Desperate voices from the West Bank

Blog by Felicity Laurence , The Villages Group

Felicity Laurence writes: The Villages Group is a small but totally dedicated Israeli-Palestinian peace group who have worked year in and year out to show friendship and support to people under occupation in Palestine. I visited many times, to sing and do music with children in the villages, including in the very places right now being destroyed. Things are desperate as never before. I am receiving their letters every day. Here are some things they are telling me. They want the world to know.

From their report on 25th October:

Some months ago, we already wrote to you about the escalation taking place of the plan to “quietly transfer” the Palestinian communities in the West Bank in general, and those in the Palestinian Jordan Valley and south Mt. Hebron Hills in particular.

The war following the terrible massacres on October 7th has created the optimal conditions for this plan. The settlers have put on their military uniforms and have been given more weapons. They are now leading army forces on terror, destruction and looting rampages they initiate themselves. They know that as long as public and media attention in Israel and abroad is directed at Gaza, they can finish off the expulsion of the small Palestinian shepherd communities undisturbed.

We Israeli activists who have been visiting the Palestinian shepherd communities in south Mt. Hebron for over 20 years find ourselves now in a disaster area. Those who call themselves “our brothers” and “our army” are wreaking one catastrophe after another on people whom we’ve known for years as simple, hard-working, good-hearted and generous friends. Beyond the aid and solidarity that we still manage to extend, we find ourselves documenting what now seem to be the last days of those frontier communities, whose families have lived there for generations.

Today, Wednesday, October 25th, we received a series of desperate messages from our friends in Masafer Yatta about coordinated attacks by settlers and the army on many villages. In one attack, about 20 settlers shot at a compound from a distance, then entered the house. They beat up the father of the family, broke cupboards, a TV set, threw food on to the floor, stole a laptop that the children used for their schoolwork, as well as several phones and shoes. They also confiscated the ID of one of his sons. Leaving, they told him that “it’s war now, pointed their weapons at him and threatened that they would return at night.  

This gives you an idea about Jewish colonist-military terror in its ‘moderate’ form. If the attacked do not get the ‘hint’, the Israeli terror initiators go on to the next phase which consists of beating up bodies and fracturing arms and legs with metal rods. This has already happened to one of our friends last week, another friend yesterday, and a third friend just today. And we know also to many others. We are horrified at the thought of the next stages of Israeli terror that awaits all these people.

And now from a letter directly from one of those people in the villages, also from yesterday. He writes:

The settlers in the South Hebron Hills area, devoid of any accountability, are acting as if they were in their own separate state, perpetuating their series of crimes and terrorism against innocent, vulnerable, unarmed Palestinian civilians.

These settlers in military uniforms have imposed a kind of siege around my village, particularly during the night. It is virtually impossible for anyone to venture more than a meter beyond the village's boundaries. They have implemented stringent security measures in our community, even deploying surveillance drones that fly at very low altitudes. This week, they went so far as to send a speaking drone to issue warnings and threats to the residents, and they repeatedly harassed my disabled brother. It feels as though we are in prison within our own village.

There are ongoing acts of aggression toward children, women, and the elderly, and countless incidents of firing at people, animals and buildings. In the village of Susiya, the settlers demolished and vandalized water wells and uprooted dozens of acres of trees. Then they blocked all of the roads to the village, leaving not even a small gap for people to use. Other villages suffer the same destruction. Everyone is terrified, especially the children. Security patrols routinely intercept people, and we are denied access to our agricultural fields. It is a never-ending nightmare.

I am sincerely grateful for your care and support during these times. Your concern means the world to us. In the midst of uncertainty, your presence is a reminder of the strength of our bonds and the kindness that surrounds us. We know that we are not alone.

There are moments of humanity in all this. My friend Erella, a central figure in the Villages Group, visited a friend in one of the villages a few days after October 7th. She describes what happened:

We sat in the home of Osman, his wife Rawan and their small children. Some of Osman’s brothers joined us, too. It was our first meeting since that terrible Saturday, October 7th, when Hamas carried out its horrific massacre.

Osman said this: “First of all I wish to say that we are a people of peace. Your pain is ours too. These things are just not done. We are against murder on all sides. Justice and law must be the order of the day.” This is what he said. Clear, coherent, as though he were delivering an unequivocal historic declaration. “Secondly”, he continued, “we thank you for having brought us food, but even had you come bearing nothing, we would be overjoyed. Even your phone call, asking how we are, already makes us happy.” 

Osman continued: After Saturday’s horrific deeds, I heard an interview with a man from the one of the settler communities near us, called Talya Ranch. He said his mother had been murdered by Hamas at a kibbutz while there helping her daughter who had just given birth. A few days later, one of the Talya Ranch people came to us, all ready for revenge. I said to him: ‘We shall go on fighting over land, but now I weep with you for your murdered mother. Now is not the time to fight. Now is the time to mourn and I am with you.’ The man from Talya Ranch stopped, said ‘Friends…’, turned around and left.”

Erella continues: My heart is still trying to contain the horrors of that awful Saturday, and the terror of bombed-out Gaza, and wonder whether there will still be room for the horrors taking place in the South Hebron Hills. My heart answers – that always in such situations, now is not the time to ask questions. Now is a time to help whoever is needy, and support them with compassion and generosity which cannot rescue, but do the best I can.

Erella wrote those words not long after October 7th. Yesterday evening [25 Oct - PN], she texted me:

The situation in South Mount Hebron is getting worse by the hour. A pure Jewish terror. I went today to mourn with my friend who lost her whole family on October 7th. Since I got back just now we’ve had 5 calls from our friends in Sth Mount Hebron with terrible news. It’s now dangerous for us to go there - though we will keep trying to go every day.

We do not know what to do. How to bring it to public awareness. We don’t know what to do.

We who watch in anguish from afar can only send our love and solidarity while we continue to make our voices heard here at home – and to do whatever we can to enable these other voices from the middle of the inferno to be heard.