy. They went in big groups to all the houses here, smashing windows and starting fires. All the Palestinians went to hide in their houses.
"They came to my house, and they were throwing stones at all the windows. Then one of them cut the gas pipe at the side of the house, and he was trying to start a fire with the gas. A soldier was standing there watching. I asked a soldier, please, stop this fire. The soldier said okay, and he put out the fire.
"There were thousands of dollars of damage to the houses around here, and many cars destroyed."
We all sit quietly for a minute. The Palestinians look at us carefully; all our faces are sad and grim. They look at us intensely because they want to make sure that we understand.
Dr Sultan's mirth has disappeared now. He chooses his words carefully, then tells us, "We are suffering here. It is not easy to say."