Out Like a Dog'
By Gideon Levy
22/08/08 "Haaretz" - -- In the lawless South Hebron Hills,
things are wild as usual: The settlers continue to attack
shepherd children with clubs and stones, to steal their sheep
and to make their lives miserable, while the Israel Police
continue to abuse anyone who tries to file a complaint against
Mahmoud Abu Kabaita, whose children and flocks were the targets
of settlers from Beit Yatir and Susia, was left outside the
Kiryat Arba police station in the burning sun for four hours,
until they even allowed him to enter. The members of the Abu
Awad family, some of whose children suffer from a serious skin
disease, have already been victims of a cruel pogrom by the
settlers of Asael, as described here three weeks ago. Relatives
waited outside the police station for two hours, and left
without filing a complaint, after being attacked once again last
Shabbat. That is how the Israel Police enforces the law here.
After writing in this column about the Abu Awads, all of whose
meager property was destroyed and looted by the rioters from
Asael, some readers offered to help the penniless family. One
prominent figure, who is well known in the political
establishment and not necessarily from the left, and who wanted
to remain anonymous, gave the family a personal financial
contribution which is considered huge by local standards. There
was great joy in the miserable encampment, but it was
short-lived: Last Shabbat the children and their sheep were
attacked once again by the Asael people. A wonderful way to
welcome the "Sabbath bride," as is customary every week.
The Abu Kabaitas, whom Israel decreed would have to live outside
the separation fence, along with and adjacent to Beit Yatir,
were not very fortunate either. They were also attacked by
rioters from the neighboring settlement. They were also abused
by the Israel Police, which are supposed to protect them.
Thus there exists, with a distance of an hour and a half from
Tel Aviv, a region with its own rules: The settlers rampage as
much as they please, and the police don't lift a finger and even
treat the victims of the violence rudely when they want to
complain. In the past weeks, as everyone knows, the rioting has
mounted, for some reason, but for the police it's business as
Opposite the new checkpoint and among antennas and wind
turbines, lives the Abu Kabaita family. There is a mother, a
father, 13 children and two grandmothers, one of them 97 years
old, and of course the sheep and goats. They have been here
since 1948 - Palestinians who live in a poor, but relatively
well-kept compound of lean-tos, tents and stone structures, some
of which have been demolished by Israel.
In the shade of a date tree are several plastic chairs; one of
the children is picking dates and serving them together with
small cups of sage tea. The father Mahmoud is relating the story
of his tribulations. He is 40 years old, born here on the
private lands registered to his family since the days of Turkish
rule. He does not keep the official documents in the compound;
he already knows that the settlers and perhaps even the police
and the army are liable to confiscate them. Wearing a baseball
cap backward on his head, speaking fluent Hebrew, he looks like
an Israeli. A new Ferguson tractor is parked within the
compound, but he has to leave his private car, an old Subaru, on
the other side of the separation fence and the checkpoint on the
slope, several hundred meters from his home. He is forbidden to
bring it any closer to his house. Israel built the fence in such
a way that Beit Yatir will remain in Israeli territory, along
with some of its Palestinian neighbors.
It may be good for the settlers, but for the Abu Kabaitas the
new checkpoint has only heralded more troubles: The children
must pass through it every day on their way to school, as does
Mahmoud on his way to buy feed for the sheep or to sell one of
his herd, to bring a gas canister or other goods. Sometimes the
soldiers allow him to pass, sometimes they don't. When he wants
to take sheep to sell in neighboring Yata, the soldiers allow
him to take out only two at a time. That's just how it is. Every
crossing by he and his children depends on the good will of the
checkpoint soldier: If he so desires, he'll let them pass; if
not, he won't.
Abu Kabaita: "I drive with the tractor to Yata to bring water.
If the soldiers are nice they let me pass. If not, I have to
travel three hours in the fields on a route that bypasses the
checkpoint. It all depends on the type of soldier at the
checkpoint." He adds that his sister and other relatives who
live on the opposite side are not allowed to visit him at all.
The path to the Abu Kabaitas' private pasture land is also an
obstacle course: It passes within the border of Beit Yatir. This
is also the source of constant friction; the children of the
settlers sometimes throw stones at the shepherd's children when
they traverse the settlement. Sometimes the settlers also try to
steal the sheep or run them over, as happened on August 1.
The family has 200 head of sheep; they are now sprawled in their
pen, resting in the summer heat. When Beit Yatir was
established, in the late 1980s, the war over the land began. Abu
Kabaita did not give in, embarked on an exhausting legal battle
and remained on his land. Beit Yatir was forced to expand in a
different direction, not into his lands, which are adjacent to
the fence that surrounds the settlement, which is also of
dubious legality, because it passes through his property. He and
his children cross through an opening in the fence to the
grazing area. The tin roof of the family home is strewn with
small stones that the children of the settlers sometimes throw
"We are not spoiled," explains Abu Kabaita. "We were born in
caves and we're used to a hard life. We have no problem, we
became used to it already from our parents and I also force my
children to become accustomed to our hard life. Only the
settlers disrupt our lives - they are destroying our lives. We
grew up with this. We liked this situation, we like to be with
nature in difficult conditions, except for the settlers who have
inhabited our lands. They have disrupted things. All we want is
to continue our lives. That's all. And we hope that the settlers
will stop causing us problems. They're interrupting our lives."
