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Israeli soldiers under orders to accompany Palestinian children to school failed to arrive at the appointed time despite repeated calls reminding them to show up on Monday, a local organization said.
The Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) said the children, aged from six to 14, require a military escort to and from school because of attacks by Israeli extremists from the illegal West Bank settlements of Ma’on and Havat Ma’on.
CPT said that when the military does not arrive on time to accompany the kids, they must wait in an area controlled by Israeli settlers, “a location where settlers have attacked the young Palestinian children on a number of occasions in the past.”
According to the organization, soldiers were ordered by the military to escort the children since 2004, after a series of attacks on kids walking from the village of Tuba Maghayir Al-Abeed to At-Tuwani, where they attend school.
But on Monday, and despite several calls informing them that the children were waiting for the escort, no one showed up, the group said. When the military failed to arrive, workers said they repeatedly made calls to the army and were told that the escort was coming.
“The army dispatcher insisted that the children would have to wait until 8:30 before the army arrived,” the group said. When the CPT worker explained that the children were in an area where they might be attacked by settlers, “the dispatcher laughed and said, ‘Nothing’s going to happen,'” according to the group.
And this was despite at least one attack already this semester, CPT noted. On 7 September, an Israeli settler came toward the children screaming at them. “The children ran part way to school,” according to the group, which said it had documented violence against children at least 10 times over the previous school year. Two of these times the settlers reportedly threw rocks at the children.
On Monday, the kids made it to class without incident after, having already waited 45 minutes for the army, they decided to walk alone to school along a path on which settlers have attacked them in the past. They arrived at school 45 minutes late, CPT said.
“This school year the children have been late for school on five mornings out of 16,” the group said. “On 11 of the 16 schooldays the children have had to wait after school for 20 minutes or more for the escort. On three days they had to wait a little over half an hour, on four days 45 minutes and on one day nearly an hour.”
Also on the morning of Thursday, 10 September 2009, the children had to wait 20 minutes at an area chicken coop because “the army escort vehicle diverted to chase Palestinian shepherds from a nearby valley,” CPT added. “The children were late for school.”
‘New military unit to combat settler extremism’
Meanwhile, Israel’s military recently established a special “rapid-response” unit to reign in the country’s infamously lawless settlers.
“The idea is to have a force that can deploy in certain areas within a matter of minutes,” a military source told The Jerusalem Post last week. “This way, we can hopefully prevent violent incidents from escalating out of control.”
The English-language newspaper reported that Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service had been increasing operations within settlements and right-wing circles to prevent instigators in advance, or to gather evidence following an attack.
For instance, according to the report, Israel’s military often refuses to arrest anyone responsible for violent crimes against Palestinians, and even soldiers, when the culprit is an Israeli illegally residing in the occupied West Bank.
Two weeks ago a Palestinian was reportedly shot by a settler, but soldiers or police “could not obtain sufficient evidence to corroborate the story and track down the shooter,” the paper said, adding that a Molotov attack had been reported, as well.
“There is without a doubt a rising level of violence in recent weeks,” an officer in Israel’s Central Command told the newspaper. “The idea behind the unit is to provide a rapid response to prevent friction and violence between settlers, security forces and Palestinians.”
The same officer cited particularly egregious cases of violence in the northern West Bank. “The settlers crossed red lines [there]. They have uprooted Palestinian trees, kicked a Border Police officer and threw a Molotov cocktail at security forces.”
Activists deliver water despite ‘closed zone’ declaration
But critics say the army, since 1967, has continuously placed more emphasis on protecting settlers over locals. In Hebron last Monday, soldiers declared the South Hebron Hills settler area a “closed military zone,” hoping to prevent about 100 international peace activists from transferring 25 tons of water to Palestinian villagers denied supply by the Israeli state.
Nevertheless the activists, representing nine Palestinian groups and more than 20 international organizations mostly from inside Israel, managed to break through the military cordon and pass the convoy as planned, they said in a joint statement. Their water convoy arrived in buses from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as in private cars and large water tankers carrying about 25 tons of water.
