June 17, 2012
A few days ago, on Thursday June 14, the IWPS team received a request for our presence overnight in the village of Kfer Haris in Salfit. The military shuts down the village twenty-six (somewhat sporadic) nights a year at 10pm, forcing every person into their homes to make way for Israeli Settlers who come to pray and make their presence known at Joshua’s tomb, which is located in the centre of the village. The Colonizers/Settlers believe Joshua is a figure who conquered the ancient Cannonites and brought the Jews from thousands of years ago into this land. These gatherings supposedly occur for pious reasons, yet often result in thousands of Settlers wreaking havoc in the village, through means of vandalism, trash, defecation, and obnoxious noise sent echoing through the quiet, small village into the wee hours of the morning. Palestinians watch silently from their darkened homes, unable to sleep, watching as their town is taken over.Our presence was requested so that we could not only take pictures and document this frequent display of violence and colonization, but to hopefully keep the vandalism to a minimum, with our international outsider status.
Our evening began with us quietly leaving our Palestinian host’s home, where we had laughed and ate much, and making our way to the centre of the square. We joined the over half-dozen military trucks and security vans while getting a sense for things. We made sure the soldiers understood our persona as innocent Christian pilgrims who were there at Joshua’s tomb to pray, having heard about the celebration in Jerusalem. One soldier escorted us to the tomb to pray before the settlers began their evening and then invited us to get him if any soldiers caused us problems. After spending some time huddled around a prayer book of one of our teammates, while soldiers popped their heads in and out of the underground concrete tomb, our persona was secured. We made our way to a patch of ground in the centre/edge of the square, in clear view of the nights activity, as dozens of settlers began to arrive and set up tables for food, mingle about the town, and sometimes pray.
One of our teammates, who had observed such an event before, noticed a significant difference on this night from her last time seeing it; there was a major lack of religiosity in the majority of settlers’ behaviour, which is supposedly why they take over the village.What became apparent (and was even confirmed by one of the more orthodox Settlers) was that there was a lack of spiritual fervor amoung the young people, which comprised most of the numbers of the mobs. A need to pray at Joshua’s tomb was trumped by the lure of a chance to be obnoxious and make their colonizing presence known to the Palestinians who were forced to silently watch and/or and listen from their darkened windows.
Over the course of a few hours, the mingling about consisted of a number of Settler boys barking at us; asking where we are from, condemning us for our Christian beliefs, and making it clear that we were not welcome there – that we were inferior in their eyes. We witnessed young boys attempting to size up the observing and disenchanted soldiers. They tried tampering with Palestinian property (which was thankfully under control of the soldiers because the numbers on this particular night were significantly less than other times), and aggressively ripped fig branches off Palestinian trees and threw them on the ground.In waves, the crowds mobbed a road trying to reach Jonah’s tomb off to the side of Joshua’s, pushing against the line of soldiers blocking them. The boisterous yelling, pushing mob was clearly not seeking somber time in prayer, but loud and obnoxious trouble making. As the evening played out, our presence as internationals with further intentions than prayers and innocent piety, was made more clear as we took pictures and stood more obviously and knowingly within the action.
At one point a soldier right in front of us began to pick up garbage, and as we followed suit, a gang of young male Settlers made it loudly clear that they thought we should leave the trash on the ground for the Palestinians, cursing Palestine and the town that we were in. It was difficult to stand there and not be able to fully argue back the way that I would have without such circumstances surrounding us. Somewhat refreshingly, one soldier who was clearly disgusted by the Settlers, told us to “Never listen to what they say, ever.”
At about 2:30/3am we began to make our way out of the village, down the only road we could walk on, lined with soldiers. At the based of the village, we curved in the opposite direction of the settlers, past the soldiers, and along a smaller road within the olive groves, headed for Haris. We walked home for two hours through to morning, with Army trucks whizzing past us along the main road.
The Settlers take-over and presence in Kfer Haris proved to be a demonstration of their self-proclaimed power and ideological arrogance. Both those who came to pray at the tomb of Joshua (the figure they believe brought the Jews from the Torah into this land) and those who came to declare their status as settlers, did so through colonial acts of imposing on, controlling, and taking over a Palestinian village. God wonders what they were praying for.
On Sunday, May 15th, the IWPS House Team made a visit to the village of Kifr Haris. This village is situated on one of the main roads that connect the Ariel settlement block to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This road (505) sectioned off a portion of Kfer Haris’ agricultural area from the village, and villagers have a difficult time gaining access to their olive trees now. A total of 3000 dunums of their land was confiscated, 1000 of which 505 was built upon, and the other 2000 for the settlement of Ariel. One of our contacts in the village said he had not been able to tend to his trees or pick their olives for several years now. The village is also a focal point of egregious settler activity. Every couple months, the Israeli Occupation Forces places the village under curfew and escorts thousands of illegal settlers into the tiny village because the settlers believe it is the burial place of one of their prophets.
The village is very old, perhaps as old as 3000 years. The old city, as yet not restored and much of it lies in ruins, attests to its age. Some of the ancient village center lies in ruins die to it age and lack of maintenance, but some of the most important architecture was deliberately destroyed in the Israeli Occupation Forces. A villager showed us a gaping hole in the old city, where he said, once stood an ancient olive press. On a number of occasions, the IOF came into the vllage and made the inhabitants leave. They then used dynamite to destroy some of the most ancient structures, presumably to wipe out the Palestinian claim to their roots and longevity in the village. The ancient Olive Press was one such structure that was eliminated.
After being given an informative tour of the village by a local Palestinian, we were invited to his home to share dinner with his wife and sister. A Palestinian traditional meal of Makluba was already prepared, as the family had cooked for another village family who were in mourning over the death of one of their cousins. We shared the meal with them, delighted that the women had a good command of English to we were able to effectively communicate with them. We left them to meet with a representative from the municipality, with a hope to return and learn how to make the sumptuous zatar served after we were stuffed with makluba!
The village rep met with us in the Balidiya. Asking how he was, his response was a smile and “just OK.” The village faces much financial hardship, and this was recently excerbated when Palestine asked for recognition in the UN. Sixty families of the village are refugees and they received assistance from the UN- basic food staple and 400 shekels a month. However, this aid has now been cut off through pressure from the United States.
He said the village’s biggest problem in the settler incursions. Apparently, settlers come into the village outside the times they are escorted in my the IOF. He described belligerent people who come into the village, harming villagers and destroying property. They come under the pretext of praying at tomb (they believe it is the tomb of the biblical figure Jushua.)
He has initiated a program where mental health counselors come to the village, but they are too few and funding is a problem. As well, villagers are loathe to express mental healthy strain, as they do not differentiate between mental stress and “craziness.” To this end he is seeking to educate the people of Kfer Haris on this issue.
However, so long as the soldiers and illegal settlers continue to come into the village, mental health issues will continue to be a problem.