Now Abu Kabaita removes from his pocket a folded packet of
documents, confirmation of the complaints that he has managed to
file with the police against his neighbors' attacks. "When I
come to the police station they see me and close the gate. I
waste my entire day there; if I go to file a complaint, I need
to spend an entire day in the sun. That's what happened the last
time. I stood there, tossed outside like a dog. I push the
buttons, speak on the intercom; they tell me I'll be admitted
right away, and nothing happens."
The last time he tried to file a complaint, on August 4, after
baking in the heat for hours, representatives of the Temporary
International Presence in Hebron, came and complained that they
were not letting Abu Kabaita in. That didn't help either, and he
remained outside. "At 2 P.M. they allowed me to enter," he says.
"I had arrived there at 10 A.M., and it took me until 5:30 P.M.
before I could file the complaint. Even when I had already done
so, I felt that the policemen were not receiving me properly and
the investigator was not writing down what I said."
The complaint number that time was 309765/2008. Among the large
number of documents showing evidence of complaints, about which
nothing has been done, he also has a photograph that he once
took clandestinely, in which one sees a settler from Beit Yatir,
who, according to Abu Kabaita, is the violent one - dressed in
white, a large white skullcap on his head, with a long beard,
covering his face with his hands so that he won't be identified
as he is fleeing.
Danny Poleg, spokesman and assistant commander for the Judea and
Samaria Police District writes: "1. Mr. Mahmoud Abu Kabaita did
register a complaint on 4.8 at the Hebron station. An
investigation is under way. 2. With regard to the amount of time
he waited, there is no factual evidence to substantiate his
claims. It should be noted that the Hebron police conduct
ongoing, careful surveillance of the gates at the station, also
by closed-circuit TV, to determine whether there are
complainants or others in need of their services. 3. At the
entry gate where Palestinians are received, there is a telephone
with relevant extensions listed and signs. 4. Despite all this,
and in response to your request, the commander of the Hebron
district has ordered a clarification of this subject among the
staff. 5. The policy of the Hebron district is to provide
professional, high-quality and especially prompt service to the
It was August 1, at twilight, and his two sons, Bilal, 11 and
Sagr, 8, were on their way home with the sheep from the grazing
land beyond Beit Yatir. A group of settler children was there,
playing paintball. They teased the shepherd children and threw
the balls of paint at them. That is how Mahmoud Abu Kabaita
describes it. It was a group of young people from Susia, he
explains, and some others from Beit Yatir. "They began to shoot
those paint bombs at our children and our children got scared
and fled," says Abu Kabaita.
Bilal remained at a distance to watch over the sheep and Sagr
ran home. Their father was in the family olive grove at the
time. He dropped everything and rushed toward the flock and
another shepherd boy who had remained behind. When he arrived he
saw about 10 young people, who were holding onto several sheep.
A white car was parked alongside the group. Five goats and sheep
were already tied to trees in the woods.
"I wanted to approach, to ask them: Why are you stealing our
sheep? But they are very fanatic people and they told me to
leave the place immediately. I didn't see Bilal or the sheep.
Where was Bilal? Where were the sheep? I was afraid. I phoned
the emergency number, 100. They didn't answer. It started to get
dark. We're in the dark alone, they're cursing and shouting, and
I'm worried about my son and the sheep."
He called the offices of the UN Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs in Hebron. They referred him to the
B'Tselem human rights organization. B'Tselem's research
coordinator, Najib Abu Rakia, together with the organization's
district fieldworker, Musa Abu Hashhash, called the Israel
Defense Forces and the police to come to the site. The IDF came,
the police did not.
When the IDF jeep arrived the settlers fled, leaving behind the
flock. The soldiers did not say a word to Abu Kabaita, however,
and left the scene. He and Bilal untied the goats and sheep, and
returned home with the flock late in the evening, tired but
Bilal and Sagr have refused since then to go out by themselves
to the grazing land beyond Beit Yatir, and their father must
accompany them daily, in the hope that they will return home
safely. He is now very concerned about the fate of his children
and his flock. He also feels there has recently been an
intensification in the violence on the part of the settlers.
Abu Kabaita: "I got the children used to not being afraid, and I
hope that it won't happen again. I don't want to say that all of
Beit Yatir is like that. Not everyone in the settlement is a
thief and wicked. It's important to say that. Only a few, and
especially the one in the picture. In recent months it's become
worse and they've started to make a lot of trouble for us. I
feel it. They try to steal sheep, they try to run over sheep,
they throw stones at night and scare my children."
Fortunately for him, the wind turbine built by the settlers
almost on top of his house is often broken. The noise it makes
at night when it is working prevents them from sleeping. "Every
time it revolves - boom. It's like an explosion at night."
A turbine above their heads, one settlement spilling over into
their pasture land, another on a nearby slope, and the threat of
violence around them - that's the safe and pleasant life enjoyed
these days by the Abu Kabaitas.
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