Israel’s military spread spikes on the road near the illegal settlement of Carmel, even though the organizers explained that they were involved in vital humanitarian work bringing water to where it is lacking, but the army persisted in denying access, the group said.
The convoy added, “Thereupon, the organizers instructed activists to leave the buses and proceed on foot, bypassing the military roadblock.”
In a long line the activists walked along the southward road, under the desert sun, followed by military jeeps. TV crews of international networks walked alongside and documented the protest march. After they walked about three kilometers the activists met inhabitants of the Palestinian villages, driving tractors with platforms on which the activists climbed, traveling on unpaved tracks deep into the desert area.
The water tankers succeeded to arrive via desert bypass roads, accompanied by a bulldozer, which removed obstacles on difficult spots, thus allowing the tankers to pass. The activists, Palestinian inhabitants, and tankers all reached the pre-arranged rendezvous point. They proceeded on the water distribution, traveling among the small hamlets in the area, stopping at each and giving inhabitants their share.
“What impressed the urban activists above all was how in one village, Jinaba, the cattle trough was filled directly from the tanker, and the thirsty sheep started drinking immediately,” the convoy added.
But military jeeps soon arrived with soldiers to arrest the Palestinian bulldozer driver, claiming that he had “opened blocked routes” and thereby “harmed security,” the convoy said. However, dozens of Israelis surrounded the bulldozer, some of them climbing on it, with their bodies blocking the soldiers from approaching the driver – himself an inhabitant of one of the nearby villages.
“Shame on you! Shame!” shouted the mostly Israeli activists at the soldiers. “Shame on you for denying the inhabitants here water, for blocking the roads and filling up their wells! One day all of you will be ashamed to tell your sons and grandsons where you have been, and what you have done!”
The convoy organizers made clear to the commander of the military force that by no means would they leave the territory as long as the army continued to threaten to arrest the bulldozer driver and confiscate his vehicle, they said, adding that after a two-hour stand-off the commander gave in and let the bulldozer depart.
For several months peace organizations have been acting to protest what they called Israel’s Policy of Thirst.
“The State of Israel is taking about 80% of the water from the West Bank aquifers for the needs of its citizens and of the settlers, leaving only about a fifth to the Palestinian inhabitants” who own the land, they maintain. “In so doing the State of Israel is perpetrating a severe violation of international law, according to which an occupying state is not allowed to use the natural resources of the occupied territory.”
The inhabitants of the South Hebron Hill have it worse than most in the West Bank.They are not connected to water lines, the army seals their wells, and their only way to obtain water is from tankers arriving from far. Water, therefore, is for them very expensive, 50 to 60 shekels (16-19 US dollars) per cubic meter, as compared to some four shekels for a settler who gets it delivered to his or her tap.
“[T]hese Palestinians already live below the poverty line,” the convoy insisted. “Moreover, the army is making difficulties and deliberately blocking roads in order to prevent arrival of the tankers.
“In fact, we have here a deliberate effort to make life so difficult so that they will leave the South Hebron Hills, making it possible to annex the area to Israel ‘free of Arabs’ – as is the declared desire of the particularly aggressive and extremist settlers who have established themselves throughout this area,” it added. Indeed in 1999 the army carried out a mass deportation of Palestinian inhabitants, but the High Court ruled that illegal and ordered the government to allow them back to their modest homes (some living in caves).
“Now the authorities try to achieve the same result by the indirect way of making their life into hell, in the hope that they will leave ‘voluntarily’ the land where they lived for generations and where they find their scant livelihood as shepherds,” the convoy said. “The Thirst Policy of the government against the Palestinians in general and these South-Hebroners in particular is highly despicable, racist and inhuman.”
In any event,the group noted, “We have no illusion that with our own resources we can provide all the water which Palestinians need. Our limited action is meant in the first place to express protest and fury and make people aware, in Israel and everywhere.”