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 25 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 7 October 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.
‘Today, Wednesday, 25 October, 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.’
‘I weep with you’
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 7 October. 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, 7 October, 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.”’
From the Villages Group report on 18 November:
‘After we could not enter Umm Barid on Monday, we were determined to visit there the next time we go to Massafer Yatta, on Wednesday 15 November. What the settlers of the “green bus outpost” and the brand-new outpost between Avigail and Umm Barid have perpetrated there is the continuation and exacerbation of reckless evil.
‘In October and early November, settlers who established an outpost between Umm Barid and Avigail after the war broke out, repeatedly invaded M’s family compound.
‘They completely destroyed its fields and greenhouses, caused extensive damage inside the house, cruelly beat M and his sons, threatened them, and ordered them at gunpoint to leave immediately.
‘Consequently M and his family start sleeping at another house in the neighbouring village, but in the daytime they continue to stay at their home in Umm Barid and see guests and friends there. Other Umm Barid families have not dared to return home at all.
‘In the daytime, the family still works in their property at Umm Barid to rehabilitate it from destruction, and in the evening they crowd into their neighbour’s home for a night’s sleep.
‘They had just finally rebuilt from the destruction of late October and the destruction of early November.
‘The demolition that took place on the night of 13 November is, however, impossible to repair.
‘On Sunday evening, while the family was still home, the vandals came on their ATV [quad bikes] and with their camera drone photographed the entire compound. At night, they came again and destroyed everything indescribably: all the furniture, all the food.
‘Last time they poured water over the food stuffs. This time they used ground glass.
‘They broke the gas stove. They broke the washing machine. They broke the windows. They broke the walls. They killed the chickens in their coop. They also killed pigeons and their offspring, which the family raised.
‘They demolished the greenhouses, and uprooted everything the family had replanted after the previous uprooting.
‘They destroyed even more and more than what’s written above, everything that had remained intact previously and everything that had been repaired since then.
‘M, his wife L and his young daughter F, and the four older sons, tell us and describe it all without anger in their voices, without any tones of vengeance. Only a great sense of sadness mixed with the determination of people who have no intention of giving up their old home.’