Shelter from the Storm
The village of At-Tuwani (a small village between Hebron and the Firing Zone where CPT has been very active) wanted to construct a shelter for schoolchildren to wait in after school. In any other place this would be no big deal, but At-Tuwani isn’t any other place. See the children are not waiting for a bus to pick them up, or their parents, they are waiting for a military escort. How that came about is an interesting story…
A Brief History of Schoolkids in Tuwani
The schoolchildren coming from Tuba and Maghayire Al Abeed (two villages about a 20 minute walk away) walk between the Israeli settlement of Ma’on and the outpost (wannabe new settlement) of Havat Ma’on in order to get to school in At-Tuwani. Since 2001 settlers have repeatedly attacked the children along this route. The older stronger ones could walk the very long way around, but the younger ones were unable to go to school. In 2004 volunteers from CPT and Operation Dove began accompanying the children along the path. But the settlers just started attacking the internationals as well as the kids. Eventually these attacks brought the matter to the attention of the Children Rights Committee of the Knesset (Israeli government), which established in November 2004 a military escort to protect the children. That’s right, the Israeli government sent Israeli soldiers to protect Palestinian children from getting beat up by Israeli citizens who were illegally (by both Israeli and international law) on Palestinian land. Personally I think enforcing Israeli law and making the settlers leave would have been a better option, but hey it’s better then nothing. By the way, in case you didn’t guess this is a truly unique arrangement. This is not quite the end of the story. During the school year 2011-2012, the volunteers of Operation Dove and CPT published a report which found that in 35% of cases the military escort was late. In addition, in 48% of cases, the military escort arrived late after school, forcing the children to wait for a total time of about 21 hours.
So kids have to wait outside for a military accompaniment to walk home from school. There is nothing to shelter the children, some as young as 6 years old, from the elements, especially the strong winds, as they wait for their unpunctual military escort, hence the need for a tent to shelter the kids. No big deal right? Wrong. At-Tuwani is in Area C (Under complete Israeli control) of the West Bank (Palestinian land). Meaning the village has to ask Israel to build their kids a tent. Across the West Bank Israel denies aproximatly 97% of permits asked for, and this is after a long and expensive process. Factor in that At-Tuwani as right next to a settlement that is constantly stealing more land for Israel, there is no way Israel will permit the villagers to build anything. They couldn’t sneakily build it without the Israeli government knowing, since Israeli soldiers would be coming to pick up kids. But the brilliant people of Tuwani came up with a scheme. It’s one that has been surprisingly successful for them: Go big or go home. They decided to to make a huge event out of building the shelter. They invited everyone: international organizations, Israeli organizations, school kids, teachers, and media (a lot of media). The hope was that with a lot of cameras and a lot of people knowing about this project, it wouldn’t be worth the headache for Israel to demolish it.
The Day Of
We arrived in At-Tuwani and were excited about the large crowd we saw. There were over 100 non-At-Tuwanians. There were so many cameras it was hard to get a picture without another camera ruining it. Kids were running around singing and chanting at soldiers. Early on the whole event was sidelined by a woman herding sheep through the area. The soldiers felt compelled to follow her, and the people with cameras felt compelled to follow them. The men of the town began to pitch the tent, and the soldiers mostly left them alone.
Across the hill we could see settlers who had come out to see what was happening. They were chanting in Hebrew, “Kill all the Arabs,” but they kept their distance. Kids put up Palestinian flags. For some reason the soldiers decided this activity was unacceptable, and took the flags down.
Everyone waited around for an hour or so taking pictures of kids sitting in the newly completed tent. We all sipped tea that the kids brought around, and chatted. Eventually went the soldiers started to leave, and the media started to leave, and CPT and other internationals started to leave. The event went as well as anyone could have hoped. The trick was to see what would happen next.
About an hour after we left two CPTers were out on patrol around Hebron and we got a call. It turns out the demonstration was not successful. The soldiers came back demolished the tent as soon as the crowds died down. One international who was still around was arrested and kicked out of the West Bank for two weeks.
We expected that the tent would be demolished, but it still hurt. The people of Tuwani have a lot of problems, as you can imagine. The kids of At-Tuwani unfortunately take the brunt of the oppression. CPT has been working with the people and the kids there for so long. They are inspiring because they, more then any other group of people I know have bought into non-violent resistance. Every response they come up with to the oppression is non-violent, creative, and poignant. They have had a few successes, but they are hard earned successes, and it’s hard for us to see people getting knocked down over and over again, but the way they get back up every time is inspiring.
But this is not the end, this is the start. The demonstration was successful in getting media attention. It didn’t save the tent, but there will be a backlash in the media. The tent will be rebuilt, and the Israeli government will again have to ask itself, “Is it worth all the bad press to demolish a children’s tent?” And they might demolish it again. Then the Palestinians will have to ask themselves, “Is it worth it to rebuild a children’s tent?” And back and forth it will go. And this is where my hope lies: Whether it be utilitarian or moral, at some point it won’t be worth it for the Israeli government. But for the people of At-Tuwani, when it comes to the well being of their kids, it is always worth it.
Pray for the kids of Tuwani, who have to continue to fight the elements, on top of fighting hate and oppression) as they return to school tomorrow. (It’s supposed to rain)
Pray for the people of Tuwani, that they maintain hope
Pray the same for everyone involved in today’s demonstration
Pray for peace